Imagine you are back in time, in the era of plagues, muddy path ways, cholera and famine. A place almost completely devoid of science and rational thought. Where the birth of a healthy child is labelled a miracle from God. Where the sight of a rather large fish by one fisher man, can through many whispers and tales around amber glowing fires in old taverns, transform the story from a rather large fish into folklore, say a mermaid, sea beast or what have you.
In these times, stories that were past from one person to another could easily be moulded and added to producing many tales we know and love today, like banshees, vampires or nymphs. Small ideas, growing via chinese whispers into rather large and amusing stories. After all, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
In recent years we have seen the cinema screen become inundated with a plethora of spooky witchcraft possession stories. People go to see them for a cheap thrill, to feel scared and get a good laugh at one another’s reactions to “amateur” video footage or “official” Vatican library files of exorcisms.
All good fun, but these stories – just like the fairies and goblins we read about as children stem from a small seed. In the 1480′s, witch hunting was rife in the villages of Europe and later also increasingly prevalent in North America. Something as small as your flower beds blossoming a little better than those of your neighbours could be a sign that you may well be a witch. Your jealous neighbour starts a rumour, “her flower beds are blooming unnaturally, she has too many cats, she must be a witch”. And before you know it, the only thing your missing while a mob stands outside your house chanting for your trial, is a broom stick and a pointed black hat.
You would be tossed into a lake, if you survived, you were labelled a witch, if you sank and drowned you were a human. A sort of lose – lose situation. Again, superstition and whispers snowball into a frenzied attack. It is easy to find records of these hunts on the internet and in libraries. A tremendously dangerous time to live in. It was only around the 1700′s that people and authorities began to realise that supernatural capabilities and practice of witchcraft was either rubbish, dismissed as nonsense or ignored. One of the last executions in the British Isles under this precedent was around 1727.
Janet Horne and her daughter were arrested in Dornoch, Scotland and imprisoned on the accusations of witchcraft by her neighbours. Horne was showing signs of senility, and her daughter had a deformity of her hands and feet. The neighbours accused Horne of having used her daughter as a pony to ride to the Devil, where she had her shod by him. The trial was conducted very quickly; the sheriff had both of them judged guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The daughter managed to escape, but Janet was stripped, smeared with tar, paraded through the town on a barrel and burned alive.
Rather incredible to believe, but these were darker and more superstitious times. The place I am leading you to is that various exorcism practices still go on today. Father Gabriele Amorth, an ordained Roman Catholic priest, founded The International Association of Exorcists. Amorth claimed in 2000 that he had held over 50,000 exorcisms and then in 2010 increased that number to 70,000. I sense his popularity was wavering, what better way to big yourself up than add a few more souls to your list. Amorth also claims that the Nazi Party were involved in Satanism and that Hitler and Stalin were also both possessed. If only Amorth was around to bust a few ghosts we could have avoided the whole rumble with the Reich.
But now in 2012 thankfully we have a better understanding of mental illness and therefore replace superstition with scientific understanding. No longer do we lock people in sheds with chains, shout Latin at them and sprinkle holy water on their heads. Instead, doctors provide care and a better quality of life to patients. I can understand that someone back in the 1700′s could seem to be possessed to a priest or a witch to a witch-hunter but now, we understand that many folk wrongly diagnosed could well have had learning disabilities, a form of mental illness or the likes of dementia.
Take for example the case of Anneliese Michel, born 1952. She was a German Catholic woman, supposedly possessed. She came from a strict Catholic family and through her life had taken seizures, later falling into depression. It was then claimed that Anneliese was seeing things and hearing voices while praying. What could be worse for a family that were strict in religious faith, than to have a daughter that was ill, hallucinating and hearing voices telling her she was damned. A family of followers to God does not want a damned daughter. Although she underwent psychiatric treatment, it is recorded that she grew frustrated with the lack of progress, so she gave in to the religious hysteria that claimed she had a demonic possession. There is a sociological theory known as The Self Fulfilling Prophecy, a simple and believable idea that if someone is told something enough, especially from an early age, they will begin to self full fill those claims, for example carelessness in school and constant taunting can lead a child into simply giving in to that expectation. Therefore not trying, why should they, they are known for being the careless one anyway?
This may have been what happened to Anneliese Michel, she gave in. She would go on a holy pilgrimage with a close friend of the family, from the outside it would look as though she was furthering her religious belief, but after research, it is clear to see the family wanted rid of their cursed child. Further into depression, miles from home she was told to bow at a crucifix a and to drink from the holy spring. When she refused, the close friend of the family sought more religious advice as this disobedience was taken as a clear sign that she still carried the demon. The advice that came from a vicar, Ernst Alt, spoke against medical advice as he has seen no sign of fits or seizures and so, possession was clear. He urged a bishop named Joseph Stangl to conduct an exorcism on the girl, he agreed, but under an act of total secrecy.
The Washington Post reported on the subject of Michel, on the release of the film ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose‘, which is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel stating:
Anyway, it wasn’t the exorcism that killed Anneliese Michel.
At some point she began talking increasingly about dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church, and refused to eat. Though she had received treatment for epilepsy, by this time, at her own request, doctors were no longer being consulted. She, her parents and the exorcists decided to rely completely on exorcism. By the time Michel died of starvation, she weighed only 68 pounds.
In 1976, police charged the above participants with neglected homicide, autopsy reports showing that her death could have been prevented as little as one week before she died.
On August 7th of this year, a three year old Malaysian girl was killed during an alleged exorcism. The cause of death was suffocation after her parents, grandmother, uncle, aunt, two cousins and their Indonesian maid lay upon her small body in some sort of exorcism ritual. It is yet another example that as long as we have religious hysteria and take it on as fact and believe it, we can always expect to see these people die in strange and queer ways. All in the name of some religious claim from a religious clan.