Two preliminary stages preceding demonic possession
are extraordinary temptations and diabolical obsessions.
THE FACE OF EVIL
“And the Lord said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” — Job, 2:2
WARNING — This article contains disturbing material.
Do not read it if you are of a nervous disposition.
You know the face of evil when you see it. Take a look at the face of that girl in the picture above. She radiates evil. The Prince of Darkness has taken possession of her and rides her all night long, as she shrieks “F**k me! F**k me! F**K ME!”
It’s only a movie? — Yes, it’s only a movie. But did you know the movie was based on a real life case of demonic possession? A case involving not a 12-year-old girl, as in The Exorcist, but of a 13-year-old boy from Baltimore. This case, hushed up for years by the Catholic Church, involved two Jesuit priests in the role of exorcists. The year was 1949. The name of the two priests: Father Bowden, age 52, and his athletic younger assistant, Father Halloran.
Only quite recently, forty years after its release, Tom Leonard in the Daily Mail revealed the true story behind The Exorcist.
Many moviegoers fainted or vomited during the screening of the movie. Others claimed they had tried to leave the cinema but were rooted to their seats, too petrified to move. Some were carried out on stretchers and rushed to hospital emergency departments after having strokes.
The year was 1973, described as “the most significant year of the 20th century.”
Among those who trooped to see it [‘The Exorcist’] at a cinema in St Louis, Missouri, were two local Jesuit priests, Fathers William Bowdern and Walter Halloran, who knew better than anyone that this was not entirely a Hollywood flight of fancy – for they had performed the real-life exorcism on which the film was based.
We will consider the real life exorcism later. But first, a few preliminaries.
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The Catholic Church is known to perform thousands of exorcisms each year. The current Pope, Francis I, maintains that Satan is a real person, not a figment of the imagination or a mere “symbol of evil”. In May 2013, the newly-elected Pope allegedly performed a brief exorcism live on camera. As he was moving down a line of disabled people, offering blessings, the Pontiff paused before a boy in a wheelchair. He grasped the boy by the head, whereupon the boy gasped and shuddered before going limp. This was seen by many as a form of exorcism.
In 1906, Clara Germana Cele, a 16-year-old Christian student in Natal, South Africa, is said to have become demonically possessed after making a secret pact with Satan. (See Part 1).
Clara developed clairvoyant abilities at once and a sudden knowledge of multiple languages, speaking fluently in several tongues. Nuns at her convent reported that she produced horrible, animalistic sounds and also levitated up to five feet in the air — a feat reportedly witnessed by 170 people. Eventually, two priests were brought in to perform an exorcism, one of whom she almost strangled to death. The 48-hour exorcism was successful and Clara was restored to normality. (See Wikipedia, here).
A scene from ‘The Exorcist’ showing levitation
In June 2014, “the Vatican formally recognized a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who liberate their faithful from demons. The Congregation for the Clergy approved the International Association of Exorcists. (Independent newspaper, UK.)
Exorcisms are not confined to Christian countries. We learn from Chinese sources that exorcists in Taoist monasteries are trained professionals who die young. This is because each exorcism drains them of vital energy, sometimes sapping years from their life. Here is a description of one such exorcism as witnessed by a Westerner:
“Animal growls and howls issued from time to time from his mouth which became square, his teeth gleaming like the fangs of a dog. I had the impression that a pack of wild animals was fighting inside his body. Terrible threats poured out of his contorted mouth, now fringed in white foam, and interspersed with such terrible obscenities that women [witnesses] had to plug their ears with their fingers…. [and then] he jumped at the priest’s throat like a mad bloodhound.
Convulsions shook the monstrous, swollen body [which had blown up into a “grotesque balloon”], and the things that followed were disgusting and revolting in the extreme. It seemed that all the apertures of the body were opened by the unseen powers hiding in it and streams of malodorous excreta and effluvia flowed on the ground in incredible profusion.”
The abbot performing the exorcism, we are told, “was in a terrible state of prostration and was half carried and half dragged away by his novices. Shaken, scared and very sick, I could hardly walk back to our apartment.”
— Peter Goullart, The Monastery of Jade Mountain (1961), quoted in Adventures with the Buddha, A Personal Buddhist Reader, edited by Jeffery Paine (2005), pp. 217-223.
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Remember that it was Christ himself who told us that the entire world was under the dominion of Satan. He referred to the Devil as the Prince or “ruler of the world,” and his injunction in the Lord’s Prayer “Libera nos a Malo”—sometimes translated as “Deliver us from the Evil One”—would make no sense at all if we were NOT in need of deliverance. It is precisely because we are under demonic influence on a daily basis, subject to infection from the virus of evil, that we are advised to pray “DELIVER US FROM EVIL.”
The sense of an ever-present and pervasive evil force, running like a subterranean river under the calm surface of everyday life, is a very common meme in religious literature. We are constantly being advised to practice eternal vigilance. Never let your guard down, we are being told. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” Christ advises. “Pray without ceasing,” St Paul chimes in. “Be sober, be vigilant,” St Peter adds, “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Gautama Buddha recommends constant “mindfulness”, that is, being ever on the alert. The final sura of the Qur’an (114) warns us against the wiles of the Whisperer (Satan) and the ever-present jinn or demonic entities of the Islamic universe who can be seen as the lurkers in the shadows of life—or the “insane hiders”, to trace the word ‘jinn’ to its etymological roots.
JINN (also ‘djin’) : The plural is jinn (demons, spirits), the singular jinee. In Islamic demonology, the jinn are lower than the angels and are said to exercise supernatural influence—not always benign—over men. According to Dr Ebenezer Brewer in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, they dwell in the mountains of Kaf which encompass the earth, created 2000 years before Adam. They assume the form of serpents, dogs, cats, and even human beings. “The evil jinn are hideously ugly,” Dr Brewer tells us, “but the good are singularly beautiful.”
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Curious to learn more about demons, I was taken aback when a book in my den suddenly dislodged itself from a shelf above my head and landed on the floor. Somewhat bemused, I picked it up and leafed through it at random, only to find that the book was full of curious lore on Buddhist demonology. A strange coincidence, I thought. The book was written by the great anthropologist and Tibetan translator, Walter Evans-Wentz, and was called The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I was impressed to find that it included a psychological commentary by Carl Jung and a foreword by the erudite British orientalist Sir John Woodroffe, also known as Arthur Avalon.
In Tibetan Buddhism, all demonic beings are the materialisations of the percipient’s own karmic thought forms. You created your own demons by your own sinful thoughts and desires. You imagined them into being. Astonished beyond words, this is what I read:
“The minor deities, heroes, dakhinis (or ‘fairies’), goddesses, lords of death, rakshasas [shape-shifting spirits], demons, spirits, and all others, correspond to definite human thoughts, passions, and impulses, high and low, human and subhuman and superhuman, in karmic form, as they take shape from the seeds of thought forming the recipient’s consciousness-content. (The Tibetan Book of the Dead, p.32)
The theosophist Evans-Wentz goes on to explain how our demons come into existence, created by our own karmas: “All pretas [‘hungry ghosts’], who exist in space, who traverse the sky, and the eighty thousand species of mischievous sprites, have become so by changing their feelings while in the mental body on the Bardo-plane.” (Ibid., p.187). Malignant spirits are apparently the result of the “bad karma” of human beings. They are the materialisations of our evil thoughts and deeds. In short, they are sin-engendered. Once created, they have an independent existence of their own and haunt their creators like ghosts. (Ibid., p.187, n.1)
The “ghost” in the mirror, though it may be invisible to others, is not a hallucination as such. It is a “tulpa“, a mind-created apparition or magical emanation with an independent existence of its own once it as been “conjured up” by the sheer power of imagination. It is often regarded as an imaginary friend. Thus it is possible in theory to summon up a ravishingly beautiful “demon lover” and have sex with her. Some adepts of tantric Buddhism are indeed reported to have created their own mind-created concubines, infinitely more desirable than ordinary flesh-and-blood women.
Hell, according to this outré form of Mahayana Buddhism, is a virtual reality created by the sinner. And demons are one’s own karmic thought forms brought to life like tulpas. The problem is, how do you escape this virtual reality which is indistinguishable from real life? How does the entrapped soul break free from the hellish nightmare it has created for itself?
That question remains unanswered. It’s like asking: How do you get out of Hell?
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I cited earlier in an article on sex addiction and pornography the old Latin adage Nemo repente fuit turpissimus — ‘No one becomes thoroughly wicked all at once.’ Evil develops slowly in the soul over a period of several years. It often begins in childhood, manifesting itself as cruelty to animals. Such children become precociously sexual, indulging in compulsive masturbation from an early age. This abnormal behavior can turn males into fully-fledged sex criminals, including serial killers, and it can turn women into nymphomaniacs. Demonic possession is exceptionally rare and occurs only as the third and final stage of diablocentricism.
Preceding possession proper are two preliminary stages: extraordinary temptations and diabolical obsessions. The temptations experienced are primarily sexual. The obsessions run the whole gamut of infatuations, addictions, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Porn addiction and pedophilia, for example, are two such obsessive-compulsive disorders that belong under the rubric of demonic influence.
None of the saints, to my knowledge, has ever become demonically possessed, but this immunity was achieved only as the result of heroic counter-measures to avoid being sucked into the vortex of diabolism. Many saints have experienced the first two stages, in particular extraordinary temptations. These include St Anthony, St Benedict, St Hilarion, St Francis of Assisi, St Teresa, St Catherine of Siena, St Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, Blessed Angela of Foligno, St Margaret Mary, the Venerable Mother Agnès de Langeac, and the saintly Curé D’Ars. (Mystical Phenomena, A Treatise of Mystical Theology, by Mgr. Albert Farges, 1926, p.201)
Great sinners, we are told, are left to their depraved senses: tradidit illos Deus in reprobum sensum (“God gave them over to a reprobate mind,” Romans.i.28). “Indeed, in order to chastise us, God very often only has to leave us alone,” Mgr. Farges notes. “And this is true of a people as well of individuals, for nations are very often punished by their own faults.” (p. 200)
Temptations to lust and blasphemy often beset the troubled mind. In the words of St John of the Cross:
“To some is sent the angel of Satan, the spirit of impurity, to buffet them with horrible and violent temptations of the flesh, to trouble their minds with filthy thoughts, and their imaginations wth representations of sin most vividly depicted; which, at times, becomes an affliction more grievous than death.” (St John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, bk.1, ch. xiv, quoted in Farges, op.cit., p. 201-202)
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And so we come back to The Exorcist.
Before we consider the real life case on which the movie is based, let’s take a look at one of the opening scenes. This 2-minute clip will show you what is involved in the exorcism process. Whether you believe or disbelieve in the supernatural is immaterial. All you need to know is that scenes like this mirror a reality far more nightmarish than anything the imagination can conjure up.
In November 2013, 500 Jesuit scholars met at a conference in St Louis to discuss the 1949 case involving the 13-year-old boy from Baltimore who had inspired The Exorcist.
The boy, known as Roland Doe, was a bookish only child brought up in a German-American Protestant family. He was close to his Aunt Harriet, a spiritualist who encouraged him to play with a Ouija board. Within days of her death in January 1949, odd scratching noises started coming from the walls of Roland’s family home and even from within his mattress.
His parents initially assumed it was mice, but mice wouldn’t have been able to do what came next — moving his bedroom furniture around and sending objects such as fruit sailing through the air.
At school, his desk began hitting other desks, once injuring another pupil. The boy became prone to blackouts, and started to become violent and babble gibberish. In desperation, his parents — convinced he was possessed by his dead aunt — turned to their Lutheran church minister. He referred them to the Catholic church, saying darkly that “they know about things like this”. (See here)
When a local priest visited the house, the 13-year-old boy Roland screamed at him in a foreign language: “O sacerdos Christi, tu scis me esse diabolum!”
The priest was amazed. How did this uneducated child speak fluent Latin? His words meant, “O Priest of Christ, you know I am the Devil!”
Roland was admitted to the Jesuit-run Georgetown University Hospital. The visiting priests had to don rubber underwear under their cassocks in order to stop the boy’s urine reaching their skin. Roland enjoyed urinating on them whenever he got a chance. Later he slashed one of the priests with a sharp bedspring coil, maiming him for life.
Roland’s parents then moved to St Louis. Here he was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the city’s Catholic-run Hospital. Speaking in a deep guttural voice, the demonic teenager exhibited a distinct aversion to sacred objects — crucifixes, rosaries, prayer books and the like. The nurses must have been terrified of this feral monster, howling and screaming at them like a mad screech owl. This, then, was the boy whom the two Jesuit priests, Fr Bowdern Fr Halloran, had been summoned to exorcise.
For years the Catholic church banned the priests from speaking about what followed, although author William Peter Blatty managed to unearth enough details about the story to write his 1971 book The Exorcist, on which the film was based. He replaced [the boy] Roland with a 12-year-old girl. The book topped the New York Times bestseller list for four months.
The whole truth of what the priests say they witnessed finally came out in 1978 after workmen demolishing part of the St Louis hospital found the official record of the exorcism. It detailed how night after night over four weeks, Father Bowdern performed the exorcism rite on Roland while a young, athletic priest, Father Halloran (pictured here), held the writhing boy down.
Asked his name, the boy rasped creepily: “Spite!”
Then one night in April a voice issuing from the boy’s mouth cried out: “I am St Michael! I command you to leave this body now!’
The boy’s body went into a violent spasm, then suddenly went limp. “He’s gone,” he said simply.
Roland had been cured.
When quizzed later about his ordeal, Roland said he remembered nothing. He disappeared into obscurity, never to be heard from again. The two priests returned to their parish duties, enjoined to the strictest silence by the Catholic Church.
This is exorcism; make of it what you will.
If you want to scoff at demonic possession and dismiss it as superstitious claptrap, a relic of the Dark Ages, feel free. But ask yourself this: what if exorcism works and medical science is ineffectual? what if pharmaceutical products and psychiatry are of no avail whatsoever, whereas crucifixes and holy water effect lasting cures?
Makes you think, doesn’t it?