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The devil in the works

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Ghost hunting carries the risk of running into something particularly nasty. Paranormal investigators, in their fervent quest to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts and spirits, do have a tendency to freeze when any mention is made of possible demonic activity being involved. For most investigators, it is a “grey” area…something that can go way far beyond just a simple ghost case. It is definitely not for the timid or casual thrill-seeker. This situation would be a time to get serious and re-evaluate your priorities.

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I have always been of the opinion that demonic activity is a rarity in paranormal investigations. Many have reported no encounters with the demonic throughout their entire career as paranormal investigators. However, multiple faucets of the Church believe that anything related to spirits and hauntings are of the devil. What’s a poor paranormal investigator to do?

Television and movies would lead one to believe otherwise….

Do folks get obsessed and fixated with the devil and evil demonic forces? I believe they can. Ed and Lorraine Warren—who promoted themselves as “the world’s most famous demonologists”—would appear to have stumbled quite frequently across demonic shenanigans during the course of their heyday. It happened more often than naught. Was it fact…a simple mistake…fabrication…or a bit of all of the above? (Only Lorraine can answer that, Ed passed away in 2006)

Fixation on the devil and demonic influenced hauntings have always been a likelihood while conducting explorations of purported haunted location…many times ultimately affecting the conclusion arrived at by the investigator. That most likely will not change anytime soon in the near future.

The book The Haunting of Twentieth-Century America by UFO enthusiast William J. Birnes and Joel Martin presents many thought provoking insights on the nature of how we pursue the paranormal, and how many tip-toe around the subject of demons. I will draw liberally in this series from it.

The 1970s and 1980s played host to a rash of demonic exorcisms--in print and on film. The effects heavily influenced what is being portrayed even today, because let’s face it…a good scare sells!

In the late 1960s writer William Peter Blatty gained access to the diary of a Jesuit priest, containing entries involving the 1949 exorcism of a young boy. Blatty’s mind kicked into hyper-drive as did his creative juices. His 1971 best selling novel, The Exorcist, did take certain creative liberties to make the event even more dramatic and terrifying than it actually was, but this was after all, a work of fiction, and having ties to an actual true life ordeal. Blatty also penned a subsequent screenplay and as a consequence the movie, The Exorcist, flipped events around a tad and carried the reported tale one step further in the realm of exaggeration as it explored demonic forces hammering on a young girl. It’s the granddaddy of “the devil made me do it” films, with the possible exception being that of the Roman Polanski film, "Rosemary’s Baby”, in the late 1960s. It started the trend that continues to this day.

In retrospect, could psychokinetic energy--a result of the boy’s unconscious mind--been the cause of the “demonic” phenomenon? It’s not totally out of the question. And…could this be the case for many purported demonic hauntings to this day? It’s food for thought.

A number of biblical passages refer to the devil, and his legion of demons that create havoc across the physical planes of humanity. The Christian Church continues to swing to and fro about the paranormal. The Haunting of Twentieth-Century America states:

“The Pentecostal Movement is firm believers in devil, possessions, and exorcisms, but remain virulent opponents of the paranormal.” Hmmm…I’ve always thought of the Bible as not only the ultimate guide to truth and the human behavior, but also the greatest paranormal read!

“Born-again Christians recognize “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” But again, are opposed to any paranormal meanderings; or are for the most part, depending on independent church sects and their pastor’s leanings on the manner.

And the Catholic Church? Well, that’s an entirely different matter….

It becomes clear that since the late 1960s, and the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, it has been the media that has brought the devil into our living rooms and the public spotlight. The church has set back and watched the debacle happen. There was not a whole lot they could do about it…public appetite is public appetite.

The Warrens continued to pioneer the frontiers of spiritual hi-jinx and the continuing onslaught of demonic nasties as the years rolled towards the milestone of 2000. In 1988 they co-wrote The Haunted with journalist Robert Curron, which later resulted in a made-for-TV movie. The story was based on the Smurl family in rural Pennsylvania and a home full of swirling, menacing demons. The Warrens performed the investigation and a priest exorcised the residence. However the Catholic Church didn’t buy it, and as a result of the publicity, distanced themselves from the Warrens.

The Warrens—good card holding members of Catholicism--must have felt somewhat abandoned. Yet they carried on to future endeavors. Hard to keep a good Warren down!

The Catholic Church considers most of “possession” cases to having psychiatric ramifications rather than supernatural ones. It’s a safety net rather than the possibility of the alternative. Is it a cry for attention? Can it be used as an excuse for criminal behavior? Both are real possibilities--an unseen malady of the mind certainly isn’t as scary as supernatural overtones. But…in the universe of television ratings it would—and will-- always take a turn towards the dramatic.

In 1991, the ABC news-magazine show 20/20 televised the exorcism of a southern Florida sixteen year old girl named Gina. Was it an over-the-top display of sensationalism as she twitched and jabbered like a magpie? Pretty much so, and the question was raised—how exactly was this TV moment providing a service to viewers other than a suggestion that a lot of us out there may be possessed ourselves.

The viewing public was outraged! The televised event had struck a nerve. Our “safe” world of comfortable extremes was apparently no longer as safe as most had imagined.

Clergy across the country were angered that demonic possession was being “glamorized” for the sake of television ratings. There was also the concern that putting the blame on the devil would lead folks to conclude they shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be held accountable for their actions while under the “influence.”

Father James LeBar, who had a hand in arranging the 20/20 televised exorcism, commented on the criticism--stating that possession had to be recognized as a “tragic fact of life, even in the modern world.”

Demonic possession was briefly considered as a possible defense for mass murderer Ronald DeFeo, Jr. DeFeo murdered his family in their home in Amityville, New York because he claimed that evil voices in his head instructed him to do so. Again…who should come upon the scene other than the Warrens, who later arrived at the conclusion that newfound activity in the home after the demise of the family was attributed to the same demons that had “possessed” De Feo. This case…The Amityville Horror, which gained momentum by writer Jay Anson’s book…put the Warrens on the paranormal map and insured their notoriety in the paranormal community. Never mind the fact it was later exposed as a hoax….

The progression of paranormal groups continues on into the present…investigating the unknown and unexplained, and ultimately arriving at conclusions as to what is going on and the cause. Are their conclusions valid? Demonic activity appears to be a growing factor in many of these conclusions, and that is always a questionable proposition.

And in many ways, even Lorraine Warren still remains a force to be reckoned with….

Next in the conclusion: paranormal television and movies continues its trend; the Catholic Church and what happens below the surface; the dark side of human nature; and, just what do we really know about ghostly activity.

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