Numerous accounts and mentions of demonic possession can be found across cultures and religions, with the Bible mentioning demonic possession over thirty times; but is there any real truth to the stories or are they merely just that – stories?
While stories of possession and the exorcism of those demons may be the basis of many great horror movies, off screen, the practice of performing an exorcism has seen a surge over the last century, in part due to the media attention to the subject. Possession is often discredited in the medical community and labelled as a mental disorder, but demonomania has been listed as a real medical and psychiatric diagnosis where the patient believes themselves to be possessed by a demon or demons. More recently, the strange case of a patient named Julia has been diagnosed as being possessed by a demon by American psychiatrist Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, the first such case to ever be recognized in the medical community.
Whether demonic possession is in fact real or merely a mislabelled disorder, read on to find out about some of the most terrifying stories involving individuals who have been believed to be and have displayed classic signs of being possessed by demons. Maybe these stories will convince you.
In 2008, Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, a psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, revealed a case of demonic possession of a patient known as “Julia”. The diagnosis of demonic possession is uncommon among medical professionals who often attribute the symptoms of this to various mental illnesses or disorders. Some of the observations Dr. Gallagher made about Julia are that the tone of her voice would change drastically, sometimes sounding guttural and masculine, while other times it would sound high pitched. She would often speak in tongues or languages she has no knowledge of, levitate off the bed, cause objects to fly around the room, and often reveal very personal knowledge about members in the room which she could not have known otherwise. She displays no signs of any mental disorders, and the psychiatrists that have studied her have even resorted to calling in a priest to perform an exorcism. This has thus far proven to bother the entity that possesses Julia, with the entity telling the members that they’ll be sorry for their actions, but Julia continues to display signs of possession to this day, leaving psychiatrists baffled by her condition.
In 1906, Clara Germana Cele, a South African girl, began displaying signs of demonic possession. She exhibited superhuman strength, and could throw nuns around the room by motioning to them. She was known to make inhuman noises, speak in tongues, as well as speak languages she had no knowledge of, including French, German and Polish. A two-day exorcism eventually forced the demon out of her body, with Clara attempting to strangle the priest performing the ritual several times. According to witnesses, it wasn’t unusual during the exorcism for Clara to levitate several feet in the air, only being brought down to her bed when sprinkled with holy water.
The Perron family haunting started like any horror movie – the family moved into an old 18th century house (this one was located in Burrillville, Rhode Island) hoping for a fresh start in the country, but soon things took a wrong turn. After a few nights in the house, the mother, Carolyn, began seeing the ghost of a woman that had hung herself from their bedroom ceiling. Over the next couple of days, strange disembodied sounds could be heard throughout the house, doors would open and close by themselves and the family would often be woken up by invisible hands pulling them out of bed. Things got worse when Carolyn began to act strange, speak in a demonic sounding voice, and displayed inhuman strength. The Perrons decided to enlist the help of paranormal investigators, who discovered that the house had a grim history – it had belonged to a witch, who sometime in the 18th century, had sacrificed her child to Satan and then hung herself as part of a strange ritual. Not only that, but the house had been home to a series of suicides and grisly crimes, the ghosts of which seemed to hang around to the day. The paranormal investigators unsuccessfully attempted to exorcise the demons out of Carolyn but were unable to. The movie The Conjuring, is loosely based on the family’s horrific experiences in this house.
For a few years in the mid 70s, New York City residents were terrified by stories about an unknown serial killer, commonly referred to as Son of Sam, who would taunt the police by leaving behind notes at his crime scenes. By the time he was finally apprehended, he had murdered 6 people and injured 7 others. He was identified as David Berkowitz, a man who confessed to all the crimes but claimed he had been commended to commit the murders by a demon known as Harvey that possessed his neighbor’s dog. In the mid-90s, he expanded upon his earlier confession, claiming that he had been a member of a Satanic cult and had been lead to commit the murders as part of a ritual ceremony.
One of the most notable cases of possession in American history took place in 1980 in Connecticut, when the defense, representing Arne Cheyenne Johnson, tried to use demonic possession as a means of acquittal. The story behind it involves the possession of an 11-year-old boy named David Glatzel, who was living with Arne Cheyenne Johnson. David began displaying signs of demonic possession, such as hearing voices, strange marks appearing on his body, and seeing visions of a strange creature in their house. Deep scratches began appearing on the front door of the family’s home to coincide with David’s visions. Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (accompanied by a priest) were brought in to exorcise the boy’s demon. This was only the beginning of the family’s horrors, as the exorcised demon then began possessing Arne. On February 16th of 1981, Arne, possessed by the entity, attacked the family’s landlord, stabbing him numerous times with a pocket knife while growling like an animal. During his trial, his lawyer claimed that Arne couldn’t be held responsible for the actions he committed while being possessed, a defense which did not hold in court.
In October of 1671, Elizabeth Knapp, a servant in the household of Reverend Samuel Willard, began displaying strange behaviors and complaining about pains in her body. According to Elizabeth, the possession began when she was visited by the Devil one night and she had made a pact with him, selling her soul for money and youth. From then on, Elizabeth’s appearance began to change, she would speak in strange voices, and her body would become so contorted that it took several people to hold her down. Nothing else is known about Elizabeth or the outcome of her ordeal, or whether she was able to overcome her demons.
Annelise’s story has been the basis of many fictional movies, including the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The girl behind the story, Annelise Michel, had a history of epilepsy and mental illness, which over the course of her life worsened. In 1973, when she was 15 years old, Annelise became suicidal, and began displaying some strange behavior – she began to hear voices, she feared religious artifacts and symbolism, and even drank her own urine. None of her previous treatments were working against her worsening condition and she began requesting for priests to help with what she considered a case of possession. Although her parents were against this, a couple of local priests began performing exorcisms on her, a total of seventy over the course of her life. None of these seemed to be working, and to make matters worse, her parents held back her medication, withholding her from receiving medical treatment. Her story ended tragically, with Annelise eventually dying from starvation and neglect, and her family and the priests were charged with homicide.