An open letter to… Father Jeremy Davies, exorcist

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Father Davies, the exorcist for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the most senior Roman Catholic clergyman in England and Wales, has said that activities such as yoga, reiki and acupuncture could put people at risk from evil spirits

Dear Father Jeremy Davies,

Well, well. Someone hasn't done their downward dog for a while, have they? Because perhaps if you had (it's a yoga move Father, designed to remove fatigue, increase blood flow, calm the mind and lift the spirits) you wouldn't be getting your cassock in such a twist over yoga, massage therapy and reiki which, according to you, are "the thin end of the wedge … more dangerous than the thick end because it is more deceptive – an evil spirit tries to make his entry as unobtrusively as possible".

And it doesn't end there. In your book, Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism In Scripture And Practice, which is published by the Catholic Truth Society, you warn: "Beware of any claim to mediate beneficial energies (eg reiki), any courses that promise the peace that Christ promises (eg enneagrams), any alternative therapy with its roots in eastern religion (eg acupuncture)."

I'm not sure if you've been to an acupuncture clinic lately Father, but amid the queues of folk seeking pain relief for their arthritis or their migraines, or treatment that might help them give up smoking, you're probably unlikely to find too many evil spirits trying to 'make their entries' – obtrusively or unobtrusively.

I understand, of course, that exorcism is your stock-in-trade, and that medicine is something you know a bit about. As the exorcist for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and as a trained medical doctor who was ordained into the church over 30 years ago, you have carried out thousands of exorcisms in London and even set up the International Association of Exorcists with Fr Gabriel Amorth, the Pope's top exorcist.

But is that really a reason to start attacking the sort of alternative therapies that these days complement an NHS system that is increasingly creaky, underfunded and falling short of its targets, and can provide pain relief, exercise and healing to millions of people around the world?

About four years ago I contracted Bell's Palsy, a painful illness that paralysed one side of my face, as well as damaging my hearing and causing acute pain in my jaw.

Five days after my diagnosis, depressed, sleep-deprived and in serious pain, I booked a massage to cheer me up. My masseuse turned out also to practice reiki and offered to do some healing on me.

I'm not going to profess to know how it worked or why, all I know is that I went home that day with the first relief from the excruciating pain I had been suffering since it had happened. It was the start of my recovery.

I had several sessions in the weeks following that first visit, and still to this day credit reiki with taking a significant role in my healing process. If an evil spirit made its entry during those sessions, it has yet to make its presence felt.

And you don't just have to listen to me about the benefits. There are thousands of folk out there who will tell you that reiki has helped them cope with anxiety and depression; that yoga can help relieve a wide range of symptoms from asthma to chronic back pain, as well as keep you flexible and supple; and that acupuncture can help a body regain its balance after illness and provide significant relief from migraine, nausea, even post-operative pain.

And it's not all personal testimonials either. To take just one example: in 2006, scientists at the University of Texas conducted an experiment on 61 breast cancer patients. Thirty of the patients participated in yoga around the time of their radiation treatments. The study found increased physical function, slightly better levels of social functioning, and lower levels of sleep dysfunction and fatigue among those participating in yoga.

This, Father, is not about belief, or a lack of it. It's about what works and benefits people, what makes them healthier, fitter and stronger, makes them feel better about themselves and can help significantly improve the quality of an individual's life.

Just thought you might like to take that into consideration.

Kind regards,

Emma Cowing