A BOTTLE OF GHOSTS: The Exorcist's Diary
Like most with an interest in the paranormal, I was excited to hear of the Discovery Plus App's new release of the documentary, "Shock Docs: The Exorcism of Roland Doe." As a longtime student of the connections between paranormal experience and religious belief, I've long devoured any and every piece of information about this most famous of all exorcisms: the case of the young Maryland boy (real name Ronnie Hunkeler) whose story was immortalized in William Friedkin's classic film, "The Exorcist."
I enjoyed the last Shock Docs documentary, "The Devil's Road," a look at the career of the now late husband and wife demonologist team, Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose lives and cases inspired the "Conjuring" and "Annabelle" film franchises. I had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Warren before her passing and of attending one of her and Ed's classic university programs, as they presented at Northeastern Illinois University in the early 1990s, when I was completing my Masters studies in intellectual history there. A wooden owl from Ed's legendary "Halloween Room" in their Connecticut home has an honored place in my home, and I was very lucky to receive, after her passing, some of Lorraine's lovely costume jewelry, including a heart shaped brooch and a string of faux pearls, which her daughter, Judy, sold to raise funds for Lorraine's beloved animal advocacy efforts.
While this most recent installment of the Shock Docs series is informative and entertaining, and while I was delighted to see one of my mentors on screen, the American exorcist Fr. Vince Lambert, I was disappointed to find no mention of the work of the excellent journalist, Thomas B Allen, whose book about the case--Possessed--based on a diary kept by a Jesuit priest during the 1946 exorcism--remains, in my opinion, one of the best examples of narrative nonfiction ever written.
Published in 1994, the book is a masterful meshing of the case's development with the text of the diary, including the harrowing moments of the exorcism itself, which ended with a disembodied voice--heard by all present and identifying itself as Saint Michael the Archangel--commanding the devil to leave the boy.
If you took one of my Chicago Hauntings tours over the past twenty years, you have heard about this book, as I always talk about it when we visit the Congress Plaza Hotel downtown. That hotel, now famously, has a room reputed to be so haunted it is no longer let out. In fact, it has been drywallled and wallpapered over. The only clue to its existence at all is the old lintel over where the door once was, and the patched-together baseboard below. According to legend, an exorcism was once held at the Congress Plaza, and I have wondered many times whether this was the room where the Rite was performed, and if this is why the room was boarded up.
In the book, Allen concludes with some fascinating information about what happened after the St. Louis exorcism--which ended at the now-demolished Alexian Brothers' St. Alexius Hospital in St. Louis (pictured below). According to Catholic Faith and the tenets of exorcism, precautions must be taken when the Rite is complete, to insure that no further trouble will emerge. One of these precautions concerns the inanimate objects in the exorcism room. The possibility exists that, when the demon is finally banished, it will enter an object in the room, such as a piece of furniture. Prayers are said to bind the demon to the object so that it cannot leave. The furniture, then, must be removed. But it cannot be destroyed.
The destruction of a cursed or possessed object can release the demon again, to wreak havoc on another unsuspecting soul. The objects, then, must be hidden away, where no one can disturb or destroy them.
In the case of the Roland Doe exorcism, the hospital room furniture was put into storage at a facility near Scott Air Force Base, where it presumably remains today.
I cannot more highly recommend Allen's volume, which is a sobering expose of the reality of the demonic in modern American life, the compassion of strangers, and a much needed dose of reality for all of us who have felt it harmless to dabble in the occult. The book is published by iUniverse at www.iuniverse.com and is widely available at online bookstores. The book was made into a Showtime film of the same name, also recommended.
In addition, I strongly recommend the writings of Fr. Robert Spitzer, a Catholic philosopher and theologian whose program, "Fr. Spitzer's Universe," may be seen on the EWTN network each week. In particular, "The Reality of Spiritual Evil: The Exorcisms of Robbie Manheim and Julia," presents a fascinating look at the behaviors of the possessed, but also of the effects of possession on family members and other loved ones. If you have suffered a spiritual attachment, or know someone who has, you may recognize some of the symptoms Fr. Spitzer talks about.
Finally, I highly recommend the talks of Fr. Vince Lambert wherever you can find them on YouTube.
Thanks for reading and all my best,