Zio’s Friend and the Smiler
Peter took one more breath of fresh air. He was reluctant to pull
the open window shut
against the uproar on 125th Street 15 stories below. It was the
first time in history that
a Roman Pope was driving through New York streets, and the very air
was alive with
excitement. The Pope’s motorcade had already passed over Willis
Avenue Bridge into
the Bronx on its way to Yankee Stadium. The crowds were still
milling around. Some nuns scurried about like frenzied penguins
blowing whistles and marshaling lines of white-clad schoolgirls.
Hot-dog vendors shouted their prices. A dowdiry dressed young woman
and her child peddled plastic little popes to passersby. Two
policemen were removing wooden barriers. A garbage truck snorted and
honked its way through the traffic. Father Peter closed the window
finally, drew the curtains together, and turned back toward the bed.
The room was quiet again, except for the irregular breathing of
twenty-six-year-old Marianne. She lay on a gray blanket thrown over
the bare mattress. With her faded jeans, yellow body-shirt, auburn
hair straggling over her forehead, the pallor of her cheeks, and the
aging, off-white color of the walls around her, she seemed part of a
tragically washed-out pastel. Except for a funny twist to her mouth,
her face had no expression.
To Peter’s left, with their backs to the door, stood two bulky men.
One: an ex-policeman and a friend of the family, a veteran of 32
years on the force, where, he thought, he had seen everything. He
was about to find out that he hadn’t. Sixtyish, balding, clad in
dungarees, his arms folded over his chest, his face was a picture of
puzzlement. The other the closest acquaintance of Marianne’s father,
whom the children called uncle, was a bank manager and a grandfather
in his midfiftie red-faced and jowled, in a blue suit, his arms
hanging by his sides, < fixed on Marianne’s face with an expression
of helpless fear. Both the men, athletic and muscular, had been
asked to assist at the exorcism of Marianne K., to quell any
physical violence or harm she might attempt. Marianne’s father, a
wispy man with reddened eyes and drawn face, stood with the family
doctor. He was praying silently. Peter always insisted on having a
member of the family present- at exorcism. As if in contrast to the
others, the young doctor, a| psychiatrist, wore a concentrated,
almost studious look as he checked! the girl’s pulse.
Peter’s colleague, Father James, a priest in his thirties, stood at
the foot of the bed. Black-haired, full-faced, youthful,
apprehensive, his black, white, and purple robes were a uniform for
him. On Peter, with 1 his tousled gray hair and hollow-cheeked look,
the same colors melted? into a veiled unity. James was dressed up
ready to go. Peter, the; campaigner, had been there.
On a night table beside James two candles flickered. A crucifix
rested between them. In one corner of the room there was a chest of
; drawers. “Should have had it removed before we started,” Peter:
thought. The chest, originally left there in order to hold a tape
recorder, had become quite a nuisance. Probably would continue to be
until the whole business was finished, Peter thought. But he knew
better than to fiddle with any object in the room, once the exorcism
It was a Monday, 8:15 P.M., the seventeenth hour into Peter’s third
exorcism in thirty years. It was also his last exorcism, although he
could not know that. Peter felt sure that he had arrived at the
Breakpoint in the rite.
In the few seconds it took him to cross from the window to her bed,
Marianne’s face had been contorting into a mass of crisscrossing
lines. Her mouth twisted further and further in an S-shape. The neck
was taut, showing every vein and artery; and her Adam’s apple looked
like a knot in a rope.
The ex-policeman and her uncle moved to hold her. But her voice
threw them back momentarily like a whiplash:
“You dried-up fuckers! You’ve messed with each other’s wives. And
with your own
peenies into the bargain. Keep your horny paws off
“Hold her down!” Peter spoke peremptorily. Four pairs of hands
clamped on her.
“Jesus have mercy on my baby,” muttered her father. The
ex-policeman’s eyes bulged.
“YOU!” Marianne screamed, as she lay pinned flat on the bed, her
eyes open and blazing with anger, “YOU! Peter the Eater. Eat my
flesh, said she. Suck my blood, said she. And you did! Peter the
Eater! You’ll come with us, you freak. You’ll lick my arse and like
it, Peeeeeeeetrrrrrr,” and her voice sank through the “rrrr” to an
Something started to ache in Peter’s brain. He missed a breath,
panicked because he could not draw it, stopped and waited, swaying
on his feet. Then he exhaled gratefully. To the younger priest he
looked frail and vulnerable. Father James handed Peter his prayer
book, and they both turned to face Marianne.
Almost a year later, in 1966, on the day Peter was buried in Calvary
Cemetery, his younger colleague, Father James, chatted with me after
the funeral service. “It doesn’t matter what the doctor said” (the
official report gave coronary thrombosis as cause of death), “he was
gone, really gone, after that last to-do. Just a matter of time.
Mind you, it wasn’t that he wasn’t brave and devoted. He was a real
man of God before and after the whole thing. But it took that last
exorcism to make him realize that life knocks the stuffing out of
any decent man.” Peter had apparently never emerged from a gentle
reverie after the exorcism of Marianne; and he always spoke as if he
were talking for the benefit of someone else present. It was as
exasperating as listening to one side of a telephone conversation.
“He was never the same again,” said James. “Some part of him passed
into the Great Beyond during the final Clash, as you call it.” Then,
after a pause and musingly, almost to himself: “Can you beat that?
He had to be born in Lisdoonvarna” sixty-two years ago, be reared
beside Killarney, and come all the way over here three times-just to
find out the third time where he was supposed to die; and how, and
when. Makes you think what life’s all about. You never know how it’s
going to end. Peter did not become an American citizen, even. All
that travel. Just to die as the Lord had decided.”
Peter was one of seven children, all boys. His father moved from
County Clare to Listowel, County Kerry, where he prospered as a wine
merchant. The family lived in a large two-story house overlooking
the river Feale. They were financially comfortable and respected.
Their Roman Catholicism was that brand of muscular Christianity
which the Irish out of all Western nations had originated as their
contribution to religion.
Peter spent his youth in the comparative peace of “the old Rritish
days” before the Irish Republican Brotherhood (parent of the IRA),
the Irish Volunteers, and the 1916 Rebellion started modern Ireland
off on the stormy course of fighting for the “terrible beauty” that
lured Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Eamonn De Valera, and the
other leaders into the deathtrap of bloodletting, where, 50 years
later, in Peter’s declining years, blood was still being shed.
School filled three-quarters of the year for Peter. Summers were
spent at Real Strand, at Ballybunion seaside, or harvesting on his
grandfather’s farm at Newtownsands.
One such summer, his sixteenth, Peter had his only brush with sex.
He had lain for hours among the sand dunes of Beal Strand with Mae,
a girl from Listowel whom he had known for about three years. That
day, their families had gone to the Listowel races.
Innocent flirting developed into simple love play and finally into a
fervid exchange of
kisses and caresses, until they both lay naked and awesomely happy
beneath the early-evening stars, the warmth undulating and glowing sweetly through
their bodies as
they huddled close together. Afterward, Mae playfully nicknamed him
“Peter the Eater,” To calm his fear she added: “Don’t worry. No one
will know how you made love to me. Only me.”
For about a year afterward, he was interested in girls and
particularly in Mae. Then early in his eighteenth year, he began to
think of the priesthood. By the time he finished schooling, his mind
was made up. Peter had told me once: “When we said goodbye, that
summer of 1922, Mae teased me: ‘If you ever leave the seminary and)
don’t marry me, I’ll tell everyone your nickname.’ She never told a;
But, of course, they knew.” Peter’s sole but real enemies were the
of “the Kingdom” whom he vaguely called
“they.” He gave me a characteristic look and stared away over my
head. Mae had died in 1929 of a ruptured appendix.
Peter started his studies at Killarney Seminary and finished them at
Numgret with the Jesuits. He was no brilliant scholar, but got very
good grades in Canon Law and Hebrew, which he pronounced with an
Irish brogue (“My grandfather was from one of the Lost Tribes”),
acquired a reputation for good, sound judgment in moral dilemmas,
and was renowned locally because with one deft kick of a football he
could knock the pipe out of a smoker’s mouth at 30 yards and not
even graze the man’s face.
Ordained priest at twenty-five, he worked for six years in Kerry.
Then he did a first stint in a New York parish for three years. He
was present twice at exorcisms as an assistant. On a third occasion,
when he was present merely as an extra help, he had to take over
from the exorcist, an older man, who collapsed and died of a heart
attack during the rite.
Two weeks before he sailed home to Ireland for his first holiday in
three years, the authorities assigned him his first exorcism.
“You’re young, Father. I wish you’d had more experience,” was the
way he recalled the bishop’s instructions, “but the Old Fella won’t
have much on you or over you. So go to it.”
It had lasted 13 hours (“In Hoboken, of all places,” he used to say
whimsically), and had left him dazed and ill at ease. He never
forgot the statement of murderous intent hurled at him by the man he
had exorcised. Through foaming spittle and clenched teeth and the
smell of a body unwashed for two years prior, the man had snarled:
“You destroy the Kingdom in me, you shit-faced alien Irish pig. And
you think you’re escaping. Don’t worry. You’ll be back for more. And
more. Your kind always come back for more. And we will scorch the
soul in you. Scorch it. You’ll smell. Just like us! Third strike and
you’re out! Pig! Remember us!” Peter remembered.
But a two-week vacation in County Clare restored him to his energy
and verve. “God! The scones running with salty butter, and the hot
tea, and the Limerick bacon, and the soft rain, and the peace of it
all! ‘Twas great.”
Most of Peter’s wounds were not inflicted by the harsh realities of
the world around him; but, deep within him, they opened as his way
of responding to the evil he sometimes sensed in daily life.
Those who still remembered him in 1972 agreed that Peter had been
neither genius nor saint. Black-haired, blue-eyed, raw-boned in
appearance, he was a man of little imagination, deep loyalties, loud
laughter, gargantuan appetite for bacon and potatoes, an iron
constitution, an inability to hate or bear a grudge, and in a state
of constant difference of opinion with his bishop (a tiny old man
familiarly called “Packy” by his priests). Peter was somewhat lazy,
harmlessly vain about his 6’ 2” height, and a lifelong addict of
Edgar Wallace detective stories. j “He had this distinct quality,”
remarked one of his friends. “You felt I he had a huge spirit laced
with cast-iron common sense and untouched 1 by any pettiness.”
“If he met the Devil at the top of the stairs one morning and saw;
Jesus Christ standing at the bottom,” added another, “he wouldn’t!
turn his back on the one in his hurry to get down to the other. He’d
back down. Just to be sure.” | In normal circumstances, Peter would
have stayed on permanently j in Ireland after his vacation of scones
and soft rain. He would have worked in parishes for some years, then
acquired a parish of his own. But there was something else tugging
at his heart and something else written in his stars. When he left
for New York at the outbreak of the j Korean War in order to replace
a chaplain who had been called up, he | recalled the exorcism in
Hoboken. “Third strike and you’re out! Pig! * Remember!”
He remarked jokingly to a worried friend who knew the whole story: “
‘Tis not the third time yet!”
In January 1952, he was asked to do his second exorcism. His
effectiveness in the first exorcism and the resilient way he had
taken it recommended him to the authorities. The exorcism took place
in; Jersey City. And, in spite of its length (the better part of
three days and three nights), it took very little out of him
physically or mentally. Spiritually, it had some peculiar
significance for him.
“It was a sort of warmer-upper for the 1965 outing,” he told me in
1966. “The ceremony lasted too long for my liking, was hammer and
tongs all the way, almost beat us. But there was no great strain
inside here [pointing to his chest].” And he added with a
significance that eluded me then: “Jesus had a forerunner in the
Baptist. I suppose; darkness has its own.”
Looking back on his role as exorcist today, it is clear to me that
first two exorcisms prepared him for the third and last one. They
were three rounds with the same enemy.
The exorcee that January was a sixteen-year-old boy of Hispanic
origin who had been treated for epilepsy over a period of years,
only to lie finally declared nonepileptic and physically sound as a
bell by a team of doctors from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Nevertheless, on the boy’s return home, all the dreadful
disturbances started all over again in a much more emphasized way,
so the parents, turned to their priest.
“They tell me you’ve a ... eh ... a sort of a way with the Devil,
Father,” said the wheezy, red-faced monsignor, grinning awkwardly as
he gave the necessary permissions and instructions to Peter. Then,
stirring in his chair, he added grimly as a bad Catholic joke: “But
don’t bring him back here to the Chancery with you. Get rid of him
or it or her or whatever the devil it is. We have enough of all that
on our backs here already.”
It had gone well. The boy became Peter’s devoted friend. Later he
went to Vietnam and died in an ambush late one night outside Saigon.
His commanding officer wrote, enclosing an envelope with Peter’s
name on it which the dead man had left behind. It contained a piece
of bloodstained linen and a short note. Over a decade previously,
just before his release from possession, in a final paroxysm of
revolt and appeal, he had clawed at Peter’s wrist, and Peter’s blood
had fallen on his shirt sleeve. “I kept this as a sign of my
salvation, Father,” the note said. “Pray for me. I will remember
you, when I am with Jesus.”
Peter was then forty-eight years old and in his prime as a priest.
Yet in himself, he
suffered from a growing sense of inadequacy and worthlessness. He
felt that, in
comparison with many of his colleagues who had attained degrees,
high offices, and acknowledged expertise, he had very little to show
by way of
achievement. “I have no riches inside me,” he wrote to a brother of
his, “just black
poverty. Sometimes it darkens my soul.” When his turn for a parish
of his own came
around, he was passed over. (Packy was dead already; but, some said,
the dead bishop had made sure in his records that Peter would be
Peter, in fact, was a maverick. The normal priest found him inferior
in social graces but superior in judgment, lacking in ecclesiastical
know-how and ambition but very content with his work. Sometimes his
protestations of being “poor inside,” of having “no excellent
talents” sounded hollow when matched with his stubborn and
opinionated attitudes. Anyway, the normal bishop would take one look
into his direct gaze and decide that his own authority was somehow
at stake. For Peter’s stare was not insolent, but yet unwavering; it
acknowledged the demands of worth but was devoid of any
subservience. It said: “I respect you for what you represent. What
you are is something else.” Such a man was unsettling for the
absolutist mind and threatening for the authoritarian bent of most
Beyond the occasional funny remark, such as “The higher they go, the
blacker their bottoms look,” Peter gave no outward impression of
discontent or anxiety. A lack of self-confidence saved him from
revolt or disgust. And he bore it all lightly. “Well, Father Peter,”
one bishop joshed him as he left to do a three-month stint in London
parish work, “off you go to hell or to glory, eh?” Peter laughed it
off: “In either case, bishops get the priority, my lord.”
Had he raised protests and used the influential friends at his
disposal, he would doubtless have retired in good time to the rural
repose of a peaceful Kerry parish and the extraordinary autonomy of
a parish priest. (A pope or a bishop approached any settled “P.P.”
with care. Only his housekeeper could make a frontal assault on a
parish priest’s autonomy. But, then again, Irish housekeepers were a
race unto themselves.)
As Peter was and as he chose to remain-in strict dependence on
ecclesiastical whims and never striking out to seek a fixed
position-he was available to be tapped for a temporary visit to Rome
and an accidental meeting that changed him profoundly.
After his second exorcism, there were ten more years of “helping
out” in various dioceses, practically always on a temporary basis as
substitute for other priests. And then a chance breakfast in late
September 1962 brought him together with a West Coast bishop who, on
his way to the opening of the Second Vatican Council in Rome, stayed
a few days in New York. The bishop was well known for his sympathy
with mavericks and his welcome for “hard cases.” Like all the
bishops who went to the council, he needed one or two experts in
theology to be his advisors in Rome. He needed, in particular, a
theologian counselor skilled in pastoral matters.
The next day Peter was aboard a TWA flight with the bishop enroute
to the Eternal City. But for that trip, he probably would not have
been at the side of Marianne three years later. And he certainly
would never have come close to two men who had a sudden, deep
influence on the rest of his life. In Rome, Peter performed his
duties as a counselor during his ten-week stay there. But what
mattered much more to him personally and affected him deeply were
his experiences with Father Conor and with Paul VI, then Monsignor
Father Conor was a diminutive Irish Franciscan friar, bald-headed,
sharp-eyed, and voluble, who taught theology at a Roman university.
I It- wore rimless glasses, trotted and never walked, and spoke with
a very strong brogue which made his Latin lectures all but
I le held court for students, professors, foreign visitors,
officials, and friends in his
monastery room after siesta hour, three or four days a week. There,
any bit of gossip
in Rome could be learned, tested, and assessed for its rumor value.
For half of Rome
always feeds on rumors about the other half. And speculation is the
continually stirs the pool of rumor. “They till me, me frind, that .
. .” was a frequent opening of Conor’s conversation.
Conor spent his summers fishing around Lough Corrib, Ireland, was an
expert on Waterford glass, and had a lifelong fascination for all
politics, civil and ecclesiastical, a fascination that made Vatican
Council II appeal to Conor as catnip to a cat. He had studied
demonology (“Mostly ballyhoo,” he pronounced in his thick brogue),
witchcraft (“A lotta junk, if y’ask me”), Exorcism (“A mad bizniz”),
and possession (“The divil’s toe-rag”). He served as a consultant to
one Roman office that dealt with cases of possession; and on 14
occasions he had conducted exorcisms (but always protested that he
“wouldn’t touch wan wid a barge pole, unliss they ordher’d me teh”).
According to an in joke about Conor that always made him furious, he
induced devils to leave the possessed by threatening to “send them
back to Ireland.”
Outside Roman clerical circles, Conor’s activity as an exorcist-was
relatively unknown. Indeed, he was regarded by his fellow clergy in
Ireland as a bookworm and by his lay friends as a “grand, simple,
innocent man, slightly dotty about the Middle Ages.”
Peter and Conor were approximately the same age. They shared a love
of Ireland and a passion for Rome’s ruins. And Conor sensed in Peter
a mind never tarnished by the baser ambitions he saw eating into
those who gyrated and jockeyed around him in Rome on the political
treadmill. He also felt Peter’s sense of his own worthlessness.
He found Peter’s exorcism experiences enormously interesting. For
Peter had “the touch,” he used to say-a natural ability to weather
exorcism’s storms. On the other hand, Peter found in Conor a friend
of practical experience and advice. Rambling in the Roman suburbs,
sitting in the cortile of Conor’s monastery, visiting the sights of
Rome, sipping coffee in the Piazza Navona, they gradually assumed
the roles of master and disciple. Peter put questions; Conor
answered them. He explained. He theorized. He instructed. He warned.
He corrected. He encouraged.
In the area of Exorcism, Conor had things reduced to a recognizable
pattern of behavior: how the possessed behaved; how the possessing
spirit acted; and how the exorcist should react and conduct the
exorcism. During the long walks and talks with Conor, Peter
crystallized his own first impressions and learned some valuable
He had never realized the radical distinction between the perfectly
possessed and the revolters. Nor had he understood the revolters as
victims of possession who, partly with their own connivance, surely,
had become hostage and were now trying, on the one hand, to give
some sign, to summon help, but who in that struggle also became
victims of a violent protest against such help-a protest made by the
evil thing that possessed them.
Peter was able to adjust and correct his techniques immediately,
even without conducting further exorcisms, once Conor explained that
the major portion of every exorcism was taken up with shattering a
pretense, dispelling a smokescreen; that the most dangerous period
lay in the Breakpoint of that Pretense and in the clash of wills
that followed at once between the exorcist and the thing that
tortured the possessed; and that the “Grate Panjandhr’m” (Conor’s
epithet for the Devil) intervened only rarely.
In Conor’s view, the world of evil spirits was like an autocratic
organization: “Joe Shtaleen used to sind Molotov to do his dirty
work. So the Grate Panjandhr’m sens his hinchmin.”
Conor taught Peter tricks and ruses; and he gave him tags-phrases,
concepts-to label perilous phases, capital moments and events in an
made available to Peter some of his own practices: the use of
“teaser texts,” for instance. At certain awkward gaps in the
exorcism, there was no way to contend head to head with the
possessed and with what was possessing them. The possessing spirit
literally hid behind the identity of the possessed. It had to be
flushed out into the open. Conor had the habit of reading certain
texts chosen from the Gospels, until such time as the spirit made
mistakes or arrogantly threw aside its disguise.
Conor’s advice was always concrete and vivid, and always in Peter’s
mind echoed with that warm, fresh brogue they both shared like a
piece of common turf: “The t’ing is beyond yer mind. It’s a sperrit
agin vnors. The reel camuflin’ starrts inside in yeh. And yeh’r just
an ole toe-rag, unless Jesus is wid yeh.”
But, above all else, Conor reconciled Peter to the inevitable drain
mi the exorcist. He explained in simple terms what wounds he could
receive as an exorcist, what wounds he should avoid, and what wounds
were incurable once inflicted on him. All these wounds were
“internal” to spirit and mind and memory and will. Peter had
received some minor ones already. He now realized what he could
Conor refined Peter’s primitive idea of “the Devil” and of “Devils,”
expressing in simple terms what to most moderns is an enigma if not
downright nonsense: how that which has no body can be a person, have
a personality. And he dealt curtly with psychoanalysts: “Down the
road a bit, they’re goin’ to find out that the whole thing is
entoirely differr’nt; and then they’ll put Siggy and company up on
the shelves as histhorical lave-overrs, like Galen on bones or
Arishtot’l on plants.”
But it was not Conor who rid Peter of his lack of confidence. He
could never give Peter a reason to trust his own judgment. It was
the man who in two years would become Paul VI who made that change
Peter never exchanged one sentence with Giovanni Battista Mon-tini,
then Archbishop of Milan. Montini had been relegated from the
Vatican to the political wilderness of Milan by Pope Pius XII, had
survived it, and now was back in Rome-“still listening to his
voices” (as the Roman wags described the ethereal gaze of Montini
and the impression he gave of having shutters over his eyes to hide
the light within)-and was deeply involved in the council.
One of Montini’s theologian-counselors was impressed with Peter’s
arguments at an evening meal. They met several times afterwards
during Peter’s stay. Once they went with Conor to a gathering of
theologians who were discussing issues being hotly debated on the
council floor. Such gatherings were frequent in those days;
Archbishop Montini was the guest of honor at this particular
As Montini arrived and walked to his seat, Conor gossiped in a
whisper with Peter:
“They tell me, my frind, that Johnny [then Pope John XXIII] won’t
lasht long.” Then with a nod in Montini’s direction: “There’s the
But Peter was not interested in future popes as such. For an
inexplicable reason, he was fascinated by Montini. Everything about
the man, his person, and his speech and his writings had a peculiar
significance for Peter. As he remarked to Conor, “He seems to walk’]
with a great vision no one else sees.”
He set out to learn all he could about Montini, speaking with those
who knew the
archbishop, reading his sermons, frequenting Montini’s familiars and
even got to the stage of referring to : Montini as Zio, a name used
affectionately by those around the archbishop.
Peter came to share Conor’s trenchant point of view on recent popes:
XII] was loike a shliver of ice serrved up in an archangel’s
cocktail at the hivinly
banquit,” confided Conor wryly as they walked home one evening.
arishtocratic, sometimes wid a dead-an’-dug-up look, y’know. Johnny
av coorse, is out on his own, a mountin uv sperrit. But this lil’
fella [Montini] has an airr ‘v thragedee.”
Peter made a point of going to listen to Montini whenever he was
billed to speak in public. It was on one of these occasions that he
had his “Montini experience.” Together with others present, he knelt
to receive the archbishop’s blessing at the end of his speech. As
Montini raised his right hand to make the sign of the cross’, Peter
lifted his eyes. They locked with Montini’s at the juncture point of
the cross the archbishop traced in the air. As he looked, the
“shutters” over Montini’s eyes opened for an instant. Montini’s gaze
was momentarily an almost dazzling brilliance of feeling warmth,
communication. Then the “shutters” closed again, as Montini’s eyes
traveled on over the heads of the others kneeling around Peter.
Afterwards, Peter knew that the empty feeling of diffidence had left
him. For the first time in his life, he had no fears.
That was in mid-November of 1962. At the beginning of December, as
the first session of the council ended, he was told that he had been
freed from his obligations back in New York and that he could go
home to Ireland for Christmas. After Christmas vacation in his home
town, he worked in Ireland from January 1963 until August 1965.
He was winding up his summer vacation in July 1965 and preparing to
return to work in Kerry, when he received a short note from New York
telling him of Marianne K., a young woman, apparently a genuine case
of possession. The note was urgent: the authorities felt he could
best handle the affair. Could he come over immediately?
In mid-August he arrived in New York.
Toward the spring of 1964, and thousands of miles away from the calm
.11 id fresh Kerry countryside where Peter was then living, the
habitues of Bryant Park, in New York City, began to notice a skinny
young woman of medium height wearing jeans, sandals, and a blouse,
with a raincoat thrown over her shoulders. Her visits there were
irregular; and she stayed for unpredictable periods of time,
sometimes for hours, sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes, once for
two days. The weather had nothing to do with the length of her stay;
sunshine, rain, snow, cold made no difference. She looked clean; but
those she passed got the rancid odor of unwashed hair and skin. She
never spoke to anyone, and never stood or sat in exactly the same
place twice. Always she had a fixed expression, a kind of frozen
smile that was only on her mouth; her eyes were blank, her cheeks
unlined, taut; her teeth were never visible through the fixed and
smiling lips. Her blonde hair was usually unkempt. Those who
frequently saw her nicknamed her the Smiler. Marianne K.
Her behavior was harmless, though erratic, at first. Some days she
came, sat or stood without any motion to speak of. Then she departed
suddenly as if on a signal. Other days, she arrived, gazed blankly
around at every corner, then left precipitately. At other times she
brought little wooden sticks which she ceremoniously stood upright
in the earth, tying scraps of cloth with a single bow to their base.
“Like little crosses upside down,” was a description given later.
Only once in that early time did she cause any commotion. She came
to Bryant Park one morning, sat down for a while, then stood up
stock-still facing south, with what could have been taken as a
beatific gleam in her eyes. Someone passed by carrying a radio
blaring music. As the radio came level with her, suddenly she flung
her hands to her ears, screamed, spun around like a top, and fell
hard on her face, her body twitching. A score of people gathered
around her. A policeman strolled over with the unspeed of the New
York cop. “Turn that thing off, pal,” he said to the owner of the
Almost immediately a tall man was by the policeman’s side. “She’s
Marianne. I will take care of her.” He spoke in a voice of authority
and very clearly.
“Are you a relative?” the policeman asked, looking up as he crouched
on his haunches beside Marianne.
“I’m the only one she has in this world.” The policeman remembered
the man touched Marianne on the left wrist and spoke quietly. In a
few seconds she awoke, and got quickly but unsteadily to her feet.
Her face still had the smile. Together, she and the tall man walked
slowly away towards Fifth Avenue.
“You needn’t report it, Officer.”
The policeman heard the words said evenly, confidently, over the
man’s shoulder. “I was sure they were father and daughter,” he
commented later in recalling the incident.
“He looked old enough; and they both smiled in exactly the same
Nothing of a recorded public nature took place again in Marianne’s .
case, even though she was already in a state of possession by an
No definite sign of that possession, unequivocal in itself, had been
visible in her from her childhood days until well into the year
following the incident in Bryant Park.
Marianne grew up with one brother a year younger than she. They
spent their first years in Philadelphia. The family was then of
lower middle income. It was strongly Roman Catholic and closely
knit. Her parents, both of Polish origin and second-generation
American, had no living relatives in the United States. Close
friends were few. Neither of them had completed high school; and
they had never found time for culture or much leisure for the finer
things in life. Her mother was a quiet-spoken, firm woman who held a
job and continually worried : about bills. Her father was a bluff,
down-to-earth character who grew up in the Depression, married late,
was solidly faithful to his wife, and never fretted about
difficulties, and, outside his working hours, spent all his spare
time at home.
Discipline was not rigid at home, and a good deal of fun and j
merriment ran through it all. Both children were reared to lead an
orderly existence. Religion occupied a prominent place in their
lives. Prayers in common were recited mornings and evenings. Family
love and loyalty were based on religious belief. The Polish pastor
was the ultimate authority.
In those early years there was such a strong resemblance between
George, her younger brother, that they were often mistaken for
twins. When their
mother or father called them, either of them could answer by
mimicking perfectly the
voice of the other. They had special signs and words of their own, a
kind of private
language they could use. Marianne relied on George to a great
extent. She was left-handed, had begun to speak normally only at the
age of six, and was very shy and obstinate.
This close companionship between the two children was broken when,
around Marianne’s eighth birthday, the family moved to New York,
where her father had been reassigned by his company. His new position
made the family financially secure and comfortable. Marianne’s
mother no longer worked at a job outside the home. Her brother was
successful in school. He made friends easily, was a good athlete,
and had a rollicking disposition. In New York he gradually sought
the company of his peers, and so spent less and less time with his
Marianne made few friends and was at ease only when at home. She
never seemed to prefer one parent over the other. After finishing
high school, she spent two years at Manhattanville College, where
her academic interests were physics and philosophy.
But her stay there was stormy and unhappy. She wanted the “full
truth, to know it all,”
she told her teachers in the first flush of enthusiasm. But with
time she seemed to get
cynical and disillusioned, and gave the impression she believed they
were evading the real problem and hiding the full truth from her.
She found particular difficulty with her metaphysics teacher, a
certain Mother Virgilius, middle-aged, myopic, high-voiced, exigent,
a disciplinarian and member of the “old school.” Mother Virgilius
taught Scholastic philosophy. She derided modern philosophers and
their theories. Her arguments with Marianne were, from the start,
bitter and inconclusive. The girl kept plying the older woman with
questions, perpetually throwing doubt on any statement Mother
Virgilius made, driving her back step by step until the nun rested
desperately on her own basic ideas she had accepted but had never
questioned. And Marianne was too clever and too tenacious for her,
leaping nimbly from objection to objection and strewing difficulties
and remarks to trip her up.
But clearly what Marianne was after seemed to be a trap of an odd
kind in which to catch the nun. There didn’t seem to be any desire
on her part to find out something true or to deepen her knowledge,
only a disturbing viciousness, a stony-faced cunning with words and
arguments alternating with a sardonic silence and smirking
satisfaction, all leading to confusion and curiously bitter
Virgilius sensed this but could not identify it: She merely stood on
her dignity. But this was no help to either of them.
It all came to a head one afternoon. The lecture concerned the
principle of contradiction. “If something exists, if something is,
then it cannot but exist. It cannot not be at the same time and
under the same respect,” concluded Mother Virgilius in her high
pitch. “The table is here. While it is here, it cannot not be here.
Being and nonbeing cannot be identified.”
As she finished, Marianne’s hand shot up. “Why can’t they be
They had been over this ground interminably. The nun had no more
answers and no more patience. “Marianne, we will discuss this
later.” “You say that because you cannot prove it. You just presume
it.” “First principles cannot be proven. They . . .” “Why can’t I
have another first principle? Say: being and nonbeing are
inseparable. The table is here because it isn’t here. God exists
because he doesn’t exist at the same time.” A titter ran around the
Marianne rounded on her classmates: “It’s no joke! We exist and we
The general amusement gave way to hostility and embarrassment. None
in the room, Virgilius included, realized, as Marianne reflects
today, that by some kink of inner impulse, her mind was running in
little twisted gorges of confusion. She was guided by no clear
ideas, was not commenting from a rich store of reflection and
experience, but was only pulled by a peculiar fascination with the
negative. Many a greater mind had fallen off a dark cliff somewhere
along this same way or impaled itself in desperation on some sharp
Virgilius, feeling already tired, was humiliated. She got angry. “I
told you, Miss, we will speak . . .”
But before she had finished the sentence, Marianne was on her feet,
had swept up her books, glared at everyone, and was out the door.
Marianne refused to return to Manhattanville. To all questions as to
why and to all entreaties that she give it another chance, she kept
repeating: “They are trying to enslave my mind. I want to be free,
to know all reality, to be real.” She had nothing but contempt for
her former teachers. But none of them could guess how far she had
already gone in this contempt.
As she traces it now, her new path began when she decided that her
Virgilius among them-were phonies, that they merely repeated what
they had been
taught. There was nothing abnormal in this. Up to a certain level,
Marianne had an emotional reaction rather normal in the adolescent.
But she pursued it with a logic that was not normal for her years.
And she was deliberately isolated: she did not communicate with her
companions, nor did she discuss it with her parents. She was
determined to work it out for herself.
Gradually she extended the same premise (“All authorities in my life
are phonies, because they repeat what they are told and never
inquire”) to her parents, to the priests at the local church, to the
religious teaching she had been given, and to the habits and customs
of daily life. To everything.
Her parents knew nothing of philosophy. And when Marianne spoke
darkly of “how good it is to see all the ‘noes’ side by side with
the ‘yesses’ “ or of “dirt on the nose of the Venus de Milo” or of
“murder as an act of beauty as real as composing a sonata,” they
were bewildered. They only knew that they loved her; but
manifestations of that love were taken by Marianne as chains thrown
around her. “If only you could hate me, Mummy, just for five
minutes, we would get along so well,” she said once to her mother.
At another time: “Why doesn’t Daddy rape me or break my nose with
his fist? Then I would see my beauty. And he would be real for me.”
In the end, after much discussion and consultation, it was decided
to send Marianne to Hunter College for the fall semester of 1954.
Perhaps a purely secular school with good standards would satisfy
what her parents could only take on the surface to be Marianne’s
urge to acquire knowledge.
Academically Marianne never had any difficulty during her three
years at Hunter. But the rhythm of family life changed around this
time. And she took a totally unexpected turn in character. George,
her brother, had gone away the previous year to study oceanography.
He had been the one human being with whom she communicated on an
intimate basis. Her father was more frequently than ever out of town
traveling for his company. Her mother, who had taken up working
again in an advertising agency, lost any real contact with Marianne
by the end of her first year at Hunter.
Her contemporaries at the college remember her as a rather plump,
grave-faced girl who rarely laughed, did not smile easily, spoke in
a low voice, had few friends, never dated boys, gave the impression
of great stubbornness whenever an argument arose, and (as far as
they were concerned) was a “homebody.” But neither they nor her
family knew anything about her first meeting with the Man.
During her first two years at college, Marianne used to go downtown
and sit in Washington Square Park, reading her textbooks and making
notes. One afternoon in 1956, as she was reading William James’
Varieties of Religious Experience, she felt suddenly, but without
any sense of shock, that someone was bending over her shoulder and
looking at the pages of her book. She looked around. He was a rather
tall individual whose face and clothes never impressed themselves on
her memory. His left hand was resting on the back of the park bench.
Her one clear memory is only of his mouth and the regular teeth she
glimpsed behind his lips as he read repeatedly from the open page of
her book the words:
“When you find a man living on the ragged edge
of his consciousness . . .” running all the words as one sentence
several times over and over again without pause or stop. The mouth
kept repeating and repeating: “. . . on the ragged edge of
consciousness on the ragged edge of consciousness on the ragged edge
of consciousness on the . . .” It was done softly. Without hurry.
Without emphasis. Until the words became a slowly whirling carousel
in her ears, and her mind moved in circles, bumping against them on
all sides. She burst into tears.
The mouth said, still softly: “They are all pushing you along the
ragged edge. Want to get off it?”
She remembers a few things. She said through her tears: “I don’t
want them to help me. Just to leave me alone.”
He sat with her for about one hour. The left hand remained visible
in her memory. And the mouth. She remembers nothing else of him,
except that there were instructions: “Don’t let any man touch you!
You have a short time to reach your true self! Come and find me
regularly!” And there was one peculiar instruction: “Seek those of
the Kingdom. They will know you. You will know them.”
It was from this time that her family and acquaintances noticed
definite changes in Marianne. She disappeared from home for long
mornings and afternoons, even when there were no lectures or lab
work at college. She spoke rarely with her parents. Her meals at
home grew less frequent. Her contemporaries at Hunter noticed that
she became more introspective, more fearful of strangers, more
reticent with those who knew her, and extremely shy.
Her mother became worried. After much persuasion, she induced
Marianne to see a psychiatrist. But after a couple of sessions, he
dismissed her; he told her parents that, while she certainly needed
more nourishment (she had been losing weight) and much love, he
could detect nothing awry or dangerous in her psychology. She just
wanted to be free; and this was, he said, the new generation.
Anyway, he advised them, they should think of her age: rebellion and
independence were normal for her age bracket.
Her father was satisfied. But her mother felt some deep
“By the time they realized that I was in earnest about the change in
me,” says Marianne, “I had already accepted the authority of the Man
in my life. I had changed profoundly. I mean: my inner life-style
altered under his influence.”
Marianne always refers to this figure as “the Man”; but nowadays it
is impossible for her to determine if he was hallucination,
deliberate figment of her own, a real person, or merely a metaphor
and symbol of her initial revolt. Indeed, in Marianne’s memory of
the nine years between that first meeting with the Man and the
exorcism of 1965, the Man keeps on appearing and reappearing in her
recollections. But most of the time, especially the last four years,
is nearly a total blank. Only a few searing experiences stand out
starkly for her.
Having finished at Hunter, Marianne decided to follow postgraduate
courses in physics at New York University. Her isolation now became
complete. After a little over one year at New York University, she
dropped out, took an apartment in the East Village, and started
working as a sales clerk in a store on Union Square. Her behavior,
according to the conservative Catholic standards of her parents, was
unorthodox. Marianne never went to church any longer. She lived
sporadically with various men, did not take care of her external
appearance, and spoke disparagingly-sometimes very rudely and with
four-letter words-of all that her parents held dear. She did not
allow them to bother her.
For their part, her parents worried greatly; but, following the
hopeful lead of the psychiatrist, they still thought that all this
was a temporary phase of rebellion. They did worry in particular
about her health: she shrank from 130 pounds to 95 pounds in a
matter of months. But, in great anguish and confusion, her mother
ceased leaving food packages at the door of Marianne’s apartment,
when the first one was delivered back smelling and dripping.
Marianne had mixed excrement and urine with the fruit and
In her memory now, the next big step in her changing “inner
life-style,” as she terms it, concerned formal religion and
religious belief. She took that step consciously, with the Man by
her side, and on two particular occasions.
One occasion was on Palm Sunday. In the evening as she passed by a
church, services were being conducted. Something about the lights in
this particular church aroused her interest-“It was in the nature of
a challenge,” she recalls. She entered and stood among the people at
the back of the church. Suddenly she felt the same disgust and
rejection then as she had experienced toward her parents and
teachers. As she turned to go, the Man beside her turned also. He
had been there but she hadn’t noticed him.
“Had enough, my friend?” he said quietly, jocularly.
She saw his smile in the half-darkness, and smiled back at him. He
said: “The smile of the Kingdom is now yours.” Then, as they left:
“If you don’t like it, you haven’t got to lump it, y’know.” They
both smiled. That was all.
The second occasion took place the next week, at Easter. An
illuminated cross was set up on the General Building on Park Avenue.
She was viewing this from the corner of 56th Street and Park Avenue,
when she heard the Man nearby say: “Seems one-sided. Shouldn’t they
turn it upside down also? Just in order to balance the odds? Same
thing, really. Only in perfect balance.” The Man smiled.
“For me,” comments Marianne now, “it was a perfect smile. You hadn’t
to balance it up with a scowl. Perfect for me then.”
At home that night, she found herself drawing inverted crosses side
by side with upright crosses. But she could not bring herself to
draw the crucified figure on either type of cross. Whenever she
tried, “The pencil ran away into S-shapes and Z-shapes and
X-shapes.” From that time on, there, started in earnest what she
recalls as a “new color and form in my inner life-style.” Her
descriptions of it are confused and marked by expressions that one
finds difficult to understand. But the overall meaning of what she
says is chilling. The whole process was an acquisition of the “naked
light” and her “marriage with nothingness,” expressions she learned
from the Man.
“I began to live exactly according to my belief. I mean, inside
myself, my thoughts,
feelings, memories, and all mental activity moved accordingly. I
reacted to all things-people and things and happenings-as if they were one side of the
real coin. And I
rapidly found that all people have a powerful force in them-as
things, events, challenge us to respond. The way we respond gives
the things we respond to a special quality. In a sense, we make them
what they turn out to be for us.
“Let me give you an example that will also tell you to what an
extent I pursued my idea. Once outside the Public Library on 42nd
Street, on a sunny afternoon, a well-dressed woman passed by on the
arm of a man. I was sitting on the steps, and she smiled at me. I
found myself smiling back at them and saying by my smile (because I
felt like that inside me): ‘You like me. I like you. You hate me. I
hate you. See! It is all the same!’ She must have realized the same
things, because the smile sort of froze on her face; but she went on
smiling-as I did.
“Another day, I picked up a young man on Third Avenue. We went to
his apartment and had intercourse. He was gentle; but when I was
finished with him, he was a very frightened being. I guess I showed
him a side of his character he never guessed existed. And I could
see by his face that he was scared. I insisted he make coffee.
Drinking it while still naked, I told him how much I hated him and
how much he
hated me really, and that the more he loved me and I, him, the more
we hated each
other. I can still see the blood draining from his face and the fear
in the whites of his
eyes. He was obviously afraid of some trouble. When he mumbled
‘Hyde’ and ‘Jekyll,’ I said: ‘Oh no, man! Put the two in one with no
switching back and forth, and you have it down pat. Jekyll-Hyde.
That’s perfect. See?”
From now on, as she remembers it, Marianne’s development went in two
quick stages. The first stage was very rapid. It consisted of a
total independence. Except insofar as she needed them for survival
or pleasure, she no longer bothered about anyone or anything. She
had no more decisions to make about being morally good or evil;
whether life was good or bad, worth quitting or worth continuing;
whether she liked or disliked; whether she was liked or disliked;
whether she met her obligations or shirked them.
The second stage was more difficult and went by fits and starts. It
began with a near-adoration of herself. It ended in her “marriage
with nothingness” and the fullness of the “naked light.” It became
clear during her exorcism a few years later that these were terms
that described her total subjection to an evil spirit.
She came to monitor her perceptions closely and scrupulously. At
first she was fascinated by her perceptions; they came with a
startling freshness, appearing to be utterly original in their
source-her self. She became in her own eyes a genius with a single
vision. She found the company of others exasperating and
destructive. To talk with another softened the sharp edge of her
perception; to do anything with another meant clothing herself in
false clothes and not being wholly herself; to feel anything with
anyone else meant she would feel only relatively, for she had to
take account of them. Ideally, she believed, one should feel
absolutely whatever one felt; whatever one thought one should think
completely; whatever one desired one should desire totally. No
concentration on self could be greater.
Before she achieved absolute isolation, whenever she returned from a
conversation or a meal with others, or even after listening to a
lecture or working in the laboratory, it was very difficult for her
to regain “the inner space and the single vision” she had possessed
before such contacts. She was left with a “double vision”; she was
blurred, confused, and confusing in herself. She had to spend days
“doing her own thing”-walking in the park (this she now did almost
every day), sitting in her apartment writing page after page, which
she immediately tore up and which she never reread; sitting or
standing still for hours-until at last she was fully absorbed in the
self that had been hiding. Then quite suddenly all the clamor would
fade out. In the presence of that inner self all was naked again.
And absolute. And secure. No longer was she interrupted or disrupted
by the “bad flow” from others.
As she reached more and more permanent mastery of her isolation, she
came to realize that the self she sought lay “beyond” and “beneath”
and “behind” (to use her own expressions) the world of her
psychophysical actions and reactions. Out of reach of the endless
rhythm of responses, of recordings on her memory, of the fast-paced
hip chatter of her companions, of blaring monologues by individuals.
She became slowly more sensitive and expectant that she would find
the self she sought, wrapped in semitransparent shadows. It was
independent, she believed, of that distracting outer world, and of
her inner psychic theater which was always at the mercy of that
outer world and was so easily shattered by it. The restlessness of
details had no place with the self. She came to believe that, if she
could prevent the “bad flow” of others entering, she could achieve
“perfection of personhood.”
“One of my big realizations was that in any commerce with others-a
conversation, working with them, even being in their presence while
they talked and acted with others-there were two levels of ‘flow,’
One, the “outer one,” was-as Marianne perceived it-the one with
which she heard, saw, touched, tasted, smelled, remembered in
images, conceptualized, and verbalized.
All of its functions could be duplicated by a skillfully built
machine, a computer, for instance. A lot of it could be found in
highly intelligent animals. But in human beings you couldn’t have
this “outer” level of communication without the second level.
The second level of communication was, Marianne believed, a “flow”
or “influence” from each person to another. And whenever two human
beings communicated, they did so on both levels simultaneously. And
they did so even if they didn’t know it or wouldn’t admit it.
Marianne had very definite ideas on the source of that second level
of communication. Her academic training and her avid reading had
given a very sophisticated edge to her viewpoint:
“The source was not the subconscious, not a sixth sense or telepathy
or any of those gimmicky tags,” as she puts it. The source, she
thought, was the self in each one. She said: “The self has a means
of communication which does not need images or thoughts or logic or
any particle of matter.” Psychologists and physiologists, she knew,
identified the self with brain circuitry and synaptic joints and the
mechanisms of sensation. This was like saying that the violin was
the source of the violinist’s music. Religionists and spiritualists
identified the self with “soul” or “spirit”-even with God, or a god.
And both psychologists and religionists insisted you make choices.
And so, in most people, that source and its “flow” were split into a
kind of “black-and-white” condition. Most people were always
choosing, responding, being responsible for their actions, saying
yes or no, and thereby “fissioning the self’s lively unity.”
Rarely did Marianne meet anyone whose “flow” entered and left her
without attempting to split up the self she had found within her.
She remembers that the Man’s “flow” was absolutely right, that he
even helped her to reach “the place of semitransparent shadows.” At
other times, in the subway, on the streets, at shop windows, she
would receive helpful influence from passersby. But she never
managed to find precisely from whom it came. Her daily life became a
series of efforts to resist the “flow” from all but those who, like
her ideal, had the “perfect flow” and the “perfect balance,” who had
“nothingness within them.”
She has vague memories of continuing to be instructed by the Man, of
seeing him regularly, of listening to him talk, of obeying some
dictates he gave. But one can glean nothing precise or detailed from
Marianne about her instructions. Even an effort by her today to
recollect such instructions of the Man produces sudden panics and
fears that temporarily paralyze her mind. It is as if, today,
remnants of the Man’s influence cling somewhere in the deep recesses
of her inner being, and any effort to recall those days of her
possession is like peeling the scab off a healing wound.
The end of her striving came one day in Bryant Park. She had entered
cautiously, feeling the “flow” of all present, ready to flee if any
disturbance came her way. He was sitting languidly on a bench doing
nothing in particular, staring vacantly into space.
Sitting down at the other end of the bench, Marianne gazed vacantly
on the passing scene. In the morning sunlight, beneath a sky
cleansed by a light breeze, the traffic hummed with the busy
purposefulness of other human beings about their day’s work.
School children and office workers passed by on their different
ways. The pigeons
were feeding. It could not have been a more peaceful city
Then, in a quick instant, some tremendous pressure seemed to fall
Marianne from head to toe like a net. She shivered. And then some
seemed to have pulled a tightening cord, so that the net slipped
through every inch of
her body and outer self, tightening and tightening. “As the net
contracted in size passing through my outer person, it gathered and
compressed every particle of my self.”
Marianne no longer saw or felt any sensation of sunlight or wind.
The outer world had become a flat and painted picture neither fresh
nor hot nor cold. And the movements of people and animals and
objects were angular tracings with no depth and no coherent sound.
All meaning was drained from the scene.
The only movement was within her. Bit by bit “the net, now like a
sharp, all-surrounding hand, tightened, narrowing and narrowing all
my consciousness.” At every moment, under that pressure, she was
“opening up every secret part of my self, saying, ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’
‘Yes,’ to a power that would not take ‘No’ for an answer.”
And none who saw her, a young girl sprawled motionless on the bench
in the sunlight, could guess that Marianne was becoming a casement
Without any warning the pressure ceased. The net had been drawn
tight. She was held invincibly, securely. And then she realized,
like waking up from sleep, that some kind of mist or fog was lifting
from her consciousness, allowing her a new sensation. She now knew
that all along-all her life-she had been very near to “dusk, an
accompanying darkness.” Even as she once more saw the grass, trees,
men, women, children, animals, sun, sky, buildings, with their
indifference and innocence in her regard, she saw also this dusk
The dusk crept into her, like a snake slithering easily and lazily
into a favorite hole, bringing with it twilight rustlings of such
“smoky transparencies,” such “opaque light,” and such “brightest
shadows” that a thrill ripped through her whole being.
What entered her seemed to be “personal,” to have an individual
identity but of such seductive repulsiveness that the thrill she
felt stung her with a “pain-pleasure” she had never dreamed
possible. She felt her “whole being going quiet, self-aware,
dissolving all the cobwebs.” It was like falling in love with the
open jaws of an alligator. Each splotch of its saliva, each hook of
its teeth, each crevasse in its mouth “was animal, just animal, and
All the while she kept on repeating “yes” silently as if answering a
request for marriage or a demand for surrender. Time seemed to stand
still, “as a bestiary of animal sounds and smells and presences”
gradually flowed into her consciousness and mingled there with the
sounds of children laughing, the tones of workmen nearby calling out
jokes, or snatches of conversation from couples passing along the
pathway. All the sounds that had enlivened the morning when she had
entered Bryant Park now seeped with “a new odor of .old and new
corrupting things, of corruption.” The cool snap of the air and the
sound of the traffic were marinated in a fluid of “grunts, snarls,
hisses, bellowings, helpless bleatings.” The blue of the sky, the
shining faces of the skyscrapers, the green of the grass, all the
colors around her were, according to her memory, suffused in wreaths
of black, browns, reds.
It was the “balance” she had always sought. “I have finally stepped
into the locus of my self,” she reflected. It had always been there,
of course. This was the wonder and the awe of it all. And the core
of that wonder was “finding it to be nowhere, in a room with an
empty chair that did not exist, bare walls that faded into
nothingness,” and she herself “at last seen as a final illusion
dissipated and annihilated into nothingful oneness.”
She stood up to go, overjoyed with her newfound “thrill of balance.”
But she was
whiplashed back to clamorous and unwanted sense by music from a
portable radio on
the arm of a passerby. The snake resting inside her had suddenly
coiled like a whip
cord and was lashing out at the attempted entry of any singular
beauty or grace. She
felt herself falling and whirling, falling and whirling. It was as
if inside her head a little flywheel had broken loose and was
whipping itself into a high-pitched scream as it sped faster and
faster. The ground came up and hit her across the forehead. But the
real suffering was deep inside her. “Never did I know such sadness
and pain,” she said.
“When I walked away with the Man’s help, he said little. His words
burned themselves into my memory: ‘Don’t fear. You have now married
nothingness and are of the Kingdom.’ I understood it all without
understanding anything at all with my intellect or reason. I said,
‘Yes! Yes! All of me belongs now.’
“Nothing was ever the same again, until after I was exorcised.”
It was not so much what Marianne had learned. It was rather what she
had become. “I was not another person. I was the same. Only I was
convinced I had become free by being totally independent and by what
had entered me and taken up residence inside me.”
Just to confirm herself in her conviction, “at one point about
twelve months before the exorcism, I did go to a psychiatrist-really
to find out how far I had traveled from the ordinary idea of being
normal. As he spoke, I realized that all he said, the terminology
and concepts he used, and the theories he relied on were such
claptrap, all this was only halfway house to where I had arrived. He
was treating me as if I were a sick human animal-concentrating on
the animal part of me. But he did not know anything about spirit;
and so I knew then he could not understand the spirit part of me,
could not understand me.
He smothered me in words and methods. Even
tried some amateur hypnotic business. He finished up talking more
about himself than me. “A second psychiatrist told me I needed to
travel, to get away from it all-but this was at the end of a long
session. Again, in this case, I found that nothing the therapist, a
woman this time, nothing she did by way of accepted psychoanalytic
methods (discussions, monologues on a couch, hypnosis, pharmacology,
etc.) ever reached beyond the shallow level of my psychic acts and
I always saw the therapist as if she were stalking
around me fascinated by images and surfaces and terminology; and I
saw my psychic self, this partial, puny mechanism in me, responding
to her. All along, the real me, my very self which doesn’t deal in
images or words at all, was untouched. Its area was never entered by
the therapist. No psychiatrist could fit in through the doorway
because of the load of images and emotions and concepts he carried
about with him. Only the naked I enters and lives there.”
From now on, as far as any outside observer could have assessed,
Marianne’s course was a deterioration. After the “marriage with
nothingness” in Bryant Park, some fixed moorings seemed to have been
She encouraged all forms of sexual intercourse with men and women,
but never found anyone willing “to go the whole hog.” Lesbians
generally stayed at the surface, wishing to generate pleasure and
satisfaction without the necessity of a male. Men with whom she had
anal intercourse suddenly became appalled, and usually impotent,
when she proceeded to act out anal intercourse “to its fullest
extent,” as she said. In her view, they wanted merely a novel
experience but were quite unwilling “to achieve complete
bestiality.” They could only take “a little of the beast.” They
missed “the deliciousness of beauty bestialized and of beast
The few neighborhood people who saw her with any frequency began to
think she was peculiar. She rarely spoke. In shops she would point
to what she wanted to buy or hand it to the shopkeeper with a grunt.
She never looked them in the eye. All had a vague feeling of threat
or danger, some indefinable sense of an unknown fire in her, as long
as she stood near them.
Her parents tried to see her several times, but could speak to her
only through the locked door of her apartment. Her language to them
was littered with obscenities.
Once the neighbors heard dull thuds and crashes for four to five
hours. Finally overcoming the reluctance of East Village apartment
dwellers to interfere with anyone, they called the police. The door
had to be forced. The smell in the room was stomach-curdling. And
they could not understand the freezing temperature, while outside
New York sweltered in the fetid humidity of high summer.
The room was in chaos. On the floor around the bed and table, in the
closets, bathroom, and kitchenette, there were thousands of torn
sheets of paper covered with indecipherable scrawls. Marianne was
lying across the bed, one leg bent beneath her, a little blood
dropping from the corner of her mouth, her eyes open and sightless.
She was breathing regularly.
An ambulance called by someone arrived just when Marianne stirred
and sat up. She took in the scene in one glance.
Quickly her face
changed; she spoke in a normal voice, and assured them that all was
well. She had fallen, she said, from a chair while fixing the
curtains. “Police don’t want trouble,” she comments in recalling the
incident. “And anyway, I radiated too much power and
self-confidence. The only thing I wanted to do was to shout
obscenities in their faces: ‘You missed it all! I’ve just been
fucked by a big-bellied spider.’ But there was no point in saying
that.” They left her alone.
During all this time, Marianne always smelled bad, and she seemed to
have constant cuts and bruises on her shins and the back of her
hands. She never displayed any emotion except when confronted with a
crucifix, or someone making the sign of the cross, the sound of
church bells, the smell of incense from a church door, the sight of
a nun or a priest, or the mention of the name of Jesus (even when
spoken as an oath or used in jest). Her brother, George, who later
went around her familiar haunts, was told by many that at such
moments she seemed to shrink inside herself like somebody under a
rain of blows, and through the gap in her dreadful, constant smile
they would hear growled gurgles of resentment.
Violence to others was rare. On one occasion a schoolgirl with a
collection box for a local church cause, shook the box in her face
asking for a contribution. Marianne screamed through her teeth, fell
into a paroxysm of weeping, shielding her eyes with her hands and
kicking violently at the girl’s shins. On the front of the box, she
still recalls, there was a crucified figure together with the name
On the other hand, she repelled threatening violence rather easily.
In the dusk of one October evening, at the corner of Leroy Street,
she was accosted by a mugger. She remembers clearly that he made his
first move at her from behind. She turned her face deliberately to
him, displaying the full extent of that twisted smile to him: “Yes,
my brother?” He stopped as if he had run up against an invisible
brick wall and stood staring; he seemed unexpectedly and painfully
bruised. Then with a scared glance, he backed away from her and took
to his heels.
About May 1965 things were brought to a head. Marianne’s brother
returned to New York for an extended visit. George was married by
now and the father of two children. Visits back home were not easy
to arrange. Their mother had kept him informed by letter of the rift
between Marianne and her parents. But she had given no idea of the
extent to which Marianne had changed.
Now he heard the full story. He talked with Marianne’s most recent
employers and the few people who came into contact with her-her
landlord, the grocer, and a few others.
He even went to the local police precinct. The news was bad right
through. No one
had a good word to say for his sister. George could not bring
himself to believe the
stories about the little Marianne he had been so close to. Some
spoke disparagingly of her in a way that hurt him deeply. Others
manifested a great fear and apprehension about her. One police
sergeant went very far: “If I didn’t know otherwise, son, I would
say you’re a bloody liar and not the brother of that one. This gal
is bad, bad, bad news. And, besides, there’s something mucky about
her. Doesn’t even look like a fine lad like you.”
George finally decided to go and see his sister for himself. Their
mother sat him down in the kitchen before he went. George recalls
now that she warned him “what ails our baby is something bad,
something real bad. It’s not the body. And it’s not her mind. She’s
gone away with evil. That’s it. Evil.”
George took most of this and much more of the same with a grain of
salt: it was his superstitious and beloved mother speaking about her
little baby. She gave him a crucifix and told him to leave it hidden
in Marianne’s room. She said: “You’ll see, son. She won’t stand for
it. You’ll see.” To humor her, George took the crucifix, put it in
his pocket, promptly forgot about it, and went downtown to see
It was the first time George and Marianne had met in about eight
years. And he was also the first of her immediate family she had
consented to see in about six years. Marianne was visibly delighted
to see him in her one-room apartment. But George, sitting and
listening to her talking slowly in a soft, staccato voice, knew
immediately that something was indeed wrong with his sister, that
some very deep change had taken place in her.
She was still recognizable to him as his sister-the mannerisms he
had known in their earlier years were visibly there. And she still
had the “family face” which he shared with her. But, as George told
it, she seemed “to have seen something which constantly filled her
mind even while talking to me. She was speaking for the benefit of
somebody else’s ear, repeating what somebody else was telling her.”
He had a funny feeling that made him look foolish to himself: she
was not alone, and he knew it. But he could not get the sense of it
all. He was not only puzzled by her behavior, but by its effect on
him: she frightened him. George normally did not frighten easily.
And he never had felt fear with any of his immediate family.
He was slightly reassured when, several times during the
conversation, he saw glimmers of the personality he had known in
their young years when they were inseparable companions. But at
those moments she seemed to be appealing! for help or trying to
overcome some obstacle he could not define and she could not tell
him of. Then the wave of fear would come on him again. And he
remembered his mother’s voice as she spoke to him earlier that day:
“You’ll see. She won’t stand for it.” Partly out of curiosity,
partly to satisfy his mother’s request, he decided to hide the
crucifix in the room as his mother had asked him.
When Marianne went to the bathroom, George placed the small crucifix
under her mattress. No sooner had Marianne returned and sat on the
edge of the bed than she turned white as chalk and fell rigidly to
the floor, where she lay jerking her pelvis back and forth as though
in great pain. In seconds the expression on her face had changed
from dreamy to almost animal; she foamed at the mouth and bared her
teeth in a grimace of pain and anger.
George ran out and called her parents on a pay phone. They arrived
about three-quarters of an hour later, bringing the family doctor
with them. That night they took Marianne back to their home in upper
There followed weeks of nightmare for her parents and George. They
now had full
access to her. She lay in what the doctor loosely described as a
coma. She would,
however, wake up irregularly, take a little nourishment, fall into
growling and spitting, was always incontinent and had to be washed
continually, and finally would lapse back into the strange comatose
Sometimes they would find her wandering around the room in the
middle of the night, stumbling over the furniture in the darkness,
her face frozen into a horrible smile. Drugs and alcohol were ruled
out as causes of her condition. Hospitalization was considered and
rejected. Although she was undernourished, their doctor and a
colleague of his could find nothing organically wrong and no trace
of disease or injury.