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 . . .
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)