Seductive Spirits
Deliverance, Demons, and Sexual Worldmaking in Ghanaian Pentecostalism
Nathanael J. Homewood



The Ghanaian Pentecostal prophet Emmanuel, a prophet who figures prominently in this book, is a difficult prophet to write about in that, despite all the public over-the-top caricatures, he is immensely human, prone to mood swings, sweet in private, and occasionally violent and raging in public.1 When I first arrived in Accra, a long, winding, and tumultuous yearslong journey, people were hesitant to recommend his church as a research site. Both scholars and practitioners of Pentecostalism would start the sentence, “But if you really want to know what is going on . . .” and then the sentence would die off before even mentioning Emmanuel’s name or church and replacing it with some variation of “it’s too much.” But I ended up there anyway, in part due to its proximity to my flat in Adjiriganor, in part due to Emmanuel and his church’s charismatic magnetism, and mostly due to my interest in “what was really going on” within the excessive elements of Pentecostalism. I found myself there every Wednesday for nine months for his dramatic deliverance services. I ended up there most Sundays for the slightly more sedate church services. I spent weeks in his television station editing studio pouring over video and watching the employees create content for Emmanuel’s exclusive television channel. And I spent incalculable time sitting and chatting just inside the gate of the ostentatious compound watching the hustle and bustle of a spiritual empire.

While Emmanuel’s ministry is only one of four highlighted throughout this book, I inaugurate the introduction with the retelling of a deliverance I attended at his church on a temperate Sunday because it is both instructive and relatively banal in the world of deliverance. Deliverance, for Pentecostals, is the exorcistic ritual of evacuating demons from human bodies. As one prophet said, demons “have to be dealt with in a concrete way,” and that concrete response is through the physical interactions of deliverance.2 In the words of another prophet, “Whenever a demon is invited in, he must be kicked out!” Deliverance promises to expel the demons and their attendant problems from the human body. Whether or not deliverance delivers on its promises will unfold throughout this book.

It would be difficult, however, to overstate just how vital deliverance is in Ghanaian Pentecostalism. As far back as 1998 Paul Gifford saw deliverance as “perhaps Ghanaian Christianity’s most pressing issue.”3 Deliverance is especially prominent in the Ghanaian religious sensescape. It makes up a key part of the ever-audible Pentecostal soundscape that dominates the Ghanaian ear. Late into the night, you can hear the shrieks of those being delivered. In the middle of the day, you might find a crowd outside a local church awaiting deliverance to start, slowing traffic to a halt as they congregate outside the church’s doors. At the very least, you will be able to spot a poster or billboard promising miraculous deliverance. It does not matter where you are or when, you are likely to be close enough to sense deliverance.

This particular deliverance did not start any differently than the many scenes that fill these pages. Esther, a first time attendee at Emmanuel’s church, fell out, her body spasming as she went from her chair onto the floor. Emmanuel quickly had his ushers stand her up and bring her forward. A woman quickly wrapped her body in an orange creamsicle-colored piece of material.4 Her chest heaved heavily so that her body appeared to move in a wave. Somehow, in their limited interaction, Emmanuel identified the demon possessing Esther as the spirit of masturbation.5

In deliverance, once the offending demon is named, in this case the spirit of masturbation, the afflicted person is prayed for. That prayer is embodied, often accompanied by the laying on of hands or a physical enactment of spiritual warfare. The spirit must then be slain or removed through a combination of prayers and physical rituals that might involve hitting the person, rubbing the person’s stomach, smearing oil, or pouring consecrated water on the person.6 These physical rituals are often impromptu, extemporaneous, and creative, which will become evident from the scenes throughout this book.7 At the first touch from a pastor, spirits often manifest with cursing, vulgar remarks, or remarkable physical feats. At times manifestations can be extremely violent with bodily shaking, jumping, spinning, or the thrashing of limbs. Audible signs of demonic oppression can include screaming, crying, sobbing, belching, laughing, and screeching.8 Sudden outbursts are interpreted as the demon reacting to the presence of the Holy Spirit. These are physical attempts to find spirits and not merely symbolic battles. When Emmanuel thrust his hand toward Esther and yelled perhaps the most common phrase of charismatic deliverance, “Holy Ghost, FIRE!” Esther squirmed out of the grasp of the ushers and again fell to the floor. Esther propelled herself around the floor by moving her knees, waist, and neck, and sliding toward the congregation to evade Emmanuel and his spiritual invectives.

As soon as Esther slid across the floor, Emmanuel altered his diagnosis, or at least expanded upon it, and loudly and definitively yelled: “Spiritual marriage.” Spiritual marriage is a popular possession diagnosis in West African Pentecostalism and refers to a covenanted relationship between a human and at least one demon. Despite its relatively innocuous or ambivalent name, it is considered a serious condition and one that plagues all of humanity. The relationship is wide-ranging in its effects, from the most quotidian to fantastic. It is, though, primarily defined by sexual relations between a human and demon. The simple mention of spiritual marriage by Emmanuel immediately alerted the thousands in attendance that Esther was engaged in some sort of sexual relationship with the demonic. Prior to fieldwork in Ghana, I was largely unaware of spiritual marriage despite performing ethnographic research of Pentecostalism elsewhere. There are, of course, the world over many practices that involve ghostly and human paramours. Nonetheless, the prominence of spiritual marriage is one component of Ghanaian Pentecostalism that led me to write Seductive Spirits.

Emmanuel continued to expand on the details of Esther’s relationship with the demonic by asking, “Have you seen the snake married to this lady?” The question was revealing in multiple ways. First, by addressing the audience with the question Emmanuel demonstrates how all deliverance is a communal performance. Secondly, by invoking the word marriage the logic of spiritual marriage dictated that Esther was in a sexual relationships with a spirit who manifested as a snake. Almost on cue, Esther slid across the floor, screaming loudly, persistently, and angrily. She tried all sorts of bodily movements to move her body across the floor, eventually relying on a slithering action. When her body looked most snakelike in its movements, Emmanuel interjected: “It’s a snake spirit, and sometimes it turns into a lion.” He had seen the snake and the lion, but his statements of fact toward the congregation indicated that he did not expect everyone else to see what he was seeing.

Sometimes deliverance is relatively sedate, but other times it is wild and fierce. The stage of spirit removal marks the frenzied climax of deliverance. The amount of frenzy is said to correlate with the depth of demonization. Esther’s deliverance was middle-of-the-road in terms of frenzy. She struggled to stand. She tried to foist herself up in slow, unsure movements. She eventually staggered to her feet. When a group of pastors approached her, she swung her arms in a wild front stroke; her eyes were wide open, and her mouth was gaping. She took quick and short backward steps away from the encroaching pastors, all the while still screaming. She stopped just before the front row of the congregation and bent up and down at the waist so that she moved quickly between standing erect and the top of her head pointing toward her toes. Esther then started rolling at the waist instead of moving up and down so that her torso drew large circles into the charged air.

Emmanuel interjected again, “Holy Ghost,” and the crowd joined him as he yelled, “Fire!” Emmanuel then threw a flurry of questions toward the spirit: “How has the girl wronged you? What is she to you?”

Esther continued to struggle, but her resistance was mostly futile against the tight grip the ushers had hooked around her wrists and armpits. A third pastor held the microphone up to her face augmenting a loud sigh that descended in pitch. She dramatically shook her head no and took deep, heaving breaths. The orange cloth wrapped around her waist shook loose and fell to the ground, no longer clashing with her purple shirt emblazoned with 01, revealing her black and white leggings.9

Emmanuel and Esther partook in the standard dialogue that outlined the basic parameters of spiritual marriage. Esther said, “She’s my wife.” Emmanuel repeated it back in the form of a question. And Esther, more forcefully this time, repeated, “She’s my wife!” With Esther trying very weakly to pull away from her captors, not so much creating a scene of resistance but a gentle sway, Emmanuel observed, “You demons always prefer the beautiful and handsome ones.” Something about Emmanuel’s observation provoked Esther, and she began to struggle in earnest, moving quickly and fervently, twisting rapidly until two ushers could no longer control her body. Emmanuel urgently called for more pastors. A pastor in purple yelled at an usher whose smile made it seem as if he enjoyed the physicality of the confrontation. In the commotion, Esther broke free and began slapping and biting the ushers. Emmanuel yelled, “She is biting them, so help hold her, hold her in numbers.” A slew of pastors emerged, running toward Esther, and in no time six people were restraining her. The sonic volume of the congregation rose in a crescendo as she struggled with the ushers in the same way that crowd noise swells during the more vicious parts of a prizefight.

Emmanuel, confident that Esther was once more restrained, asked, “Who again did you say you are?” and then followed up the question with an observation, “Oh, so you’ve made yourself a tiger.” At the remark, she flashed her teeth and growled. For a moment, she kept her lips separated in an effort to make all her teeth visible. Her eyes bulged. She was performing the role of a tiger with polymorphous dexterity—now having been a tiger, a lion, and a snake. The conversation went in multiple directions until Emmanuel brought it back to the crux of the deliverance: spiritual marriage, or sex with demonic spirit animals, in this case, a snake, tiger, and lion. Emmanuel asked, even though their dialogue had already established the fact, “You are her spiritual husband?”

With a look of disgust and a roll of her eyes, Esther responded, “Yes! I don’t even know who directed her here.”

Emmanuel pushed the issue, “Who blessed her marriage to you?”

Esther pursed her lips, “No one gave her to me. I love her.”

The conversation rambled on as Emmanuel posed more questions, received answers, and then implied that he already knew the answer. For example, he asked, “Is it right what you’ve done to her?” To which Esther responded, “Ask her, I’ve given her sickness.” She was suggesting that these animal spirits had sickened her through their sexual liaisons. Emmanuel countered with, “Do you need to tell me? I’m aware of the virus you’ve injected into her blood; I didn’t want to say.”

Esther laughed, spat, and yelled, “Wooooo!” Emmanuel kept talking: “Do you know that the virus will be taken out of her today?”10

The charade continued with Esther threatening Emmanuel, “I want to fight you. If you think you are man enough, let them free me.”

Incredulous, Emmanuel shot back, “You want to fight me?”

Esther responded with a question and a demand, “But can you fight me? Let them free me.”

Increasingly confident, Emmanuel asked, “Do you know the Bishop you talk to?” He turned to his ushers and said, “Bring her here.”

The soundscape grew tense. There was an errant cymbal crash, and the murmurs of anticipation pulsed through the crowd. Emmanuel, with his hand raised and fingers outstretched, yelled into his microphone, “Today, any spirit married to this girl! Fire! Leave her!”

Esther screamed and ran backward away from the prophet. When she had moved a safe distance away, she stopped running and started jumping up and down like a boxer skipping rope, bouncing on one foot and then the other.

Emmanuel goaded her by stating, “But you said you wanted to fight me?” This angered Esther. She flipped the orange material, which an usher had deftly reapplied, over her head and let out a desperate scream. She strolled confidently right up into the prophet’s face so that they were eye to eye until Esther stumbled backward. Emmanuel continued to mock her with cries of “Won’t you hit me? Hit me!”

Mocking shenanigans aside, Emmanuel returned to the serious business of deliverance. He yelled, “Holy Ghost!” and the crowd enthusiastically responded with, “Fire!” This call and response played out a few times, and ended when Emmanuel screamed “In the name of Jesus!”

Esther growled a deep, guttural growl. She moved her head back and forth. In between growls she got down on all fours and bared her teeth. Emmanuel combatted this manifestation, presumably the tiger spirit previously named, by spitting “pfft” into the microphone and shooting his hand in her direction. She collapsed. The crowd applauded and cheered the animal spirit’s apparent death.

When Esther stood up, she immediately started vomiting. People will often vomit during deliverance, so deliverers usually carry toilet paper with them or something to wipe away the detritus.11 Esther vomited a stream of white foam that dangled off her lips before falling to the ground. She said while pointing at Emmanuel, “Because of you, I’m going to leave her.” She added, “I’m a snake, so I want to leave.” As with much of deliverance, performances often end with many fragments unresolved. Was Ether’s claiming to be a snake a challenge to Emmanuel’s characterization of her as a snake, lion, and tiger? Or was she now a snake, the feline spirits having been dispensed with? The fragments, unbeholden to a particular order, are part of what makes deliverance and the demonic so rich for analysis. There are copious details often seemingly left vague and unsettled. But to those present, be it prophets, deliverees, or congregational members, little underdeveloped details can mean everything.

Emmanuel encouraged Esther, “Vomit and bring out the sickness. If you do not vomit, I shall hit at you again. Vomit out all your evil sicknesses injected into her.” Esther retched a couple of times, heaved deeply, and vomited some more. Emmanuel added with an air of braggadocio, “You snake who turns into lions and tigers cannot scare me.” Esther went to all fours, growled more meekly than before, and continued to vomit.

Emmanuel continued to make demands of the animal spirit, “Take out your sicknesses. Take out your virus. You mad spirit!” Esther tried to stand but slipped this way and that way as if she were running on ice. Emmanuel continued to instruct the spirit, “Take your sickness and break your spiritual marriage to her.” The instructions to the spirit also served as a reminder to the watching audience that at the core of this whole performance was a sexual relationship between Esther and the demonic in the form of animalistic spirits.

Emmanuel suddenly and purposefully swung his arm toward Esther at eye level, not making contact but coming uncomfortably close. Esther’s eyes rolled back and then bulged in anger. She started slithering like a snake in Emmanuel’s direction. “Snake!” Emmanuel yelled. He launched into a deliverance prayer, “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord! This is why Jesus called Emmanuel, to free the children of the living God! Marine spirits and animal spirits, take out your sickness and spiritual marriage.” With that, Esther rolled onto her back, sat up, and performed a lengthy and melodramatic scene of death, which ended with her lying still and docile on her back.

To experience deliverance is to experience the removal of invading spirits from one’s body and to be brought fully under the control of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the only evidence that the evil spirits have indeed departed is the docile body. Until the moving body becomes still and quiet, deliverance will continue.12 Up until that moment of calm passivity, deliverance is a loud, messy, noisy experience. Deliverance ends when the body falls to the ground, unmoving. This docile ending is the norm in deliverance and is sometimes referred to as resting in the spirit. Resting in the spirit is the experience of falling and lying still on the ground. Thomas J. Csordas calls it a “sacred swoon” as it is the moment when the power of the divine completely overwhelms the evil spirits. The body reacts to this overwhelming divine power by ceasing to move.13

While theoretically docility is crucial, for without it there are no accompanying signs that the evil spirits have departed, it is more accurate to think of docility as deliverance’s denouement. That is, if docility occurs, because as some scenes in this book will illustrate, docility does not always materialize. When it does, it creates space for the prophet to add a few details to the possession story. Usually though, once docility is procured the service moves with surprising rapidity to another scene, completely ignoring the actionless, unmoving body for it offers nothing; the primary interest and preoccupation is exclusively with the possessed, exuberant body.

As Esther lay docile, the crowd erupted with cheers. After a few moments of docility, Esther stood up. She was confused about why she was at the front and what had just occurred. As Emmanuel gave her a shortened version of the events, she continued vomiting. Emmanuel informed the congregation, “You see her vomiting out the snake’s venom that caused her sickness. God has saved her from every sickness.”

There is much to analyze about Esther’s story. However, I share the story here at the onset of Seductive Spirits to demonstrate how central sex is to deliverance-dominant Pentecostalism. This entire drama renders real and public a sexual relationship between Esther and a demon or demons. But such sexual experiences and storytelling (or sextifying) have been mostly left unexplored in academic analysis of Pentecostalism.14 Such ignorance is a mistake. There is too much at stake to ignore sex with demons.

While the sexual components of Esther’s deliverance story may shock the reader, I must warn that this book is filled with materials that may discomfit. If these materials shock, though, I’d like to point out that wherever you find yourself, similar materials have been hiding in plain sight. Pentecostal ideas about sex with demons have increasingly been part of the public discourse. For example, as I write this in my office in Houston, Texas, I am only miles away from experts in deliverance from spiritual marriage. More prominently, though, in July of 2020 the sitting American president promoted a video of Cameroonian and Houstonian Dr. Stella Immanuel as she hawked hydroxychloroquine. Quickly, Immanuel’s fondness for hydroxychloroquine was a mere footnote as the media and late-night comedians honed in on her beliefs about sexual relations between demons and humans, exotic fodder for joke writers. Immanuel was derisively given the moniker Dr. Demon Sperm. However, the kind of spiritual-material demonic sexualities described by Dr. Stella Immanuel are not that unique in a growing segment of Pentecostalism.

And yet, demonic sexualities are unique in what they offer to the study of religion and sexuality, the focus of this text. To frame it more accurately, sex with spirits is not an exotic or new religious phenomenon within and beyond Christianity, but its fruitfulness for thinking about religion and sexuality has been limited hitherto. Seductive Spirits aims to change this limitation and think through the many theoretical possibilities and potentialities that sex with demons offer.

Scholars, in different contexts and epochs, have examined the significance of erotic demons. Walter Stephens, in his book Demon Lovers, argues that confessions of diabolic copulation in early modern Europe were primarily pertinent to theologians and clergy to assuage their lack of certainty in the reality of the supernatural.15 Testimonies about the sexual combinations of women’s bodies and demons were not for the benefit of those testifying but were actually for those prompting the testimonies, the early modern theologians wracked with spiritual doubts. Erotic demons were a means to an end. The embodied experience of sex with demons was treated as irrefutable, truer than any other claims about the supernatural; if demons existed, then angels existed, and most importantly, God existed. In many ways, Stephens is building on a long Christian tradition where “knowing” was conflated with sexual intercourse. To have sex was to know deeply, intimately, and indisputably.

While rich and generative, Stephens’s argument falls short in the Ghanaian Pentecostal context in two crucial ways. First, sex with demons is not archaic but a flourishing tool of meaning-making. Stephens’s tying sex with demons to a specific contextual and historical epoch is laudable but not necessarily translatable. It is necessary to reevaluate sex with demons, in this case, in the context and historical moment of Ghana. Further, Stephens’s interpretation limits the utility of sex with demons to epistemological and ontological realms. I am not arguing that these are not useful lenses for Ghanaian Pentecostals’ obsession with demonic sex. But for Ghanaian Pentecostals, sex with demons is not only about shaping theological and cosmological visions, but it impinges on all sorts of practical problems in the quotidian, political possibilities, and social frameworks. The idea that Ghanaian Pentecostals need sex to assuage a lack of certainty about the supernatural is not borne out by the evidence. Pentecostals assume the world in the here and now is teeming with a broad diversity of spiritual forces waiting to impose their sensual prowess on human bodies.

The fundamental shortcoming in most texts about demonic sex, though, is the speed with which each book moves away from the sex, from the bodies, from the multisensory elements of sex with demons. Each text is missing, in the words of L. H. Stallings, the “funk” of coitus.16 These books reduce demons to something else—a tool for knowledge, meaningless rhetoric, merely simile—and assume that if demons are something else, then so is the sex in which they allegedly participate. The sex then fades into the background, even when it is that around which arguments pivot. At some point while listening to my interlocutors emphasize the extreme pleasure of sex with demons, I realized that many of the academic models and tools for identifying and analyzing demonic erotic experiences ignored the funk, the bodily sensations, and the primacy of pleasure in sex. In the case of Stephens, for example, knowledge through sex is fundamental to the argument, but there is no exploration of the various sexual expressions described. Sex is simultaneously overdetermined as truth and undetermined in almost every other facet.

Many studies of Pentecostalism similarly discipline, sanitize, and bowdlerize the rituals, fantasies, practices, and desires of Pentecostals. In each case, the authors uncritically accept Pentecostal self-representations and their rhetorical claims of sexual discipline. For example, Jessica Moberg writes that “neocharismatic groups are particularly intriguing from a ‘body perspective’ since they combine extensive physical interaction during worship and emphasis on physical (and mental) wellbeing with strict bodily discipline in other areas, including sexuality.”17 Her first claim about the richness of Pentecostals from a body perspective is undoubtedly valid, evidenced by the many sources that have articulated just that. The declaration of strict bodily discipline in sexuality, though, is dubious. And Moberg is not alone. Nimi Wariboko writes, “One of the goals of [pneumatic] spiritual practice is to produce the clean, proper, divine law-abiding body.”18 Pentecostal sexual discipline is only valid if we take preachers, prophets, and teachers at their words; however, in interpreting Pentecostal sexualities, one must probe and interrogate their idealized self-representations.19 Pentecostals preach and teach strict sexual discipline within the bounds of marriage, but ritual and practice effectively eviscerate such discipline.

In practice, the Pentecostals I spent time with are not particularly disciplined sexually. That is not to say they are prodigiously sexual, but many shared with me stories of affairs, desires, and fantasies. Sometimes these stories were sextified, that is shared in sexual testimony: I once was addicted to this type of sinful sex, and now I am delivered. But most often, they were shared unremorsefully as a matter of fact, whether or not the particular sexual relationships had been discontinued or continued into the present. And the prophets I worked with were not disciplined either; their oblique acknowledgments, the rumors, and the explicit information of congregants illustrated a significant divorce between their words and sexual experiences. While I have no desire to reveal their specific sexual experiences except when directly relevant to the arguments of this book, none of the prophets herein were as disciplined as their speech indicated. And none of this is to say Pentecostals are more sexually active in practice than anyone else; I simply wish to push against the move to accept Pentecostal idealized self-representations of sexual discipline as sexual evidence.

More so than their personal proclivities, it is in ritual that it becomes most obvious that sexual discipline is not the point. In my research I did not experience deliverance ministries as being particularly interested in sexual discipline. The regularity with which deliverance ministries visit and revisit, cite and recite, iterate and reiterate a wide variety of sexualities leaves me convinced that, in Wariboko’s terms, Pentecostals find meaning in the anti-holy element of their “holy–anti-holy ambiguity.”20 Instead of sexual discipline, the emphasis here on bodily sensations and sexual obsessions in ritual does the opposite by opening up a libertine space. Instead of rushing past the cunnilingus, the spilled semen, and public masturbation, this book will tarry with the sex, much the same way deliverance ministries do.


Increasingly, academics are embracing Pentecostalism as a rich theoretical source to think with. James K. A. Smith has called Pentecostalism “a kind of theoretical provocateur.”21 No longer is Pentecostalism merely an interesting ethnographic topic but plentiful in its ability to reorder and rethink the world and the place of humans in that world. Seductive Spirits melds both approaches with abundant thick ethnographic description combined with theoretical musings about the possibilities therein. The theory flows from watching and participating in deliverance-dominant Pentecostalism; it engages with Pentecostalism as an embodied set of practices and rituals “that implicitly carry a worldview.”22 Pentecostalism happens in spontaneous ways where one often experiences before explication is provided, if it ever is. And so, I started with the bodies and senses, the stories and testimonies, the interruptions and surprises in order to then theorize. Because the theoretical reflections followed the ethnography, an intense interdisciplinarity was required. As such, queer theory, sense studies, animal studies, philosophy, theology, and black studies are just some of the fields utilized to better understand the theoretical richness of Pentecostalism.

Ashon Crawley, perhaps more than anyone else, has captured the theoretical richness of Pentecostalism. Crawley argues that central to philosophy and theology is a subjectivity that rests on the categorical distinction of thought. The blackness and Pentecostalism constitutive of one another in Crawley’s portmanteau Blackpentecostalism provide the tools to think and be without the restrictions of subjectivity so central to philosophy and theology.23 As such, Blackpentecostalism finds itself in the world but not of it, acting for the hope of something new, something different.24 In particular, Crawley captures this in Blackpentecostalism’s commitment to “Otherwise possibilities.”25 That is to say that Pentecostalism creates the possibility of thinking about the world in new ways—especially sensually in the celebration of black flesh—and can be an alternative approach for organizing, performing, and producing thought.26 In the words of Crawley, “Blackpentecostalism is the capaciousness of otherwise resistance that rises to, while emerging from, the occasion of its genesis.”27 Not to get too far ahead, but in the conclusion of this book I will argue, in particular agreement with Crawley, that in performances typically deemed excessive Ghanaian Pentecostalism is a decolonial project.


A significant element of thinking with Pentecostalism is thinking with demons. Thinking with demons has also gained popularity recently.28 Bruce Lincoln notes that while discourse around demons was thoroughly discredited during the Enlightenment, demons should be given the same scholarly attention as any other component of religion.29 Using the case of ancient Mazdaean demonology, Lincoln demonstrates that thinking with demons is a project with wide-ranging implications, challenging “our most fundamental ideas about the nature of being itself.”30 Meanwhile, David Gordon White articulates perhaps the most important distinction of thinking with demons when he writes, “Daemons have always traveled more lightly than gods.”31 That is to say in their indeterminacy, their ambiguity, and their ability to morph between forms, demons challenge us to think in more loose and flexible ways, challenging the certainty of Enlightenment thought.

In Pentecostalism, thinking with demons is primarily done not through theological prose but through the performance of demons in deliverance. Deliverance is the most consequential of the many embodied and experiential charismata among a large swath of Pentecostal Christians in Ghana.32 In the early twentieth century, the teachings of Charles Parham and William Seymour spread the belief that the marker of a spiritually attuned life for Pentecostals was the gift of tongues. The tongue moving in particular ways and producing various sounds was the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But as Pentecostalism, especially in non-Western settings, has shifted to a deliverance-dominant model, the spirits and senses are different. No longer is the movement mostly about sensing the Holy Spirit but in sensing the demonic, often sexually. No longer is the relationship between spirit and human primarily about the verbal, in either glossolalic or xenolalic form, but about the activation of a host of senses that stretch and expand the human sensorium in various directions. The performance of the demonic in deliverance has emerged as the primary embodied ritual.33

Deliverance is central to Pentecostalism in the same way that conversion or confession may be for many other Christians. It is its own form of conversion, its own confessional practice. In the same way that Evangelicals seek conversion, being born-again again and again, deliverance-dominant Pentecostals are ever engaged with the demonic. In the same way that confession reveals, deliverance exposes. And like the repetition of both practices, the experiences of the demonic are recursive, and so deliverance is continuously sought and resought, shaping and reshaping many along the way. Pentecostal ministries make their case for the centrality and necessity of deliverance in many ways, the foremost of which is the placement of deliverance within their church services. As Catholic masses build toward the climax of the Eucharist, or Evangelical services move toward the apogee of the altar call, Pentecostal deliverances services ensure that deliverance occupies the climactic portion of the church service.

The centrality of deliverance in Ghana extends far beyond the somewhat porous boundaries of Pentecostalism. Opoku Onyinah admits, “At present, almost all churches in Ghana include exorcistic activities, referred to as ‘deliverance’ in their programmes, since failure to do so amounts to losing members to churches that include such activities.”34 In the West African context, the emphasis on an individual gift from a singular spirit simply does not cohere with a religious worldview that sees spirits, many, as a real presence in all aspects of life. Deliverance responds specifically to such a world, where human beings are invariably and inevitably susceptible to the influence of numerous demons or evil spirits.

There are many ways to interpret this exorcistic boom and its shifting of the senses from heavenly utterings to demonic embodiments. Seductive Spirits will do much interpreting of this shift, but for now it is important to note how significant the change is. The demonic in deliverance Pentecostalism is all-consuming, casting a shadow over every element of Pentecostal life, from the most mundane and quotidian to unique bursts of the fantastic. According to Birgit Meyer, “In Accra the Devil is omnipresent,” as are the Devil’s spirited minions.35 As Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu writes of deliverance hermeneutics, “The devil and demons seem to wield so much power and their influence is so diffuse that it is impossible to be conscious of their presence and live a life devoid of fear and insecurity.”36 It is worth emphasizing just how all-consuming this worldview is. Asamoah-Gyadu adds, in reference to the probing questions of deliverance, “In view of the detailed nature of the questions, it is unlikely if all were to answer truthfully as requested, that anyone could escape being delivered from a demon of some sort.”37 In this worldview, everyone encounters the demonic always and everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the prophets I researched saw the need for deliverance as universal. Kwofie emphasized that all African Christians needed to go through deliverance, while Nikoi was adamant that all Christians needed to be set free from demons.38 The uniqueness of deliverance-dominant Pentecostalism is not so much the ability to combat the demonic but the commitment to perform the demonic publicly, to draw close to demons. This is not, though, an entirely new approach for Christianity. Dayna Kalleres has noted in late antiquity urban Christianization that instead of fleeing the terrifying demons that filled the world, figures such as the Christian bishop John Chrysostom advocated close proximity to the demonic.39

On the surface, the primary import of demons for Pentecostals is revealing the supernatural. As Jonathon O’Donnell has pointed out, demons may hierarchically be the lowest of the supernatural beings, with God being found at the apex of that hierarchy. However, their existence points toward the apex, provides hints and signposts of the divine.40 Meyer reached a similar conclusion after conducting research among Ewe Christians. She found that without the belief in the existence of the Devil and evil spirit-beings, the people’s faith in God “would be devoid of any basis.”41 Similarly, Wariboko has argued that Pentecostalism radically appropriates the demonic to access the supernatural, “noumenally exposed in its naked, unmediated presence for the phenomenal gaze.”42 In this framework I myself have argued elsewhere, “Bad is to good as demon is to angel as devil is to god. Knowing one side of the ledger exists is to know that the other exists. In this world, for pneumatic Christians, there may be no better way to know God than to know God through the contrary, through the evil window into what lay beyond material existence.”43

The weight given the demonic is evident in the concerns of Ghanaian scholar Abamfa Atiemo, who writes that “in most cases they [deliverance Pentecostals] are guilty of a terrible dualism. A dualism which creates a Devil who seems to be equal in power and majesty with God himself.”44 Atiemo worries that the fascination with evil has superseded Christian teachings in deliverance ministries and obliterated themes such as salvation, repentance, holiness, and consecration.45 This is a genuine concern among some of the faithful. I, however, hear Atiemo’s complaint of manicheanism and demonic obsession and recognize a need to reorient studies of deliverance-dominant Pentecostalism to emphasize the demonic as powerful, majestic, and attractive. Academic adjudications which interpret demons in relation to God, including my own, underestimate the importance of demons. Demons are not merely a window through which to see the good. In fact, I think the argument that demons point to God or knowledge of God has been a limiting factor in the understanding of Pentecostalism. Demons matter unto themselves.

Demons are a knowledge regime, one that shapes how Pentecostals think about, engage with, and construct the cosmos.46 In particular, in the spirit of Michael Taussig who interpreted the devil as “he who resists the cosmic process,” I find demons to resist a great many structures, orders, and ideas.47 Indeed, this has been seen as constitutive of the demonic by many scholars. The historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith demonstrated that in Near Eastern late antiquity, demonology had a subversive element.48 Kalleres noted that in late antiquity urban Christianization was a creative and competitive ritual marketplace where demonology agitated political, socioeconomic, and cultural realities.49 Pentecostals, similarly, embrace the demonic and all its attendant powers of political agitation.

It should already be clear that while Pentecostals deem the demonic repulsive, there is a strong desire or attraction to the whole world of demonology. In their efforts to destroy the demonic, deliverance ministries end up enacting the demonic in all its titillating glory. Pentecostals believe that deliverance is neither brought about instantly or permanently. Deliverance is a continuous process; the demons abide! In the most intense, physical attempts to banish evil, Pentecostals invite a certain kind of intimacy with evil and the grotesque. Deliverance-dominant Pentecostalism, in its commitment to see beyond physical reality, exuberantly embraces the nightmarish disorder of bodily encounters between demons and humans. Pentecostalism’s appeal is not necessarily the power of the Holy Spirit but instead the enactment of the forbidden, the power of the world teeming with demons. Meyer calls deliverance a kind of circular conversion whereby Pentecostals continuously revisit that which they cast out.50 This recursivity will be demonstrated throughout the cases explored herein.

To be clear, in arguing that demons matter unto themselves I am not claiming that God or gods and Satan are wholly different. Undoubtedly, the demonic and heavenly parallel one another with significant similarities and powers. I simply contend that thinking about demons or with demons absent the rush to God or salvation offers much. The stories demons tell and people tell about demons are poignant and powerful. In order to clarify this, I invoke the idea of tarrying. Tarrying, traditionally, in Pentecostalism implies the active bodily work of waiting for, upon, with, and within the spirit of God in community. But deliverance-dominant Pentecostals tarry with the demonic. Tarrying is the act of staying longer than intended, to delay leaving a place, situation, milieu, or experience. In deliverance, Pentecostals stay with their demons.

If one pays attention to the practice of tarrying with the demonic, it becomes clear that deliverance is less about defeating demons and much more about embracing them. Think of Esther’s story that inaugurated this chapter where much more time and effort were spent engaging and performing the demon(s) rather than tarrying in the presence of God. Though deliverance is ostensibly a ritual about defeating demons and being freed of their impositions, it is ultimately an exploration of what happens at those bodily sites of exchange between humans and demons. Deliverance ministries devote almost all of their ritual efforts to exploring specific details of how, when, and where demons possessed somebody. In these deliverance settings, “churches offer their members the opportunity to experience the satanic, i.e., the chance to experience possession which is simultaneously denounced as ‘heathen.’51 Repeatedly, prophets mine the depths of that which is disallowed, making the central point of deliverance to experience the demonic rather than the freedom deliverance promises. Deliverance consists of the public embodied performances of that which is defined as sinful or evil, with minimal material or embodied evidence of that which is holy or good.

Primary among those disallowed elements in which deliverance intervenes is sex. Sexual demons, demonic sexualities, and possession by lustful demons are the central focus of this book because they are an overwhelming and overpowering recursive presence in the Ghanaian deliverance ministries I researched. While sexual possession requires its Pentecostal corollary, dramatic deliverance, Pentecostals use deliverance as a means to think with demons. In deliverance these sexual demons are tarried with, they are embraced, they are performed, they are rendered real and possible. In so doing, Pentecostals engage in a creative exercise of sexual worldmaking.


1. Due to the sensitivity of my research I will use pseudonyms throughout this book with the exception of citations from other scholars about churches peripheral to this study. Nobody has written extensively about the figures central to this book.

2. Birgit Meyer, Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity among the Ewe in Ghana (Trenton: Africa World Press, 1999), xvi.

3. Paul Gifford, African Christianity: Its Public Role (London: Hurst and Co., 1998), 108.

4. The expedient wrapping of bodies is a move intended for modesty. Female (and only female) deliverees have their legs wrapped in cloth during deliverance to protect “their modesty.”

5. Two notes are relevant here. First, masturbation is the focus of chapter 3. More importantly, it is worth acknowledging the slippage that occurs throughout Seductive Spirits between the terms spirit and demon. The slippage is not in error but mirrors the capacious Pentecostal umbrella category of otherworldly evil beings. In their religious lives, Pentecostal Ghanaians regularly encounter evil manifestations of an expansive cosmos ruled by Satan but represented on earth by demons, witchcraft, sorcery, magic, ancestors, and traditional deities. The Pentecostals throughout this book regularly shift between spirits and demons as if they are synonymous, and accordingly, Seductive Spirits also treats them as synonymous.

6. Here, again, we encounter some slippage between the terms slain and removed. The two terms indicate radically different outcomes for the offending demons, death or departure elsewhere. The Pentecostals in this text were creative, not consistent. And so, sometimes there seemed to be a performance of the demon’s death, and sometimes it was discussed as if it flew off elsewhere. But this divergence is not altogether important. It will quickly become apparent that the central interest of deliverance-dominant Pentecostals is not what happens after someone is dispossessed but instead an obsession with the creative possibilities while the demon abides.

7. The extemporaneity of Pentecostal deliverance stands in sharp contrast with exorcisms of official Catholicism, which has very clearly delineated processes and procedures.

8. Cf. Jon Bialecki, “Quiet Deliverances,” in Practicing the Faith: The Ritual Life of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians, ed. Martin Lindhardt (New York: Berghahn Books, 2011), 247–276.

9. Pastors commonly inveigh against such leggings—dismissing them as a hybrid of Western (they only make sense in the cold) and demonic (sexually revealing) influences.

10. The virus was HIV. All of the prophets in this book claim to cure people of HIV. Deliverance is considered a way to immediately heal HIV. The prophets always promise discretion as they discuss somebody’s HIV diagnosis in front of small and large crowds, but everyone knows what the “virus” is.

11. Stephen Hunt, “Managing the Demonic: Some Aspects of the Neo-Pentecostal Deliverance Ministry,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 13.2 (1998): 223.

12. Hunt, “Managing the Demonic.” 222.

13. Thomas Csordas, The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997), 32.

14. Sextify / seksˈtəˌfī/ verb: to give sexual testimony. See Monique Moultrie, Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 27.

15. Walter Stephens, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex and the Crisis of Belief (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). Cf. Armando Maggi, Satan’s Rhetoric: A Study of Renaissance Demonology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Armando Maggi, In the Company of Demons: Unnatural Beings, Love, and Identity in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); Ioan P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987).

16. L. H. Stallings, Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016), 4.

17. Jessica Moberg, “Maintaining Sexual Purity: Ritualized, Embodied and Spatial Strategies among Neo-Charismatics in Stockholm,” in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion: Volume 8 Pentecostals and the Body, ed. Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 240. Another example of a text that tends to take formal Pentecostal discourses at face value is Chammah J. Kaunda, Genders, Sexualities, and Spiritualities in African Pentecostalism: “Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

18. Nimi Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2014), 115.

19. It is noteworthy that there is a growing literature that explores sexuality in West Africa, but it tends to focus on the figure of the prophet or pastor. See: Abimbola Adunni Adelakun, Powerful Devices: Prayer and the Political Praxis of Spiritual Warfare (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2023) and Ebenezer Obadare, Pastoral Power, Clerical State: Pentecostalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Nigeria (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2022).

20. Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 81.

21. James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), xxi.

22. Smith, Thinking in Tongues, xviii.

23. Ashon Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 4.

24. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath, 86, 176.

25. Crawley, 2.

26. Crawley, 2–3.

27. Crawley, 26.

28. For example see: Bruce Lincoln, Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars: Critical Explorations in the History of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); David Gordon White, Daemons Are Forever: Contacts and Exchanges in the Eurasian Pandemonium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021); S. Jonathon O’Donnell, Passing Orders: Demonology and Sovereignty in American Spiritual Warfare (New York: Fordham University Press, 2021). Also note the 2022 Conference at Trinity College Dublin entitled “Demons: God and Bad.”

29. Lincoln, Gods and Demons, 31.

30. Lincoln, 42.

31. Gordon White, Daemons Are Forever, 1.

32. The 2010 Census stated that Ghana was 71.2 percent Christian. Approximately 28.3 percent of the total population was Pentecostal. In greater Accra, Pentecostals represent 44 percent of the population.

33. Opoku Onyinah, Pentecostal Exorcism: Witchcraft and Demonology in Ghana (Deo, 2012), 139. While West African Pentecostal practices may emphasize deliverance more than other locales, Ghanaian and Nigerian ministries are trendsetters for Pentecostal practice. Not only do the practices from West Africa get performed in diaspora, but they influence Pentecostal performance globally. While writing much of this book in Texas, I could easily find practitioners of each of the deliverance practices in this book within a short drive of my house.

34. Onyinah, Pentecostal Exorcism, 2.

35. Birgit Meyer, “‘Delivered from the Powers of Darkness’: Confessions of Satanic Riches in Christian Ghana,” Africa 65.2 (1995): 236.

36. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, African Charismatics: Current Developments within Independent Indigenous Pentecostalism in Ghana (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 183.

37. Asamoah-Gyadu, African Charismatics, 186.

38. Kwofie often talked about Africa as being especially possessed due to the presence of traditional religions, thus why he references Africa specifically in this quote.

39. Dayna S. Kalleres, City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015), 1–3. In an interesting note of interpenetration between antiquity and the contemporary, one of Kalleres’s sources in constructing the term diabolization is Birgit Meyer’s work in Ghana.

40. O’Donnell, Passing Orders, 14.

41. Birgit Meyer, “‘If You Are a Devil, You Are a Witch, and If You Are a Witch, You Are a Devil.’ The Integration of ‘Pagan’ Ideas into the Conceptual Universe of Ewe Christians in Southeastern Ghana,” Journal of Religion in Africa 22.2 (1992): 108.

42. Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 4.

43. Nathanael Homewood, “The Supersensual Supernatural: Sexual Spirits in the History of Christianity,” in Religion: Super Religion, ed. Jeffrey J. Kripal (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016).

44. Abamfa Atiemo, “Deliverance in the Charismatic Churches in Ghana,” Trinity Journal of Church and Theology 4.2 (1994–5): 47.

45. Atiemo, “Deliverance in the Charismatic Churches in Ghana,” 47.

46. O’Donnell, Passing Orders, 24.

47. Michael T. Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 18.

48. Reprinted in Jonathan Z. Smith, Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 172–189.

49. Kalleres, City of Demons, 1–3, 31.

50. Meyer, Translating the Devil, 211–212.

51. Meyer, 172.