Demon Blasting (Shout It Out?)
In March 1994, according to news accounts, police responded to Word of Faith World Outreach Center to quell a disturbance caused by a walkout of congregation members. At issue was televangelist Rev. Robert Tiltonʼs relationship with leaders of a North Carolina charismatic sect that practices a form of shouted prayer known as “demon blasting.” (Demon blasting involves sect members forming “prayer circles” around a child believed to be possessed by demons and shouting at the subject for hours at the top of their lungs.) In sermons, Tilton has credited sect leaders Sam and Jane Whaley with saving his life in 1993 by casting out his own demon. Tilton was introduced to the Whaleys by his second wife, Leigh Valentine, whom he secretly married in the Dominican Republic February 10, 1994.
While exorcisms would seem to be, at worst, a harmless fad, on occasion they have had disastrous consequences. On the night of Oct. 5-6, 1974, Michael Taylor, a Yorkshireman who had recently taken up charismatic Christianity, underwent an all-night exorcism at a local church. He then went home and murdered his wife, strangled the family poodle, and was found in the street by a policeman, naked and covered in blood. The exorcists subsequently explained that although they had driven forty evil spirits out of Taylor, a few remained, including the demon of murder.
Fortunately, it is very rare for a possessed person to go crazy like this. Many other exorcisms have gone wrong, however because of an extraordinarily widespread and venerable belief that a demon can be driven out of a body by physical torture. Though few people have expressed concern at the spread of “Christian ritual abuse,” that is just what exorcisms often amount to. The victims, mostly women and children, have been forced to take part in ceremonies where they were savagely beaten, often fatally. Exorcists have gouged a womanʼs eyes out; held a three-year-old girl over a fire, onto which her favorite doll have been thrown, so that she would feel the heat of Hell, and later murdered her; placed a baby in an oven; forced a crucifix up a girlʼs nose so that it entered her brain; and forced two steel crucifixes down a womanʼs throat. Other children have met death by being strangled, being forced to drink a poisonous potion, or being hit repeatedly over the head with a concrete block.
Gareth J. Medway, Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural History of Satanism
(New York University Press, 2001)
Unrepentant Pentecostal Pastor Kills Woman During Exorcism And Gets Out Of Jail
38-year-old Korean pastor Yong Bum Lee (also known as Luke Lee) [a graduate of the Assemblies of God Bible School in west Auckland] was convicted of the manslaughter of Ms. Lee [same name as the pastor but presumably not related] during an aggressive exorcism on December 9, 2000 at his Mt Roskill home.
Sun Kyoungh Park (also known as Lydia Park) one of the main participants in the exorcism, said Ms. Lee had willingly submitted to it. In answer to a question from the judge, Ms. Park said that Ms. Lee said that the physical force used during the ritual was painful. The judge then asked whether Ms. Lee had at any time indicated that she wanted the exorcism to stop. Ms. Park replied that Ms. Lee had said some “strange things” and the way she spoke to the pastor was not respectful. “She said ‘stop, stop” bluntly—so we thought that was Satanʼs word.” Ms. Park claimed that “about 10 demons” had been inside the 37-year-old Ms. Lee, but towards the end of the exorcism that went on for several hours, “only two Satans were left. They appeared to be very strong.” Ms. Park said that Pastor Lee sat on the womanʼs stomach, bouncing [she had a broken sternum and two cracked ribs per the medical examiner],and holding Ms Leeʼs neck very hard for some minutes [possible strangulation].
As Ms Lee struggled, Lee ordered her arms and legs to be restrained. Afterwards, Ms. Leeʼs face was expressionless, though blood was coming from her mouth. Ms. Park said that they naturally thought Ms. Lee, like other people who had been “delivered,” was resting or sleeping. It was what Pastor Lee had told them. She said that four or five days after the deliverance, as they prayed for her to come back to life, Lee quoted from the Bible and told them to blow into the womanʼs mouth. Photographs and video were taken of those events after the woman died. Ms. Park was shown a photo of her on top of the dead woman, blowing into her mouth. She said that they sang [so loudly and continually that it attracted the neighborʼs attention] and danced, blew in her mouth and Lee shouted at the dead woman to “get up.”
Walter Hemara told of wanting to scream during an excruciating exorcism Lee had performed on him. “I had to hold myself back otherwise I would have taken a swing at him,” he said.
Businessman Edwin Muir, a neighbour of Leeʼs who visited the church, was the person who alerted the police. He said he realised there was something strange going on when he was invited to Pastor Leeʼs house but was asked to change his tee shirt and trousers because there was an emblem on them that Lee said was a Muslim curse. Mr. Muir said he was shown a video in which Ms. Lee appeared with blackened skin, and had clearly passed on. He said that Lee asked him to be their media representative. “[Lee said] she was going to come back to life and it was going to be a world wide affair.”
Former Sergeant Robert McPhee said that when he went to Leeʼs house, Lee said that “someone” had been sick but was better and was “still alive.” When the officer entered the room where Ms Lee was, he saw she was badly decomposed. Detective Sergeant Kevin Hooper told the jury that Lee told him that Ms. Lee was going to come back to life—her skin was regenerating and her finger was seen to move on the video. But the officer said that Ms. Leeʼs blackened skin was simply peeling off, exposing a pink layer beneath [common for corpses dead a number of days, check the web for photos], and it was clear from the video that someone was moving her finger.
Pathologist Dr Simon Staples confirmed that Ms Lee was dead but he was unable to determine the cause due to decomposition.
On his conviction for manslaughter Pastor Lee again claimed that she would rise from the dead, at midnight on the evening of Sunday 9 December 2001. The date passed without incident.
Update: Pastor Lee was convicted and sentenced to 6 years for manslaughter but in April 2006 successfully appealed, and the Court of Appeal overturned Pastor Leeʼs conviction based largely on the womanʼs consent to the exorcism, an activity in which there was apparently a known risk of harm. The decision stated Ms. Leeʼs consent was “a possible defence which the jury should have been allowed to consider.”
Sources: New Zealand Herald: “Womanʼs ‘stop’ plea was Satanʼs word, jury told”
Maybe Pastor Lee will sell “exorcize” videos? “Feel the burn… of Satan in your throat. Let Reverend Lee show you how to go full throttle, or rather, throttle you fully, until youʼre TEN demons lighter!”
Unrepentant Orthodox Monk Kills Woman During Exorcism
Tanacu, Romania, June 24, 2005—(AP) The whispers started in April in the mind of the 23-year-old nun. In the heart of an Orthodox convent in Romaniaʼs impoverished northeast, doctors say, Maricica Irina Cornici believed she heard the devil talking to her, telling her she was sinful. She was treated for schizophrenia, but when she relapsed, a monk and four nuns tried a different method: exorcism. Last week, Cornici was bound to a cross, gagged with a towel and left in a dank room at the convent for three days without food where she died of suffocation and dehydration. Daniel Petru (or Petre) Corogeanu, a 29-year-old red-bearded monk who served as the conventʼs priest and allegedly led the exorcism, told the media he was trying to take devils out of the nun. He said she had to be restrained because she was violent and that she refused to drink holy water.
“God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil,” said Father Daniel, 29, the superior of the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania, before celebrating a short mass “for the soul of the deceased,” in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible emotion. He insisted that from the religious point of view, the crucifixion of Maricica Irina Cornici, 23, was “entirely justified.”
One of the nuns, Sister Martha, added, “She canʼt be laid in the church because she was possesed.”
Vitalie Danciu, the superior of a nearby monastery at Golia, called the crucifixion “inexcusable,” but a spokesperson for the Orthodox patriarchate in Bucharest refused to condemn it.
Sources: Alison Mutler ©MMV, Associated Press “Nun Dies After Convent Exorcism”
Walter Zepeda, 19, died of dehydration after a 7-day “exorcism” in his basement apartment in London, Ontario, at the hands of his father and a fellow church member. Walter was tied to chairs in the apartment, bruising his wrists and ankles. A pastor and ten other church members periodically prayed over him. Walterʼs mouth was duct-taped when he screamed. Diego Zepeda-Cordera, and Missionary Church of Christ member Alex Osegueda, both pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The mother, Ana Mejia-Lopez, received one day in jail, following 500 days of incarceration.
Gloria Galloway, Exorcising Demons of Devotion: Father Jailed After ‘Possessed’ Son Died,” Toronto Globe & Mail, May 23, 2003
An autistic eight-year-old boy has died during a prayer service held to supposedly cure him of the evil spirits blamed for causing his condition. Torrance Cantrell was wrapped in sheets and held by his hands and feet while members of the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in the city of Milwaukee prayed over him. This procedure had been taking place three times a week. However, on Friday those involved in the ceremony—including his mother—noticed the boy had stopped breathing. Paramedics were called to the scene but were unable to revive him. The brother of the churchʼs pastor, Ray Hemphill, who was also present at the ceremony, was arrested shortly after the incident on suspicion of physically abusing a child, local police said. “[We] didnʼt do nothing wrong,” the pastor, David Hemphill, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. “We did what the Book of Matthew said… all we did is ask God to deliver him.” Autism causes children to have severe problems relating to, and communicating with, people around them. In interviews with local newspapers, neighbours of the Cantrell family alleged that Torrance hated being touched and said that having people restrain him would likely have caused him a great deal of stress. However, David Hemphill said that the boy had been wrapped in sheets and had his shoes removed in order to prevent him from being hurt. “We were asking God to take this spirit that was tormenting this little boy to death,” Mr Hemphill said. “We were praying that hard, but not to kill.” David Hemphill started the independent church in 1997. It has a small congregation of six families.
- BBC News, Published: 2003/08/25
US boy dies during “exorcism”
Hemphill put Terrance at risk when he lay chest-to-chest across him for two hours in an 80-degree room, praying and singing, while the boy struggled to break free. It was the 12th in a series of exorcisms he had performed on the autistic boy in a three-week period.
- Lisa Sweetingham, Court TV, “Minister Guilty of Child Abuse For Boyʼs Exorcism Death.”
Minister guilty of child abuse for boy's exorcism death
A 32-year-old Catholic woman was beaten to death after she refused to enter an Evangelical church in northeastern Brazil. She was passing by the Church of the Kingdom of God when two pastors ordered their followers to bring her inside to attend a ceremony. When she refused, the group held her ten-year-old daughter while the pastors dragged her by the hair and beat her in order to “exorcise the devil from her.”
J. D. Bell, “Nuts in the News,” The American Rationalist, Nov./Dec. 1994
On July 4, 1996, in Los Angeles, a 53 year old Korean woman (formerly a missionary to China) died from “blunt force trauma,” the result of an exorcism. Her husband (a minister) and two other males, one a Deacon at Glendale Korean Methodist Church, beat her with their fists and feet for several hours, trying to drive “the devil” out of her. She had consented to the exorcism. As usual, the news media neglected to connect a terrible event such as this with Christianity or churches. The above details were learned from a radio interview with the husbandʼs attorneys.
The Hollywood film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), was based on the real life case of Anneliese Michel(sept. 21, 1952 - June 30, 1976)
Dear Randal and Robin, You mentioned The Exorcism Of Anneliese Michel (SEPT. 21, 1952 - June 30, 1976) But you canʼt induce fear or faith in people anymore with mere anecdotal tales of horror, not when thereʼs a whole internet of info to access. (Not that Christians access it as much as use it to spread anecdotes round like wildfire, which is probably how many of the Gospel stories came into being. But really Randal, you ought to direct your readers to alternative sources, especially when discussing this type of stuff.)
Michel was a German college student who died of dehydration, malnutrition and pneumonia during an exorcism. Her parents and the two Bavarian priests who carried out the exorcism were later convicted.
Had Anneliese Been A Deeply Religious Person, Imprinted With Religious Interpretations Of The World And Of Herself, Prior To “Being Possessed”?
Yes. Anneliese and her three sisters were raised in a strict Catholic family. Her father Josef had considered training as a priest and three of her aunts were nuns. Four years before Anneliese was born, her mother gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Martha. As a result, her mother suffered great shame and was forced to wear a black veil on her wedding day. When Anneliese was a child, her mother encouraged her to atone for the sins of illegitimacy through fervent devotion. When Annelieseʼs sister Martha died at the age of eight during an operation to remove a kidney tumor, this likely only increased Annelieseʼs desire to do penance for her mother (telegraph.co.uk).
As she grew older, Anneliese continued to suffer for the sins of others. When she was a teenager, Anneliese slept on a bare stone floor to atone for the sins of wayward priests and drug addicts, who could be observed sleeping on the hard ground at the local train station (washingtonpost.com). In college at West Germanyʼs University of Würzburg, she hung pictures of saints on her dorm room walls, kept a holy-water font near the door, and regularly prayed the Rosary (time-proxy.yaga.com). As stated earlier, even close to her death she spoke of dying to atone for the sins of the wayward youth and renegade priests.
When Did Anneliese Begin To Experience Strange Symptoms?
While other teenagers were experimenting with sex and rebelling against authority, she tried to atone for the sins of wayward priests by sleeping on a bare floor in the middle of winter. In 1968, when she was 17 and still in high school, Anneliese began to suffer from convulsions. Court findings have her experiencing her first epileptic attack in 1969. It was then that a neurologist at the Psychiatric Clinic Wurzburg diagnosed her with Grand Mal epilepsy. Soon, Anneliese started experiencing devilish hallucinations while praying. She also began to hear voices, which told her that she was damned. The court determined that by 1973 Anneliese was suffering from depression and considering suicide.
Who First Diagnosed Anneliese As Being Possessed?
The first unofficial diagnosis was made by an older woman who accompanied Anneliese on a pilgrimage. She noticed that Anneliese avoided walking past a particular image of Jesus, and that she refused to drink water from a holy spring. The woman also claimed that Anneliese smelled bad (washingtonpost.com). An exorcist from a nearby town examined Anneliese and concluded that she was demonically possessed.
In 1975, convinced that she was possessed, her parents gave up on the doctors from the psychiatric clinic. (washingtonpost.com). Annelieseʼs symptoms have since been compared with those of schizophrenia, and they may have responded to treatment (telegraph.co.uk).
Is It Possible That Anneliese Was Copying What She Had Seen In William Fiedkinʼs 1973 Fill, The Exorcist?
Director William Friedkinʼs film The Exorcist was released in Germany in 1974, two years prior to the audio tapings of the exorcisms in which we hear Annelieseʼs recorded voice. Her voice bares a striking resemblance to the growling, barking, and inhuman voice of Linda Blair from Friedkinʼs film. This has caused some people to conclude that Anneliese was simply mimicking what she had seen in the film, if she had in fact seen the film. Upon its release in Germany, the movie created a sort of paranormal hysteria that swept the nation. European Psychiatrists reported an increase of obsessive ideas among their patients (moviesonline.ca). The movie however, does not provide explanation for her hallucinations while praying in the years prior to 1974. Though mental illness could account for them.
And speaking of the release of the movie The Exorcist, exorcism became a raging concern in the United States only when the popular entertainment industry jacked up the heat. Only with the release of The Exorcist and the publication of Hostage to the Devil and all the rest of it did fears of demonization become widespread (look up tales of the Satanic Panic in the 1980s in the U.S.).
In fact in September 2000 [a quarter of a century after its original theatrical release] a newly restored directorʼs cut of The Exorcist was released to movie houses around the country. It was the cinematic event of the season, inciting yet another jag of media-obsessed demon-and-exorcism blather. For a solid month, or so it seemed, you couldnʼt pick up a newspaper, flip through a magazine, or turn on the television without coming up against it…
My central point here is that exorcism-related beliefs took hold within certain sectors of (mainly white) middle-class America only when Hollywood and its allies began spreading the message. Again, there is nothing (to my mind) surprising about this. There seems no limit to the effects of suggestibility on human thought and behavior. We know, for example, that people in general complain of being afflicted by certain physical maladies (such as repetitive-motion disorder) only when these maladies have been publicized by the media. And we also know (on an entirely different front) that people in thirteenth-century Europe claimed to be stigmatized only after popular accounts of the stigmata of St. Francis were published. Psychologists Elizabeth Loftus, Giuliana Mazzoni, and Irving Kirsch have recently performed experimental research that directly supports my thesis concerning the power of the media to induce belief in diabolical possession. For a good account of their study, see Ray Rivera, “Demons Usually in the Mind not Body of Victim, Experts Say,” Seattle Times (October 28, 2000).
What Disturbing Things Did Anneliese Do?
She ripped at her clothes, barked like a dog, attacked other family members, broke religious icons; and ate spiders and coal, claiming that is all the demons would allow, licked her own urine from the floor, and performed hundreds of genuflections each day, damaging her knees to the point where she was unable to stand. The girlʼs parents sought a priest to perform an exorcism but their first requests were denied. Then, in September 1975, the Bishop of Wurzburg, Josef Stangl, gave Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt permission to perform the rite based on the 1614 Rituale Romanum. Michel endured two rites a week, some lasting as long as four hours. She briefly recovered enough to take her final exams at the Pedagogic Academy in Wurzburg, but then her condition began to deteriorate dramatically.
Why Did Anneliese Refuse To Eat?
She forced herself to fast because she believed that it would rid her of Satanʼs influence. During her period of self-starvation she also spoke of dying to atone for the sins of the wayward youth and apostate priests of the modern church (washingtonpost.com). She said the demons possessing her were Judas Iscariot, Nero, Hitler, a disgraced priest and Lucifer. Near the end she had to be held up during exorcisms. She weighed only 68 pounds. She spoke her last known words on the day before she died. She told her exorcists “Beg for Absolution..” To her mother Anna, she said, “Mother, Iʼm afraid.” (moviesonline.ca).
According to the autopsy, on July 1, 1976 Anneliese Michel succumbed to the effects of severe dehydration and malnourishment, which her family and exorcists let happen. At the time of her death, she was also suffering from Pneumonia and a high fever (1g3.com). She was buried next to her illegitimate sister Martha at the outer edges of a cemetery, an area normally reserved for illegitimate children and suicides (telegraph.co.uk).
Despite being found guilty, the defendants received just six months in jail and probation. The courtʼs judgment notwithstanding, Michelʼs story has continued to grip peopleʼs imaginations and her grave site is a place of religious significance for those who still believe that she died battling demonic forces. A commission comprised of German bishops and theologians decided in retrospect, however, that she had been mentally ill, and in 1984 they petitioned Rome to change the exorcism rite.
The problem, as they saw it, was the practice of speaking directly to the demon, which they believed caused damage by confirming and reinforcing the patientʼs belief that they were possessed. When Rome did issue a revised version of the Rituale Romanum in 1999, it caused astonishment by leaving open the option to speak, or not speak, to the Devil directly.
Is It Possible That The Priests Who Performed The Exorcisms Provided Anneliese With The Contents Of Her Psychotic Behavior?
Psychiatrists who testified during the trial spoke about the “Doctrinaire Induction”, which in relation to Anneliese explains that she accepted her behavior as a form of demonic possession, mainly because the exorcists introduced much of the idea to her and reinforced it with each exorcism (moviesonline.ca). In 1984, German bishops and theologians petitioned Rome to change the exorcism rite. They concluded that speaking directly or “imperatively” to the Devil, that is, “I command thee, unclean spirit… ” only confirms to the patient that they are without a doubt possessed (moviesonline.ca).
On February 25, 1978, almost two years after her death, the deceased body of Anneliese Michel was dug up and moved to a new oak-coffin lined with tin. Her parentsʼ desire to move her from the cheap coffin in which she was buried was allegedly used as an excuse to exhume her body. Instead, they were acting on a message received from a Carmelite nun from the district of Allgaeu in southern Bavaria. The nun had told the parents that she had a vision that their daughterʼs body was still intact. Official reports state that the body showed consistent deterioration.
Stephen Applebaum, “Satanic Curses,” The Scotsman, UK, Nov. 12, 2005
Questioning the Story… The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)… based on the true story of Anneliese Michel as detailed in the book “The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel” by Dr. Felicitas Goodman
Kyung-A Ha was beaten to death in 1995 in San Francisco, California by members of the [Pentacostal] Jesus-Amen Ministries.
“Exorcism Related Deaths”
Angola Witchcraftʼs Victims
The conviction in Britain of three Angolans for the abuse of a girl they accused of being a witch has turned the spotlight on customs in Angola. Angus Stickler of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme went to Angola to investigate the links between witchcraft, poverty and the rapid growth of churches preaching a powerful blend of traditional African beliefs and evangelical Christianity.
I visited the compound-cum-church of Avo Kitoko, a prominent, government-registered traditional healer. He says he has the power to identify and deliver people from bad spirits. “Well, I can say that inside a patient we may find different types of sickness, sometimes they have bad dreams, sometimes the patient thinks a wizard is putting a curse on them, someone is wishing bad things on them,” he said. Stepping inside Mr Kitokoʼs “clinic” was like entering Bedlam. Many of the so-called patients were chained to the walls and floor. A boy of 15 had been shackled here since January. There were nursing mothers, women and children. Many, we were told, had mental health problems—“sickness” caused by evil spirits. In a darkened room, six men were chained to the walls and floor. A fight broke out over food. One man tried to stab another with a shard of glass. Mr Kitoko was clearly offended when I expressed my concern. “This isnʼt a prison! Itʼs a hospital,” he said indignantly.
What we saw next was even more appalling. Lying on the floor of the main hall was the limp, bloated body of an eight-year-old boy. Domingo Jose was barely conscious, his face, belly, arms, legs, even his fingers gorged and inflamed. He was barely alive. Mr Kitoko took a large swig from a glass bottle and spat water into Joseʼs face. The child winced, too weak to cry out. Mud was smeared on his belly. The priest grabbed and twisted at Joseʼs groin. It was clear this desperately ill boy belonged in hospital—but Mr Kitoko insisted he would respond to his traditional medicine. He explained his methods. “First you start with holy water and mud, two things that are well prepared. Because you know that our bodies are all made of earth - and when we die and rot, the bones remain and the hair remains but every part of our bodies goes back to earth,” he said.
There were 65 patients at this clinic, or church. As we left, Mr Kitoko earnestly asked if we might know anybody who would sponsor him to open a clinic in Britain.
We contacted the authorities, desperately concerned about the welfare of the eight-year-old boy in particular. Dr Manuela Coelho of the National Institute of Children, the Angolan governmentʼs child protection department, assured us they would act swiftly. “What we know is that sometimes families think that the best way to treat some types of sickness is to go to traditional healers,” she said. “If we realise that a child is in a bad way we try to help them and we do it immediately.”
The boy is now dead. Despite repeated phone calls to Angolan government officials and the best efforts of the United Nations childrenʼs organisation, Unicef, it took at least four days for anyone to visit him. The authorities say they have launched an investigation into his death.
Even in more mainstream churches, the belief in child possession is evident. At the Kimbanguista church, women wearing green dresses with white lace collars rehearsed for the Sunday service. It is one of the larger churches in Angola, but even here they believe in the power of evil spirits—of Kindoki and fetishism. Jose Gomes, the national secretary, said: “Well we can find children with witchcraft. The parents bring him here and they explain to the pastor, they explain that we have the children but he has problem, sometimes he says he is flying at night, things like that.”
I asked him what happened if a child was suspected of being possessed. “If these are children who can speak, the pastor will ask him to confess, confess, confess. Pastor can see if the children have witchcraft or not,” he said.
In the last few years there has been an explosion in the number of breakaway churches. The government says there are more than 100 different denominations in Luanda alone. On the dusty streets of the Palanca Township, we stumbled upon a small Pentecostal church. Entering a small concrete out-house, we found a shocking sight. Sitting on the floor was a terrified, near naked girl of eight, her head shaven. She cowered as her mother and a pastor shouted at her. This was an exorcism, the pastor told us. The motherʼs marriage had broken down, it was the childʼs fault as she was possessed with Kindoki. Something had been rubbed into the girlʼs eyes as part of this ritual. Her ordeal had already lasted three days, and there was another 24 hours to go. The pastor dismissed the risk the child could die from such treatment. He said: “Why should the child die? If the child dies, it means the child is evil.” Again we contacted the authorities in the hope that someone would intervene.
Near the airport of this oil-rich nation, half an hourʼs drive from the plush hotels of the cityʼs center, is a stark reminder of life for the majority in this country. In a makeshift market, rickety stalls were selling everything and anything. Children were sliding down the banks into absolute squalor. Small boys scavenged among rubbish next to an open sewer. And this is part of the problem—poverty. Angola has been wracked by nearly 30 years of civil war. Many children have been orphaned, cared for by aunts, uncles, the extended family. But they canʼt afford to keep them. It is socially unacceptable to push a child out because of poverty. But if they are possessed, itʼs a different matter.
An orphanage in Luanda, run by Argentine Catholic priests, houses more than 100 children, up to 40% of whom were abused, beaten, cast out from their homes as they were believed to be witches. Father Pablo Jose Galvan explained: “What we find with these kind of children is that the very clever, very expert, somehow special, are accused of witchcraft. Usually they are much mistreated. The ones here accused of witchcraft… suffer a lot of violence, they are beaten with machetes.” The children still bear the scars. They have been crippled, tied up, burnt, left to die—discarded like rubbish. One boy was kept in a chicken coop, and parasites ate out his eye. Another was found living in a toilet pit. One was accused of being a witch after his parents died of Aids—he is HIV-positive too. On the word of a pastor or a fetish priest, children are beaten, murdered, parents jailed. Lives and families are shattered.
Story from BBC News:
Angola witchcraftʼs child victims
Published: 2005/07/13 13:13:44 GMT
Excerpts From American Exorcism
By Michael W. Cuneo
Iʼve personally witnessed more than fifty exorcisms—and this isnʼt even counting the occasions where Iʼve seen dozens of people undergoing exorcism all at once…
But nothing happened—at least nothing startling, nothing that reached out and grabbed me by the throat. At the exorcisms I attended, there were no spinning heads, no levitating bodies, no voices from beyond the grave. (There was plenty of vomiting, no question about it, but nothing more impressive than what youʼd probably catch most Saturday nights out behind your local bar.) I wasnʼt counting on demonic fireworks, but neither was I counting them out. After all was said and done, more than fifty exorcisms - no fireworks, none at all.
At least none that I could make out. Occasionally I found myself in a situation where I was the odd man out, the party pooper of all party poopers. Just about everyone else on hand would claim to see something extraordinary, and theyʼd be disappointed—confused and disappointed—that I hadnʼt seen it also.
“But you must have seen the body rising. The rest of us saw it. It clearly rose two, maybe three feet off the chair. How could you not have seen it?”
“Iʼm sorry, but I didnʼt see it. I was looking as hard as I could, and I didnʼt see it.”…
So what did I see? Some of the people who showed up for exorcisms seemed deeply troubled, some mildly troubled, and some hardly troubled at all. The symptoms they complained of—the addictions and compulsions, the violent mood swings, the blurred self-identities, the disturbing visions and somatic sensations—all of this seemed to me fully explainable in social, cultural, medical, and psychological terms. There seemed no compelling need, no need whatsoever, to bring demons into the equation. Bringing them in seemed superfluous, a matter of explanatory overkill.
The same with the antics I sometimes witnessed while the exorcisms were actually taking pace, the flailing and slithering, the shrieking and moaning, the grimacing and growling—none of this, insofar as I could tell, suggested the presence of demons. It was sometimes an attempt (poignant? pathetic?) to satisfy the dramatic needs of the moment, it was sometimes an exercise in sheer self-indulgence, and it was sometimes an indication of profound personal distress. But demons? Here again, I saw no evidence of them; I saw nothing that had me itching to make a break for the door.
But I donʼt want to get too far ahead of myself. I donʼt want to make out that I know more than I really do…
Who says… that if youʼre suffering from some diagnosable psychiatric condition, you canʼt also be demonized? Why should the first diagnosis necessarily rule out the second? If demons actually exist, who can really claim to be an expert on their preferred modes of operation?
If demons exist… More than fifty exorcisms later Iʼm still in no position to pass judgment on this. All I can say is that my fifty-plus exorcisms turned up no definitive evidence of their existence. And right now this is all I have to go on.
But hereʼs something else: Some of the people I met during my research claimed to have experience significant improvement in their personal lives as a result of undergoing exorcism their depression lifted, their fears fled, their inner torments dissipated, their blues melted away. I have no way of knowing how extensive this improvement was, or how long-lived, or whether the people who told me about it were always telling the truth. But letʼs say, for the sake of argument, that they were telling the truth, and that their exorcisms really did have positive therapeutic impact. How can we account for this? How is it that exorcism works, unless itʼs by doing what itʼs supposed to do, namely, driving out demons?
Well, itʼs quite possible that exorcism sometimes works, but this need not have anything to do with the driving out of demons.
In psychotherapy—indeed, in virtually any medical procedure—the expectation of getting better may contribute a great deal to oneʼs actually getting better. Simply receiving treatment—any kind of treatment, but especially treatment in a supportive healing environment—is the ticket at least partway home. The medical sciences have always strongly suspected as much, that suggestion and expectancy are powerful inducement to healing, and today only the most hardened scissors-and-scalpel skeptic would argue otherwise. Thanks to recent research on the subject, we now know for certain that the placebo effect is unquestionably real and sometimes quite powerful- so powerful, in fact, that some researchers have recommended that it actually be incorporated into clinical practice. If youʼre given pharmacologically inert drugs (dummy pills) for depression, food allergies, even heart problems, chances are your condition will improve. If youʼre given a bogus operation (pretend surgery!) for arthritic pain in the knees, chances are the pain will subside or disappear altogether. The placebo might not work (it doesnʼt work for everybody), its effects might not be long lasting, but this shouldnʼt obscure the basic point. For many people the symbolic aspects of healing—the sympathetic attention of a therapist, the ministrations of a physician, the bolstered hope and renewed optimism that derive simply from being in a healing situation—for many people intangibles such as these may go a long way toward actually improving health.
Now, if placebos can be effective when administered in the relatively antiseptic confines of a doctorʼs office or a consultation room, imagine the possibilities in the emotional swelter-box of an exorcism. Most people who seek out an exorcist are suffering from some psychological or emotional problem that theyʼre convinced has been caused by demons. They believe that demons are just as real, if not quite so obvious, as anything else in the world and that only through an exorcism will their problem be eliminated and their circumstances improved. They anticipate walking away from the exorcism with a new lease on life. The person charged with performing the exorcism and the supporting cast of friends, family members, and assistants anticipate the same thing. All parties to the exorcism have an enormous investment in the affair: They want it to work; they expect it to work, they pray for it to work. The symbolic universe they inhabit, with its shared religious meanings and discourse, demands that it work. It doesnʼt always work, of course, but often enough (if only temporarily) it seems to. And little wonder—exorcism is a ritualized placebo, a placebo writ large, one that engages its participants on levels to which more conventional therapeutic procedures could scarcely aspire.
Here again, exorcism is more in tune with the Zeitgeist [prevailing world view] than one might imagine. In recent years increasing numbers of American have started experimenting with alternative medical therapies. Unhappy with the current state of the medical establishment—its impersonality, its technology, its bureaucratic chilliness—theyʼve sought healing through the soothing, cottage-door remedies of a dizzying array of herbalists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, diet gurus—you name it. Though I wouldnʼt want to stretch the point too far, exorcism may be regarded as part of this scene, on its fringes perhaps, but part of it nonetheless. It, too, advertises a drug-free, X-ray free, incision-free approach to restored health. It promises to mend not just the body and the mind but the soul as well. Itʼs an alternative medical therapy for those who see demons, not cholesterol, not toxic particles, not environmental stress or genetic predisposition…as the major scourge of our time.
So exorcism, letʼs say, may sometimes work, though not most likely (or not very often) in precisely the way itʼs advertised. This is the positive side.
But thereʼs also a negative side. It doesnʼt always work, and in some cases itʼs downright detrimental. Some people, as weʼve seen, are bullied or badgered into undergoing exorcism. For others itʼs simply a cop-out or a means of self-glamorization. They want to avoid responsibility for their own shortcomings by blaming them on demons. Or they derive some perverse thrill from casting themselves in the role of demoniac. Itʼs difficult to imagine anything good coming from exorcisms carried out under circumstances such as these. Emotional extortion, moral evasion, vainglory—this is what exorcism can sometimes amount to.
It can sometimes amount to even worse; sometimes exorcism can actually prove fatal. Weʼve all heard the stories. In March 1995 a group of overzealous ministers connected to a tiny Pentecostal sect in the San Francisco Bay Area pummeled a woman to death while trying to evict her demons. Two years later a Korean Christian woman was stomped to death by a deacon and two missionaries operating out of a church in Glendale, California. The three men had gotten carried away trying to expel a demon they believed was lodged in the womanʼs chest. The same year, on the other side of the country, a five-year-old Bronx girl died after her mother and grandmother forced her to drink a lethal cocktail containing ammonia, vinegar, and olive oil and then bound and gagged her with duct tape. The two women claimed that they were merely trying to poison a demon that had infested the little girl several days earlier.
There are other true stores of exorcisms gone horribly wrong, none more heartrending than Charity Mirandaʼs. In 1998, on a cold Sunday afternoon in January, Charity Miranda spent her final hours undergoing exorcism at the hands of her mother, Vivian, and her sisters Serena and Elisabeth at their home in Sayville, Long Island. At one point, as fifteen-year-old Elisabeth subsequently informed the police, “Mom put her mouth to Charityʼs mouth and told her to blow the demon into her and she would try to kill it.” When this didnʼt work, their mother said, “Iʼm sorry, girls, this isnʼt Charity. Itʼs taken over her.” She then tried to destroy the demon by smothering Charity with pillows. This also didnʼt work, so she picked up a plastic bag that was lying on the living room floor. Elisabeth Miranda told the police what happened next: “Mom placed the bag over Charityʼs head. Serena was holding Charityʼs body down because it was fighting. My mom told me to leave and I went into her bedroom.” When Elisabeth, sometime later, came back into the living room, the job was finished. “Serena was pacing. Mom said donʼt be sad because that wasnʼt Charity, donʼt be attached to the body…The three of us went into momʼs room and she was saying donʼt cry because Charity left that body long before. We held hands on the bed and listened to my grandfatherʼs favorite Frank Sinatra music.”
Charity Miranda was seventeen years old and a cheerleader at Sayville High School. Her friends informed reporters that sheʼd been looking forward to starting college next fall.
Cases such as this, I should emphasize, are very much the exception. The vast majority of exorcisms are relatively innocuous affairs. They might not add up to much permanent good, but neither do they end in tragedy.
There is no evidence that Charity Mirandaʼs mother and sisters, or Charity herself, got their beliefs about demons and exorcism from the popular entertainment industry…
[But] there is [one] thing we do know for sure. Exorcism became a raging concern in the United States only when the popular entertainment industry jacked up the heat. Only with the release of The Exorcist and the publication of Hostage to the Devil and all the rest of it did fears of demonization become widespread…
One final note. In September 2000 [a quarter of a century after its original theatrical release] a newly restored directorʼs cut of The Exorcist was released to movie houses around the country. It was the cinematic event of the season, inciting yet another jag of media-obsessed demon-and-exorcism blather. For a solid month, or so it seemed, you couldnʼt pick up a newspaper, flip through a magazine, or turn on the television without coming up against it…
My central point here is that exorcism-related beliefs took hold within certain sectors of (mainly white) middle-class America only when Hollywood and its allies began spreading the message. Again, there is nothing (to my mind) surprising about this. There seems no limit to the effects of suggestibility on human thought and behavior. We know, for example, that people in general complain of being afflicted by certain physical maladies (such as repetitive-motion disorder) only when these maladies have been publicized by the media. And we also know (on an entirely different front) that people in thirteenth-century Europe claimed to be stigmatized only after popular accounts of the stigmata of St. Francis were published. Psychologists Elizabeth Loftus, Giuliana Mazzoni, and Irving Kirsch have recently performed experimental research that directly supports my thesis concerning the power of the media to induce belief in diabolical possession. For a good account of their study, see Ray Rivera, “Demons Usually in the Mind not Body of Victim, Experts Say,” Seattle Times
(October 28, 2000).
For a good introduction to the vast literature on exorcism-related belief and practice throughout the world, see Felicitas D. Goodman, How About Demons? (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1988).
Michael W. Cuneo, American Exorcism (Random House, Inc. : New York, 2001)
As we neared Eagle Rock… she said, it sounded perhaps a bit strange—something sheʼd seen on an infomercial and they seemed like really nice people—she was going to an exorcism. Would I like to come?
Well, itʼs not every day that you get invited to an exorcism—this was not a chance to be missed. This womanʼs intellectual curiosity—her background seemed to be atheist-Jewish—had led her to a strange place indeed, I thought. As my companion attempted to explain what might be in store for us, we arrived at the bus stop she said was our destination. She asked, “Are you with me?” We exited the bus together. I was committed.
By now we were in a city called Eagle Rock (there is a big boulder on the side of a hill overlooking the 134 freeway that supposedly looks like an eagle), and we were heading towards a theatre on the corner of Yosemite where the exorcism was to take place. I was thinking (hell, was I thinking!): “If I donʼt do this story, the Skeptic office staff wonʼt let me come visit tomorrow.” (Actually, I recalled an investigation of a haunted house in Germany, and I remembered the spookiest thing was actually getting past the crowd of onlookers gathered in front of the house. The investigation itself was then pretty straightforward.) My companion noticed my silence and commented. I apologized. She suggested that we get some water to drink from a store on the way, which we did. At some point I mentioned that I sometimes write for a magazine, and just as we were crossing the road to the theatre she asked me which magazine it was. “Tell you later,” I replied.
There were few people standing in the lobby, who politely greeted us, although they seemed to know my companion. We moved without delay into the theatre, up to the third row: she indicated that she liked to sit up front. There were about 25 people present, roughly half Hispanic, the majority female, one or two couples. On stage left hung a hollow cross more than two meters high, over which a piece of purple cloth was draped; on the right thee was a menorah on which one candle had been completely burned down. Then an elegantly dressed man (fortyish, in a freshly ironed shirt and tie) identifying himself only as a “Christian pastor” announced we would begin.
The service, the first of a series of seven prayer meetings entitled “Seven Spiritual Mysteries,” consisted of cycles of alternating sitting and approaching the altar with eyes closed and hands on hearts to hear a prayer. Apart from this, there was little apparent structure to the ceremony, although the process did intensify in dramatic tension towards a climax, after which there was a certain denouement that led to the profane matter of a collection at the end.
The pastor commenced by handing out some envelopes instructing us not to open them yet. Before we had much time to wonder about the contents—the envelopes were not sealed—he rebuked an acolyte (of which there were three or four), “Next time we hand out the envelopes when the people come in.” And then apparently to the same person, “Next time we seal the envelopes otherwise people are going to open them and look inside.” (This was hardly evidence of much forethought, and I thought he might be wanting to try the magicianʼs billet reading routine, but no such luck.)
Not much suspense and not much time later we were told to take the sheet of paper out of the envelope and read what was on it. It was the first spiritual mystery: “All spirits are looking for a body to live in.” From this and the accompanying sermon we learned that there are only two kinds of spirits: gods and evil ones. We could also determine when an (evil) spirit has taken possession of a person, how they enter a body, and what makes people susceptible to spirit possession. In a monologue characterized by idiosyncratic grammar (“Dʼyou understand?”) interrupted by occasional loss of continuity (but in a voice that revealed some practice at speaking without the aid of an amplifier) the pastor proceeded to expand on these topics, indicating that we could make notes on the sheet of paper if we wished.
At around 40 minutes into the service, and by now well versed in what to expect from the evil spirits, we were given another altar call. This time things took a more dramatic turn compared to the introductory payer. I heard some other voices from behind us. I peeked around (we were meant to be praying with eyes closed) and saw the acolytes, or “pray-ers,” were standing next to members of the congregation whispering prayers into their ears. I certainly found this to be both uncomfortable and unsettling, and I can imagine it could freak some people out. This effect is probably based on a number of factors. First you cannot really understand the whispered prayers but you can hear that multiple whispering is going on from different spatial sources which, with your eyes closed, leads to an eerie effect. Second, the pray-ers move about randomly and pick out individual members of the congregation.
I also had the feeling that the pray-ers were trying to move things along in the service. While a pray-er was praying into someoneʼs ear, he would hold the forehead of that person with his right hand, with fingers and thumbs on opposite temples. The left hand was placed on the personʼs back below the neck. I got the treatment as well. The grip was quite firm, if not menacing, and I realized that they were “body-reading” any reactions, such as teeth grinding or shoulder tensing, that might indicate that a person was reacting to the prayers being recited. I just relaxed and did my best to keep the situation under control. The prayer invoked evil spirits, demanding that if they were present they were to give a sign. Suddenly a woman screamed.
Now my eyes were wide open. A young Hispanic woman (Iʼll call her Y) was bending over. Or was she being bent over? With the grip that the pray-ers employed, they could easily force a person to take up any posture they wanted. Screaming at the top of her lungs, vomiting two or three times, it appeared that the evil spirit had manifested itself in this woman. She screamed several times more, apparently in great anguish. Looking around, I now saw several other people bending forward, and it looked like they too would be emotionally overcome.
At that moment the pastor asked us to take our seats, leaving him and Y in front of the stage. One acolyte proceeded to mop up the vomit with paper towels, another procured a steady cam from backstage. Y stood there with her face down, her medium length dark hair covering her features. The pastor stood alongside, holding her in the prayersʼ “brace” with a microphone in the other hand. “In the name of God, I command the evil spirit to speak!”
Well, the lord God may be almighty (for he was repeatedly thus invoked over the next half hour) but he must have encountered some unforeseen difficulties with this particular spirit. “Are you the greatest one?” the pastor asked Y, addressing the spirit possessing her. Y was silently sobbing and sweating profusely.
What was obviously intended at this point was that Y—speaking with the voice of the evil spirit—would answer a number of questions that would enable the pastor to identify and then banish the spirit. But letʼs be clear on one point: Y wouldnʼt actually have to say anything except to affirm the pastorʼs questions. Of course she would have to lose control over herself, “hit me or pull my tie” (the pastorʼs words), scream and stamp her feet, and generally misbehave, but all she was required to answer repeatedly was, “Yes.”
Alas, it did not come to pass. Despite repeated invocation of the Almighty, Y managed to calm herself down and the pastorʼs futile attempts at getting the spirit to speak up turned increasingly pathetic. However, it was possible to glean an inkling or two from the pastorʼs comments and his other questions directed to Y.
Y is married and has a child. Her problem is—in her own words—that she has “fallen out of love” with her husband. We were told that her husband is a “good man,” the presumption being that there is no reason to leave him. That, in turn, suggests that Y has considered leaving or intends to leave her husband, but since he does not deserve such treatment something else must be provoking Y to take such irrational action. Evil spirits?
A more likely explanation is that Y has fallen in love with someone else. Since she is Hispanic and probably therefore Catholic, her environment probably opposes divorce and remarriage. She is probably feeling guilty about her love affair, which is why she has rejected taking marriage counselling with her husband, where she would have to admit her indiscretion. But what to do? Trying to extract herself from one nightmare, she plunges into the next.
During his cajoling of the evil spirit we learnt from the pastor that Y had also given a “manifestation”—a far more energetic one—the previous week. The current manifestation had come and gone without much ado—although Y was repeatedly warned by the minister that her only salvation was to manifest the evil spirit.
Finally, it dawned on the pastor that he wasnʼt getting anywhere. But he had no exit strategy! Invoke as he might, nary an evil spirit was willing to appear. Then it occurred to him to send Y out of the room with his wife for “counselling.” Whatever went on in that woman-to-woman chat is anyoneʼs guess. The pastorʼs next homily was a little more revealing. Over the two hours of intermittent prayer and homily, I managed to glean the following theology of the first of these seven spiritual mysteries.
The world contains evil spirits and the spirit of God. The evil spirits are not disembodied spirits (souls) of deceased human beings, because souls pass to either heaven or hell. And that was where any semblance with mainstream Christianity ended. The rest was a bizarre mixture of pop theology, psychology, and urban legend pressed into the service of demonization. Evil spirits want to take possession of human bodies. Evil spirits often pass from one generation to the next in a family. Evil spirits have the appearance of an angel of light. Evil spirits enter you when you are addicted to something, such as shopping or eating. (You bought shoes because they looked new and nice and exciting; but after a few days the shoes were ordinary and so you had to go out and buy a new pair to sustain the thrill.) Evil spirits enter you when you follow your heart rather than your mind. This was probably a comment on Yʼs predicament. Perhaps an evil spirit had entered her when she had become bored with her husband or had fallen in love with another man. Apart from addiction, evil spirits can enter a person when they are angry, hateful, tempted, or unforgiving.
We must be strong and ignore the yearnings of our heart, the pastor continued. We have to be logical. A human being consists of a body, a soul, and a spirit which, in the best case, would be the spirit of God. There is no room for a weakness of the heart, which allows in evil spirits. This, according to the pastor, is Intelligent Faith.
“Another five minutes,” he muttered. That not only sounded like, but in fact was the commencement of the sting. “What is it that feeds us? What principle feeds us? It is multiplication! You take a seed and grow it into a plant with fifty seeds.” What in the world was he talking about? “And so now brothers and sisters. I am opening a Bible, which I will leave open for you to plant your seed that it may grow into a healthy plant and yield a harvest!” My companion indicated to me to remain seated while she made our “contribution.” I had been in a bit of a quandry because I needed the last dollar bill I had for the bus ride home. Saved again.
With the money in the bag it was time for leave-taking. But no, there were two more points. Everyone would come up and receive a red ribbon, which the pastor would tie around their right wrist as a sign that we had received the first mystery. And then, we were told, God would perform something supernatural this week.
Well, I cannot convey just how thrilling all this was. You go to L.A. for a Skeptics conference and you get the offer to experience a real supernatural event into the bargain! But then—as every now and then in the exposition of his theology—the pastor suddenly mistook the supernatural for the vague and banal. The supernatural event would have something to do with our work—thatʼs about as detailed as King Learʼs threats.
During the ribbon ceremony I asked the pastor whether I might take his photo, to which he graciously consented. Then my companion and I left for the bus stop. She had not forgotten about her earlier question. “So, what magazine do you write for?” she asked, as soon as we were out on the street.
“Uh, um, er, The Skeptic.”
“I think my dad gets that magazine. Are you going to write about this?”
“Well why not? It was public and advertised. Anyone could go. And besides,” I said taking up eye contact with her, “you were recording the whole thing on cassette in any case.” She blushed. During the service sheʼd had a bit of a coughing fit, during which she left the room, leaving her handbag open on the floor. It hadnʼt taken much more than a quick glimpse to reveal a cassette recorder whose red light was blinking as it was recording. Thatʼs why we were in the third row, and why she had left the room during the coughing bout: she hadnʼt wanted to ruin the recording. With my companionʼs objections safely quashed and her anonymity assured, she headed back down to the theatre to hang out with her friends. And I returned to the bus stop.
Shortly before my bus arrived, I noticed one of the acolytes—perhaps also just going home—on the bus and decided just to keep my thoughts in my head until I reached my hotel, where I filled several pages with notes and kept myself out of any more trouble.
Lee Traynor, “A Skeptic Goes to an Exorcism,” Skeptic, Vol. 12, no. 1
If there are “pissed off” spirits, maybe thereʼs also “Good Samaritan” ones, bi-polar ones, even jolly tricksters? I figure that if you look on the bright side of life, and have friends and love people, then “pissed off” spirits wouldnʼt enjoy being around that kind of person anyway. But I donʼt even think in those terms anymore, not after having read about Christian “Satan Selling” liars, and Christians who see demonic influences everywhere, in nearly everything. And why should I be eager to become a Christian if even Christians get driven “crazy” by “fear of Satan,” including being driven to suspect and hate others, coerce fellow Christians, cheat them out of money, tell lies, and sometimes even commit manslaughter?
I had a friend who told me about an exorcism he attended in which the minister asked for the name of each entity before banishing it. He told me everyone was surprised when one of the entities called itself, “The Demon of Baptist Dogma,” and another called itself, “The Demon of Methodist Dogma.” The group who was working with the minister then began to discuss the demonic sides of dogma and lightened up a lot about almost everything.
Will Bagley, personal email, recʼd by Edward T. Babinski March, 2005 [Will Bagleyʼs personal testimony is in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundametalists]
Bob Larson: Banking On Peopleʼs Fear Of Demons
Bob Larson of Bob Larson [Deliverance] Ministries says, “More people are possessed today than ever have been in history.” He concedes that throughout history people have suffered from mental illness, but he also says that people have always been possessed by demons. Larson spent years working as a radio talk show host and motivational speaker, and he has little formal religious training. Instead, he says his expertise concerning “how to exorcise demons” comes from reading books, and performing exorcisms at seminars. The seminars are “free,” but Larson asks for donations of at least $120 per person to pay for his work and to build a national center for exorcism. [If you donʼt give Larson the $120 cash for his “free” seminar, you can keep your demon and go home possessed. Not that he plays on people fears, turning them into cold hard cash or anything like that.—E.T.B.]
Janelle Mallard was exorcized by Larson. During the ceremony she spoke in a strange voice and flailed around almost uncontrollably. “I feel refreshed, like somethingʼs lifted off my spirit,” Mallard said after the exorcism. [For the $120 “minimum donation,” Janelle could have experienced two hours of massage by a professional with some formal training, instead of “flailing around on the floor” in order to feel “refreshed.”—E.T.B.]
Gretchen Passantino is a Christian writer who has studied deliverance ministries. She does not believe Larson is delivering demons. “What he is doing is exploiting and manipulating people, appealing to their fears, their needs, their sense of inadequacy,” Passantino said. “He certainly is a performer.”
Heather Nauert, “Exorcism: Ancient Art or Hocus Pocus?” ABC News, USA, May 16, 2006
Investigative news programs like Inside Edition and Fox News6 have had programs on Bob Larson Ministries try, Exposing Bob Larson.
I am still in a state of shock after attending a Bob Larson meeting over the weekend. As Ez. 22:27-29 says, wolves like him are out to “destroy people” and to “get dishonest gain.” No one does that quite like Bob. My husband is planning on writing an extended report of it, so I wonʼt go into too much detail here.
Anytime I have seen Larson shoving his Bible on the heads of growling, screaming, women, supposedly possessed by the devil, I have wondered how on earth he got them to act that way. Well now I know. What he doesnʼt show on TV is how he works up the crowd into that state in the first place.
After spending an hour showing the crowd at the Wyndham Hotel in San Jose, California a video of him “casting out devils,” he then turns his attention to fund-raising. He belittled people who “tip God” and then told of his need to raise $1.2 million for his deliverance center in Phoenix. He spent a good (or not so good) hour of preaching about the awards of giving to God and the penalties for holding back. After he gave people time to write out their sacrificial checks, just before the buckets came around, he commanded all of them to take a bill out of their wallets and include that for the room rental. Shockingly, many complied, adding $10 or $20 dollar bills to their checks and then came the buckets.
And then he worked up the crowd to manifest something Satanic. He told everyone that if there were any strongholds of the devil within them, one only needed to reach back to past hurts to get them to surface and then be dealt with. He prepped everyone in how he expected them to respond and emote whatever they were feeling. “Some will scream or shake or weep or cry out. Let it out. Connect with it,” he shouted. “Let the devil drive. Let it come up. Let Satan express himself. Donʼt suppress it. You have to get physical!” [Something like that used to have a name in the 1960s, i.e., “primal scream therapy,” but Larson is talking about letting yourself go completely, not just screaming, but barking, crying, grabbing, punching, cursing, vomiting, drooling, probably peeing your pants too. Maybe Larsonʼs seminars are “primal everything” therapy?—E.T.B.]
He complained that he wasnʼt getting the kind of cooperation he was seeking. There were some muffled crying and a scream here and there from a women Larson said he has worked with before.” He didnʼt seem interested in her [he probably knew her bank account was low, or sensed his audience might get bored if he kept treating the same person over and over again.—E.T.B.], but told his team members to take her aside. Finally one pretty Hispanic girl began crying hysterically. She confessed that she was a victim of rape and then this wolf committed a spiritual rape against this helpless victim. He looked in her sad face and shouted, “Go to the pain. I rebuke you Satan.” And then he called the wrath of God down on the alleged devil. “I confront that pain in the name of Jesus. Get up and face the man of God now, Satan.” He brought her up to the front, and looking into her eyes he again addressed Satan. “Youʼre a liar, Satan. Look at me, come on work with me.” I donʼt think any deliverance happened there. All Larson did was push this poor girl close to the edge of insanity.
It was alarming how many people brought little children from infancy on to that meeting. An 11-year-old girl sitting next to me began to shake as Larson instructed. (I looked at her, gave her a smile, said a silent prayer and her shaking stopped.)
Larson describes his method of deliverance on his website. He writes “The devil traffics in human suffering, and we take people to the ‘point of the pain’ to discover where their souls have been scarred, allowing Satan to torment them.” If anything Satanic does manifest, it is apparent that it is because theyʼve opened themselves up to the demons this wolf traffics in.
Jackie Alnor, “Spiritual Malpractice,” “Bob Larson is of the Devil,” May 21, 2006
Meeting “The Exorcist”
Friday night, May 12th, Bob Larson held one of his “Exorcism Workshops” in San Diego. I decided to attend. Itʼs not often one gets to meet a con man face to face.
The workshop was held downtown at the Marriott and I arrived early. I took a seat in the back of the room which at that time was maybe 30 per cent full. Almost immediately, a young man sat down beside me. Although the room was fairly empty, he chose the seat right next to me. I thought it interesting that he gravitated to me. I introduced myself, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
Now, I knew that this young man was troubled. He was twitchy, ill-at-ease and obviously distraught. Meaning no disrespect to the man, but he resembled a young Don Knotts and was the same bundle of nerves that Knotts brought to Barney Fife. He carried his own bible to the workshop and repeatedly rose to leave the room. Often he was ushered back in by one of Larsonʼs assistants who was familiar with the man and called him by name.
I knew that he would be one of the people who would “need an exorcism” in the course of the night. Having him next to me would put me into the action but I didnʼt choose this spot, he did, so I stayed put.
The event started at 7 pm but Larson came in about 10 minutes early and started showing a videotape of his recent trip to Australia. It was a “short version” of a documentary which he assured the crowd was going to be seen in its full form on secular tv stations all across the country. The deal was almost signed, he said.
It may have been the short version but it went on for about 35 minutes, detailing not only his exorcisms in that country but also Larson having fun fighting rubber crocs, playing with his three daughters (4, 7 and 11…whom he brought up repeatedly) and climbing a high staircase to cure his fear of heights.
That was followed by Larson exhorting the audience to raise to their feet and “hug the people around you,” which spread to the whole room. Then there was the singing of a hymn and a quick prayer.
When that was over, Larson spent the next half hour talking about the missions heʼs been on all around the world and the excitement he feels about going to Germany for the first time in the coming weeks. He believes that Germany is the key to unlocking the entire European continent for his ministry since they are a powerful and rich nation.
Larson gave a quick overview of what he does, listing the four important points of the evening. He didnʼt have time to delve deeply into any of them but he held up the DVDʼs he had for sale which would give people the instruction they needed to help not only themselves but also exorcise family members and friends.
He had the audience “insert their names” as he walked them through four pledges to essentially accept Jesus into their lives and renounce Satan. With that, he said we were protected.
I found the next phase interesting as he led the audience through what he expected of them as he started his exorcisms. He already had shown the crowd the tape so they could see how they were supposed to respond but he followed it with very clear instructions that they were to think of the worst thing that ever happened to them. Concentrate on that. Relive it. Remember how it felt when it was happening. Go to that dark recess inside of you and let it come out.
He said, “the majority of possessions come about through sexual abuse.” Clearly he wanted people to recall that abuse. In my opinion he was exploiting this very abuse for his own financial gain but at least I appreciated his suggestion that people should seek help from mental health specialists to deal with these traumas.
Most likely he was correct when he said “probably not one person in this room has seen a therapist” and suggested for many this would be an important step. Unfortunately, I think they may also need to see a therapist about the damage he has caused to their fragile psyches with his religious based scam.
And fragile he clearly thinks they are. He told them so. As he ran down the list of problems he felt many in the audience faced, including issues with their parents and physical or sexual abuse, he hit very hard on how many of them must feel themselves completely worthless. This clearly affected the young man sitting next to me who started to sob at this.
Larson spent at least ten minutes setting the stage for how he expected people to behave. Among other things, he said that we should be free to say anything we wanted to and not be embarrassed or afraid to look stupid or be judged for our comments.
After priming the crowd he started looking for his marks in the audience. He was scanning the crowd trying to find someone to get the ball rolling. He got off to a very slow start and after five or ten minutes was actually raising his voice at the crowd for not trying hard enough. “I donʼt have all night,” he assured us and shouted again about how we had to think back to that horrible experience weʼve never talked about before. Relive it. Cʼmon people!
It was equally important that we all looked Larson in the eyes. Donʼt pray with your eyes downward or cast upward to the sky. He needed to look into our eyes. I had no trouble doing that as I found it interesting watching how he was scanning the place, looking for someone “possessed.”
Mind you, the entire time, Don Knotts next to me was doing everything he could to get Larsonʼs attention, making loud coughing noises, spitting out words and virtually jumping out of his seat. Larson was avoiding him because he knew the kid was trouble.
Finally, he went to a woman in the second or third row and she was actually “possessed.” She was speaking about herself in the third person and saying “The girl must die!” Larson had a live one…or did he? Lorna (Larson found it impossible to remember her name) was doing everything she was supposed to but he got uncomfortable with her and tried to silence her. She was sobbing uncontrollably but Larson moved on to another woman in the row. Try as he might, he found it hard to concentrate with Lornaʼs sobbing
Finally, Larson barked back at Lorna that he needed silence and if she couldnʼt get herself together he was going to have her removed from the room. I found this unbelievably callous. Larson had a woman from his ministry try to shut Lorna up at her seat as he moved on.
He tried a couple other people farther back in the room with modest luck. No pay dirt yet. All the time, Don Knotts was drawing more and more attention to himself with his noises and thrashing until Larson must have felt he had to come over to him. Larson anointed him with some oil and the kid writhed in his seat, pressing himself onto my shoulder as two of Larsonʼs guys tried to keep the kid in his chair.
Having a close up view of Larson fighting a demon virtually in my lap, curiously had little effect on me. Being that close to evil surely must have put me in jeopardy but it was obvious to me that the only evil nearby was in Larson for exploiting this damaged and needy kid.
The boy wanted more attention but Larson wanted to get this over with fast. He did a quick laying of the bible on the kidʼs head and cast the demon out then turned and walked away. Barely a cursory nod to the kidʼs misfortunes. As Larson turned away, the kid was still clearly spouting his “satanic spiel” but Larson had his back to him as he proclaimed that the devil was gone and the kid was back to normal.
This was too much. I let out a small but audible laugh at the audacity of this man. This stopped Larson in his tracks and he swiveled around to glare at me. “Something funny?” he asked. “Yes, this whole thing,” I replied. Larson come over to me and got his face close to mine. Putting the mic to my face, he wanted to know more.
“You are such an immoral con man. You should be ashamed of what you are doing, exploiting these people for money.” There was a gasp from the crowd. They were clearly not on my side. They came to see “The Exorcist” as Larson proudly calls himself. They were believers.
I knew I wasnʼt making any friends in the room but he asked for my comments. My plan was simply to come and watch but he asked for my involvement and he got it.
“Are you with him?” Larson indicated the young man next to me.
“No,” I continued. “Itʼs outrageous what you are doing. You whip these people into a frenzy, you reduce this woman (Lorna) to tears, sheʼs obviously distraught and then you threaten to kick her out of the room. How dare you?”
Iʼm not deaf. I heard some of the boos coming at me. Larson, too, knew he had the crowd on his side. He shook my hand and said he was always glad to have someone like me show up. Then as he walked away from me, he added “just another demon in the room.” This got him a good round of applause and produced another laugh from me. Iʼve never been called a demon before.
We left it at that. Larson moved on and the kid, still seeking attention, was play acting loudly though few were listening. As Larson called me a demon, the kid threw his armʼs around me and, speaking as the devil in a throaty voice said, “I have another friend,” yet no one wanted to pay attention to him.
My comments must have gotten to Larson, or at least he felt he needed to address them because now he moved back to the still sobbing Lorna and tried to comfort her. He asked if she was seeing anyone for mental health issues and she admitted she was schizophrenic but hadnʼt been to see her doctor in a while. He urged her to get back into care. “You may still need an exorcism but you also need to take care of this.”
Again, I was grateful that at least he was advocating seeking treatment even if he was still bamboozling them. Thatʼs more than Scientology can say.
The kid next to me continued to act up as Larson moved a few rows ahead to another man dealing with anger issues.. As Larson dealt with him, the still agitated kid next to me continued gyrating and speaking in his community theater devil voice.
I felt bad for him and put my arm around him to try to comfort him and tell him he was alright. That drew attention away from Larson who again asked if I was with the kid. I said no and Larson had the kid move across the way to one of his assistants who called him over by name.
This extra interaction with Larson caused him to threaten to bring security down to have me thrown out. I reminded him that just a little while earlier he told us to feel free to say anything at all in the room and we wouldnʼt be judged. “I paid for this room!” he boomed at me several times. As I said, I wasnʼt there to cause trouble. It just sprang up. I let him go on with his act.
Finally he had found a man who was to became the main attraction. The man with the anger issues was a black minister who came with his wife. He was brought to the front of the room to role play his way through dealing with his childhood sexual abuse. The demon came charging out of him and he needed three big guys to hold him back so he wouldnʼt throttle Larson. After ten minutes of being whacked around by Larsonʼs bible and having his head anointed, the guy was exhausted and came out of his trance wanting to know how long heʼd been gone. He was ready now to go forth and minister free of Satan.
This was the huge win for Larson. Not only had the devil been chased out of a man but he was chased out of a preacher! Now was the time for the sale pitch. A quick reminder of just how important it was for Larson to go over to Germany to do exactly what they just witnessed with the added caveat that it wasnʼt cheap. It was going to cost $50,000. They needed to raise that in the next week.
On an easel at the front of the room, Larson suggested that for a $50 donation, they would get a DVD of the Australian documentary. For $100 they got a second DVD and for $150 they would get a third.
But hopefully they would be far more generous than that. He next wrote $5000 on the board. They got no extra trinkets but were told that this is what is really needed to perform these miracles. Or $10,000. “Why, just last week in Bakersfield,” he told us, “one person in the crowd single handedly donated $25,000!” Thatʼs whatʼs needed! If they had that, theyʼd be set. So please be generous.
As the donation envelopes were being handed out, I sat quietly knowing that these people were being duped. Iʼd seen his tax returns. Id seen his divorce papers. I knew the money this guy was pulling in. I knew that even as he was telling these people that none of these donations were going to him, that “he was only making a $69,000 a year salary,” he was also giving himself a $10,000 a month expense account and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
I felt I really needed to share that with these people…but again, I didnʼt come to create a scene and I knew they didnʼt want to hear it anyway. They wanted to believe in this huckster.
Finally, he pulled out some big buckets and said that everyone should now reach into their pockets and pull out some more cash above and beyond the donations. Why? To pay for the room, he explained. That was too much. “But YOU paid for the room!” I shouted. My protest fell on deaf ears. What balls. He made such a big deal about how he paid for the room and now he wanted them to pay for it.
With this, the event was over. The assistants were called to the front to personally minister to anyone who needed personal prayers, with the admonishment to them to keep it brief and not take too much time with anyone.
Larson went to the front door and started shaking hands. I went up to him and shook his hand firmly so I would have a captive audience. I told him that I had seen his IRS tax forms and read his divorce papers and I knew how much money he was really making. I told him he should be ashamed of himself and asked how he was going to explain to his three daughters just what a con man. he is.
“Leave this room,” he told me. “The room these people paid for? Donʼt worry. Iʼm leaving.”
Mark Bunker at Fox News6: Meeting “The Exorcist”
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