Is Childhood Psychopathology Rooted in Demonic Infestation?

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This posting is in response to an important article in the Atlantic Monthly by Barbara Bradley Hagertey, “When Your Child is a Psychopath.” [1] It is a depressing read. It describes not only serious psychopathic and criminal behaviors (as in attempted murder) in very young children, but the tireless and fatiguing efforts of good parents to stop such behaviors and raise these children as morally normal – all to no avail.

I will proceed by first summarizing the article, then adding my own discernment and specifically Christian commentary to include suggestions of actions and prayers that Christians can take to help heal and prevent the development of psychopathic children.


“When Your Child is a Psychopath” begins with the story of Samantha, an eleven-year-old who is now consigned to a treatment center where she is receiving intense treatment. As a six-year-old she practiced murder by decapitating her stuffed animals, and loved drawing the implements of murder such as guns, knives and poison bottles.

She almost strangled to death her 2-year-old brother. And stopped in middle of the act by her mother, she declared, “I want to kill you all.” Samantha’s parents, both well-educated and loving, began rounds of psychiatric analysis, tests and treatment strategies for Samantha. A curious thing, common to psychopathic children, was that Samantha’s negative actions were not impulsive, but deliberate and vengeful. Once, after being mildly scolded by her mother, she went upstairs and flushed down the toilet her mother’s expensive contact lenses.

The root cause of childhood psychopathology remains undetermined. It is presently surmised that is that some cases are attributable to genetic inheritance, and some to early sever abuse and neglect.[2] Psychologists don’t like to call children “psychopaths,” which sound hopeless. They have invented the term “callous and unemotional traits” to describe these children. In 2013 this vocabulary was added as a diagnosis to the standard psychiatric manual, DSM-5. (I don’t like the term, “callous and unemotional,” as it smacks of political correctness, and hereafter will use the more direct “psychopathic children.”)

The evidence indicates that as many as 1% of children in the United States have this condition, a huge number, and equivalent to those who have severe autism. Those with these traits are at least thee times more likely to commit serious crimes end up in jail than their peers. A large percentage of the murders committed in this country are perpetrated by persons who began as psychopathic children and proceeded to adults as full psychopaths. There are now many studies from different counties on psychopathic children. A trained psychologist can spot its early manifestations. For instance, by age three these children do not respond at all to the sounds of other children crying – it’s of no concern to them. Normal children that age already show sympathy. By eight or nine these children delight in destructive and callous behavior when alone, whereas normal children are mean or destructive mostly in the setting of peers, as in a group of kids setting off fire-crackers to harass an elderly neighbor.

There is also an intense rage and hatred seated within these children. One recovering psychopath, now in his twenties, recalled:

“I remember when I bit my mom really hard, and she was bleeding and crying. I remember feeling so happy, so overjoyed—completely fulfilled and satisfied,” … “It wasn’t like someone kicked me in the face and I was trying to get him back. It was more like a weird, hard-to-explain feeling of hatred.”[3]

Ms. Hagertey describes how modern scan technology has discovered significant differences in the brains of psychopaths and normal persons. Specifically, the limbic system, and especially the amygdala area, is underdeveloped. This is the part of the brain that processes emotions.

But most the Hagertey’s article centers on new strategies for moving the children from psychopathic mental states to a more normal moral awareness. It is done by stressing one area the psychopath’s mental condition. That is, psychopaths respond very little to punishment, but readily to rewards.

At the Medota Juvenile Detention Center in Madison, Wisconsin, which is using this insight as strategy, progress has been made in turning off the patients’ psychopathic behaviors and leading them towards a moral normal. The psychopath’s negative behaviors are largely ignored. This takes heroic virtue from the staff as the children and youths placed there are skilled at mayhem and destruction such as squirting feces and urine at the staff. But gradually the staff builds trust, and begins to reward positive behaviors (and lack of negative behaviors) with such things as video game privileges, or baseball cards. Over the long term this strategy seems to work, at least for some. It is however immensely costly, as the Mendota center is manned with three time the staff a normal juvenile center of its size.

Hagertey’s article ends by tracing the life of one youth who transited from a psychopath to a semi-normal person, and in fact, became a successful undertaker. Ironically, as she flew to California to interview him, he had regressed and was arrested for abusing his wife.

Christian Commentary:

I believe that psychopathic children could be helped towards normal moral sensitivity by exorcism/deliverance ministry. In one of my earliest blog posting I shared that I had experience in dispersing the voices of patients suffering from “negative hallucinations” that are common to schizophrenics. I did so by exorcism, by commanding the voice entities (demons) to leave in the name of Jesus.[4] I can make no such claim regarding psychopathic children as I have not had the opportunity to minister to any – but I am certainly open to do so.

But I am speaking as an Anglican priest with exorcism experience and one who has read widely into the literature of exorcism and the demonic.[5] As I read the quote cited above of the person who recalled the delight in biting his mother, I understood that to be a demonic thought pattern, not a human one.

Recently, when I shared the Hagertey article with my Facebook friends and suggested that deliverance could help these children, one person immediately messaged back, “Of course not. The article plainly shows this psychopathology is a brain abnormality, not a demonic problem.” There is a materialist-philosophical assumption present in that statement that needs to be challenged. The commentator assumes that a spirit cannot influence the physical structure of the body or brain. That is a philosophical assumption, not an established scientific fact.

The evidence from serious exorcisms points to the fact that persons who are possessed sometimes manifest bizarre and impossible physical properties, and super-human strength. That is, the demons directly influence the possessed person’s body. My hypothesis is that the vector of causality in psychopathic children is that an early demonic infestation hinders the normal development of the limbic system. This hypothesis could be tested by repeated deliverance ministry on multiple psychopathic children and follow-up brain scans.

Many readers are appalled by the thought that infant children could be demonically infested before they are morally responsible. But those experienced in healing and exorcism prayer can affirm that is the case. Although the Bible does not give an explicit example of demonic infestation of infants in the womb, it does clearly show that such infants are spiritually aware and active. For example, the Gospel of Matthew recounts that when Mary came to visit Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaped in recognition of Jesus’s presence in Mary’s womb. (Luke 1:41).

The experience of exorcists and person in the inner healing ministry is that deep spiritual wounds and demonic infestation can lodge even in the womb. For instance, in inner healing prayer it is not uncommon for an adult to recall that they were unwanted in the womb because they were the “wrong” sex, or the family did not want or could not afford another child. This may result in a spirit of rejection which harasses the person until it is dislodged. Even secular sources now urge parents to talk lovingly to the developing child in the womb.[6] The Japanese are famous for being especially careful to positively influence their children while still in the womb, as in playing classical music in the house continuously. The MacNutts, a couple that have taught healing ministry to hundreds of thousands, urge parents to pray every day and speak to the developing child as soon as they are aware there is a pregnancy.[7]

The famous healing team, Frank and Ida Mae Hammond, who produced the Pentecostal exorcism classic, Pigs in the Parlor, warned of the dangers of pre-natal demonic infestation. They described in that work several infant and child exorcisms that they have performed in their years of ministry. Possible ways of demonic infant infestation are a violent, drug-ridden home environment, fear on the part of the parents, a sudden severe fright as in a car accident, and of course any type of rejection by the parents. [8]

Resources and Present Action by the Church:

So lastly, and perhaps most importantly, how can the church minister to psychopathic children.

Most obvious, pastors and the Church as a whole need to be aware psychotic children and the possibility that such children need deliverance ministry. Most pastors today are trained to affirm that extreme negative behaviors are psychological problems of brain disorders and should be referred out to secular psychologists or psychiatrists. They should begin considering such behaviors as diabolical in nature. Farming out a psychotic child to a psychiatrist is immensely expensive, and may in fact result in a diagnosis offering expensive treatment and medications not covered by most insurance. An exploratory exorcism by the pastor cost nothing and may end the problem right there.[9] This is both politically incorrect and counter to the understanding, or rather mis-undersatnadings, of both liberal theology and cessationsits theology. Both systems underplay or completely eliminate the importance and activity of the demonic in the present world.

Church’s ministry to these children is buttressed from two angles. First, it was the ancient practice of the Church to couple baptism with exorcism ministry, and the present exorcism prayers still carried out in infant baptism by some liturgical churches. It is clear from the sources that the early Church took exorcism with upmost seriousness, and that the Catechumen (seeker) had to undergo various exorcisms before being permitted baptism.[10] The documents are unclear about infant exorcism/baptism in this early period.

Second, Liturgical churches such as the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches have had a long tradition of coupling infant baptism with deliverance ministry, and some still do. For instance, up until 1969 the Catholic Church included a strong prayer of exorcism within the rite of infant Baptism which read:

I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that thou goest out and depart from this servant of God, N[ame]. For He commands Thee, accursed one, Who walked upon the sea, and stretched out His right hand to Peter about to sink. Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge thy sentence, and give honor to the living and true God: give honor to Jesus Christ His Son, and to the Holy Spirit; and depart from this servant of God, N[ame]. because God and our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call him (her) to His holy grace and benediction and to the font of Baptism.[11]

That was cancelled due to the influence of Protestant Liberal Theology on the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s.[12] Fortunately, the words were allowed if the parents requested them. Although that probably happened very rarely. Certainly this should be done at every infant baptism, for even in the best of families it is possible that the parents experience a sever fright or discord that could have given the demonic entrance. It would be prudent for ministers today who practice infant baptism to incorporate this or similar words of exorcism into the baptismal rite.

Most Evangelical and Pentecostal churches do not believe in infant baptism, but practice a rite of “presentation” modeled after the Biblical rite (and unfortunately never elevated to the status of sacrament in the Early Church). It is not hard to imagine incorporating word of exorcism in this ritual. Certainly the pastor would need to explain the reason, taking care not to condemn the parents in any way.

In the Episcopal and Anglican Churches infant baptism includes a litany of renouncing Satan and his works, and accept Jesus Christ as savior. This is a beautiful litany, and when I was pastor I would urge not only the god-parents, but the whole congregation to repeat the litany as a form of “renewing” their baptismal vows. But as beautiful as the litany is, it falls short of a definite exorcism. I often added to the litany my own words of exorcism, as in a simple command, “I command any evil spirit who has entered this child to depart immediately in the name of Jesus Christ.” I never experienced protest or opposition to that.

In Summary, the evidence points to the fact that psychopathic behavior in young children may be of demonic origins. A Christian pastor should be able to minister to these children with exorcism ministry, and move toward incorporating the words of exorcism in the child and infant rites of initiation (Protestant Presentation or liturgical infant baptism). Adult baptism usually implies a period of instruction in which the pastor should discern if exorcism ministry is needed.

I invite comments on this difficult issue:

[1] Barbara Bradley Hagertey, “When Your Child is a Psychopath,” Atlantic Monthly, June 2017. The writer, Mrs. Hagertey worked as a reporter for NPR for 18 years on the legal and religious beat, and before that was a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. She is a meticulous and celebrated journalist. The article can be sourced here:

[2] This writer believes what passes as genetic inheritance, such as the propensity to alcoholism, is more often a chain of generational sin that alights on the child even in the womb (Exod 20:5).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “The Demonic Factor in Mass Shootings,” Anglican Pentecostal. Posted April 25, 2013.

[5] Immediately after my re-conversion experience and exit from the occult (1976) I began research on a planned book to compare the Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions of exorcism. I read much of the literature then available (it has expanded considerably since) but wisely decided that I was not experienced enough to complete the work. The readings were a great assistance to me later when I pastored a Hispanic congregation in Marietta Georgia where witchcraft and curanderos were part of the background culture. See also my first book, Past Live Visions (New York: Seabury, 1982) where I described how the Demonic manipulates visions for morally destructive purposes. As you can see, I have been on the case of the demonic for a long time, and they have reciprocated with much harassment.

[6] The classic on this is Thomas Verny’s, The Secret life of the Unborn Child (New York: Dell, 1882).

[7] Francis MacNutt, Praying for Your Unborn Child (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1988).

[8] Frank and Ida Mae Hammond, Pigs in the Parlor (data) Chapter 14 “Ministry to Children.”

[9] For examples on how to do this with sensitivity and gentleness see Ibid.

[10]Leeper, Elizabeth, “From Alexandria to Rome: The Valentinian Connection to the Incorporation of Exorcism as a Prebaptismal Rite,” Vigiliae Christianae, 44 no. 1 (March, 1990) 6-24. Leeper notes that there is no coupling of exorcism/baptism in the New Testament. But by the time of the writing of the Apostolic Tradioton (c 215) it is common.

[11] Cited in the excellent blog posting by Msgr. Charles Pope, “Should the Church Consider Reintroducing the Exorcism Prayers in the Rite of Baptism?Community in Mission. Posted Jan. 7, 2014

Should the Church Consider Reintroducing the Exorcism Prayers in the Rite of Baptism?

[12] For a personal account of how liberal Catholic theology of the 1960s devastated me and many others see my work, Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), chapters one and three.

William DeArteaga

William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations.


  • Reply November 13, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Thank you William DeArteaga Would this be true for all early problems?

  • Louise Cummings
    Reply November 13, 2019

    Louise Cummings

    Yes as your article states. I think it could maybe start in children. We have In the Bible where a young man threw himself into the fire. Until Jesus cast it out. Your arrival I read. I never heard of. But if the devil can come against children or anyone els. he will take a foothold any where he can. But we need to give our children to the Lord before they are ever born. I prayed over all five of mine before they were born. And my grand children. I also, I’m not saying this to brag. I don’t know if I should tell or , or the devil that doesn’t want me to tell it. I felt a strange feeling. , but it might be the devil doesn’t want others to know. But I feel a peace. I prayed for my line of family as long as time continues. Als I’ve prayed for other families like that. So I don’t know how long time will continue. But I have prayed for all my line and others too.

  • Reply November 18, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    I have a few questions on this one William DeArteaga

  • […] [5] There is a recent work that covers the topic of comparative exorcism ministry, including the Protestant variety, but it is marred by a bias against the Pentecostal tradition: James M. Collins’, Exorcism and Deliverance Ministry in the Twentieth Century (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009). I have not written the book on comparative exorcism yet, but many of my writings deal with the demonic, as for instance this posting: Is childhood psychopathology rooted in demonic infestation?” Pentecostal Theology. Posted Nov. 17, 2019. […]

  • […] [5] There is a recent work that covers the topic of comparative exorcism ministry, including the Protestant variety, but it is marred by a bias against the Pentecostal tradition: James M. Collins’, Exorcism and Deliverance Ministry in the Twentieth Century (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009). I have not written the book on comparative exorcism yet, but many of my writings deal with the demonic, as for instance this posting: Is childhood psychopathology rooted in demonic infestation?” Pentecostal Theology. Posted Nov. 17, 2019. […]

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