Casting out the epilepsy ignorance demons

The New York Times has a surprising article about stigma surrounding epilepsy in Sierra Leone that describes some quite astounding beliefs about the condition.

Stigma here is based on two myths: that epilepsy is contagious and that it is caused by demonic possession. Dr. Lisk is quick to point out that beliefs about possession traverse societal boundaries. “You think it relates to level of education, of literacy, but somehow it doesn’t,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the most educated people who will tell you that it’s demonic. They say it’s in the Bible.” (Some biblical references to possession have long been thought to describe people with epilepsy.)

As a result, discrimination against people with epilepsy here is blatant and unabashed, and it begins in elementary school. “The school authorities often ask the students with epilepsy to leave,” Mr. Bangura said. “There is the notion that epilepsy is contagious; so when somebody has an attack during school, the perception is that if somebody happens to step on the spittle of an affected student, that would be one way of contracting the disease.”…

“Wherever the kid fell, they circle it and tell people to stay away from it, because that spot is a bad spot,”…

While these beliefs seem outlandish, the idea that epilepsy is caused by demonic possession is still common among many Western churches.

Here’s a video of a pastor of a revival church casting out epilepsy demons in Germany. This is an account of how TDS Ministries cured a young mother of a ‘spirit of epilepsy’ that was attacking her.

And if you’re still not convinced, this page has a testimony from the Bethel Church of how a blind man with epilepsy was not only cured of his seizures but also had his eyeballs grow back (suck on that Big Pharma!)

Needless to say, there’s plenty more where that came from, so we still have a way to go before even the most bizarre forms of stigma are defeated in the supposedly educated West.

Link to NYT piece on epilepsy beliefs in Sierra Leone.


  1. Posted August 30, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Is stories like this that make me extremely mad…and we delude ourselves believing that we live in an advanced world….unfortunately most people are not.

  2. DR.Strange
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    It never ceases to amaze me that people could be shocked or even suprised by stories like this as though belief in demonic epilepsy was somehow weirder than the mainstream.what would some one who had never been to or heard of a church make of the following gem for example

    Meridith Benjamin quote:”When my daughter was about 5, she was asking me questions about Easter. Not being a Christian family, I told her that it was celebrated by some people as the day that Jesus rose from his tomb. I could see the cogs turning in her little five year old head. She then said ” So, Jesus is a zombie!” in her best ‘Eureka!’ voice. I then proceeded to clear up her theology by explaining “No sweetie, it was more like Gandalf after he fought the balrog.” This satisfied her, but to this day, Easter Sunday is Happy Zombie Day in our house.”

  3. Judith
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    That’s what religion does to people. I wonder if homophobia would still be as strong as it is if religions weren’t so privileged, and if parents weren’t allowed to force their beliefs on their children. And think of the role of the Catholic church in the Rwanda massacres. If they hadn’t the religious privilege they would be listed as a terrorist organization.

  4. PinotGlee
    Posted September 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in this topic may enjoy ‘The spirit catches you and you fall down’ by Anne Fadiman. A fascinating book about the clash between american doctors and hmong parents and the treatment of their daughters epilepsy. Explains the story from both sides and hands down one of the best books I have read in years.

  5. J Aislabie
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Some of these ‘churches’ in Western countries really need to be investigated by the relevant authorities.. It’s not acceptable to spread this kind of ignorance under the guise of religion..

    And don’t get me started on the tax breaks

  6. Heath
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I have seizure’s for about the last 10-12 years. They started due too an excessive cocaine habit. This is the only conclusion I can come up with, I’ve had an extensive theology training and I can’t find anything in any religious book. From the bible to every other religious book. The problem I have is why can’t anyone explain why your brain becomes shutdown during this process. You see no Heaven or Hell. It’s just a void until you wake up scared, sometimes bloody and at least a week of trying to get over a horrible feeling and scared it might happen again. I have had multiple MRI’s and they can’t find any problems. They’ve ruled out epilepsy on my case but I still have seizure’s. They are still scary and unpredictable at best. Anyone with any comments please email me at I am trying to gather information on this condition. Thank You and may God be with you.

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