Thursday, September 24, 2015

POSSESSED: THE TRUE STORY OF AN EXORCISM by Thomas B. Allen

I have long had an interest in the spiritual realm.  In high school I began reading books on the presence and activity of the demonic.  Years later after I arrived at my first call in 1987 I found a book in the local library by Malachi Martin entitled HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL: THE POSSESSION AND EXORCISM OF FIVE LIVING AMERICANS (1976).  Although I attempted to read the book I was unable.  It was simply too much.  In 1996 I ran into this book again at a used book store and purchased it.  I think it wasn't until I arrived at my fourth call in 2000 that I may have finally finished it.  Possession and exorcism are powerful topics and sometimes difficult to study.

Recently at a local library book sale I ran across a copy of POSSESSED: THE TRUE STORY OF AN EXORCISM by Thomas B. Allen.  It is endorsed on the back cover by Malachi Martin with no little praise.  In short it is the account of the 1949 case of possession and subsequent exorcism that inspired the well-known move THE EXORCIST, shown in 1973 which itself was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty.  The movie, however, changed the gender of the possessed and other details to protect identities, and also took some liberty with the actual facts.  This book, on the other hand, is a journalist's attempt to reconstruct the events with solid facts and to present it as dispassionately as possible.

At the end the author quotes various academics who cast doubt on the truth of whether "Robbie" was actually demonically possessed.  Even one of the participating priests shares this skepticism.  Nevertheless, after reading Allen's account I find it difficult to dismiss Robbie's case too easily.  In the end he is "cured" through the intervention of the exorcist and the repeated use of the rite; he is not cured by therapy or psychoanalysis.  Robbie was also exposed to spiritualism through his aunt, culminating in the use of the Owiji Board, which continues to be sold as a popular board game.  As a youth my parents also gave me one, which I also used.  When my pastor suggested in confirmation its potential evil potential and that it should be destroyed, I made sure it was destroyed in the back of our garage.

The book is well worth the read for anyone interested in a well documented account of an actual exorcism, along with the book mentioned earlier by Martin.  Personally, as a practicing pastor I believe in the reality of personal evil and in the possibility of possession, both of spaces and people.  That said, I do not want to ever have to perform an exorcism.  From all that I have read it is a draining experience. 

Postscript: There is an article debunking much of what Allen wrote.  You may read it here and judge for yourself.  It seems credible enough, but I do not have the time at this point to scrutinize the sources or author. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

FIRESTORM AT PESHTIGO by Denise Gess and William Lutz

I had known about this fire event before, as well as the fact that the "Great Fire of Chicago" often received far more of publicity, regardless of the fact that the Peshtigo Fire was far larger (300 people vs. 2,200 dead, and the destruction of multiple towns).  However, until I read this book I couldn't possibly imagine the extent of the loss and damage left in its wake.  The book by Gess and Lutz helps the reader appreciate the genesis of this incredible blaze by carefully documenting the circumstances leading up to a truly 'perfect storm.'  Some may desire a more technical account, and there are other volumes that address this.  However, Gess and Lutz have researched their topic well and the notes at the end provide many references for further reading.  All told the story is well told and captures best the horrid tragedy that still defies description.  While the numbers of those who perished remains fluid depending on the one telling the story, there is no doubt that the loss of life was extensive far beyond what many imagine, easily reaching the thousands.  Their description of the day of the firestorm is vivid and disturbing in a way that leaves the reader with images that continue to haunt even after the book is finished.  In a way their book serves as a kind of memorial to the many nameless people who perished.  We will probably never know the bulk of the human loss.  For many reasons, including the lack of evidence of remains (many were burned to ash that was subsequently burned away), we can never hope to completely reconstruct this event.  Still, as the book cover testifies, this will easily remain "the deadlines fire in American history."  The book is highly recommended.