Space & Innovation

When 'Exorcising' a Home May Be a Smart Move

Singer Olivia Newton-John has asked a priest to rid a home she's trying to sell of any evil spirits. Continue reading →

Olivia Newton-John recently asked a priest to perform an exorcism on her home in Jupiter, Fla., in hopes of selling it. Following the suicide of a contractor in the home last month, the actress and singer is concerned about the social and spiritual stigma now associated with the residence, and the ceremony was an attempt to assure potential buyers that the place is not cursed or haunted.

There seem to be no reports of demonic or ghostly activity in the house, so the ceremony is more of a preventative measure. Whether Newton-John believes that ghosts and evil spirits reside in the house doesn't really matter - the issue is that her potential buyers might.

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In fact, according to the Daily Mail, "The decision to hold the ritual was made after comedian Rosie O'Donnell pulled out of buying the home, for which she had previously offered $5.6 million. Despite the star cutting the asking price for the home by $320,000, there are still reportedly no interested parties."

Home Blessings and Exorcisms There are countless superstitions and folk beliefs associated with protecting homes from evil spirits and bad luck. These are not simply relics of a bygone age, but are very much with us today. It's not uncommon to find horseshoes above portals and doorways for good luck, and window frames in many parts of the world are painted blue because that color – originally associated with heaven and divinity - was believed to keep evil spirits away.

While outright exorcisms on houses are rare, milder forms of magic ritual are common in many places. In many New Age circles smudge sticks (string-tied bundles of aromatic herbs such as sage and lavender) are burned to bless a new home, a practice adopted from Native American traditions.

Burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in your yard is supposed to assure a quick sale - but only if you bury it in exactly the right place. Some real estate agents even consult with feng shui experts who claim to arrange the furniture so that harmonious –albeit scientifically unknown - cosmic energies can flow through the place and bring good luck.

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Exorcising a house works on the same basic principle as exorcising a person. In each case, evil or demonic spirits are said to inhabit a body or house and need to be driven out. It's unlikely that the priest performed an actual exorcism ritual, since homes (like cars, cats, and trees) are believed by the Roman Catholic church not to have souls, and it was likely instead a blessing or cleansing.

Whether demons and evil spirits really exist or not is a question of faith, not science. But evil spirits don't have to be real for an exorcism to be successful, in the same way that in medicine a drug does not need to have any active ingredient for it to relieve pain. This is the power of the placebo effect. To the extent that exorcisms "work," it's due to the power of suggestion and psychology. If you believe that an exorcism will rid your body, or your $5.6 million dream home, of evil spirits, then it just might.

If the death in Newton-John's home had happened years ago instead of recently, she would have been within her rights not to mention her contractor's gunshot suicide. Earlier this year a Pennsylvania court ruled that homeowners and real estate agents are not required to disclose to potential buyers if killings took place there years earlier.

When it comes to houses for sale where some death has occurred, superstitious folks might refuse to live in such a home for fear of evil spirits, while skeptics might not have a problem with it - though smart skeptics might pretend to have second thoughts, bargaining for a cheaper price.

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