Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts
 

When the prequel to the famous fright film The Exorcist came out in 2004, Shawn and Christian were interviewed on the truth of spirit possession!

Spirits From Beyond
By Yadira Betances
The Eagle Tribune, Sunday, October 31, 2004

No one has to tell Doris Bain that evil exists. Bain, 30, of Lawrence said she was possessed by an evil spirit shortly after she began attending Ebenezer Christian Church in Lawrence earlier this year.

During a worship service, she felt overcome by evil as the Rev. Victor Jarvis prayed over her. She fell to the floor and remembers hearing Jarvis saying, "You don't belong to this body. Get out." She then felt an overpowering force take over her and had the sensation that she was being dragged down through the floor. She could see snakes all around her and felt ill.

She was moved to a side room, where Jarvis and others continued to pray for her. The attempt at exorcising the spirit went on for hours until -- finally -- she felt it leave her body.

It might sound more like a scene from a Hollywood movie, but posession by evil spirits is not a concept reserved for more primitive times, and exorcisms aren't just fodder for Halloween horror films. To many people in many religions, it's a part of life.

While many clergy and psychologists are quick to point out that it's a bad idea to link personal problems to evil spirits, belief in demonic posessioon dates back to prehistoric humans. It is often associated with Christianity because exorcism is believed to be among the miracles made by Jesus, and thus has been a rite of the religion from its beginning.

Each major Catholic diocese has an exorcist, including the Boston Archdiocese. The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, wouldn't name the priest designated for the role, saying only that he lives in Western Massachusetts.

But it is the belief of many religions, from Chistianity to Judiasm to witchcraft, that posessions do happen, and that it takes a higher power to banish the evil spirits.

"The devil -- it's a reality, but you have to be prepared spiritually to fight its tactics," Jarvis said. "If you are not spiritually prepared, I don't recommend it. It's not in us to drive them out, but in the Lord. Doing exorcisms it's not only spiritually and physically draining, but mentally draining."

Bain's is one of a handful of exorcisms Jarvis has performed in since moving to Lawrence in 1999. He said the practice of Santeria, a religion that invokes magic, by local Hispanics leads many of them to believe they have been posessed.

In the eight years he has served at St. Mary-Inmaculada Concepcion Church, the Rev. Jorge A. Reyes said at least five parishioners have approached him claiming they have been possessed and asking to be exorcised.

"I lay my hands over them and pray for them, asking God to liberate them," said Reyes, noting he does not perform formal exorcisms. He has also gone to parishioners' homes to bless their dwellings when the family has felt supernatural forces at work.

Reyes said he is not surprised by the number of people who believe they may be possessed.

"That's imbedded in our culture," Reyes said, referring to Hispanics' practice of Santeria. "In fact many times people come to church with containers to get holy water so they can use it to rid their homes of evil spirits. Others believe they can change their luck by washing in herbal waters they purchase at botanicas or can do evil to others."

Witchcraft is another religion that invokes magic and believes in spiritual posession.

Shawn Poirier, the legally ordained high priest of the Salem Tradition of Witches, believes there are hot and cold spirits that rule the world. It is his belief that these spirits go to a person depending on their personality, entering through the back fo the neck.

Porier and fellow witch Christian Day said they performs exorcisms on themselves, other people and properties.

But like Christian clergy, witches don't believe all problems can be related to spiritual posession.

Day of Salem, who worked in the mental health field, said nine out of 10 people who are truly possessed can recall historical events from another time with accuracy and can speak in a different languages, including ones that are archaic.

The Rev. Harvey D. Egan, theology professor at Boston College in Newton, has worked as a chaplain at a mental hospital. He said he has seen people howling at the moon or people raving and ranting on the streets, but it does not mean they are possessed.

Egan and other experts like Dr. Joseph T. Kelley, vice president for mission effectiveness at Merrimack College in North Andover, said you have to look at the person's mental state first.

"You have to honor the struggles or sufferings that lead the person to that conclusion," Kelley said.

Egan said he would also ask people who believe they have been possessed by evil spirits to attend Mass, receive Communion and go to a healing service.

"There is evil and suffering in the world, but in most cases, at least the ones I've experienced, the people who tell me they're possessed often want attention," Egan said. "Secondly, it's a cry for help and thirdly, if they are superstitious in any way, they are going to label their pain and sickness as coming from the devil."

Joseph Cotton, executive director of the Psychological Center in Lawrence, said watching a movie such as "The Exorcist" or reading stories about the phenomenon can also trigger thoughts of demonic possession.

"The mind is powerful. People are capable of believing absolutely anything," Cotton said.

Egan, who has been a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston for 30 years, said he has only known of two exorcisms performed because the church does not want to cause hysteria.

"Exorcism is not the place to start," Egan said. "Everyone has problems which have a natural cause. They can get a great deal of help from contemporary medicine, although there's nothing wrong with prayers."

For Bain, it was prayers that eventually worked.

After going home from church, she was not able to sleep and felt fatigued. She said she read from the book of Psalms to calm her fears, and asked God for forgiveness. Bain admitted she felt abandoned by God.

"I said, 'I'm trying to serve you. Why is this happening; why aren't you here?"

It was then that she felt an angel come stay with her until the next morning. The angel provided comfort and told her he would help drive the devil away, she said..

"I've put all my trust in the Lord. I've tried to maintain faith every day," she said.



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