How often do demons strike? Is it something that happens on a constant basis, or just in special cases (we think of Linda Blair)?

The questions come to mind upon reading a lengthy and interesting article by Richard E. Gallagher, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in Hawthorne, New York, and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. He is also on the faculties of the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Institute and a Roman Catholic seminary. Dr. Gallagher is the only American psychiatrist to have been a consistent U.S. delegate to the International Association of Exorcists, and has addressed its plenary session. His article in New Oxford Review is available below.

Dr. Gallagher makes clear one matter: possession does exist. He documents the case of a former satanist whom he evaluated in preparation for spiritual deliverance (handled by four priests, a deacon and and two nuns). That's how powerful it was.

"Amid widespread confusion and skepticism about the subject, the chief goal of this article is to document a contemporary and clear-cut case of demonic possession," he writes. "Even those who doubt such a phenomenon exists may find the following example rather persuasive."

The defining line: existence of paranormal phenomena.

And indeed, Dr. Gallagher details the bizarre tones of voice that issued from the woman (quite unlike her own), her ability to know the difference between regular water and Holy Water (which burned), and instances when the strange demonic voice even interrupted phone conversations -- coming through the wires even though the woman was nowhere around.

At one point, he says, as nuns tried to restrain her, the woman levitated for half an hour about half a foot in the air.

She knew things she could not have known. Objects flew off shelves around her.

And so we get the point: we have a psychiatrist who -- unlike the vast majority of psychiatrists -- believes and has documented a strong case of demonism.

It is highly unusual for a psychiatrist to write in this way about an exorcism, and the reason many psychiatrists do not accept such, he says, is that the typical psychiatrist, or other mental-health practitioner, "commonly meets patients who claim all sorts of contact or special visitations from 'God,' the 'devil,' a 'spirit,' etcetera. Patients may complain on a regular basis that demons are harassing or berating them; telling them to perform shameful, grandiose, or destructive acts; even touching them (via tactile hallucinations). It is easy, therefore, for such professionals to draw the nearly obvious corollary that all such cases purporting to have a diabolic or occult aspect are simply a reflection of psychiatric pathology or the patient's imagination. Many doctors thus regard all talk of demonic possession as hopelessly ignorant and out of date, 'medieval,' superstitious, even psychotic per se."

Psychiatrists have been trained to be skeptical. So is Dr. Gallagher -- in most instances. "The vast majority of such 'cases,' which could easily be misconstrued as possible attacks by a demon or the like, indeed turn out to have an obvious psychiatric explanation, or less often a neurological or other medical explanation," he states.

And therein lies the rub.

Is it really so rare? Or are we all affected, to varying degrees, from time to time?

We have observed the latter: that if there is one critical issue, it is that demons have been allowed to operate under the cover of "rational" explanations. We note that Jesus cast out evil spirits on what seemed like a constant basis -- not just rare and special instances in which He was called to do an exorcism.

The demons, it says in the New Testament, were "legion."

We also differ with his view that the woman was both possessed and also had "psychic" abilities from her years as a satanist. We would argue that the abilities were all from the same source: that the "psychic" was "demonic," at least in this occurrence.

It is can be dangerous to label drastic personality disorders as "psychotic" or "schizophrenic" or "dissociative" (and especially "multiple personality") without first testing their spiritual nature. Even when a person is using drugs -- and such an altered state of consciousness is blamed for bizarre behavior (which certainly may be the case) -- it can also be that a spirit is taking advantage of a person's altered state. Weaknesses which serve as entranceways for the demonic are too often blamed for being the sole cause of the behavior, when they are in fact simply the crack allowing smoke to enter. This happens too with alcohol.

There are many different levels, from harassment, infestation, and oppression to obsession and full-fledged possession. Too often, psychiatrists miss those more subtle manifestations. And too often, the Church relies solely on a psychiatric evaluation.

But Dr. Gallagher raises many interesting issues, and makes no bones about the fact that after a close encounter with the demonic, there is no reason -- medical or other -- to doubt the existence of such. We have observed the same.

[resources: article by Dr. Gallagher]

[resources: Prayer of the Warrior and An Exorcist Tells His Story]

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