[adapted from The Spirits Around Us]
Jesus indicated that spirits come in groups when He cast out so many into the swine and removed seven spirits from Mary Magdalene and also when He explained how a spirit can return with other ones:
"Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first," says Matthew 12:45.
Thus we must cast out the main or "root" spirit in order to dispel a group, and it is the Holy Spirit Who leads us into how we must phrase our prayers for deliverance.
The reference to pigs -- and spirits entering them -- raises the issue of animals, and here we are on delicate -- and also fascinating -- ground.
Can spirits possess animals? Can they "know" certain things they should not? Can they connect with us in ways we can't explain? (Let us know your ideas and experiences.)
We touch on this with Balaam and the donkey that spoke (Numbers 22:21-31).
There are certainly aspects of spiritual phenomena that seem put there on the far fringe -- certainly beyond common belief. Dogs often howl when their masters die -- even if the death occurs at a distance. Animals seem to sense spiritual presences -- whether dogs, cats, birds, or whatever, often looking strangely to a corner of a room, or becoming flustered as an uncanny feeling pervades a home.
In the Life of St. Hilarion it's stated that the saint often dealt with furious animals possessed by demons.
"One day there was brought to him an enormous camel which had killed several persons," noted a famous demonologist named Father Delaporte in a classical work called The Devil. "It was dragged along by more than thirty men, with great ropes; its eyes were bloodshot, its mouth frothing, its tongue swollen and constantly moving; its frightful roaring filled the air with a strange and dismal sound."
Hilarion addressed the spirit with derision.
"Whether thou art in a fox or a camel, thou art always the same," he said. "Thou dost not frighten me."
With that the animal tried to charge him but suddenly fell to the ground.
At times, it is as if angels take over an animal to save a human life (one priest told me how his mastiff literally dragged him out of his bed when a gas pipe sprung a leak while he was sleeping), and in other cases it seems evil. In Liberia, an elephant thought to be possessed by human spirits was killed after trampling a logging employee.
For some reason, elephants have been prominent in this regard -- particularly in India, where they seem to avenge violence against Christians.
"In July 2008, a severe persecution of Christians broke out in the Indian state of Orissa," wrote a priest there, Father Sunil De Silva.
"A 22-year-old nun was burnt to death when angry mobs burnt down an orphanage in Khuntpali village in Barhgarh district. Another nun was gang raped in Kandhamal. Mobs attacked churches, torched vehicles, and houses of Christians have been destroyed. Father Thomas Chellen, director of a pastoral center destroyed by a bomb, had a narrow escape after a Hindu mob nearly set him on fire. The end result saw more than five hundred Christians murdered, and thousands of others injured and homeless after their houses were reduced to ashes.
"[But] recently a strange and dramatic event took place, which has many people talking and wondering. In Orissa herds of wild elephants have begun to storm villages that are home to some of the worst persecutors of Christians during the troubles.
"In one village, where Christians had to run for their lives while their homes were being destroyed by rioters, a herd of elephants emerged from the surrounding jungle exactly one year later, in July 2009, at the same time as the day of the attack. These elephants first attacked a rock crusher machine owned by a key leader of the persecution movement. They then went on to destroy his house and farms."
It is said by some that spirits especially enter birds, and we think here of the doves that uncannily nest at Assisi in the arms of a statue of St. Francis. Ravens and crows are known at strange moments to congregate around cemeteries. In Japan a blaze was sparked when they picked up incense from a graveyard and dropped it on a forest nearby.
At a Church-approved apparition spot in Betania, Venezuela, a blue butterfly was known to flit from a Lourdes grotto at the moment of apparitions. "The saints who have received private revelations from Mary, Mother of Jesus, tell us that on occasion, the Blessed Mother is seen with a bird or birds about her," says author Susi Pittman. "I have had personal experiences at the death of some of my animals that speak of the miraculous."
From Ecclesiastes 3:21: "Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?"
In Australia, the death of a dad was marked by an unusual, V-shaped flock of birds on the day of the funeral.
"A few days after the 9-11 attacks, I was driving from home in Lebanon, Indiana, to Indianapolis," said a woman named Cindy Thrine.
"As I drove, I thought about the attacks and about my concerns for our country's future. For some time I had been praying for America to return to being 'one nation under God.' As I talked with God about my concerns, a large flock of birds caught my eye as they flew in the sky.
"There had to be hundreds of birds flying slowly together. It looked like a ribbon flowing in a breeze as the flock dipped and soared in the sky. Suddenly I was overwhelmed as the birds' flight took the shape of a huge heart in the sky. I smiled and silently thanked God for his love and for displaying his presence in my life."
In Colorado a perfect profile of a Labrador retriever materialized in startling detail on the barbecue grill cover of a family who just lost such a pet.
In many cases, the animals are spectral.
"Yet again there is high-strangeness afoot in the woods of Britain's Cannock Chase and specifically in the vicinity of its German cemetery," noted a blogger. "The cemetery in question has been a veritable hotbed of weirdness for years: bigfoot, werewolves, hairy sprites, ghosts, marauding black cats, and spectral black dogs have all been seen roaming amongst the old war graves. Now there's a new player in town: a giant snake that has been slithering around the area."
There is no doubt that animals figure into glimpses of the other side in alleged near-death episodes as well as stark dreams.
"My beloved dog Zack died of cancer in January, 2004," penned a viewer named Ellen from Matthew, North Carolina. "His previous owners had abused him, so he didn't like to be touched on his head. When he got sick, he started sidling up to the couch where I was sitting, leaning against me for a comforting touch, and then would walk away.
"Two weeks after he died, I came home from work early due to illness and rested on the couch. Somewhere in between that time of awake and sleep, I saw Zack coming toward me. There was a liquidity to his appearance. He sidled up to the couch so I could pet him for the last time. Then he walked away and was gone. I believe the Lord let Zack come back to let me know he was okay and to also comfort others with this story. God is so good!"
[resources: The Spirits Around Us]