Authors: David Kiely
Darkness cannot put out the light.
It can only make God brighter.
“St. Michael the Archangel Slaying a Demon,” from the Hours of Joanna of Castille, c. 1475â1500.
You are about to read ten true-life accounts of exorcism in present-day Ireland. When preparing
The Dark Sacrament
we conducted interviews with a great many people on the island. The principals in the ten cases we chose for inclusion are all very much alive, with but one exception. In this case we relied on the excellent accounts supplied by the key participants.
The names in this book are fictitious, apart from that of Reverend William H. Lendrum, an exorcist who already enjoys prominence in Ireland and agreed to be identified. From the outset we assured those interviewed that they would remain anonymousâif they so wished. All but Canon Lendrum chose anonymity.
Among them are those who requested that we go even further, that we change important details, such as settings and minor participants, so that the originals could no longer be identified. Those individuals feared reprisals of one kind or another.
For these reasons the reader should note that we have, where possible, disguised the family circumstances of those concerned, e.g., the number of persons in a particular household, the gender of the offspring, and so on. Similarly, settings have been changed. While we may look at events that actually occurred in, say, a market town in the midlands, the real name of that town is never used. We will have translated the events to a locality in another part of the island of Ireland, in order to safeguard the privacy of our contributors, be they lay or cleric. The alternative to “naming names” was a text overburdened with the like
of “John Wâlived in the town of Tâ.” This would have been less than satisfactory. Moreover, in all cases we have placed the clergymen concerned in parishes other than their own.
We have also reconstructed certain scenes and conversations for the benefit of the narrative, while at the same time ensuring that such reconstruction remains faithful to the essence of the testimony given.
We approached our subject in a spirit of unbiased investigation. We were careful not to draw our own conclusions when examining the accounts of paranormal manifestation related by both victim and deliverer. To be sure, no oneâincluding the witnesses themselvesâcan ever be certain that any single account is objective, and this fact we took into careful consideration when compiling this collection.
In the final analysis, it was a combination of faith and reason that prompted us to reject the one case history and embrace the other. It soon became apparent whose testimony was dependable, when set against those one could dismiss as fantasy. The ten cases we present are, to the best of our knowledge, reliable.
We cannot express strongly enough our gratitude and appreciation to the two groups of people who made this book possible.
First, they are the exorcists: those men of God who gladly granted us the benefit of their knowledge and experience.
Second, they are the victims: those individuals who endured great hardshipâin some cases over several yearsâwhen pursued by the paranormal. They gave freely and willingly of their time to speak to us, often for many hours and in the course of many sessions. They did this for the most altruistic and selfless reasons; their prime concern was to share with others their traumatic experiences. They did so in the understanding that others, being thus alerted to possible danger, would not have to suffer as they did.
We salute their courage.
I can only remember that December morning in monochrome. Me at the parlor window, my chin resting on the sill, staring out at the mist-veiled mountains, the dew-beaded grass, a crow perched still and deathlike on a fence post. All quiet, shrouded, hidden, as if the world held a finger to its lips in a warning hush.
And then suddenly through the mist in the lane, two dark figures advancing on the house: the exorcist and his assistant.
My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress, 2004
When I turned eleven, I made two inalienable discoveries, the one creative, the other spiritual. The two discoveries would be linked and, over time, would fuse, to give me a heightened understanding of this journey we call life. Through a box of oil colors my mother bought me and an easel my father made for me, I taught myself to paint. On the very day I finished my first picture, a door suddenly opened into another world. It was a far darker world than the one I had so lovingly represented on the canvas.
In the early hours of one October morning, a strange “visitor” entered our home and remained for six long and terrifying weeks. It came quietly in the beginning, stealing into my young brother's
bedroom, tapping its way from beneath the big oak wardrobe, and settling under the bed.
Over the days, the tapping grew to a scratching sound, as though something were clawing the underside of the mattress; it grew louder still, in time becoming a hammering on walls and doors. We were all frightened and distraught. Wherever my little brother went, it pursued him. My parents took him to the Marian shrine at Knock in County Mayo, but it followed in the car, started up under his hotel bed, and then followed him all the way home again. He could not go to school. He could not sleep and, as a consequence, neither could any of us: his three brothers and five sisters.
In retrospect, I see that this entity conformed to that which is known in psychical circles as a poltergeist, or “noisy spirit.” It introduced itself by knocking, then grew louder and more truculent, overturning furniture, displacing objects, tipping us out of bed. It used a child as its focus and was more active during the hours of darkness. And, although it did not seem especially evil in intent, there was the feeling that the longer it continued unchecked, and the more our fears increased, the more likely it was to turn malevolent.
I remember the frantic search my mother embarked upon to find a priest who could banish our visitor. I remember also my knees aching on the cold floor of my brother's bedroom, where we as a family would kneel, reciting rosary upon rosary. And the number of Masses that were offered in that room. And the succession of clergymen who came and went. All to no avail.
Until, that is, there came a very special kind of clergyman, one versed in “such matters,” whose humility and holiness conferred on him the extraordinary and rare status of exorcist.
I retain an image of this unique man. He is tall, exudes a venerable air, and is dressed entirely in black. When he enters our home, he pats us children on the head, speaks briefly with my parents in a gentle voice, then retires to the afflicted room and quietly shuts the door.
More important than the memory of his physical appearance is the tremendous effect he left in his wake. All the fear and chaos of
the previous weeks were swept away, and a great peace descended. He had performed what I regarded as a miracle. We were free.
Our phantom visitor would never come calling again.
Since that episode, all those years ago, I have often wondered about the nature of the spectral universe, and how the exorcist can wield such power in that universe. What manner of entities live there, in that other world? Why do they sometimes intrude upon this one? What exactly does the exorcist do? Why are some individuals a target of paranormal phenomena and others not? Is it all part of God's plan, or do we draw such things to us through our goodness, our wickedness, our ignorance, or the unresolved issues of our ancestral past?
This book attempts to explore some of these questions, and so dispel a little of the ignorance that surrounds this disturbing, yet fascinating, subject.
Socrates asserted that there was only one goodâknowledgeâand only one evilâignorance. We hope that, by the time you have finished reading
The Dark Sacrament,
you may be inclined to concur with those wise words.
My dear brothers, never forget, when you hear the progress of enlightenment vaunted, that the most exquisite of the Devil's wiles was persuading us that he doesn't exist.
“The Generous Gambler,” 1864
This is a dark book. It is also a book of enlightenment in a specific sense, because it attempts to throw a little light into the more obscure and secret areas of human experience. In doing so, it will challenge the reader's notions of this life, the afterlife, andâfor want of a better expressionâdimensions that lie beyond the physical. Broadly speaking, it deals with the paranormal.
It treats of the concept of Satan, also known as the Devil, and examines the possibility that he might, after all, be a real and unfabled entity.
Such a hypothesis will astonish the rationally minded; others will doubtless find it disturbing. Still others will consider it high time that the gloves came off and the “great dragon” of Revelation was confronted head on.
There is one serious drawback in all this: very little is known about this elusive enemy. At one time, in another century, the Devil was as well defined as any adversary of flesh and blood. “High on a
throne of royal state,” John Milton wrote, “Satan exalted satâ¦and princely counsel in his face yet shone, majestic, though in ruin.”
The words appear early on in
the great epic in which the poet recounts events that followed the angel Lucifer's expulsion from heaven. The descriptions of hell sound strange to our ears, yet in Milton's own timeâhe published the poem in 1667âhis imagery would have been the accepted one. There are burning lakes and caverns, teeming with vast hosts of demon armies, all under the command of a rigid hierarchy of generals, chief among whom is Satan himself.
Few Christians living in the seventeenth century doubted the existence of hell and its rulers. There were many reminders in ecclesiastical art: paintings, sculpture, stained glass, the admonishments of the bestiary. Even the fearsome gargoyles set atop cathedrals were modeled on a fairly precise and generally prevailing picture of how demons
looked; in the seventeenth century, all art was representational art. It was generally agreed that the Devil himself was a horned creature with a forked tail, who might sometimes appear as a serpent.
BEFORE THE ENLIGHTENMENT
In our time, we regard all this as superstition, the infantile fantasies of a primitive society. We are to a certain degree justified in thinking this; the seventeenth century seems impossibly distant. Although William Harvey had established the circulation of the blood in 1628, his contemporaries still clung to antiquated nostrums. For example, most physicians held that a variety of ailments were attributable to “humors,” and that leechesâto “let” bloodâcould assist in a multitude of cures. Sorcerers were feared. Across Europe, in Germany in particular, an unknown number of victims, perhaps tens of thousands, were tortured and put to death on suspicion of their being witches.
The so-called Great Hunt for witches in Britain and mainland Europe spanned two centuries, petering out around 1650. By then there were no more witches, real or imaginary, to burn.
In America, the hysteria took a little longer to run its courseâfour more decades, in fact. In the little community of Salem, Massachusetts, in March 1692, nine-year-old Betty Parris began acting strangely. She would go into a trance, flap her arms as if trying to take flight, and emit animal noises. The doctors were baffled, even more when Betty's “illness” began to infect her friends. The Salem witches affair had begun.
In all, the tragic events that ensued led to the deaths of no fewer than twenty-two men and women, all accused of witchcraft. Nineteen were hanged, others tortured to death; many others went insane in prison. All were accused of having made pacts with the Devil; no case was ever proven.
It should be remembered that until the Enlightenment, it was universally accepted that all illnessesâplague in particularâwere punishments from God, and not a consequence of poor hygiene, as many surely were. And if the sicknesses were not the wrath of God, they were the work of the Devil, his demons, and his earthbound disciples.
In such a world of belief and unbelief, it is not surprising that evil entities were held responsible for mental disorders. Not until the late eighteenth century would it be thought otherwise, and the years leading up to the twentieth century saw the coming of age of the scientific approach to our place in the universe. It was a cosmology that no longer had any room for Lucifer and his nefarious associates. While the concept of heavenâor in any event an afterlife of some descriptionâremained an article of Christian belief, the notion of hellfire and eternal damnation, with all the attendant medieval imagery, was no longer considered respectable. We felt we had outgrown such primitive thinking.
THE AGE OF SCIENCE
With the closure of the gates of hell came the opening of entire branches of medical science: disciplines that could at last explain, in natural terms, what traditionally had been attributed to demonic
influence. Even before the twentieth century, when men were attaching imposing labels to complexes of illnesses, it was decided that possession and oppression were nothing of the sort, but were symptomatic of “schizophrenia” and other forms of psychosis. It was found that many such afflictions could be curedâand if not cured, then at least held in checkâby confinement to institutions, electroshock therapy, counseling, and, in recent times, an elaborate complex of medications.
There is nothing wrong with all of this; indeed, it would be foolish to make light of such extraordinary achievements in the treatment of a diversity of mental disorders. But there is a difficulty. In the rush to embrace the new “science” of psychiatry, the medical men were eager to jettison belief in evil forces, demonic oppression and affliction, and to ascribe natural causes to
mental diseases of unknown etiology. It could be argued that they were, in effect, playing into the hands of the very Devil they wished to sideline.
In recent years, however, there has been a grudging reassessment of this position. While most psychiatrists are content with diagnosing mental illness in terms of abnormal brain function, chemical imbalances, and personality disorders brought about by nature or nurture, there are those who acknowledge that a small percentage of cases appear to challenge medical science. In short, they defy explanationâand indeed fall outside the known pathology of mental illness. Interesting in this regard is that many of these exceptional cases exhibit symptoms that have been traditionally associated with demonic influence.
MILLENNIUM FEVER AND THE DEVIL
In our time, the subject of demonic possession lay dormant until comparatively recently. To many it appeared that this “sudden” interest in the occult had sprung from nowhere. They can point out that, before the 1960s, the Devil had no place in mainstream society. That was to change when, in 1966, Howard Stanton Levey gave
himself out as Anton Szandor LaVey, and established the Church of Satan in San Francisco.
It is likely that LaVey, who died in 1997, was little more than a self-publicist who did not take his devil-worship seriously. Yet he began his “movement” at a time when Timothy Leary, a Harvard lecturer in psychology, was experimenting with LSD and other “mind-expanding” drugs. LaVey had little difficulty in attracting a following. With the founding of the Church of Satan, the Devil had left the shadows and gone aboveground.
Perhaps the defining moment of this narco-satanism came in the summer of 1969 with the frenzied slaughter of Sharon Tate and others. The perpetrators were the Manson “family,” and evidently the crime was satanically motivated. The Devil had arrived in America.
SATAN ON CELLULOID
In 1971, William Peter Blatty's novel
appeared, to be followed by a motion picture of the same name.
The effects of that single Hollywood production were seismic. Until 1973, the release date, exorcism was seldom spoken of in lay circles, much less experienced. That was to change, as long lines formed outside movie theaters, and people emerged white-faced, having seen director William Friedkin's stunning and altogether alarming dramatization of Blatty's book. The film was to spawn many imitators and introduce an incredulous public to a subject that the churches had for centuries kept from all but a few.
It is a curious fact that from the moment the movie was shown in Ireland, Britain, and mainland Europe, there was a veritable epidemic of “possession” symptoms presented by psychiatric patients, many consistent with those shown in
The simple explanation is, of course, that fakery was at work, and that those patients for whom attention seeking was always an intrinsic part of their illness were doing no more than ratcheting up the pressure on
their therapists. In other words, the “demonic possession” was a cry for help.
The principle of Occam's razor, that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, could certainly be applied with profit in most such cases. Yet a handful seem to fall outside the ambit of rationality, defying, as they do, reductionism. That of Anneliese Michel is perhaps the most celebrated, and one of the more recent “possession” motion pictures,
The Exorcism of Emily Rose,
was based loosely on her tragic circumstances.
A native of WÃ¼rzburg, Germany, Anneliese began experiencing epileptic fits and “demonic” attacks when she was eighteen. The bishop, Dr. Josef Stangel, ordered the case to be investigated by an authority on such matters, who diagnosed possession. The bishop gave permission for an exorcism, to be performed by a Salvatorian priest with the assistance of a local pastor.
It was found that ten months of weekly exorcism could not banish the entities that had “occupied” the young woman's body. They allegedly included Lucifer, Adolf Hitler, Emperor Nero, and Cain. Such was the ordeal that Anneliese endured during the protracted exorcisms that she eventually died. Too little attention had been given to Anneliese's anorexia, and possible anorexia nervosa, which may have hastened her end: at the last, she was refusing all food and drink. A jury would find both the officiating clergymen and the girl's parents guilty of “negligent homicide”; all four had, it was decided, allowed Anneliese to starve herself to death. Each was given a six-month custodial sentence, but this was mercifully suspended for three years.
That same yearâ1976âsaw the publication of a groundbreaking book on exorcism. Entitled
Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans,
it was written by Malachi Martin, a “laicized” Catholic priest. By laicization is understood that the priest, usually voluntarily, has clerical character, control, or status withdrawn. Father Martin was a former Jesuit and a native of Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland.
He died in 1999 at the age of seventy-eight, and left a legacy of controversy. His detractors claimed that
was a tissue of lies. Even the greatly respected psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck declares in his final book,
Glimpses of the Devil,
that Malachi Martin “was perhaps the most bald-faced liar I have ever known.” It is a curious statement, given that Dr. Peck was a great admirer and confidant of Father Martin; he actually dedicated the book in question to the exorcist. Yet he went on to aver, “In everything that deeply mattered to me and my quest for the Devil, I knew him to speak only God's truth.”
Whatever the truth about his personal life and unorthodox activities, Malachi Martin's book had a profound effect on both Church and laity. Never before had the subject of exorcism been examined in public, and in such detail, by a professional exorcist, and one, moreover, who wrote with such verve and Ã©lan.
Hostage to the Devil
became a best seller.
By this time, possession and exorcism were being openly debated around the world. This renewed interest had given rise to a frenzy of demon hunting, especially among the more extreme evangelical movements. By the start of the 1980s, at prayer meetings across America, demons were being expelled from the “possessed” as routinely as the collection plate was passed. The meetings were awe-inspiring, if not to say frightening, events, with hysterical people dropping to the floor, roaring and foaming at the mouth. Such “deliverance ministries” had America in thrall. Before long, the rest of the world would follow suit. At the time of this writing, the Ellel Ministries, a born-again group offering deliverance from “unclean” spirits, is expanding rapidly. Begun in Lancaster in 1986, Ellel has a presence on four continentsâBritain alone has four training centers. There is even a “Pastors' School” in Siberia; ten years ago such a venture would have scarcely been conceivable.
The Church of England bishops have, of late, become increasingly concerned by the proliferation of such maverick exorcists and fundamentalist groups. Whether this reflects a jealous fear that
others are encroaching on their turf or a concern based on careful evaluation of such ministries remains to be seen. The difference between the established churches and the newcomers is, inter alia, the length and comprehensiveness of training. Whereas the Anglicans require many years, Ellel training is accomplished in a matter of weeks. The courses are packaged slickly, and the language used owes less to the theology lecture hall and more to the business seminar. “Satan's strategies and tactics” are examined with the enthusiasm of an advertising executive evaluating a competitor's latest campaign, and the training shows “how demonic footholds can be established in a person's life and presents key principles by which the captives may be set free.”
It will hardly come as a surprise that clerics of the old school are expressing their disquiet. Dr. M. Scott Peck once asked Father Martin his opinion of the exorcismsâor, more properly, the deliverancesâperformed with such aplomb by the charismatic “healers.”
“They're generally just casting out their own fantasies,” he replied. “But very occasionally, usually by accident, they do catch a real fish.”