When the Devil penetrates your soul and disconnects everything that makes you human; when pictures of saints sparkle so intensely that you cannot stand it; when you start shouting randomly in Old Latin; you my friend, are possessed. Unlike the pea-soup-puking, 360-degree-head-spinning we see in horror films, real-life exorcisms are less extreme - but no less disturbing.
The exorcism of Anna Ecklund
Howling, levitating, hissing like a cat at holy water, speaking in languages unknown to her… these are all reported symptoms of Anna Ecklund’s exorcism. Born in 1882 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she began showing signs of possession at 14 (which priests believed to be Judas Iscariot) and her final exorcism took place when she was 46. It was believed her father Jacob had cursed her with the help of her aunt Mina, a local witch, because she’d refused his incestuous sexual advances. When her demons were commanded to depart to Hell during her final exorcism, Anna eventually collapsed onto her bed and screamed "Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina," in a high falsetto voice, followed by, "Hell! Hell! Hell!". She then opened her eyes before saying (in her own voice) “My Jesus, Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!".
The exorcism of Michael Taylor
Everything was demonic in the 1980s. From Smurfs to Dungeons & Dragons, Satanic Panic truly took over the media. Cases like this one, years earlier, no doubt helped build up to the hysteria. In 1974, West Yorkshire butcher Michael Taylor started freaking his local Christian Fellowship Group out with his erratic behaviour. When he admitted he felt evil inside of him, the local vicar called in ministers to cast the demons out. In an all-night ceremony, the exorcists cast out at least 40 demons - including incest, bestiality, blasphemy and lewdness. Despite the unshakeable feeling that three demons (insanity, murder, violence) were still inside Michael, they sent him home (I mean, we’re no exorcists but we’d maybe have prioritised the murder demon over the lewd demon?). Two hours later, he murdered his wife in a fit of what the neighbour’s described as “laughter and joy”. He tore her eyes and tongue out, then strangled the family poodle. Then, he took to the streets - completely naked and covered in blood, shouting “It is the blood of Satan!” repeatedly.
The exorcism of Richard/Rita
This case follows the story of a transgender woman known as ‘Richard/Rita’, possessed by a demon known as ‘Girl-Fixer’. From marrying Satan at a black mass pool party (we hope this guy was there) to sinking his teeth into the instep of his own foot, the full graphic details actually do sound like something from a horror. Here’s a taster...
“Richard/Rita doubled up, his head resting on his feet, his body pumping spasmodically. The assistants held him and tried to straighten him out. They could not move him; he was as heavy as pig iron. The couch shook and trembled. The wallpaper above the bed peeled off, starting in one corner, as if invisible fingers had yanked it violently. The shutters shook and rattled. Richard/Rita started to break wind and scream at the same time.”
...and that’s just the tame stuff. Richard/Rita’s story is documented in ex-priest Malaci Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil”. In it, the Co Kerry exorcist also details the four stages of possession, as well as his experiences of violent exorcisms. He told the Scotsman newspaper:
“I have seen objects hurled around rooms by the powers of evil. I have smelt the breath of Satan and heard the demons’ voices - cold, scratchy, dead voices carrying messages of hatred.”
The exorcism of Clara Germana Cele
After making a pact with the Devil, 16-year-old Clara Cele from South Africa began ripping at her clothes, growling like a beast, speaking in tongues, and showing superhuman strength. During her exorcisms (one in 1906 and one in 1907), Clara’s skin “boiled” when holy water touched it and she levitated in front of 170 people. A toxic stink left her body and she was considered free of demons.
The exorcism of Roland Doe
You might recognise this one - it’s the real-life story that inspired William Peter Blatty's novel The Exorcist (and in turn, the movie). In 1949, a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland known as Roland Doe was introduced to a Ouija board by his occult-obsessed Aunt Tilly. When the aunt died, the family began to feel vibrations, see objects flying and hear strange noises in the house, such as large groups of people marching through it. Roland started showing signs of possession - superhuman strength, screaming, random cuts in his skin, rattling his bed. A week-long exorcism took place in St. Louis, where Roland attacked his exorcists and cursed “I am Legions” in Latin. Eventually, Roland was pulled from his trance, then simply announced: “He’s gone”.
Here’s the thing with exorcisms - details of each of the stories shift from one retelling to the next. Here’s another thing - no one knows the truth. Whether possessions are the result of psychological illness or evil external spirits, there’s no denying the gripping nature of them. And whether the demons discussed in this article are real or not, there’s no denying there’s one standing behind you right this second. Ready to sign the dotted line...?
Words by Nina Cresswell