A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic. A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Only in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.
The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, “Of course it helps.” Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense. What once was a given fact – evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.
On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999. The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church. The church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?
Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic. It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way – if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free. Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.
“As I believe that “possession” is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the “possessed” role sometimes allows people to let off steam without being held responsible for their actions.”
Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.” This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.
Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
It’s an increasingly technological world out there, and it’s to be expected that computers and all of their associated trappings are even infiltrating the world of wacko superstition.
About a year ago, we had a new iPhone app for hunting ghosts, called the “Spirit Story Box.” Early this year, there was even a report of a fundamentalist preacher who was doing exorcisms… via Skype. So I suppose it’s not surprising that if humans now can use technology to contact supernatural entities of various sorts, the supernatural entities can turn the tables and use our technology against us.
At least, that’s the claim of a Roman Catholic priest from Jaroslaw, Poland, named Father Marian Rajchel. According to a story in Metro, Rajchel is a trained exorcist, whatever that means. Which brings up a question: how do you train an exorcist? It’s not like there’s any way to practice your skills, sort of like working on the dummy dude when you’re learning to perform CPR. Do they show instructional videos, using simulations with actors? Do they start the exorcist with something easier, like expelling the forces of evil from, say, a stuffed toy, and then they gradually work their way up to pets and finally to humans? (If exorcists work on pets, I have a cat that one of those guys should really take a look at. Being around this cat, whose name is Geronimo, is almost enough to make me believe in Satan Incarnate. Sometimes Geronimo will sit there for no obvious reason, staring at me with his big yellow eyes, all the while wearing an expression that says, “I will disembowel you while you sleep, puny mortal.”)
But I digress.
Father Rajchel was called a while back to perform an exorcism on a young girl, and the exorcism was successful (at least according to him). The girl, understandably, is much better for having her soul freed from a Minion of the Lord of Evil. But the Minion itself apparently was pissed at Rajchel for prying it away from its host, and has turned its attention not on its former victim, but on the unfortunate priest himself.
Apparently such a thing is not unprecedented. According to an article about exorcism over at Ghost Village, being an exorcist is not without its risks:
[John] Zaffis [founder of the Paranormal and Demonology Research Society of New England] said, “You don’t know what the outcome of the exorcism is going to be – it’s very strong, it’s very powerful. You don’t know if that person’s going to gain an enormous amount of strength, what is going to come through that individual, and being involved, you will also end up paying a price.”
Many times the demon will try to attack and attach itself to the priest or minister administering the exorcism. According to Father Martin’s book, the exorcist may get physically hurt by an out-of-control victim, could literally lose his sanity, and even death is possible.
So there you are, then. Rajchel, hopefully, knew what he was getting into. But I haven’t yet told you how the demon is getting even with Father Rajchel:
It’s sending him evil text messages on his cellphone.
America’s most popular true ghost story was a hoax.
In the small town of Amityville on New York’s Long Island, on a dark evening in 1974, 23 year old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo burst into a bar and declared that his entire family had just been shot. Police discovered six bodies in the DeFeo home at 112 Ocean Avenue, and what’s more, the subsequent investigation revealed that Butch DeFeo had himself killed them all: both his parents, and his four younger siblings, with a Marlin rifle. Despite DeFeo’s claim that strange voices in his head compelled him to commit the murders, he was convicted of all six murders and remains imprisoned to this day.
Just over a year after the murders, the home was purchased by newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz, who moved in with their three children. The house was sold furnished so all of the DeFeo’s furniture was still there, just as it had been on the night of the murders. George Lutz had heard of the murders, so just to be on the safe side, they called a priest whom Kathy knew, to bless the house. The trouble began when the priest was driven out of the house by an angry disembodied voice, and received stigmatic blisters on his skin. The family daughter reported a friendly pig named Jodie, who later began making appearances to the rest of the family through windows. A sculpted lion came to life and walked around the house, and even bit George Lutz. The apparition of a demonic boy appeared and was photographed, which you can find online. Angry red eyes looked into the house at night, and left cloven footprints in the snow. George Lutz woke up in a sweat every night at the same hour the DeFeos were murdered. Stephen Kaplan, a local parapsychologist, was called in to investigate. Powerful forces caused doors to explode off their hinges. Kathy developed strange red marks on her chest and levitated two feet off her bed, and George saw her transform into a hideous old hag. Green slime oozed from the walls of the house, and a crucifix on the wall constantly rotated itself upside down. And, in one final night of terror that the Lutzes have never even been able to describe, the family was driven out of the house, never to return. Their stay had lasted only 28 days.
The events are not surprising, since a few hundred years before the Defeos were murdered, the local Shinnecock Indians used the same property as a sort of insane asylum for their sick and dying. Negative demonic energy was nothing new to the Amityville Horror house.
So what happened next?
George Lutz, whose business was failing (ostensibly as a result of the distraction of the haunting), hoped to find a silver lining and called up the publisher Prentice-Hall. The Exorcist had come out only two years before and had been wildly successful, putting things like demons and abused priests firmly in the public consciousness, so Prentice-Hall was keen to capitalize on the Lutzes’ experience. The publisher engaged author Jay Anson to write the book The Amityville Horror, and the rest is history. The book and subsequent nine motion pictures were highly successful, though most critics agree that the movies were all stupid.
Where it started to get murky was a meeting that George Lutz had during his 28 days in the house. The man he met with was William Weber, who was none other than Butch DeFeo’s defense attorney. Who initiated the meeting is not clear. According to William Weber’s admission in later years, what transpired in that meeting was an agreement that served both men’s interests. The story of the haunting was concocted, based in part upon elements from The Exorcist. George Lutz stood to gain from the potential commerciality of a ghost story based upon the DeFeo murders, and Weber would have a new defense for his client: Demons, as evidenced by the Lutzes’ experience, caused Butch DeFeo to murder his family, at least in Butch’s own mind.
Mail. The Daily Mail, is of course what I meant. They’ve once again reinforced their reputation for high-quality, groundbreaking journalism with their story entitled, “Three Americans Hospitalized After Becoming ‘Possessed’ Following Ouija Board Game in Mexican Village.”
In this story, we hear about twenty-something siblings Alexandra and Sergio Huerta, and their cousin Fernando Cuevas, who were visiting relatives in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco, Mexico, when they decided to whip out the ol’ Ouija board and see what the spirits had to say. And of course, as with most cases of the ideomotor effect, the spirits very likely didn’t have much of interest to say other than what the participants already knew — until Alexandra Huerta went into a “trance-like state” and started growling.
Then the two boys began to “show signs of possession, including feelings of blindness, deafness, and hallucinations.” So all three were taken to a nearby hospital, where all three were given “painkillers, anti-stress medications, and eye drops.”
Because you know how susceptible demons are to eye drops. Whip out the Visine, and Satan is screwed.
Interestingly, Alexandra’s parents called a local Catholic priest for an exorcism, who refused because the three were “not regular churchgoers.” I guess as a priest, your job fighting the Evil One is contingent on the possessed individual belonging to the church Social Committee, or something.
But so far, all we have is the usual ridiculous fare that The Daily Mail has become notorious for — a non-story about three young adults who either were faking the whole thing for attention or else had suffered panic attacks and some sort of contagious hysteria. Worthy of little attention and even less serious consideration, right?
Wrong. You should read the comments, although you may need some fortification before doing so, because I thought that the comments on CNN Online and the Yahoo! News were bad until I started reading this bunch. These people bring superstitious credulity to new levels. Here’s a sampling, representing the number I was able to read until my pre-frontal cortex was begging for mercy . . .