K Neill Foster

Identifying the Demonized: The Occult Subjection Syndrome

by K. Neill Foster, Ph. D.

How does one know if an individual is demonized or “demon possessed?” Careful reading of this brief essay is could be helpful–that at least is my intention.


Discernment is a significant--even necessary--part of the Christian life. By the word “discernment,” I am not referring to the gift of discerning of spirits but to the broad-based discernment that is both available and obligatory in the life of a mature Christian.

In this article am accenting the validity of the authority of the believer and urging that all believers should have familiarity with both supernatural and non-supernatural phenomena. Recognition of the symptoms of spirit-invasion is a vital aspect of discernment as is the gift of the discerning of spirits, the special charism of the Holy Spirit. I am also introducing a special term made up of three well-known words, “occult,” “subjection” and “syndrome.”

Occult Subjection Syndrome Defined 

The term “occult subjection syndrome,” refers to symptoms of a condition (not a disease) which is affected by greater or lesser satanic intrusion into the life of an individual. Intrusion of this kind may characterized by such things as ancestral occult bondage, spiritism, overwhelming terror, fear, obsessive sexual practices or perversions, religious heresies, pseudo-glossolalia, psychic ability, mind alteration through drug dependence, enchantment with certain types of music, tendencies toward suicide or self-destruction, uncleanness, inexplicable physical infirmities, uncontrollable impulses, blasphemous thoughts, intellectual ideas that entrap the human mind in unbelief, etc.

This term reflects an occult penetration, superficial or massive, of dark powers into the life of a human being. Such demonization/subjection is as varied as the people involved.

Forbidden Practices 

The Old Testament provides a catalog of forbidden practices known to lead to the occult subjection syndrome. They are as follows: sacrificing a son or daughter in fire, divination or sorcery, interpretation of omens, practice of witchcraft, casting of spells, mediumship/spiritism, consulting with the dead and false religious expressions (Deuteronomy 18:10, 22).

In the New Testament the Gadarene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-8) was fully demonized and totally controlled by Satan. The various symptoms of his case may be used to assemble yet another catalog of the occult subjection syndrome: the demoniac was suicidal, had superhuman strength, cried out ferociously, cut himself with stones and posed a physical threat to others.

Indicators of Demonization 

Many centuries ago the Roman Catholic Church set four criteria for this human condition: (1)

knowledge of a language previously unknown; (2) knowledge of hidden or secret things; (3) demonstration of superhuman strength; (4) an aversion to the things of God (Koch 1973:141).

Kurt Koch himself offers eight indications of possible occult subjection based on Luke 8:26-39: another personality seems resident; unusual strength; inner conflict; resistance/opposition to the things of God; clairvoyance; ability to speak with voices not one’s own; sudden deliverance possible; and finally, transference of demons to people or animals (1973:136-141).

Of the modern writers, Ernest B. Rockstad lists a somewhat larger catalog of symptoms: incapacity for normal living, violence and superhuman strength; personality and behavior problems; restlessness and insomnia; terrible inner anguish; self-inflicted injury; functional illness; reliance on prescription drugs; an abnormal sex life; defeat and failure in the Christian life; obsessive thinking; unbreakable habits; nameless fears (1985:22-30).

Mark Bubeck seems to be influenced both by Rockstad and his own counseling ministry. His list of symptoms is prefaced with this warning: “These are not meant to be conclusive evidence of demonic affliction but are merely indicative of the enemy’s work” (1975:144). His list of symptoms follows: a compulsive desire to curse God; a revulsion against the Bible; compulsive suicidal or murderous thoughts; deep feelings of bitterness and hatred; compulsive desires to tear other people down; terrifying feelings of guilt and worthlessness; physical symptoms which have no medical basis; deep depression and despondency; terrifying seizures of panic and abnormal fears; dreams and nightmares of a horrific recurring nature; sudden surges of violent rage and uncontrollable anger; and terrifying doubt of one’s salvation (1975:144-145).

Conrad Murrell’s list of demonization symptoms is similar, though at some points it could be condensed. It includes unnatural fear; deep depression; confusion of the mind; restlessness; obscenities and profanities; inexplicable sleepiness; uncontrollable and unreasonable rage; sudden suicidal and murderous urges; schizophrenia; recurring headaches, physical symptoms without apparent cause; urges to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, violence and bloodshed; inexplicable rebellion; sexual perversion; aversion to marital sex; clairvoyance; and uncontrollable urges (1973:60).

L. David Mitchell suggests that unsuspecting persons can open themselves to occult subjection by

inviting seemingly “good” but obviously strange spirit manifestations (2 Corinthians 11:14); being at the receiving end of a curse; practicing Eastern-style or New Age mediation; using drugs; playing spirit “games”; being involved in abortion or incest; having a dependency of any kind, including rock music (1988:8).

Psychologist Marguerite Schuster, with limited deliverance experience by her own admission, has likewise established an extensive list which describes demonization: a new personality; new intellectual power; extraordinary bodily strength; change of moral character; strange physical ailments; self-destructive impulses, poltergeist phenomena; animalistic possession; quick relief with exorcism; and a distinctive stench (1977:94-95).

Ten Symptoms of Demonization 

Because these symptoms exhibit themselves in various ways in different people, and because the Christian counselor is called upon to effect useful ministry, I shall attempt to condense these summations into ten key criteria which refer to the Occult Subjection Syndrome (OSS): 

1. Terrorizing fear

2. Unbelief, often associated with intellectual concepts, aversion to divine things

3. Obsessive sexual problems

4. Pseudo-charismata, heresies and other religious beliefs/aberrations

5. Compulsive behavior

6. Ancestral occult bondage

7. Inexplicable illness

8. Suicidal/murderous intent

9. Spiritism, clairvoyance and witchcraft

10. Inner voices 

If these are the symptoms of occult invasion, how does one tell if the person exhibiting one or more of these phenomena is actually demonized? 

Identifying the Occult Subjection Syndrome 

In answering this question, we remind ourselves that some Christians who have developed general discernment as defined earlier may arrive at a decision regarding demonization through a process of diagnosis. However, those who are especially gifted with the discerning of spirits or other revelational gifts may be able to identify the spirit(s) intuitively and sometimes immediately, by name, without the diagnostic process.

In our counseling ministry, we have recognized that the OSS need not necessarily imply demonic invasion. Conceivably a person might exhibit all the symptoms of the OSS and not be truly demonized. There is always the possibility that the psyche/ego/self-life can and will imitate these symptoms. Sinful human beings are capable of such things alone.

There are also physical conditions which resemble demonization. Further, there are various degrees of invasion ranging from minimal to massive. When the invasion is massive, the demonization may become total dominance and possession. (A diagnosis of total demonization should be the alternative of last resort.)

The Authority of the Believer 

When the counselor has sufficiently discerned the evident nature and extent of the bondage and the probability of its occult identity, the authority of the believer may then be brought to bear upon the manifestation i.e. verbally and directly addressing the spirit that is manifesting. The “trying of the spirits” may occur, and release from occult subjection may be expected following repetitious exit commands. Ultimately, true exorcism is the final proof of authentic demonization.

The occult subjection syndrome is exhibited in a person manifesting a list of symptoms which likely, but not necessarily, betray a condition of demonization. In many cases, providing the victim is a Christian believer and understands the basic principles of authority, he/she can, by audible verbal repudiations and renunciations in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, escape his or her occult subjection. Such deliverances utilize the faith and belief of the person that has been victimized and has been described by Neil Anderson as “auto-deliverance.”

In more extreme cases, where the OSS leads to a diagnosis of extensive demonization, the authoritative community involving other Christians will become necessary to effect the deliverance. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to do this kind of ministry. This pattern of team ministry is ignored with peril. (For an elaboration on this material, and other related subjects as well, see www.kneillfoster.com/spiritual warfare.)

Finally, let this incident be a warning.

Rev. Bill McLeod, well-known from Saskatoon (Caanada) revival days, was facing the concluding meeting of a multi-church ministry series when he was accosted on the final Sunday afternoon by a man purporting to be demon possessed. Since the man sought deliverance, McLeod and his song-leader attempted to help. At the end of a long and exhausting afternoon replete with spectacular manifestations and multiplied exit phenomena, the man suddenly stood up and said, “I sure fooled you, didn’t I?”

With that, he was gone. Two seasoned Christian workers had been deceived. Probably the man was not demonized at all. Incidents such as these should produce great caution among discerning believers. There can be no substitute for the wisdom and insight of the Holy Spirit and the safety that comes from a multitude of counsellors. To diagnose anyone as demonized is a decision that must be made with great caution.

Nevertheless, the occultly subjected are out there. The help they need is best delivered by discerning and mature Christian workers. Only discerning believers can really help them. The more experience these workers have in these matters, the better.


Anderson, Neil, The Bondage Breaker, 1993 Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers

Bubeck, Mark, The Adversary, 1975 Chicago: Moody Press

Koch, Kurt, Demonology, Past and Present, 1973 Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications

Mitchell, L. David, "Deliver Us from Evil", 1988 The Alliance Life, pp. 6-9

Murrell, Conrad, Practical Demonology, 1973 Pineville, LA: Sabre Publications

Rockstad, Ernest B, Papers on Speaking in Other Tongues, 1986 Andover, KS: Faith and Life Publications

Schuster, Marguerite, "Power, Pathology and Paradox", 1977

Ph.D. dissertation since published. Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA