The Process of Possession

We will never know in detail how evil spirits select a special target for possession or the details of how they set about their grim task in the earliest stages. “When did you start working on Jamsie?” Father Mark asked Ponto’s superior. “He was chosen before he was born” was the chilling reply.

We can, nevertheless, trace the general lines along which possession proceeds, and sketch as well the broad stages of the development and success of possession in a victim.

From all five cases in this book, and from countless other cases, it is fair to say that usually before either the target of possession or those near him are aware of it, the actual process of possession has begun. In the cases reported here, the earliest lines of “invitation” can be followed back into childhood, except in the two priests, Yves and David. We find the first signs of diabolic attack only in their adult lives.

The beginnings of possession are generally traced only after the fact, in the memory of the one person-the possessed-who can tell us about those beginnings. Sometimes, during an actual exorcism, the exorcist can elicit from the possessing spirit some bare details about how entry of Evil Spirit was effected and possession became a fact. Father Mark, in particular among the exorcists in this book, believed strongly in pushing for such information.


Perhaps as a consequence of that, Mark impresses one as having an extremely quick “feel” for the practicalities of dealing with evil spirits and exorcisms. It was clear that he understood Jamsie’s predicament in considerable detail on the basis of a single long interview with Jamsie nearly two years before he was actually called upon to perform the exorcism in that case. Still, Father Conor, who taught Father Peter so well during his months in Rome, remains the exorcist of my acquaintance who seemed to have the broadest understanding of the stages and perils of the actual processes of possession and of Exorcism. Conor’s general outlines of the process of possession ran as follows.

First, the actual entry point, the point at which Evil Spirit enters an individual and a decision, however tenuous, is made by the victim to allow that entry.

Then, a stage of erroneous judgments by the possessed in vital matters, as a direct result of the allowed presence of the possessing spirit and apparently in preparation for the next stage.

Third, the voluntary yielding of control by the possessed person to a force or presence he clearly feels is alien to himself and as a result of which the possessed loses control of his will, and so of his decisions and his actions.

Once the third stage is secure, extended control proceeds and may potentially reach the point of completion-perfect possession.

In any individual case, these four stages will dovetail and overlap differently. And, while the process may be swift, more often it seems to take years to accomplish. “We have the eternity of the Lord of Knowledge,” Tortoise told Hearty arrogantly.

At every new step, and during every moment of possession, the consent of the victim is necessary, or possession cannot be successful. The consent may be verbal, but always involves choice of action. Once initial consent has been given, its withdrawal becomes more and more difficult as time goes on. In Jamsie’s case, he was subjected to intense physical pain when he thought of ejecting Ponto. When Carl hesitated, he was threatened with vivid images of his own extinction. But whatever the pain or threat, it is wielded to retain the consent of the possessed for the continuing presence and power of the preternatural spirit.

Rather than being signs of the great power of preternatural spirits, these threats are evidence of their limitations, for they cannot attack and seize control of the will directly. They can only work through the senses (Jamsie’s pain) or the imagination (Carl’s fear was produced through the attack on his imagination), in order to assure the continuance of that most basic element of all human possession: the consent of the victim by his own will.

The first stage, the actual entry of Evil Spirit and the beginning of its personal influence within a person, appears always to be made by means of the spirit’s knowledge of a trait of character or of some special interest or of some avocation of the victim.

It was Marianne’s stubbornness of character that seemed to lay her open to invitation. It was Richard/Rita’s unusual appreciation of femininity, Jamsie’s loneliness, Carl’s psychic gifts, David’s intellectu-alism, Yves’ esthetic instincts, personal charisma, and priestly avocation. By knowledge of these special traits and interests-none of them either good or bad in and of itself-and by clever appeal in special relation to these traits and interests, entry was made in every case.

All the exorcees here mentioned admit in retrospect that they knew-whether they acknowledged it vaguely (as, say, Marianne) or explicitly (as Carl did)-that the source of the offered help was neither a human being nor any religious source. The source was always vague, always reassuring. It always alienated them from their surroundings and from those nearest to them. The general feeling was that “great things could happen” to them (Yves), or “new developments could take place” in them (Richard/Rita),vor that “special success” would be theirs (David) if they were to “listen” (Jamsie) or to “think along these lines” (Marianne) or “wait for more” (Carl).


At this stage, there never appeared to be an overt suggestion against religion or religious faith, or against Jesus. At some point during this earliest stage there arrives a delicate moment when each person chooses to consider the particular offer made to him or her. The exorcees in this report agree individually that they made such a choice, and that they had a sense of violating their consciences when they made it, though at the time in some cases it seemed a fairly minor violation.

It also happens that places, objects, and even animals are used to arouse the attention and interest of the victim-in this book, Jamsie is a notable example; and, later in the process, Carl in another way, and Richard/Rita in still another way. But even when diabolic attack starts with some action or objects, places or animals, the aim is ultimately human beings: to impress them, frighten them, subdue them, fascinate them, to act upon their senses and imagination in order finally to elicit their consent.

Once the initial consent is given, there follows a period in which the victim makes a series of practical personal judgments that profoundly alter him and prepare him for the next critical stage, when he will yield control. This is the stage when erroneous judgments of a highly personal nature are made, generally beginning once again in the areas where the individual places the greatest value and enjoys the greatest sense of personal expertise and freedom. Through this process, the original strength, beauty, and idealism of the individual are slowly, piece by piece, turned upside down.

Thus Jonathan’s original idea of a new priestly ministry to meet the new needs of the 19605 led him to adapt one after another of the traditional rites and teachings of his Church, until finally he had changed the supernatural meaning of sacrament to a social celebration.

Richard/Rita’s initial erroneous judgment concerned his androgyny -he took it as real; and from that flowed a series of judgments about the sexual act, about woman, about marriage, and about the purpose of life that turned the meaning of each of these things into an Alice-in-Wonderland nightmare and led Richard/Rita to defile the very femininity he had so appreciated.

Marianne’s judgments were primarily of an intellectual kind, but all of them had a concrete application. She made up her mind that freedom of thought meant you freed yourself of all moral obligations to God and to authority, and that you avoided those who would still inculcate those obligations. And, in quick succession: that others were fools; that freedom meant immunity to advice from those who disagreed; that immunity to advice meant finding herself; that finding herself meant being isolated; that being isolated meant retiring within herself; that retiring within herself meant total absence of initiative and of merely being oneself; that such a condition of “merely being” was the same as “not being at all”-just two facets of the same thing; that from this condition she would be open to an unheard-of secret which “the Man” would reveal; and so on.

We can trace a similar progress in David’s judgments based on his anthropological studies and the methodology of his science. He was finally in a condition in which he was applying the norms of scientific method to the data of his religious faith.

Carl, in this respect, was the most disastrous and the most Lucifer-like. Each of his brilliant gifts became an avenue of a deception he refused to acknowledge. And, even to the end, he labored under the illusion that he, Carl, was about to “rediscover” the “true version of Christianity.”

If the victim, by now partially possessed, does not withdraw consent and succeed in freeing himself, with help or by dint of his own strength of will and resistance, he will arrive at one sure, critical moment. He will be presented with an increasing and finally unremitting pressure to allow an “inner control” by an alien force. This control will affect thoughts, emotions, acts of will, intentions, likes and dislikes.

Each of our exorcees had this experience. Each felt an eerie “pressure” to allow “someone else” to give them directives; and that “someone else” was “inside” them in some way or other. The pressure was not physical, just as the presence inside them was not physical. There were physical results when they tried to resist that pressure, however.

Once they yielded, they started to receive “instructions”-ready-made judgments and attitudes arose in them, even words on their lips and actions in their limbs. Jamsie seems never to have passed as far as this point. He apparently refused to accept control in refusing Ponto’s permanent presence within him.

In David the yielding was subtle, but he nevertheless did yield. There was in him some deep and covert lying to himself about his consent to be controlled. Yet, precisely because of this subtlety, which in turn indicates a wavering in his consent to be controlled, possession of him never progressed very far.

Yves yielded to the intensest pressure of “remote control,” even as he looked for relief from that pressure by driving out to visit with friends. Richard/Rita seemed to yield as a young boy when he spent his first night alone in the wilderness of a campsite. Marianne experienced the entry of control almost physically as she sat on a park bench opposite “the Man.”


Carl’s first moment of yielding may even be traced as far back as the moment when, as a teenager, he “agreed” to “wait”-with all its implications of future acceptance; but the intensest pressure on him came as he gazed at a sunset through his office window. Tortoise had prepared his victim well, for even as Carl thought of resisting, he knew he no longer had the means at his command; and he consented fully and with an unusual awareness.

For all the blandishments of success and happiness, for all the visions of special freedoms that may have led to this point, once control is yielded, virtually all personal freedom ceases from that point on. This is the most profound personal choice that can be made. Significantly, the option to relinquish all freedom of choice rests upon that very freedom guaranteed by God as long as the person chooses to be free. The choice can only be made by the person; it can never be made for him. If the fundamental option is made to relinquish that freedom of will, then possession has been accomplished in its most essential and conclusive step. The simultaneous decision is to reject God and Jesus and the humanness Jesus made possible. Divine light is no longer theirs. There is a vacuum of any such deep knowledge as contributes to that humanness.


All luminosity for the soul is progressively snuffed out. Into that vacuum Evil Spirit pours its own light and knowledge.

When possession is achieved, expansion of diabolic control is dramatic and rapid. The light and knowledge of Evil Spirit has its own effects, striking, immediate, and self-protective. It puts the possessed on their guard against circumstances, people, places, and objects closely associated with God and Jesus. It will lead the possessed to avoid situations that constitute a threat to the possessing power of Evil Spirit. Ponto’s injunction to Jamsie to keep away from women and alcoholic drink, and his influence on Jamsie’s behavior that made it almost impossible for Jamsie to develop any normal human relationship with another person, not only furthered Jamsie’s loneliness and increased his need for Ponto’s companionship; it also kept him from any possible human love-because love is a positive good necessary to our humanness.

Some of the effects of this special diabolic light may help the possessed in their work. Ponto improved Jamsie’s broadcasting style; Yves’ charisma was heightened by Mister Natch; Carl’s reputation in parapsychology soared with the help of Tortoise. Often the possessed are forewarned of physical threats of an ordinary kind (Marianne’s repulsion of the mugger was the result of such protection); they are enlightened about opportunities to pursue their individual satisfaction or prosperity, are given additional weight, fresh information, mental energy, and added power with people.

But the most striking effect of the light and knowledge of Evil Spirit is the extraordinary and dramatic change it effects in the judgments, principles, and outlook of the possessed, together with an ever-growing sense of loss of self-control, even to the point of a loss of awareness of one’s actions.

“I always knew, from that point on,” Carl recounts today, “that I had consented to a rigid control, and that I would think and say and do things without being able to say why and without any prior reason or motivation.”

And while Richard/Rita does recollect the scene with the dying girl in the snow, at the same time he remembers that he was totally beside himself. He was not in any common way aware of what he was doing. The most shocking incidents in this book, in fact, are in Richard/Rita’s case, and they serve as tragic and dramatic counterpoint to the thing that Richard/Rita sought most earnestly from his consent to possession: to have tenderest love and to understand the meaning of maleness and femaleness, of masculinity and femininity.

Even though Richard/Rita’s quest was genuine and sincere, for Richard/Rita femininity became odious. It became a baleful power to be conquered, even by necrophilia. His own body became a means of total defilement at the Black Mass.
Apparently that “control” changed all the judgments, principles, and outlook of Marianne. All the symbols of good and beauty became signs for panic and flight: the cross on the General Building, the Mass, sexuality, her own body, her parents. She chose to be wholly free and self-sufficient, but she ended a total slave-except for that pocket of resistance that allowed her to make use of help when it came through Peter.

For Yves the sacraments and his own priesthood came to mean merely material values with no referrent to God or Jesus or the supernatural. But apparently he, too, preserved a pocket of resistance on which he could rely when his friends initiated Exorcism.

If extended control continues unabated, if total consent is achieved, then total (or perfect) possession is achieved. Father Mark is certain he has met more than one such case-but only by chance, for no exorcism would be requested for such a person; and even if attempted, without at least the partial will of the possessed it probably could not succeed.

Though Mark had never met Jay Beedem, Mark was sure that Jay Beedem had played a part in such an odd, if small, way in Jamsie’s troubles. Mark pursued his suspicion in the exorcism. But Multus, Ponto’s “superior,” would tell Mark absolutely nothing. “No,” Multus responded peremptorily. “That Person has no authority over Jay Beedem. He is ours.”

In Richard/Rita’s case there must also be a question as to whether the psychiatrist, Dr. Hammond, was well on his way toward perfect possession. “He is ours! We needn’t fight for him!” screamed Girl-Fixer. “You can’t get him back. He is ours.”

In every case of possession that comes to the point of Exorcism, the subject has reached a crucial crossroads. Some small corner of reservation remains, some glimmer or recollection of the light of Jesus still shines. Some iota of control is withheld by the possessed against the ever-increasing encroachment of all his being by that first fallen creature of God. Some area of revolt arises against the control originally accepted. The possessed become revolters; and insofar as they do revolt, they are attacked with increasing ferocity by the invading spirit, who, in its turn, protests any attempt to dislodge it from its “home.”

Possessed people who have been successfully exorcised often recount how, at some point, they began to make an effort to control their thoughts, their wills, their memories.

It is that strange and terrible struggle between the rebelling victim and the evil spirit protesting the rebellion that, in a strange way, begins to produce the repulsive, disquieting, and frightening events so often associated with the possessed and which lead their families or friends to seek help on their behalf.

Many exorcists think that the majority of the partially possessed who rebel in this way never get priestly help. They are taken to doctors and psychiatrists, who never succeed in helping them. Through treatment with drugs, a temporary “remission”-a calming of the violence-may be achieved for a while, usually at the cost of some mental acuteness and physical energy. The subjects, these exorcists feel, may often spend time in mental institutions, and there they will become progressively worse as their awful battle goes on.

When the rebellion of the possessed person does lead to Exorcism, the bitter struggle is brought out into the open. The exorcist literally offers himself as hostage. He stands in for the possessed and fights for him the battle he cannot fight for himself-beyond his bizarre call for help.

The three principals, exorcist, exorcee, arid invading spirit, are placed in jeopardy. The possessed must withstand excruciating and exhausting wracking of his body, mind, and emotions; and what small will remains free must not waver.
The exorcist will suffer all the pains and unimaginable penalties we have already described, and that each exorcist in this book graphically brings home to us.

The possessing spirit’s anguish can be traced in the thumping, screeching, discordant wail that so often holds the exorcist’s mind in thrall, as spirit after spirit is forced painfully to leave the human “home.” This must truly be an echo of the eternal agony once and for all time experienced by Lucifer: the irremediable pain of sorrow undergone by that brightest of all created intelligences howling again in the voice of Smiler, Mister Natch, Ponto, Multus: “Where shall we go? Where shall we hide from God avenging?”


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