Human beings have believed in possession — and exorcism — for thousands of years. Nowadays most people associate exorcisms with horror movies, but are there any real exorcisms in the modern age?
By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience
People who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic’s hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns).
Along with possession and exorcism, stigmata often appears in horror films, and it’s not difficult to see why: bloody wounds that mysteriously and spontaneously open up are terrifying. However, stigmatics, who are typically devout Roman Catholics, do not see their affliction as a terrifying menace but instead as a miraculous blessing — a sign that they have been specially chosen by God to suffer the same wounds his son did.
Curiously, there are no known cases of stigmata for the first 1,200 years after Jesus died. The first person said to suffer from stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), and there have been about three dozen others throughout history, most of them women.
The most famous stigmatic in history was Francesco Forgione (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio, or Pio of Pietrelcina. The most beloved Italian saint of the last century, Padre Pio first began noticing red wounds appearing on his hands in 1910, and the phenomenon progressed until he experienced full stigmata in 1918 as he prayed in front of a crucifix in his monastery’s chapel.
Padre Pio was said to have been able to fly, and also to bilocate (to be in two places at once); his stigmata was allegedly accompanied by a miraculous perfume; the Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, in his 1963 biography of the saint, noted that it smelled of “violets, lilies, roses, incense, or even fresh tobacco,” and “whenever anyone notices the perfume it is a sign that God bestows some grace through the intercession of Padre Pio.”
Journalist Sergio Lizzatto, in his book “Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age” explains the social context in which Padre Pio’s stigmata emerged: “In the first years of the twentieth century, when Padre Pio was a seminarian, the Eucharist — the body and blood of Christ — was at the height of its importance in Catholic practice. Communion was celebrated frequently and became a mass phenomenon. At the same time, asceticism was interpreted in ever more physical terms. Body language — ecstasy, levitation, the stigmata — was held to be the only real mystical language.”
Pio’s stigmata appeared, Lizzatto argues, because that’s exactly what the church and its followers expected to appear in its most devout servants: Jesus’ real, physical torment visited upon the holiest of men.
Though Padre Pio was widely beloved, many weren’t convinced that the friar’s wounds were supernatural. Among the skeptics were two popes and the founder of Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Agostino Gemelli, who examined Padre Pio and concluded that the stigmatic was a “self-mutilating psychopath.”
Still, Padre Pio garnered a widespread following and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Though Pio, who died in 1968, never confessed to faking his stigmata, questions about his honesty surfaced when it was revealed that he had copied his writings about his experiences from an earlier stigmatic named Gemma Galgani. He claimed ignorance of Galgani’s work, and could not explain how his allegedly personal experiences had been published verbatim decades earlier by someone else. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a miracle.
Is stigmata real?
So is stigmata real, or a hoax, or something in between? The claimed miracle of stigmata — like inedia, where people who claim not to eat food — is very difficult to scientifically verify. Veteran researcher James Randi, in his “Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural,” notes that “Since twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance would be necessary to establish the validity of these phenomena as miracles, no case of stigmata exists that can be said to be free of suspicion,” and though the possibility of genuine stigmata can never be ruled out, “It is interesting to note that in all such cases, the wounds in the hands appear at the palms, which agrees with religious paintings but not with the actualities of crucifixion; the wounds should appear at the wrists.”
If stigmata is real, there is no medical or scientific explanation for it.
via Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — They’re in a mystical business with few guarantees, so perhaps anyone could foresee tension between psychics and the law.
In two prominent examples, self-declared clairvoyants were recently convicted of big-money scams in New York and Florida, where one trial featured a romance-writing titan as a victim. But beyond those cases is a history of legal wrestling over fortunetelling, free speech and fraud.
While the recent trials involved general fraud charges, numerous cities and states have laws banning or restricting soothsaying itself.
Authorities say they aim to distinguish between catering to people’s interest in the supernatural and conning them. Still, some psychics feel anti-fortunetelling laws are unfair to them and to people who believe seers have something to offer.
New York psychic Jesse Bravo decries seers who make impossible promises or press clients to consult, and pay, them frequently. “There are a lot of predators out there,” he says.
But Bravo, an investment banker who moonlights as a medium, rues the disclaimer he’s compelled to give clients: Readings are for “entertainment only.” Unless solely for amusement, telling fortunes or using “occult powers” to give advice is a misdemeanor under New York state law.
“It’s a little insulting,” he says. “I believe in what I do, and the people who are coming to me believe in what I do. … But that’s OK — the state doesn’t have to believe in what I do.”
For all those who discount psychics, a 2009 survey for the Pew Research Center‘s Religion & Public Life Project found about one in seven Americans has consulted one.
Some visits evolve into extended — and expensive — relationships.
Best-selling historical-romance novelist Jude Deveraux paid psychic Rosa Marks about $17 million over 17 years, she testified at Marks’ recent federal fraud trial in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to newspaper reports. The psychic said she could transfer the spirit of Deveraux’s dead 8-year-old son into another boy’s body and reunite them, among other claims, the writer said.
“When I look back on it now, it was outrageous,” she testified. “I was out of my mind.”
Marks’ lawyer argued that Deveraux’s account was unreliable and that Marks was being blamed for some relatives’ confessed schemes.
Marks, based in New York and Florida, was found guilty and could get up to 20 years in prison on the top charge alone when sentenced this year.
Two weeks later, a Manhattan jury convicted seer Sylvia Mitchell of bilking two clients out of tens of thousands of dollars. Mitchell linked their problems to past lives and “negative energy” and prescribed cures such as giving her five-figure sums “to hold,” according to testimony.
Mitchell’s lawyer said her psychic efforts were sincere, even if their effectiveness wasn’t proved — or disproved. She’s due to be sentenced this month, with the top charge carrying up to 15 years in prison.
A private investigator who specializes in such cases says they’re about proving clients were exploited, not about passing judgment on clairvoyancy.
In such cases, “you’re dealing with a confidence scheme,” says Bob Nygaard , who’s based in New York City and Boca Raton, Fla. “It becomes clear to you the script (the psychics) are following.”
Some states and communities have concluded fortunetelling is so rife with rip-offs that it should be regulated or prohibited, at least as a paid business.
- Psychics say soothsaying laws unfair to believers in clairvoyance (salon.com)
- Psychics say soothsaying laws unfair to believers (miamiherald.com)
James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.
- James Randi – Secrets of the Psychics (Full) (illuminutti.com)
- Psychic Secrets (illuminutti.com)
- Secrets of the Psychics (illuminutti.com)
- The Amazing Randi – Penn is BAD, BAD, BAD (randi.org)
- October News & Updates (randi.org)
- James Randi – Investigating Pseudoscientific and Paranormal Claims (disclose.tv)
- Skeptics Like James Randi Are a Necessary Evil (mysteriousuniverse.org)
- Meet the Amazing TAMers: James Randi- Part 2 (secularnewsdaily.com)
- James Randi exposes Uri Geller and Peter Popoff (ritholtz.com)
- Meet the Amazing TAMers: James Randi- Part 1 (secularnewsdaily.com)
Though evil spirits possessing the body of a hapless human victim seems like the stuff of science fiction, the possibility of being possessed by demons is, in fact, a common belief held by religions around the world. Even the Christian Bible alludes to demonic possession more than thirty times, including several cases of Jesus “casting out demons” from people. Most religions offer prayers, spells, or incantations that are used to remove these invading spirits via exorcism rituals.
As hard as it may be to believe, countless accounts by victims and witnesses dating back to ancient times are hard to ignore. Let’s explore ten cases of truly scary and, by all accounts, real demonic possession.
Note: For most of these cases, there are no photographs for us to share with you here. We have used images from movies and other sources to illustrate this post.
In 1906, Clara Germana Cele was a Christian student at St. Michael’s Mission in Natal, South Africa. For some reason, Cele prayed and made a pact with Satan when she was sixteen years-old, and just days later, Cele was overtaken by strange impulses. She was repulsed by religious artifacts like crucifixes, she could speak and understand several languages of which she had no previous knowledge, and she became clairvoyant regarding the thoughts and histories of the people around her.
Nuns who attended to Cele reported that she produced horrible, animalistic sounds; she also levitated up to five feet in the air. Eventually, two priests were brought in to perform an exorcism. Cele tried to strangle one of the priests with his stole, and over one hundred and seventy people witnessed her levitating as the priests read Scripture. Over the course of two days, the rites of exorcism successfully drove the dark spirits from her body.
2 • Anneliese Michel
Anneliese Michel is a controversial case, as well as the subject of many fictional accounts of her tragic story, most notably the 2005 courtroom drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sixteen year-old Anneliese Michel had a history of epilepsy and mental illness, for which she had often been treated at a psychiatric hospital. However, in 1973 Michel become suicidal, spurned all religious artifacts, drank her own urine, and began to hear voices. Medicine did nothing to help the girl, who begged her family to bring in a priest because she believed that she was possessed by demons. Though her request was rejected, two local priests secretly began treating her with exorcism rites. Meanwhile, her parents stopped treating her epilepsy and mental disorders. She was dead within a year.
Michel had almost seventy exorcisms performed on her over the course of ten months. She refused to eat, and often talked of dying as a martyr. Many of the attempted exorcisms were recorded:
3 • “Roland Doe“/”Robbie Mannheim”
Known as the “real” story behind the novel and Hollywood movie The Exorcist, the tale of fourteen year-old Roland Doe is one of the most notorious stories of demonic possession. In fact, Roland Doe is not his real name; it is a pseudonym assigned to him by the Catholic church in order to preserve the boy’s privacy. In the late 1940s, Doe’s aunt encouraged him to use a Ouija board, and many speculate that after her death the boy attempted to contact his aunt with the Ouija board, an act which opened the door for the demons who wished to possess him.
The possession started with strange sounds, like dripping water, that no one could place. Eventually, religious artifacts began to quake and fly off the walls, and unexplained footsteps and scratching noises could be heard around the home. Scratches began to appear on the boy’s body, including words that seemed to have been carved into his flesh by unseen claws. The boy spoke in tongues in a guttural voice and levitated in the air, with his body contorted in pain.
His family brought in a Catholic priest, who determined that the boy was possessed by evil spirits and needed an exorcism. The exorcism ritual was performed over thirty times, with the boy injuring the priest many times throughout. When, at last, the rite was successful, the entire hospital heard Doe’s cries of bestial anguish and reported a horrible sulfuric odor hanging in the air. (Link | Photo)
4 • “Julia”
In 2008, Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, documented the case of a patient nicknamed “Julia” whom he deduced was indeed possessed by demons. It’s rare that a scientist and psychiatrist would acknowledge the possibility of possession; typically doctors think that possession is either fraudulent or a result of mental illness.
Dr. Gallagher personally observed items flying around the room, Julia levitating off the bed, speaking in tongues, and knowing things about people around her that she could not possibly have known. Here is an excerpt from Gallagher’s statement:
“Periodically, in our presence, Julia would go into a trance state of a recurring nature,” writes Gallagher. “Mentally troubled individuals often ‘dissociate,’ but Julia’s trances were accompanied by an unusual phenomenon: Out of her mouth would come various threats, taunts and scatological language, phrases like ‘Leave her alone, you idiot,’ ‘She’s ours,’ ‘Leave, you imbecile priest,’ or just ‘Leave.’ The tone of this voice differed markedly from Julia’s own, and it varied, sometimes sounding guttural and vaguely masculine, at other points high pitched. Most of her comments during these ‘trances,’ or at the subsequent exorcisms, displayed a marked contempt for anything religious or sacred.” (Link | Via | Photo)
- 10 Terrifying Cases of Demonic Possession (oddee.com)
- Toddler’s Exorcism Death Part of Dark History (livescience.com)
- A Real Exorcism: Wyoming Woman Stops Breathing During Exorcism, Goes Into Cardiac Arrest (medicaldaily.com)
- Polish Priests Examining “The Woman Who Dares Call Herself Madonna” For Demonic Possession (queerty.com)
- A Real Life Exorcism Story (thebrennerbrief.com)
- Read the Reviews of I Am Not Afraid Here! (iamnotafraidblog.com)
- ‘THE CONJURING’: The making of an exorcist – Articles (wilmingtonfavs.com)
- What an excellent day for an Exorcism… (scaredshirtless.wordpress.com)
- Exorcism Is Not Something An Individual Does… (iamnotafraidblog.com)
A bizarre emergency call was made to the Fremont County Emergency Dispatch Center last week by several occupants of a residence, reporting that the 31-year-old woman was possessed by a “poltergeist” and that a “biting demon” had been terrorizing their home, The Daily Mail reported.
Those performing the exorcism told police a demon had broken windows and dishes and bitten people inside the home for two days, but the deputy found nothing to indicate criminal (or supernatural) activity.
The woman was taken to a nearby hospital and was in stable condition the next day, KTAK radio reported.
Attempted exorcisms are not so rare in the United States. Earlier this month, a Virginia man was sentenced to more than 20 years after he told police that an evil spirit entered his body while he was trying to exorcise his 2-year-old daughter, and it forced him to murder her in cold blood, the Associated Press reported.
In many countries throughout the world belief in witches is common, and black magic is considered part of everyday life. A 2010 poll of 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that over half of the population believe in magic. Witch doctors are consulted not only for healing diseases, but also for placing, or removing, curses or bringing luck.
One human rights activist in the small African country of Malawi, Seodi White, has been fighting for years to stem many traditional beliefs that help spread HIV, especially among poor and underprivileged women.
According to a CNN story, widows in some parts of southern Africa are expected to engage in unprotected sex in order to “cleanse” them. The belief is that the husband’s spirit will return otherwise, cursing the family.
“It’s a mindset issue,” White told CNN. “Even the widows, they’ve told me, ‘I don’t want to die, I don’t want a curse to come to my husband.’ They cry to be cleansed.”
Because this spiritual cleansing involves unprotected sex — just as sex with the deceased husband was assumed to have been — the widows are placed at increased risk of contracting HIV, which is endemic on the continent. There are even professional “cleansers” who charge high prices for their services, which the widows are often eager to pay to avoid a curse on their families.
- Unprotected Sex Still The Number One Cause of HIV/AIDS Transmission (hngn.com)
- HIV/AIDS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA-Keeping one’s dream Alive (yanickmulumba.wordpress.com)
- Unprotected sex accounts for 80 per cent of HIV/AIDS infection (ghananewsagency.org)
- Francophone Africa fights AIDS (mondediplo.com)
- HIV in Africa: Five strategies reversing the epidemic (guardianlv.com)
- HIV ‘can stop within a generation’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Unprotected sex accounts for 80% of HIV/AIDS infection – Coordinator (ghanabusinessnews.com)
The belief that demons exist and can possess people is of course the stuff of fiction and horror films — but it is also one of the most widely-held religious beliefs in the world. Most religions claim that humans can be possessed by demonic spirits (the Bible, for example, recounts six instances of Jesus casting out demons), and offer exorcisms to remedy this threat.
The idea that invading spirits are inherently evil is largely a Judeo-Christian concept; many religions and belief systems accept possession by both beneficent and malevolent entities for short periods of time as uncommon — and not especially alarming — aspects of spiritual life. Spiritualism, a religion that flourished across America in the 1800s and is still practiced in a few places today, teaches that death is an illusion and that spirits can possess humans. New Agers have also long embraced a form of possession called channeling, in which spirits of the dead are said to inhabit a medium’s body and communicate through them. Hundreds of books, and even some symphonies, have been allegedly composed by spirits.
Hollywood, of course, has been eager to capitalize on the public’s continued fascination with exorcism and demonic possession with films often dubbed “based on a true story.” There are countless exorcism-inspired films, including “The Last Exorcism,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “The Devil Inside” and “The Rite” — wildly varying in quality, originality, and scariness. The greatest cultural influence, of course, came from the classic “The Exorcist.” In the weeks after the film came out in 1974, a Boston Catholic center received daily requests for exorcisms. The script was written by William Peter Blatty, adapted from his best-selling 1971 novel of the same name. Blatty described the inspiration for the film as a Washington Post article he’d read in 1949 about a Maryland boy who had been exorcised. Blatty believed (or claimed to believe) it was an accurate account, though later research revealed the story had been sensationalized was far from credible.
Michael Cuneo, in his book “American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty,” credits Blatty and “The Exorcist” with much of the modern-day interest in exorcism. As for historical accuracy, though, Cuneo characterizes Blatty’s work as a massive structure of fantasy resting on a flimsy foundation of one priest’s diary. There really was a boy who underwent an exorcism, but virtually all of the gory and sensational details appearing in the book and film were wildly exaggerated or completely made up.
While many Americans think of real exorcisms as relics of the Dark Ages, exorcisms continue to be performed, often on people who are emotionally and mentally disturbed.
- Exorcism: Facts and Fiction About Demonic Possession (livescience.com)
- Exorcism (godextinguisher.wordpress.com)
- 11 Movie Exorcisms That Went Poorly (buzzfeed.com)
- Seven Things You Didn’t Know About… Exorcisms (moviesblog.mtv.com)