The fear that a person can be taken over and possessed by a demon is a widely held religious belief around the world. These religions also offer different forms of exorcisms.
Invading spirits, whether demonic or the ghosts of once living persons is accepted in many religions and cultures around the world. In most cases it's seen as an unwelcome invasion to the living person, and in some circumstances the possession is seen as beneficent.
During the 1800s, spiritualism flourished in Europe and America. They believed that death was an illusion, and that channeling a discarnate spirit was a beneficial experience. In modern times, New-Agers also tout the positive experience of allowing a spirit to take over a medium's body and vocal chords. There have been mediums who have produced works of art, music and writing supposedly under the guidance of a spirits, who used them to produce these works.
Hollywood never failing to capitalize on the public's fascination with exorcism, often insert "based on a true story" as part of the film or program. The most famous of course was the The Exorcist, released in 1973.
In the aftermath of the release of The Exorcist, a Catholic church in Boston received a slew of daily requests for to have an exorcism performed for the caller, or someone they knew.
William Peter Blatty who wrote the novel in 1971, based his story on the 1949 exorcism of a boy by Jesuit priests. The Washington Post wrote a sensationalized story about the case.
In the book, American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty (2002), the author Michael Cuneo described Blatty's wiring as a "massive structure of fantasy resting on a flimsy foundation of one priest's diary." Much of the gory details were exaggerating or totally made up.
Despite the belief that exorcisms were carried on in prior centuries when people were more superstitious, in reality, these rites are still carried on in modern times. Whether the person affected is suffering from an emotional disturbance or mental illness is difficult to discern. Is the efficacy of the exorcism to resolve a possession based on psychology and the power of suggestion?
Exorcism derives from the Greek word for oath, "exousia".
According to James R. Lewis in his book, Satanism Today: An Encyclopedia of Religion, Folklore, and Popular Culture (2001).
To exorcise thus means something along the lines of placing the possessing spirit under oath — invoking a higher authority to compel the spirit — rather than an actual 'casting out." This becomes clear when the demonic entity is commanded to leave the person, not by the authority of a priest but instead, for example, "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It was in 1614, that the Vatican issued official guidelines on exorcism, and not until 1999 were they revised. The Church lists the signs of demonic possession as: inordinate strength, aversion to holy relics, ability to speak in an unknown language, spitting, cursing and excessive masturbation.
However exorcists are not only Catholic priests, there are now many self-style exorcists or deliverance ministers around the world.
Michael Cuneo stated in his book that "he never saw anything supernatural or unexplainable: No levitation or spinning heads or demonic scratch marks suddenly appearing on anyone's faces, but many emotionally troubled people on both sides of the ritual."
The expertise and knowledge of the exorcist is very important, otherwise the results can be deadly.
In 1993, Ralph Vollmer, a German immigrant and pig farmer lived in a small town in Australia. He believed his wife Joan was possessed by demons.
Joan Vollmer had taken to dancing around and swearing loudly. He said she "acted like a prostitute" and took on the physical form of a pig and a dog, as well as the personality of a sheep shearer. He explained, "There were manifestation of different people and animals."
He asked help from a fundamentalist group who lived in the small town that only had 63 residents. They performed a four day exorcism which resulted in the death of Joan Vollmer. She died after pressure was applied to her neck, fracturing her thyroid cartilage and causing her to suffer a fatal heart attack.
The group waited two days for Joan to resurrect, and only when a baptist minister from a nearby town arrived and found them gathered around Joan's fast decaying body, were the police summoned. Then her husband told police and the media his wife would come alive on the day of her funeral. The anticipated event never occurred.
Reverend Roger Atze, said the Reichenbachs who were part of the exorcism, had been ex-communicated from the congregation months before Joan's death. He said their belief strayed too far from the mainstream.
Four people were indicted for Joan's death, and charged with manslaughter. The lengthiest sentence was four months. Ralph Vollmer received a suspended sentence for false imprisonment and reckless injury, and he served no jail time.
He soon left the farmhouse he used to share with Joan, and moved to Queensland to live with his third wife.
The effect of Joan Vollmer's brutal exorcism on the little town of Antwerp where she lived has been long lasting. Situated just over 200 miles northwest of Melbourne, teens drive there daring to go into the house where the Vollmers once lived.
A local resident said, "They're all scared of it, not me of course, it's just a house. But the people who own it don't want to live there. They feel it's not right."
After the exorcism the house was sold twice, but no one has ever moved in.
Joan Vollmer, 49, was allegedly in unstable condition for many years stemming from the suicide of her first husband, and the sexual abuse she endured as a child. Eventually she was committed to a psychiatric ward and diagnosed with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. The problem escalated when she returned from the hospital and stopped taking her medication.
The house's door and windows have been boarded up but it hasn't stopped thrill seekers from getting inside the lonely house. What they expect to find is anyone's guess.
A reporter who's been out to the farm said there's "an unsettling feeling on Ralph Vollmer's property, someone or something is always watching you."
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer