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The theory goes that demons possess people, affecting them – as one person described it – as if from the end of a pipe. The exorcist's prayer stimulates the demons, forcing them through the pipe, as it were, and they take over the body. The demons try to get the exorcist to stop saying the prayer, often by causing dramatic behaviour. For example, because the demons can't look at the priest, the person's eyes roll up and become white or they close tight. ....
The ritual lasts half an hour. When it ends, the demon detaches itself and goes back to being a spirit. It's a repeat process – the ritual diminishes the ability of the power of the demon until it can be said to have been cast out completely. Exorcism is not always violent. There are famous cases, perhaps most notoriously that of Anneliese Michel, a German who died as a result of exorcism, but another thing that surprised me was that the ritual is often very mild. And those who react strongly often come with other people. I saw one woman who was very violent but came with her parents and husband, who could restrain her. Usually, though, it's enough for the exorcist to place his hand on top of the person's head and say the prayer. There's no shouting or screaming – just a sense of calm.