Casting Out Demons Is a Possessive Pursuit (But Let’s Get Real)

By Novar Caine

Demonic control is seemingly rife across the planet, from the time of Jesus Christ to possibly well before. The supposed son of an alleged God did his share of casting out while on Earth, a practice that appears peculiar but that nonetheless continues to today.

Whereas in earlier times disturbances may have been unknown psychiatric disorders, contemporary exorcists rule out medical issues before proceeding. It is believed that a malevolent force or entity has taken over a person’s body and is making itself heard in the human realm. 

Fascination with exorcism has become fashionable. Chief casters-out at the Vatican have lengthy newspaper articles written about them. Editors and their reporters are enraptured by this extraordinarily extraordinary subject. Through the media lens, we experience this occultish world, this ceaseless battle between supposed good and petulant evil elements, vicariously.

Now showing in cinemas, The Rite, a US$37-million Hollywood film starring Welsh-born Anthony Hopkins and new Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue, seeks to expand on this ghoulish theme, but with a reality twist. The 1973 film The Exorcist was based on an account of a gruesome exorcism but The Rite is the result of an apparent fact-based book involving deep research and many interviews by American journalist Matt Baglio, who was stationed at the Rome bureau of The Associated Press.

His book, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, published in 2009, chronicles the lives of various Roman Catholic exorcist priests as they confronted cases of supposed demonic possession. At first sceptical about the entire process, Baglio – like the film’s protagonist priest a borderline atheist who eventually finds his faith – gradually becomes convinced that the people he meets, who exhibit disturbing signs of possession such as screaming reams of profanities and speaking in tongues, are genuine. He writes in a foreword to the book: “These were not people who struck me as trying to pull a fast one; they were sincere, heartfelt individuals who were struggling with something even they seemed at a loss to understand. Later, when I participated in exorcisms, this impression was only reinforced.”

His interest in the macabre matter began when he heard about a seminar on exorcism in 2005 organised by a university with ties to the Vatican and unusually open to laypeople. Thinking he could at best get an article out of it, he was soon possessed by the subject.

In Indonesia demonic possession is known as masuk setan – Satan enters: victims instantly converted into thrashing and hysterical versions of their normal selves. It takes a shaman to banish the evil spirit. In Bali, like many other parts of the country, practitioners of the dark arts, of which there are many, render their foes helpless and ailing. This correspondent assisted last year in a Hindu exorcism of sorts of an elderly woman in a remote Balinese village who was all but dead to the world but, awakening to a state of hissing and howling, gradually regained normality.  

But there is a lacking aspect to this otherworldly matter: Rather than storm in with crucifixes, holy water and mantras, there is vastly more to be gained by first talking – not swiftly dispatching – these purported incarnations. Instead of quoting the Bible and ordering them out, better we seek to know from whence they sprang, and what their intentions are: Who are you (asked, yes)? From where have you come? What do you hope to achieve by taking over this person, apart from hysterically (and comically) spitting, rattling and shrieking? What knowledge can you impart to justify the tales we have historically been told? It is absurd to dismiss this potential trove of answers.

Just as with terrorists in the 21st century, there is infinitely more to learn by interrogating demons than bombing or shooting them in the head. A paradox, but it is ultimately strange – nay, a delusion – that in this God-disproving world where physics, the creation of an apparent creator, trumps an all-pervasive spiritual entity.

In the 1800s probing people – desperate: the sum of human existence with a tenuous link based on faith – tried to skip into the occult to prove the existence of an afterlife. Those efforts continue today: The Society for Psychical Research was established in London in 1882 to reach out to spectres in a bid to determine if there was anything beyond what we perceive to be the ultimate and only reality. It is an admirable project, perhaps one of the most significant.

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