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Live Videos: 4 Most Infamous Exorcisms; Demonic Possession or Mental Illness?

Jane Wilson studies paranormal events, after-death communications, and the possibility that human consciousness may transcend death.

Over the last decade, the annual number of exorcisms performed by the Catholic Church in the United States has doubled. Does this escalation indicate that demonic activity, or perhaps mental illness, is on the rise?

Here we examine four of the most infamous cases of demonic possession that resulted in exorcisms, detailing the medical histories of the possessed as well as the rituals employed to cast out the negative entities. Videos and recordings of the actual exorcism are included when available.

Mental Illness or Demonic Possession?

In Gary, Indiana, 2011, a teenage girl floats several feet above her bed while unconscious, within full view of extended family members attending a dinner party. Several months later, her brother walks backwards up a wall and across the ceiling of a hospital emergency room; the chilling event is witnessed by multiple healthcare professionals and a social worker. The Gary, Indiana Police Captain describes their home as a "Portal to Hell."

Mental health professionals who examine the Ammons children, blame these strange occurrences, in addition to other bad behavior exhibited by them, on the excess religiosity of their mother.

What was going on in Gary, Indiana with the Ammons family? Was this really the result of their mother's mental fixation, expanding into a collective familial hysteria, ultimately culminating in mass hallucinations experienced by medical professionals, social workers, priests and police officers, or was this family truly suffering from demonic possession?

Here we examine in detail four of the most infamous modern cases of demonic possession, including the well documented case of the Ammons family described above. Review the video tapes, recordings and evidence provided through these exorcisms to decide for yourself, "Are these cases the symptoms of mental disorders, or is something supernatural at work?"

The videos and recordings of the following real life possessions and exorcisms may be disturbing to some; viewer discretion is advised.

  • ABC's 20/20 "Gina" Televised Exorcism
  • Anneliese Michel - Audio Recordings of her Exorcism
  • The Ammons Family - Video Interviews
  • Maurice Thibault - Video of Exorcism
  • A Muslim Exorcism - Video Where the Jinn is Invited to Convert to Islam
Levitation is a favorite trick of magicians and fakirs.

Levitation is a favorite trick of magicians and fakirs.

Psychotic Patients' Beliefs in Esoteric Causality

Esoteric causality, in this instance, refers to a mental patient's belief that an external force is the source or is partially responsible for their mental illness and behavior. Such suspected esoteric forces might include conspiracy theories such as chemtrails, alien abduction, voodoo curses or demonic possession.

In a study by Angermeyer & Klussman (1988), the researchers sought to determine what percentage of patients suffering psychosis attributed their illness to esoteric causation. In direct, oral interviews, a scant 1% professed belief in an esoteric cause for their illness. However, when given in-depth written questionnaires, 54.9% indicated that esoteric causes could possibly be an influence in their condition. Among the respondents of the questionnaires, 10.9% felt that demonic possession was a likely or very likely the source of their mental condition.

Is this simply wishful thinking, that an external force is responsible for their mental health breakdown? It appears that they are shy of confessing to the possibility of demonic possession when asked directly, "Do they consider it a possibility?" Yet in private, in written questionnaires, absent of a witness to the confession, they reveal secret beliefs and concerns.

As we will see later, professing the belief that one's own person is under demonic possession is a red flag to investigators. Claiming to be possessed, often is enough to end a Catholic investigation of demonic oppression or possession, and label the affliction as mental illness.

Modern Demonic Possession

In 1991 the Catholic Church made the decision to takes its dirty little secret, exorcism, out of the closet, and bring it center stage. The Catholic Church wanted America to know it was fighting a very real battle of good versus evil.

In a nation becoming increasingly secular, where demonic possession is the stuff of superstition and horror movies, the Church invited the producers of ABC's 20/20 to witness and televise a Church sanctioned exorcism. (Case Study Gina below) Since then, Catholic exorcists have been making the rounds on television and on the university campus lecture circuit. Simultaneously, a new industry has emerged, ghost hunting and paranormal research. It is estimated that there are annually 500-600 official exorcisms performed by the Catholic Church; many Pentecostal ministers also practice forms of exorcism in their local churches.

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Are these claims of demons, spirits and negative entities merely deception, preying on our fear of the unknown, or are there unseen forces from another realm or dimension finding portals of entry into our world. Is their intent to torment individuals and feed off of the negative energy their activities engender?

Dr. Richard Gallagher, a Princeton graduate who has trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia universities believes so. Some years ago, Dr. Gallagher was approached by a Catholic priest to assess one of their subjects and determine if she had a mental disorder or if she was actually demonically possessed. The results of his interaction with his first patient under official investigation for demonic possession opened his mind toward the paranormal.

One Psychiatrist's View of Demonic Possession

Dr. Richard Gallagher, while a practising Catholic, was a healthy skeptic of demonic possession, when he was approached by a Catholic priest to assess the mental health of their subject, referred to as "Julia." Julia was an avowed Satanist and often described herself as a "Queen to Satan." During interviews, Julia would pass into trances. During these trances Julia would become hostile and abusive, often using vulgarity, as well as taunting the doctor with "hidden knowledge." She could tell Gallagher how people whom she had never met had died. This hidden knowledge included painful specifics regarding Gallagher's own mother's death, which was from a rare form of cancer.

Dr. Gallagher ultimately determined that she possessed paranormal abilities, and that her disorder was not psychiatric; there were no underlying medical causes for her affliction. Eventually, Julia was subjected to an exorcism attended by eight participants in her deliverance. Each of these participants later swore to Gallagher that Julia spoke in several languages during the Rites of Exorcism including Latin, French and Spanish; languages which she was not conversant in when out of trance. They also swore that she levitated for 30 minutes during the exorcism, and that she required the strength of 6 men to restrain her onto the bed.

Since this time, Dr. Gallagher has become a popular psychiatrist for priests to turn to when in need of psychological assessment of a potential victim of the demonic. Gallagher states that demonic possession is quite rare, and many of those he sees he diagnoses with forms of psychosis. However, he allows for the fact that there are forces unseen, those that affect patients outside the realm of psychiatry.

Gallagher approaches each new case with skepticism, then honestly weighs the evidence. Having seen numerous cases of actual demonic possession and more commonly oppression, he expresses his opinion thusly, "As a psychoanalyst, a blanket rejection of the possibility of demonic attacks seems less logical, and often wishful in nature, than a careful appraisal of the facts. As I see it, the evidence for possession is like the evidence for George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. In both cases, written historical accounts with numerous sound witnesses testify to their accuracy."

And, according to the priests referring patients to him, the number of subjects seeking deliverance from demonic activity is on the rise. In fact they have doubled over the last ten years.

What Constitutes Demonic Activity: Stages and Types

The Catholic Church divides demonic activity into two categories, ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary involves everyday temptation, while extraordinary can be broken down into four stages.

Extraordinary Demonic Activity:

  • Demonic Infestation - This can be of a location or a cursed object (currently associated with paranormal events such as poltergeists and haunted homes). In this instance, the home or object would be blessed to remove the association with or dedication to the diabolic.
  • Demonic Oppression - The individual suffers a physical attack, such as bites, claw scratches, pushes or shoves.
  • Demonic Obsession - The individual is plagued by constant thoughts running through the mind of committing evil or violence.
  • Demonic Possession - The individual has invited the demon indirectly or directly (through a challenge, paganism or a bargain), and the demon or demons possess the individual. The victim remains trapped within his body, in a trance-like state, while the demons control the actions and communications of the individual. In this instance, the physical body has become a vessel in which multiple entities reside.

Gina's Exorcism Continued

First Televised Exorcism Sanctioned and Performed by Catholic Officials

Sixteen-year-old Gina has been hearing voices that torment her, and is prone to violent outbursts. Physicians diagnose her with psychosis; paranoid schizophrenia is also suspected. Initially, medical intervention was not useful to Gina. Anti-psychotic medications did not appear to ameliorate her symptoms, which progressed over the course of a year and a half.

In the 20/20 segment, we see Father LeBar, early in his career, as one of the demonic investigators who investigates the claim of the possession of Gina for the Catholic Church. After interviewing her extensively, as well as family members and medical professionals, his team determines that Gina's situation indicates that an exorcism is appropriate.

The first half of the episode covers the actual investigation that lead to the exorcism. The exorcism itself begins at 5.0 in the first video.

In anticipation of Gina's arrival and the subsequent exorcism, paintings are removed from the walls and any objects that might become projectiles are put away for safekeeping.

Gina does not know that she is coming to this meeting for an exorcism. She is, therefore, a little bewildered as to why she seems to be the focus of everyone's attention. The officials offer her some water to drink, but unbeknownst to her, the water proffered is "holy water," that which has been blessed under Catholic rites. Shortly after consuming the holy water, Gina begins to vomit unexpectedly. This is the final test, indicating that they should proceed with the exorcism.

The exorcism unfolds with the priest demanding the names of the negative spirits within Gina. It is believed that once the exorcist is armed with the names of the demonic, he will be better able to order them to leave the victim. The physical inability to tolerate religious iconography signals that it's time to begin the Rites of Exorcism.

During the ensuing six-hour-long exorcism, two entities are identified by Gina as her tormentors. Minga and Zion are named and are then to be cast out.

Gina's Recovery Following Her Exorcism

Two days following the exorcism, all parties involved in the ritual, both religious and medical, agreed that Gina should be hospitalized in a mental facility. On her arrival at the medical facility, doctors there agree she is in much better condition than she was when she was initially brought in for evaluation a year and a half earlier. She stays for two weeks, during which time she is given new antipsychotic medications.

Follow Up on Gina's Recovery

Following the exorcism and a new regimen of medications, Gina was able to return to leading a productive life as a high school student. Doctors believed that her progress following the exorcism was the result of personal religious beliefs. Believing that an external source was the cause of her mental issues, which the exorcism presumably had removed, empowered her to take better control of her outbursts and auditory hallucinations.