This article is the next in a series with the overall title of The Supernatural Origin of the Natural, a response to an article by Ted Wade on Medium.com, which claimed that the ‘supernatural’ is a figment of humans’ imagination. I am arguing the contrary. In the first part of the series I offered some evidence for belief in the supernatural in general. Now, following on from an introduction on the subject of discarnate entities in general, I’m going to explore the topic in more detail, beginning with the phenomenon of demonic possession. (For a guide to the whole series, see under Religion and Spirituality on the Blog Index Page.)
My sources for what follows are the work of four therapists: Adam Crabtree, M. Scott Peck, Stanislav Grof, and Wilson Van Dusen.
Adam Crabtree is the author of Multiple Man: Explorations in Possession and Multiple Personality¹. The book discusses these topics in much greater detail than space allows here, so I’ll focus strictly on the most relevant material, and recommend the book to anyone who wants to explore this disturbing subject more thoroughly. It contains lengthy descriptions of three historical examples of demonic possession:
- the Illfurt Boys of Alsace, taken from The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, by Montague Summers
- Anna Ecklund, taken from Begone Satan in German by the Reverend Carl Vogel, translated by Reverend Celestine Kapsner OSB
- Karen Kingston, taken from The Devil and Karen Kingston, by Robert Pelton.
According to Crabtree, the Catholic Church considers the classical signs of diabolical possession to be: paranormal knowledge, fluency in unfamiliar languages, and a violent reaction to seeing any holy object. As is clear from these case-histories, other possible features are:
- the ability to levitate
- feats of extraordinary strength
- demonic voices appearing from the body of the victim without any movement of the mouth
- extreme physical deformities
- the production of substances and smells beyond what you could possibly expect from a human.
Here is a combination of levitation and strength. Karen Kingston twice levitated “for considerable periods of time”. She was “a frail, sixty-three pound child, pinned to the floor by the combined weight of two huge men”. She “suddenly began levitating while carrying this bulk — a total of five hundred and thirty-five pounds. And the diminutive child passively floated there for seven full minutes, while (the two men), their eyes like saucers, grabbed and hung on for dear life”.
Anna Ecklund also levitated: “With lightning speed the possessed dislodged herself from her bed and the hands of the protectors, her body, carried through the air, landed high above the door of the room and clung to the wall with catlike grips… Real force had to be applied to her feet to bring her down from the high position of the wall. The mystery was that she could have clung to the wall at all!”
Here is an example of the voices. Anna Ecklund produced a variety of voices in a mystifying manner. According to Reverend Vogel: “Satan in his speeches and answers did not use the tongue of the poor possessed girl. The helpless creature had been unconscious… her mouth was closed tight… It was possible for these evil spirits to speak in an audible manner from somewhere within the girl, possibly they used some inner organ of the body”.
Here is an example of the physical deformities and disgusting substances. Anna Ecklund’s face “became so twisted and distorted that no one would recognize its features… her whole body became so horribly disfigured that the appearance of her human shape vanished. Her pale deathlike and emaciated head often extended to the size of an inverted water pitcher, became fiery red and again like glowing embers. Her eyes would protrude, her lips would swell up actually to the size of hands, and her thin emaciated body would bloat up to such enormous size that at the first occurrence the pastor and some of the sisters drew back out of fright, thinking that she would be torn to pieces and burst open. At times her abdominal regions and extremities became hard like iron and stone and were pressed into the bedstead so that the iron beams bent to the floor”. She also vomited “large quantities of foul matter” even though she “could take in only a small amount of liquid as nourishment each day”. Following the exorcism, there was a “terrible odour that filled the room. All the windows had to be opened, the stench was something unearthly, simply unbearable. It was the last souvenir of the infernal devils for those they had to abandon upon the Earth”.
Another extraordinary feature is that, following a successful exorcism, the victim may have no memory of what has happened, even though it has been of an extremely dramatic and traumatic nature; this seems to be a clear indication that the victims have been truly possessed, and are unaware of what is happening to them. For example, the elder Illfurt brother had no memory of the two days of his exorcism procedure, even though three strong men had been needed to hold him, his face had been beet-red, his lips had been swollen, he had drooled a continuous stream of thick yellow froth, and had emitted a horrible scream of agony when the priest had called upon the Blessed Virgin.
I’ll turn my attention now to M. Scott Peck. He is the author of the famous book The Road Less Travelled, and later wrote People of the Lie², which is an exploration of the psychology of evil. It contains one significant chapter on possession and exorcism relevant here.
He discusses two successful exorcisms at which he was present, which he believes were both cases of Satanic possession. He is obviously in a far better position than me to judge but, from what he says in his accounts, I am not convinced that this is the case. There are definitely certain moments in the exchanges between the demonic figure and the exorcism team which might lead us to think that. However, since Peck calls Satan “the Father of Lies”, it all depends on whether one can trust such a figure, and his servants, to tell the truth. For the purposes of this article, it does not matter. The two cases he describes seem to be clear-cut examples of demonic possession, whether or not they are Satanic.
My purpose here, in referring to Peck’s accounts, is merely to confirm the type of material found in Crabtree’s examples, to give an example of a modern person who has actually witnessed the phenomenon, and is convinced of its reality. He says: “When the demonic finally spoke clearly in one case, an expression appeared on the patient’s face that could be described only as Satanic. It was an incredibly contemptuous grin of utter malevolence… I have seen that expression only one other time in my life — for a few fleeting seconds on the face of the other patient, late in the evaluation period… The patient suddenly resembled a writhing snake of great strength, viciously attempting to bite the team members… The eyes were hooded with lazy reptilian torpor — except when the reptile darted out in attack, at which moment the eyes would openwide with blazing hatred… Almost all the team members at both exorcisms were convinced they were at these times in the presence of something absolutely alien and inhuman”.
He also says: “The spirit I witnessed at each exorcism was clearly, utterly, and totally dedicated to opposing human life and growth”. It told both patients to kill themselves, found love distasteful, saying “I want people to work in business so that there will be war”, and said that it wanted to kill the exorcist. “There was absolutely nothing creative or constructive about it; it was purely destructive”. There was also absolutely nothing to suggest that this was the normal personality of these victims, and demonic possession, it seems to me, is the only reasonable conclusion.
Peck offers an interesting insight into how the problem might begin: “Possession is no accident… Possession appears to be a gradual process in which the possessed person repeatedly sells out for one reason or another”.
M. Scott Peck
I’ll turn my attention now to Stanislav Grof. For those unaware of him, here is a little background information. He began as a psychiatrist in Marxist (therefore atheistic) Czechoslovakia, where he became involved in an experimental programme, using LSD for therapeutic purposes. Because this often induced spiritual experiences, he felt compelled not to reveal his results to the authorities there, and worked secretly. He later moved to the USA, where he continued this research, until LSD was made illegal. He then devised a system of intensive breathing to obtain the same results without using the drug. His patients explore their own personal unconscious, often go on to relive their birth, experience ego-death and rebirth, have past-life memories, encounter archetypal beings (gods and goddesses), and much more besides.
Here are two cases relevant to this article. My purpose is again that they reinforce and corroborate what Crabtree said, and indeed what Peck also said.
Grof describes the following anecdote³ as the most extreme case in all his many sessions of altered-state therapy. A woman was referred to him as a candidate for LSD therapy, because 11 months of conventional treatments had achieved nothing. The woman was suicidal, had a criminal record — guns had already been involved. Her first three sessions brought forth violence, sexual abuse, and a difficult birth, but there were no major breakthroughs. In the third session, however, about 20 minutes in, the woman’s face took on a “mask of evil”, becoming constricted. Then a deep male voice started to speak through her, introducing himself as the Devil. He told Grof that the woman was his, and started to threaten and blackmail him, telling all the things that would happen to him and his programme if he tried to take the woman from him. The entity referred to things the patient couldn’t have known (therefore, we assume, it was not some bizarre aspect of her own personality). Grof says that he had never seen anything this extreme. The woman’s hand had become “spastic, like a claw”. Grof was in a state of “metaphysical fear”. He decided to meditate on light and focused on this for a long time. After about two hours the woman’s face and hand suddenly relaxed. Her regular voice returned and she was in wonderful shape.
In the feedback session which followed Grof decided against telling her what had happened. (This again suggests that she was completely unaware of what was going on in her own consciousness, therefore temporarily possessed.) When she returned the following morning, she was radiant, and showed no sign of depression. (As in the Crabtree examples, the successful exorcism had instantaneous results. The effect was not quite so dramatic in Peck’s two cases.) Two weeks later she was released back into the community.
It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Grof singlehandedly achieved an exorcism through LSD therapy. This would seem to be a remarkable achievement, given the large teams assembled in Crabtree’s and Peck’s examples, and the extraordinary difficulty they experienced in achieving the desired result.
I mention the following case only because it includes some confirming evidence of one of the things Crabtree mentioned, that fluency in unfamiliar languages is considered typical in such circumstances. What is interesting here is that there is no mention in the account of demonic or any other type of possession. And in this case the knowledge of an obscure language was positive, and had a healing effect, contrary to the Catholic Church’s understanding that it is indicative of demonic possession. It nevertheless seems to require some kind of supernatural explanation⁴.
The patient was a woman with chronic depression; she couldn’t bring herself to do anything. She had two powerful sessions, including re-experiencing her birth. The next day she came back to the group for a further session, highly charged. She again went back to her birth, and began shaking. She was told to go with this. At some point the sounds she made had a different quality, as if words. She was told to let these words come through. To the onlookers it seemed to be clearly a language, an incantation of some kind, although no one could understand what she was saying. She was sitting up, making broad movements with her arms, as if in adoration of something. It was some kind of chant, a repetitive sequence. Then she lay back in ecstasy.
In the room there was a Jewish psychoanalyst from Argentina. He approached the facilitators, and said that this was incredible, that the woman was singing in perfect Sepphardic, an esoteric medieval language mixing Jewish and Spanish. He was a Jewish intellectual who had studied it. The woman had been singing: “I am suffering and I will always suffer. I am crying and I will always cry. I am praying and I will always pray”.
In the feedback session which followed, it emerged that she didn’t know modern Spanish, and didn’t even know what Sepphardic was. However, these sessions completely resolved her depression.
What are we to make of this? I suggest that, assuming the account is correct, this is evidence that the brain does not produce consciousness, (and we therefore do not have to seek explanations for how primitive humans mistook brain functions for the supernatural). In the woman’s ordinary life, she had no knowledge of Spanish or Sepphardic, so how did her altered-state consciousness have access to it? I suggest that there is no natural explanation for the woman’s hidden knowledge; only a supernatural explanation of some kind seems plausible. One possibility is that she had unconscious access to a past life, although this is not alluded to in the account. Or perhaps she was temporarily ‘possessed’ by some benevolent entity seeking to help her? (This possibility will be explored in the next article.)
A further extraordinary coincidence/synchronicity, which reveals the great mystery of how the world works, is the fact that in the room was an expert in this esoteric language who was able to explain what had happened. What were the odds against that?
The work of another therapist, Wilson Van Dusen, is highly relevant and could be included here. However, I’ll save that for the next article, to be published soon.
1. Grafton Books, 1988
2. Touchstone 1985, (1988)
3. Grof tells this story on tape 3 of a series of audiocassettes The Transpersonal Vision, Sounds True (Publishers). Colin Wilson retells the story, having met Grof and heard the story from him, in Alien Dawn, Virgin Publishing, 1998, p3–4. He gives more details, and the woman is given the name Flora.
4. see footnote 3, also on tape 3