- Religion and Philosophy
The Exorcist: A True Story
The most horrifying movie ever made ‘The Exorcist (1973)’ which broke the box office records was inspired by a true story of a 13 year old boy who was believed to be possessed by a devil in 1949. His exorcism was recorded in a diary by the father who conducted his exorcism. About 26 people witnessed about the events which was said to be caused by the demonic forces.
Till today people believe that Satan walks among us but the scientists say that the explanation does not lies in the supernatural. The boy has never spoken publicly about his experience, but the family, neighbours and the church witnessed about the events.
The name used for the boy to refer him is Robbie Mannheim in several books.
It all started with fun!
The events of the story took place in the Cottage city, Maryland. The boy was very much like an ordinary boy. He was quite, not very active and a little more studious. His family was like all the other casual families. But they didn't knew that their lives were going to change in the summer of 1948, when the boy’s aunt taught him how to use an Ouiji board. At first it seemed like harmless fun but then a few weeks later the aunt died unexpectedly of some natural cause. After a short period of time the family started to hear unusual sound of scratching and knocking. They blamed mice for these events and called the pest control but nothing was found. They then thought that the dead aunt is trying to contact them. So they ignored. But the noises increased nights after nights.
Then one day the boy’s mother discovered that his bed was shaking violently. And then soon other furniture began to move of their own. It was reported that a person sitting on the chair was thrown to the floor. This was witnessed by the neighbours. Soon many marks and scratches appeared on his body and his behaviour at night was becoming worst. Seeing his condition, the family contacted a local mental hygiene clinic for help. But the psychiatrist was unable to find anything wrong with the boy.
When no options were left, the family contacted the local church. The church advised them to contact a catholic priest, father Albert Hughes. He died in 1980. Father Hughes met the boy in February 1949. Soon after meeting the boy, Father Hughes realized that it wasn't going to be easy, as he was thrown away when the boy simply looked at his chair.
Then he started conversing with the boy. Father asked him in Latin “what is your name?”. He replied “I am legions” indicating that there was more than one demon in him. All the ongoing events made father Hughes believe that the boy was possessed by not only one but many demons and the way to get rid of them was to perform an exorcism.
Almost all religion believes on the possession by the demons. But exorcism is mainly associated with the Christians (especially catholic Christians). The priest needs to conduct some specific prayers in Latin. This evokes the power of god against the demonic entities. However, it was a great challenge for father Hughes who was going to perform an exorcism for the very first time on a 13 year old boy.
The boy was admitted to a hospital in Washington D.C. The boy was shaking, screaming and spitting; so his wrist was tied. Father Hughes recited the prayers for 3 nights but there was no improvement in his condition. The boy became even more violent. One night, the boy just broke the restrainer, put his hand under the bed, took a spring and cut Father's hand right from the wrist to elbow. This forced Father Hughes to stop the exorcism, and the boy returned to his home.
This wasn't going to stop easily!
Same kind of events continued to happen- scratching sound, things moving on their own, cut marks appearing on the boy's body etc. Then one day a word ‘Louis’ appeared on his chest. Seeing it as a sign, other family members living in the same city decided to move in their house. Soon they shifted to St. Louis. There too, no mental doctor could give an explanation to the ongoing events. Hopeless, his family contacted Father William Bowdern, who died in 1983.
Father Bowdern also concluded that the boy was possessed. One exorcism had failed and now it was his responsibility to free the boy from the demons. Father Bowdern recorded the events of exorcism performed in next 6 weeks. The pages of the diary were published for the first time by the author Thomas .B. Allen in his book “possessed”.
Father Bowdern chose some other priests to help him. This time Father conducted prayers every night for 3 weeks. But the boy grew more violent. Father thought that it would not be safe for the family to live with the boy. So he shifted the boy to a hospital run by the catholic monks. The exorcism continued over there. He was struggling, screaming and one night violently broke the nose of a catholic priest, Halloran, who at the age of 26 helped Father Bowdern in Robbie’s exorcism. The exorcism was now at an impasse. Seeking a solution, Bowdern plunged into literature regarding possession. He learned of an 1870 case that took place in Wisconsin that seemed similar to Robbie’s plight and he devised a new strategy.
At night, the ritual resumed. Bowdern forced Robbie to wear a chain of religious medals and to hold a crucifix in his hands. Suddenly, Robbie became strangely contrite and he began to ask questions about the meaning of certain Latin prayers. Bowdern ignored him, and instead demanded to know the name of the demon, and when he would depart. The boy exploded in rage. Five witnesses held him down while he screamed that he was a "fallen angel".
There are instructions in the ritual that commands the exorcist to “pronounce the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice.” The Roman Ritual of Christian Exorcism reads: “I cast thee out, thou unclean spirit, along with the least encroachment of the wicked enemy and every phantom and diabolical legion. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, depart and vanish from this creature of God….” He recited it incessantly for hours until the boy suddenly interrupted in a loud, masculine voice, identifying himself as "St. Michael the Archangel". The voice ordered the demon to depart. The boy’s body then went into violent contortions and spasms. Then, he fell quiet. A moment later, he sat up, and spoke in a normal voice. The devil had left his body. According to Christian beliefs, St. Michael is the archangel who holds the control over Satan. It is believed that St. Michael himself forced Satan to leave the boy’s body.
Few days later, the family returned to Maryland. The boy joined a new school. His troubling behaviour never came back. After leaving school, he worked for NASA. He chose to keep his identity hidden but said that he doesn’t remember whatever happened to him.
This story was published in the newspapers. But in 1973 the whole story was again filled with life in the big screen when the movie ‘The Exorcist’ was released, when only a few knew the meaning of the term "exorcism". The movie brought the power of demonic forces in front of the modern world. The movie was an adaptation of the bestselling book of the author William Peter Blatty with the same title. The movie left people shocked.
What science says about this story?
With science now developed more than before, scientists say something else about the story of Robbie. According to science, the roots of all religious experience do not come from the god but from the most complex creation of the nature, the human brain. Our brain generates all the behaviours whether normal or mysterious.
Psychiatrists say that the primary experiences are psychological. People can hear voices, experience ritual phenomena etc. They believe this can also explain the boy’s condition. When his aunt died he was just 13 years old, the time when the human brain undergoes many serious changes and is extremely vulnerable to dramatic events. His aunt’s death might have pushed him into stress. The secretion of stress hormones could have triggered many brain seizures in his right temporal lobe, a highly creative area responsible for vision and emotions. Later on the initiation of the exorcism could have worked as an final catalyst to the highly vulnerable boy. They say, "If you harass a person with full intension with same repetitions again and again with such a vulnerable brain, you can make the brain believe that all the things going on is true hence making the condition even worse". This might have happened with the boy as his condition worsen with the onset of the exorcism. As a result his muscles might have become stronger, electric discharges would be intense, change in voice occurred etc. These intense electrical discharges would have triggered muscle spasm which can possibly give the explanation for the shaking of the bed. Later on he became normal because the brain was developing. When the structure of the brain changes, the function also changes.
The God Helmet
Science believes that the diary recorded the superhuman strengths. And to prove this, a device was developed named ‘The God Helmet’. The helmet passes strong electromagnetic waves straight to the right temporal lobe of the brain and aims to trigger the sensation of the supernatural entity. It worked! 80% of the people reported that they have experienced godly or spiritual presence. In fact they believed on what they saw.
Witnesses reported that many scratches appeared on his body. Scientist said, "It might have caused due to the priest trying to restrain him down to the bed. Psychiatrists says that "a mental phenomena called ‘Pareidolia’ involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant, common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse, has also played a role. People relate everything happening in the surrounding with them. So in this case whenever something moved they thought that it is due to possession. Hence the boy saw that the things are moving which might have moved due to some other reasons.
Now the question is, was it really Pareidolia that made things move? His family too saw things moving, so were they all suffering from Pareidolia? What about the appearance of the particular word "Louis" on the chest of the boy? Was it a result of restraining? Did the boy really knew Latin to reply the father in Latin when he asked him questions? Could muscle spasm strong enough to shake a bed violently?
Maybe or maybe not. You decide.