Now kindly undo these straps.
March 12, 2018 4:43 PM   Subscribe

The Vatican, the exorcists and the return of the Devil in a time of enchantment: "This re-emergence of the Devil in popular Western culture is part of a new engagement with an enchanted world. Popular culture has embraced a realm of preternatural beings both good and evil – vampires and fairies, witches and wizards, werewolves and wraiths, shape-shifters and superheroes, succubi and incubi, elves and aliens, hobbits and the denizens of Hogwarts, not to mention zombies."
posted by spaceburglar (39 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also, people seem to have lost basic reasoning and rhetorical skills. The Enlightenment is over.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:57 PM on March 12 [26 favorites]


If I had time in April, I would totally take that 6-day demonic possession course - combine it with some JavaScript bootcamp class and pivot to becoming an online exorcist.
posted by parki at 5:13 PM on March 12 [27 favorites]


Relevant Twitter thread from early today:

@Iron_Spike: Here's a think I only faintly remember, and a lot of you folks reading this probably don't: in the mid-1980s, million of Americans GENUINELY BELIEVED, without any physical evidence, that there were Satanic cults all over the country ritually abusing children.

She goes on to discuss the ordeal of the McMartin Preschool abuse trial.

When I was a kid, they told me Dungeons & Dragons was devil worship. They told me heavy metal music was also devil worship and it encouraged suicide. All these things I loved were so bad but somehow I could never find the hidden message that would turn me into a raving lunatic.

I would really like to not have a repeat of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, please.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:33 PM on March 12 [43 favorites]


One interesting thing that goes unmentioned in this article is how the role and nature of Satan and other demons has changed throughout history. I'm going off memory here, but in the early Christian church, demons weren't necessarily evil. They were beasts of the aerial sphere, the same way that humans were beasts of the earthly sphere, because we lived on the earth (birds were beasts of the earthly sphere, too, because they could fly through the air, but didn't live in it, the same way people can swim through water). As aerial creatures, they were closer to the heavens, and had a more direct line to the divine, and their role was to perform acts on behalf of the divine. In some early Christian contexts, demons were the ones who kind of did the behind-the-scenes work on miracles. (I'm trying to remember which one of the neoplatonists I'm thinking of here - Pseudo-Dionysius maybe?).

The Devil himself was also a servant of God, relatively weak, who took direct orders from Heaven. He was a Tempter, but was meant to have that role to serve God's will (if I'm remembering right, that had something to do with giving people the opportunity to express free will). I don't think it was until the Middle Ages that Satan became an enemy of God, with more power and an antagonistic relationship (is that when he became the embodiment of evil?). The power of Satan grew, and you started seeing more people who claimed to have (or were accused of having) a personal relationship with the Devil. By the time of the Reformation, Satan had become a major force in the world.

I am 100% not an expert on this, and I'm forgetting a lot of the details that make this interesting (I hope someone with more knowledge about this can jump in to be like "everything you said is wrong, it's actually ..."). I can't remember exactly why the role of Satan changed, but it's still important to think about the fact that the perception of Satan changed in response to certain social and historical factors. I wonder if what we're seeing here is in some ways a new concept of Satan that works to make sense of new ideas and information in the modern world. I mean, the alternative is that this is just plain old reactionary politics, but I'd love to know how stuff like the Pope's statements about Satan fit in with broader theological history when it comes to Satan and demonology. I'd really like to know more about how hardcore conservative Christians view Satan, beyond just whether they think he's in Judas Priest records.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:34 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


from a purely cynical perspective, it would make sense for a Pope who wants to make controversial "liberal" reforms to try to bolster his authenticity by promoting something like this. you can't exactly call someone a wishy-washy adherent of secular modernism when they're going around casting out demons.

as the article says, though, Pope Francis almost definitely has a very sincere belief in demons; this isn't purely cynical. the choice of when and how much to publicize it may be political, though.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:42 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Oh, it's also really interesting that they mentioned Augustine and divination, because that kind of a proscription against divination and magic wasn't universal. In some Mediterranean countries, you still see some practices of divination and magic that have their roots in Greco-Roman practices. Stuff like scapulimancy, where you toss a sheep's shoulder blade into the fire and then interpret the cracks to tell the future. Depending on where you are, the people who practice these rituals may not necessarily see them as being at odds with Christianity. It sounds like the Church isn't particularly happy with the people who do this stuff in Italy. I've read more about Greece than Italy, but I wonder if there's a similar pattern in both countries, where a lot of the wizards and fortune tellers people are seeking out might actually have their roots in very, very old and persistent cultural practices.

That said, I don't want to fall into the witch-cult hypothesis that was popular 100 years ago with people like Margaret Murray, who postulated that people accused in early Modern witch trials were actually practicing pre-Christian rituals. That hypothesis has fallen out of favor for lack of supporting evidence, and because in some ways it gives way too much credit to the inquisitors for not having, you know, fabricated their charges out of fear and distrust of, primarily, older, unmarried women. But in some places there really is an active antagonism between Christianity and pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices, and I wonder if that's what we're seeing in Italy.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:50 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


It is this new imaginary realm that has enabled the fear of the Devil yet again to capture the modern Western imagination.

I know I've watched Devilman Crybaby like eighteen times now, but I just want to specify here that the thing I am feeling a lot of is not "fear", it's "queerness".

...which should be a joke, except that I think that the force behind a bunch of conservative Catholics worrying about the actual Devil is not that they are frightened of fictional depictions of the Devil, but that they are frightened of women and LGBT people and foreigners and economic uncertainty and the institution they look to for answers is telling them that the problem is the Devil and not the fear. I think the supernatural in media is an expression of people trying to come to terms with the world and, by and large, doing so in healthier ways than the people who call the exorcists.
posted by Sequence at 6:08 PM on March 12 [22 favorites]


We can date the rise of demonic possession in the modern West to the early 1970s, in particular, to an emblematic moment in the 1973 film The Exorcist .... Popular culture has embraced a realm of preternatural beings both good and evil – vampires and fairies, witches and wizards, werewolves and wraiths, shape-shifters and superheroes, succubi and incubi, elves and aliens, hobbits and the denizens of Hogwarts, not to mention zombies.

...aaaand, you lost me. You don't get to argue BOTH that the Exorcist was a watershed moment because it tied a movie monster back to Christian theology, AND that every monster movie, including the very secular, following its release work as a demonstration of any kind of integrated theme. You are gonna need to show that horror as a genre has either gotten more popular or gotten more religion-based, and I'm not seeing evidence of either presented here. More like "oh, the Exorcist made me aware of how scary movies can be and gosh aren't there so many of them," but ignoring that monster movies were around pretty much as long as movies were.
posted by solotoro at 6:39 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Why the sudden increase in possession by the Devil? Palilla attributes it to an increase in practices that “open the door to the Devil” – such as people seeking out wizards and fortune tellers, reading tarot cards, and generally dabbling in magic and the occult.

Dude. You want evil? Here you go:

The Archdiocese of Dublin

Mount Cashel

The Archdiocese of Boston
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:09 PM on March 12 [23 favorites]


surely it is because we all wish to live deliciously.
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posted by mwhybark at 7:29 PM on March 12 [47 favorites]


I would really like to not have a repeat of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, please.

It was later than we kind of collectively think, actually. It was more mid 1980s-early 1990s. The entire West Memphis Three debacle is an example of the 'late phase'.

I've been a Satanist since around then and holy shit I do not want another panic thank you.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 8:05 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]


Oh good, just as the world seems to be sliding back into authoritarianism with democracy eroding everywhere, we also get a resurgence of superstitious nonsense.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:13 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I thought this article was going to be about how the gays want to date/fuck/be monsters. *quietly slips list of monster dates back into my pocket*

Seriously though, I think the rise in people loving the devil has way outpaced the rise in people fearing the devil. The article slightly touches on it with the line "horror and fascination happily mingle with each other" but you can't really have an article about monster/supernatural media and not talk more explicitly about the association between monsters and queerness. C'mon. There's a reason the gays loved The Shape of Water (I say, as a gay who has not yet seen The Shape of Water, primarily because I need to be in a state where I can truly appreciate it and rise to a transcendent state of gayness--I'm aiming for exactly the middle of spring break).

Not that we have a monopoly on monster loving. I'm not going to even try and do a search on "demon romance novels" because frankly I don't need to know what the heterosexuals are up to. But I will say there I have personally noticed a trend of straight people liking monsters who are mostly sexy humans (e.g., their demon characters are guys in suits who have yellow eyes and maybe horns are something) while queer people tend to, not necessarily prefer more monstrous characters, but definitely are more open to them. I mean I don't know any straight people that wanna kiss the Jersey Devil and/or Mothman is all I'm saying.

I had a point/thesis here but I lost it. My concluding statement is just going to be: devil dating sim, get on it and you'll be rolling in sweet gay cash. Must include at least one character that has a deer skull for a head. Not wearing a deer skull. It's just their head. Everyone will want to kiss them. Guarantee it.
posted by brook horse at 8:23 PM on March 12 [14 favorites]


surely it is because we all wish to live deliciously.


Just wanted to say: if y'all have not yet seen that movie (The Witch: A New-England Folk Tale) then get thee behind me (and go stream it now)!
posted by darkstar at 8:43 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I have a different thesis. Mine is that the re-emergence of the Devil in popular Western culture is part of a general recognition that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.
posted by xyzzy at 10:48 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


A side note re: Monster Lovin' in the movies from Lindsay Ellis.
posted by bartleby at 10:51 PM on March 12


scaryblackdeath: I would really like to not have a repeat of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, please.
Yeah, just because you've had yours...
posted by Thella at 12:43 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


...demons weren’t necessarily evil...
- posted by shapes that haunt the dusk


You won’t mind if I just sprinkle you with this holy water, then...
posted by Segundus at 2:29 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Also, people seem to have lost basic reasoning and rhetorical skills. The Enlightenment is over.

Or, rather, the Enlightenment as long defined didn't really happen the way people thought it did and was not, as imagined, a self-correcting tendency. The Romantics had it (partly) right when they pointed out the importance of the passions; it was really their undying persistence that the Enlightenment missed.

One of the central genres of the late Enlightenment is the Gothic, after all, as if the Enlightenment needed this supplement to keep going. Human beings cannot live on empiricism and rationality alone, and few of the supposed "founders" of Enlightenment were ever themselves immune to allowing in irrational commitments.

Kant considered military music the binding aesthetic people should attach themselves to and had vicious ideas about indigenous peoples, excluding them from Enlightenment rationality and even full humanity. Locke made an exception to religious toleration for Catholics on the grounds that their supposed loyalty to the Pope made them too dangerous to a sovereign nation. The U.S. Founding Fathers were broadly slaveholders and the abolitionists in their number still subscribed to other rigid notions of hierarchy; and many of their ideas, especially Jefferson's presumed a king of endless usability of the land.

Habermas was wrong: it is not that Enlightenment is an unfinished project, but rather that it is not enough on its own, and that, like any paradigm of human thought, it must be interrogated, not merely extended, and eventually will give way to something that responds to its deficiencies. In essence, he Enlightenment is not ultimately self-correcting or sufficient. This doesn't mean throwing it out, but it does mean keeping the parts that work while acknowledging that there is something valuable beyond it.
posted by kewb at 2:47 AM on March 13 [25 favorites]


I think vogon poet is right.

I've spoken before about the circumstances that lead me to do a lot of research on exorcism in the Catholic Church; the takeaway I had is that yes, they do it, but they are pretty strict about the circumstances under which they will. At the time I was researching, in the 90s, they also had a policy of "we also don't really talk about it all that much". Upon reflection - they may have just recently adopted that policy in response to the "Satanic Panic" thing, in some attempt to not contribute to it. (My research seemed to suggest that other charismatic evangelical denominations were way more into "demons are real" than Catholicism, and my hunch is that there were more Pentacostalists or Baptists, say, among the "Satanic Panic" crew than Catholics.)

Also, I'm surprised to see that a Jesuit would be speaking openly about this kind of occult-esque thing. The one near-Jesuit-priest I knew once scoffed at my saying I was going to light a candle in St. Patrick's - "if you believe in that kind of superstitious stuff," he said. If paying homage to a saint is "superstition" to a Jesuit, a professed assertion that the devil is real is downright woo-woo.

So yeah, I think vogon poet has a point that this is kind of a placating move to the conservative Catholics.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Actually the term Daemon was prechristian and according to Wikipedia, "originally referred to a lesser deity or guiding spirit." It was a word and concept shared in ancient Rome coming from Greek "daimon".

And here's the kicker, "In the Old Testament, evil spirits appear in the book of Judges and in Kings. In the Greek translation of the Septuagint, made for the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, the Greek ángelos (ἄγγελος "messenger") translates the Hebrew word mal'ak, while daimon (or neuter daimonion (δαιμόνιον)) carries the meaning of a natural spirit that is less than divine (see supernatural) and translates the Hebrew words for idols, foreign deities, certain beasts, and natural evils.[10] The use of daimōn in the New Testament's original Greek text, caused the Greek word to be applied to the Judeo-Christian concept of an evil spirit by the early second century AD."

So... essentially, it absolutely IS a literal "demonizing" of previously benevolent or neutral spirits and deities that were non-Christian. I am struggling to find where I was reading about it but, my understanding is that the concept of the messengers of deities (angelos also being a preChristian term) with wings was also preChristian.

Luisah Teish gives a really great talk (starting at 7:45) about what it means to demonize a religion, to turn it all into something bad, and how when you destroy a people, overpower them and destroy the core cultural and religious beliefs they carry, what is often lest is the warrior energy, the rage, the fighters who are hanging on against all odds. And from there it's very easy to use these people defending themselves as proof the entire civilization and people value only violence, have no other teachings about peace and community and family and love.

"The people who survive do so by taking on the way of the oppressor... but it's never lost... it pops up here and there" "To hold on, what you have left is the defensive magic"

As a person who actually believes it's possible there is a spiritual realm and spiritual beings, I think about what voice metal has given to pagan movements bursting forth... In order to even dare to connect through all the lies and shaming and death and killing done to anyone who dared to honor their true spiritual path brings out rage. Were horned deities or part animal goat symbolism deities particularly mean spirited or cruel? Looking at ancient history, no. Many such deities supported family life, protection, fertility. However might they be perfectly capable of violence and rage on seeing their devotees tortured, slaughtered, enslaved, forced to submission?

Perhaps. If there were real deities and spirits I would be very curious to know whether Yahweh himself is truly such a tyrant or whether the deities in keeping themselves so distant and misunderstood by humanity left a hole which humans filled with their vices to describe a divine that was far enough away to leave them room to abuse it to harm and control their fellow beings. Seems whether it was Yahweh's intentional doing or not he (and all deities) ought to care a bit more about the results of their supposed teachings and presence on the human beings they influence.
posted by xarnop at 4:46 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


if y'all have not yet seen that movie (The Witch: A New-England Folk Tale)

If you're in the Boston area, there's a midnight showing saturday at the Coolidge Corner
posted by sammyo at 5:20 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


The Romantics had it (partly) right when they pointed out the importance of the passions; it was really their undying persistence that the Enlightenment missed.


David Hume didn't miss that.
posted by thelonius at 5:23 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Maybe the problem is that all-peace-and-love-Jesus, New Testament God, is boring, and people need an antagonist to keep their blood up.
posted by thelonius at 7:33 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


If you're in the Boston area, there's a midnight showing saturday at the Coolidge Corner

Saturday, May 19th you mean?
posted by solotoro at 7:39 AM on March 13


Maybe the problem is that all-peace-and-love-Jesus, New Testament God, is boring, and people need an antagonist to keep their blood up.

I think this isn't true, although I do think he's been made boring. Jesus's message is EXTREMELY radical and demands major personal, social, and societal upheaval from those of us who are Christians. Something with which I struggle is my inability or unwillingness to live up to the extreme standards he set, the radical expectations of how we support each other and build community. I think the message was coopted and neutered as "Peace, love, and being nice to each other" because the actual ideas and courses of action being pushed are extreme and frightening because they are so different from the existing way we structure society.

This is something I think about a LOT but I believe that the same thing has happened to MLK and a number of other radical figures (when I've talked to my mom about this she has mentioned St. Francis of Assisi); their messages resonated too strongly to be silenced so they were watered down to be acceptable and non-threatening. I think there should be a term for this like repressive cooption, maybe, where bold and scary ideas that take hold of people and society are turned into pablum and then performatively venerated, but what is being venerated is the insipid mainstream perversion of the message/figure and not the person or their real ideas.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:07 AM on March 13 [14 favorites]


(My research seemed to suggest that other charismatic evangelical denominations were way more into "demons are real" than Catholicism, and my hunch is that there were more Pentacostalists or Baptists, say, among the "Satanic Panic" crew than Catholics.)

Having been active in D&D (+Warhammer+Call-of-Cthulhu+Kult and a fan of both horror movies and heavy-metal music) during that 80's/90's panic AND both first in evangelical churches, subsequently moving into Catholicism, the Catholic's (in Canada at least) were intelligent, reasonable and knew the difference between reality and fiction/entertainment.

The evangelicals? Not so much. Everything was an issue with them. Thankfully my parental unit(s) at the time were not completely sucked in... (It would have been impossible for them to be so - as they both smoked cigarettes, drank and consumed other burning leafy plant materials - all of which were verboten in the church)
posted by jkaczor at 10:50 AM on March 13


I feel like we also need to understand what distinctions there may be between the American conservative satanic panic, and whatever is currently happening in Italy. It doesn’t seem like they’re the same thing.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:40 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


There's Mothman porn?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:39 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Popular culture has embraced a realm of preternatural beings both good and evil – vampires and fairies, witches and wizards, werewolves and wraiths, shape-shifters and superheroes, succubi and incubi, elves and aliens, hobbits and the denizens of Hogwarts, not to mention zombies.

I just can't wait until there is an actually, no joke, not cheesy, horror movie about aliens, and I mean somewhat "realistic" aliens (like the greys) instead of monsters-as-aliens. The alien short in VHS 2 is good, not great, but better than most things involving aliens.
posted by gucci mane at 3:56 PM on March 13


When so many self-professed (American, Evangelical) Christians are as selfish, pleasure-seeking, deceptive, haughty, vengeful, and callous as we've seen in the past 15 years, what's left for the Devil?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:10 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I think the "it's a sop to conservative Catholics" thing is a lazy interpretation, given that I think few people in this thread seem to be sufficiently familiar with Italian Catholicism to parse out the dynamics of what's going on here.

I'd also like to call people's attention to this sentence:
Yet, while the pope is socially progressive, he is theologically quite conservative.
I know it's shocking, but Catholicism is complicated.
posted by hoyland at 6:30 PM on March 13


while the pope is socially progressive


I keep reading this, and surely compared to his predecessors, it’s true. But while he gives vague utterance to the occasional socially progressive view, he allows his staff to come right in behind him to assure folks it doesn’t mean any change in his theology or in the Church’s doctrines.

If your theology is socially conservative, and it overrides all other views and considerations you may hold or espouse, then can you really be called a social progressive?
posted by darkstar at 7:26 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


There's Mothman porn?

I am absolutely not going to do that search but the signs are definitely there.
posted by brook horse at 8:25 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


omg, a thread that I am slightly late to but have very relevant knowledge for! A friend of mine, a long-time classmate in my theological education, is studying to be an exorcist and is in Rome RIGHT NOW as part of his studies! (I am shooting off an e-mail THIS INSTANT to find out if this is normal Vatican exorcist training sexed up by the media, or special weirdo TV exorcist training!)

So exorcism requests are, in fact, way way way up in the American Catholic church, and people largely do think it's due to the impact of evangelical Protestantism and its "superstitious" beliefs ("superstitious" to Catholics) about angels and demons and whatnot, and to pop culture influences in general that take a very Manichean worldview.

Which is one of the very good reasons that exorcists are secret. Every diocese has a trained exorcist (several dioceses may share one, they don't have a lot of work, frankly), but they're a closely-guarded secret precisely because PEOPLE BE CRAZY, YO. Procedures vary based on your diocese, but my friend walked me through what would have happened in my diocese at the time, which had a very large Catholic hospital. When the demonically-afflicted person (let's say "DAP") first complained to their parish priest, he would report this to his supervisors (and, if the person seemed like an imminent risk to themselves or their families, to the appropriate mental health authorities). The diocese would assist the priest with support, training, and personnel as necessary to help counsel the DAP, which would begin with pretty routine spiritual counseling -- trying to find out what's happening in their life, what's frightening or sad or enraging, if they're in an unstable housing situation or off their meds, etc. If this did not produce a rapid identification of a specific problem, they would be encouraged to attend about a year of psychological counseling through a traditional, secular psychiatrist -- while receiving spiritual support, of course. After about a year, if they still insisted they were a DAP, they would be transferred to the care of a Catholic psychiatrist with experience with people who believe they are suffering from demon possession. Often this care is free, within the local Catholic hospital. After another full year of psychotherapy with someone who specializes in delusions of demonic possession, if the person still believes the root of their problems is demons, the diocesan exorcist will begin investigating, and may decide to perform an exorcism (which requires the permission of the bishop), after which the very, very few patients that make it that far often do improve.

"And does that prove there was a demon?" I asked my friend skeptically.

He shrugged. "Maybe. Or it could show that they had a persistent delusion of demon possession that was cured by participation in the act of exorcism."

Generally they are expected to remain in psychiatric care after the exorcism and it's part of the diocese's coordinated response and spiritual aftercare.

Now, Catholic exorcists DO believe in demons and demonic possession (there are actually three levels -- obsession, oppression, and possession). But (while there are outliers who see demons under every chair) they're very clear that 95% of "demonic possession" cases are mental illness and are appropriately treated by medical and psychiatric care, along with spiritual counseling. And specifically to protect both exorcists and patients demanding exorcism, exorcists are kept secret and access to them is very strictly controlled.

In general there are two kinds of exorcism. The minor exorcism is basically any of a few prayers that can be performed by anyone, any time, and if you were baptized Catholic they exorcised you before baptizing you. The major exorcism is the big sexy kind that requires an exorcist and is very churchy. Here's a PDF with your major and minor exorcisms (from a couple decades ago, but it's substantially the same), in case you feel the need to whip out any demon-busting this week.

As a personal matter, I've met a few Catholic exorcists or exorcism students. There are definitely people in the field who see demons in every D&D game, but they're a small minority. Most of them are serious people with a profound empathy for the suffering and an enormous respect for modern psychiatry. They all feel called to serve God and their fellow man, in a peculiar and unusual way. I'm pretty skeptical, myself, but I've also heard some stories, from people I know and trust, about apparent actual major exorcisms. I don't know, I'm still skeptical -- I'm definitely on the side of "delusions of possession cured by ritual exorcism." But my experience of exorcists (and exorcist students) is that they feel skepticism is the appropriate attitude towards their job, and they're not offended or upset and encourage me in my skepticism, as it's a healthy and necessary response, and most acknowledge it's possible their job is nothing but hocus-pocus* that helps out a few very ill people with specific sorts of delusions. Or it's possible they're wrestling with actual demons. Personally Imma remain skeptical until I see a demon myself**, but my friend and acquaintances who are exorcists (or students thereof) encourage and support that response.

*That was a Catholic joke and I hope you enjoyed it.

**Actually this is a terrible idea, I'd like to remain skeptical without ever seeing a demon for any reason whatever, I would like to remain firm in my belief that they are completely imaginary, the alternative is horrifying, I need to not think so closely about metaphysical questions, KTHXBYE
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:10 PM on March 13 [15 favorites]


As a personal matter, I've met a few Catholic exorcists or exorcism students. There are definitely people in the field who see demons in every D&D game, but they're a small minority. Most of them are serious people with a profound empathy for the suffering and an enormous respect for modern psychiatry.

*nods* I can't remember if I mentioned this from talking about that research before, but this was for a potential TV show on exorcism; I was working in television, supporting a guy who'd been to Fordham and still was in touch with the priests there and who'd come up with the idea of doing that show and we were ostensibly researching his idea. At some point, my boss got us all an interview with Father William O'Malley about exorcism; and Fr. O'Malley pretty much said all of that, that most of the time they were dealing with a psychiatric situation of some kind, and exorcism was only something used as a last resort - but still had to be a tool they kept around just in case "because, as Shakespeare said, 'there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...'"

And somewhere in the interview my boss breathlessly asked - "Father, what if maybe The Devil convinced us all that he's not real and that posession is a psychiatric problem instead, to trick us? Could that be possible?" Me and my co-worker and Fr. O'Malley just sat there blinking at him a second before Fr. O'Malley gently said that actually, that idea didn't seem likely....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


"And does that prove there was a demon?" I asked my friend skeptically.

He shrugged. "Maybe. Or it could show that they had a persistent delusion of demon possession that was cured by participation in the act of exorcism.




Ding ding ding!
posted by darkstar at 11:10 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


scaryblackdeath: I would really like to not have a repeat of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, please.
Yeah, just because you've had yours...


Believe me kid, it was overrated.
posted by gtrwolf at 11:44 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Okay! I talked to my exorcist-y friend. So, this is NOT Vatican-sponsored or official -- it's Legion of Christ, although they're being allowed to use pontifical university space, so the Vatican isn't against it. It's a six-day seminar, and the course description says: "The course proposes an academic and interdisciplinary research on the ministry of the exorcism and the prayer of liberation. It will cover a wide range of issues: anthropological, as well as phenomenological, social, theological, liturgical, canonical, pastoral, spiritual, medical, neuroscientific, pharmacological, symbolic, criminological, legal and juridical ones."

My friend says he'd like to go to it, because he thinks they present interesting and useful theories of how to cope with people who believe they're suffering from demonic afflictions, but he'll be out of Rome, and it's not necessary for his training.

So, the article is a little misguided: it's not an official training; it's more geared towards providing people who are already trained exorcists (or are in official training) with many and various tools for addressing troubled people, including medical, psychological, pharmacological, etc., and addressing possible complications of people who believe they're demon-afflicted such as legal system involvement.

Not quite as sexy as "IN SIX DAYS WE CAN MAKE YOU AN EXORCIST!" More like, "For six days, let's talk about all the social, legal, medical, and theological complications that might occur for people who believe they're suffering from demon possession, and how to address their problems from those perspectives."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:35 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


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