Behind the Demonic Possessions
Though demonic possessions has been explained by Demonolators and Demonologists, and by science as well, there’s still a widespread popular belief in possessions and exorcisms. Maybe it’s the power of films like The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, maybe it’s just plain old fascination with the demonic, but a lot of people chose to believe in religion over science when it comes to the apparently supernatural.
But this misunderstanding about what causes people to appear possessed can do a lot of damage. Exorcisms are still performed with surprising regularity, often ignoring real mental and physical health issues. And even in this day and age, exorcisms gone wrong, can still result in death. In so many instances, there are clearly underlying issues that cause the symptoms of possession, and the very real science is ignored in the face of religious or spiritual beliefs.
The Story of Emily Rose may be one of the most famous on-screen portrayals of demonic possession, but it had real-life roots in the tragic story of Anneliese Michel. Her “demonic possessions” consisted of shouting obscenities, self – mutilation, and displays of aggression. She refused food for an extended period, weighing only 68 pounds at the time of her death.
The two priests who held dozens of exorcisms on Michael were eventually convicted of negligent manslaughter and the prosecution pointed to clear scientific reasons behind her death. She had a history of depression and was diagnosed with epilepsy at 16, but in the months leading up to her death, she was not receiving medical treatment. At the trial, doctors said that she had died of a combination of mental illness and epilepsy in an intensely religious environment. Professor Hans Sattes of Wuertzburg University claimed these combined to “a spiritual sickness and heavy psychic disturbance.”
It’s a big Latin phrase that just translates into “writing on the skin” and it may explain one of the physical symptoms of demonic possession. In the case of Roland Doe, the real-life inspiration for The Exorcist, there were red marks found on his body described as “looking like lipstick”.
There’s a chance that raised red marks like these are actually done by the person themselves, even without them knowing. Dr. Kathleen Sands explained in a lecture called “Demonic Possession and Exorcism: Medical Explanations?” at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia that dermographism urticaria is a condition where someone traces or presses their skin so much it can create red lines or welts, even forming words. Of course, it would be pretty confusing (and spooky) if you didn’t know the person suffered from the condition.
One of the most recent cases of exorcism in the news was in 2005 – the exorcism of Romanian nun Maricica Irina Cornici, which sadly resulted in her death. After saying the devil was speaking to her, she was tied to a cross and gagged to stop her making any sounds, before being left without food and water for three days. Her aunt said she “was disfigured, she had marks on her hands, her ankles and her stomach”.
But Cornici had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition that has historically been confused with possession. Unfortunately, the priest who ran the exorcism didn’t agree with the diagnosis. “God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil,” he said after her death.
The Exorcist is based on the true story of a boy who was documented under the pseudonym, Roland Doe. While some elements of the film (like objects flying around the room and a head spinning all the way around) may be beyond scientific reach, some of the more realistic behaviors are straight out of the textbook. Psychiatrist Arthur K. Shapiro and psychologist Elaine Shapiro of Cornell University believed that the grunting, jerks, and profanities of the child that inspired The Exorcist could all be explained by Tourette.
Lying to Avoid Punishment
In some cases, demonic possession is used as nothing more than a tool to avoid being held responsible for wrongdoing. The case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (also known as “the devil made me do it” case) may just be one of those instances.
It began with the supposed exorcism of David Glatzel, a boy who was suffering from aggression and outbursts. Testimony was given by the boy’s mother that the demon had left the boy and gone into Johnson, who months later killed his landlord. But Johnson’s lawyers attempted a defense of their client been possessed, arguing that the devil was actually responsible for the murder. Unsurprisingly, the judge didn’t accept this argument – because it was impossible to prove, if nothing else. Johnson was ultimately convicted of first-degree manslaughter.