What is the verb that means "to get rid of evil spirits"

Not ghost-busting. Something more serious, less comedic.

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10 Answers 10


Exorcise is the formal, technical term for driving out evil spirits, deriving from exorcism, an official ritual of the Catholic church.

1.to seek to expel (an evil spirit) by adjuration or religious or solemn ceremonies.
2.to free (a person, place, etc.) of evil spirits or malignant influences.
-- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/exorcise

As an alternative, banish is a good general term meaning to drive out.

1. to expel from or relegate to a country or place by authoritative decree; condemn to exile:
2. to compel to depart; send, drive, or put away:


To exorcise is the word you're looking for (cross-posted with @Chris Sunami.)

  1. To expel (an evil spirit) by or as if by incantation, command, or prayer.
  2. To free from evil spirits or malign influences.

(American Heritage Dictionary)

In addition, phrasal verbs like cast out or drive out could work too, depending on the context:

and to have authority to drive out demons.

(http://biblehub.com/mark/3-15.htm, the NIV translation)

  • It's always a bit of a race when there's an obvious answer :) – Chris Sunami Oct 30 '15 at 17:20
  • Yeah, the cookie tends to crumble a certain way, gotta roll with it :) – A.P. Oct 30 '15 at 17:35

Cast out is often used in modern biblical translations:

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. (Matthew 8:16; quoted translation is ESV)

Out of the 53 translations of this verse included in that link, a strong plurality (26) use cast out.

As defined by MW, the phrase indicates driving out, or expelling.

  • Yeah, "cast out" was what I thought of initially. Some translations use "drive out" instead, like the NIV in Mark 3:15. – A.P. Oct 30 '15 at 17:47

I don't disagree that exorcise is a more specific verb for OP's context, but I would just point out these usage figures from Google Books...

to exorcise the ghost - about 4,150 results
to lay the ghost - about 9,230 results

That's sense 23 in thefreedictionary...

lay - to quiet or make vanish: to lay a ghost.

  • 2
    ... Why is a ghost like a carpet? ? – Edwin Ashworth Oct 30 '15 at 15:13
  • 3
    @Edwin: Is a boxer like a carpet just because his opponent laid him out with a left hook? (Maybe because the victor walked all over him! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '15 at 15:25
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    Also the film "High Spirits", where Steve Guttenberg does lay a ghost... – Graham Oct 30 '15 at 16:34
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    I've never heard this usage, at least not independent of the larger phrase "lay... to rest." Is it exclusively British English? – Chris Sunami Oct 30 '15 at 16:45
  • @Chris: Comparing the US/UK corpuses in Google NGrams does suggest it's somewhat more common in BrE, but it's not a huge difference. Interestingly, if I exclude ...to rest in my search terms, Google Books only reduces its guesstimate by 40 (to 9190). I suspect it's probably not a very accurate guess. – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '15 at 17:00

'Exorcize' would be the correct term.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. Answers at StackExchange are expected to be definitive; your contribution would be improved by explaining why you suggest this term, for example, by providing a dictionary definition or examples in the wild. I encourage you take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – choster Oct 30 '15 at 15:01

In addition to the other fine answers posted, I've heard the phrase "dispel evil spirits".

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    This answer would be stronger if you linked to a reference work, like a dictionary, showing how it is defined and used. – Nathaniel Oct 30 '15 at 16:46

Exorcise is probably the right answer, but you may also consider purify depending on the context.

For example, a Catholic priest uses a purificator to purify his fingers and the chalice from evil before blessing and handling the Eucharist. The priest does not exorcise his fingers or the chalice, but he is still getting rid of evil.
If the evil described is not a specific evil spirit(s), but evil itself, you'd want to use purify.



: to rid (someone or something) of something unwanted AHD

He knew if they could just obey Him now, all of creation could be purged of the Evil One and the Lord would rule and reign in the earth with mankind forever. The day of the great test came and God watched as Satan approached Eve. When Will These Things Be: The Next Journey

When he had asked his grandmother why this very sick woman had not been taken to a physician, she had answered that no doctor could do what they had done for her: purge her body of the evil spirit that possessed it. In the Shadow of the Sphinx


(Eccles.) to exorcise or renounce by blowing Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913


The priest breathes three times on the child in the form of a cross, saying: Go out of him...you unclean spirit and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Wikipedia

His rejoinder to it here is to point to the other parts of the same ritual, and to ask why, then, infants are exorcised and exsufflated in baptism. For, it cannot be doubted that this is done fictitiously, if the Devil does not rule over them ; but if he rules over them, and they are therefore not falsely exorcised and exsufflated, why does that prince of sinners rule over them except because of sin? Saint Augustine's Anti-Pelagian Writings (Extended Annotated Edition)*


: to banish Random House

Such persons are even more to be pitied than the dumb man was, whom our Saviour dispossessed of the evil spirit. Expository discourses on the Gospels for every Sunday in the year ..., Volume 1


: to expel M-W

: a synonym of expel; sometimes expressing more strongly the notion of violence OED

Luke 10:17 The seventy two disciples returned to the Lord telling him how they had expulsed evil spirits in his name. The Work of God


One more answer: Ward off spells may fit.

For example: The wizzard warded off the spell casted by the witch.


The word adjure does not specifically mean the warding off or banishing of spirits but often arises in that context. The definition is to urge or command (someone) to do something, and it is used in the context of exorcism at times, most famously perhaps in this passage from the King James Bible (Acts 19:13),

Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.

Basically, "In the name of Jesus, I command you to get lost."

  • 1
    Adjure by itself has nothing to do with evil spirits. – Robusto Oct 30 '15 at 16:11
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    Indeed, I said that explicitly, but it still does have this use. One also sees it a lot in fictional portrayals of exorcism. I think it's a relevant response. – josh314 Oct 30 '15 at 17:17
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    "I adjure you to haunt this place and make a right nuisance of yourself" would be just as correct a use of adjure though. – Jon Hanna Oct 30 '15 at 17:57

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