I was recently reading about the case of a possessed woman, as recounted by Dr. Richard Gallagher. He is a psychiatrist who wrote the book Demonic Foes describing his many years of working alongside exorcists, assisting them from a Catholic psychological perspective. As I read through the account, I was struck by aspects of the situation which further convinced me of one of the key reasons God allows such a thing as possessions to occur.
There are fewer paths to possession than there are to damnation. What cases of possession serve to demonstrate is that, regardless of the means by which a person enters into the company of demons, whether here on earth through possession, or at death through damnation, this is what that companionship will be like.
A Case in Point
The possessed woman mentioned above was a self-proclaimed “high priestess” in a Satanic cult who had willingly pledged herself to Satan, and to the cult, and had enjoyed quite impressive preternatural powers as a result of her dedication to Satan and her cooperation in the evils that he and the cult desired. Through the agency of evil, as she demonstrated to Dr. Gallagher and the exorcist, she was, for example, able to make animals violent and to “see,” from a distance of many miles, exactly what the exorcist was doing.
Eventually, she ended up seeking out an exorcist because she realized she was also possessed and did not like it. Simply being part of a cult does not bring about possession. It places one in a position where extraordinary diabolical activity is highly likely, but not guaranteed. Despite her displeasure with the possession, this woman was not yet willing to renounce her dedication to Satan. She simply wanted the possession to end.
Her level of commitment to ridding herself of the demon, as well as her attachment to Satan and the cult, was unclear throughout the process of working with the exorcist and the psychiatrist. As a result, or simply as an indicator of the strength of her bond with the demon, the exorcisms proved to be particularly challenging.
After one of the exorcisms, due to the strength of the resistance from the demon, and the preternatural manifestations in the room during the exorcism, the exorcist recounted to the psychiatrist that he felt like he was “at the gates of Hell” during the session with the possessed woman.
The manifestations included cries and groans and animal howlings, such that it felt like they were “in the middle of a dangerous jungle.” The temperature in the room plummeted to freezing and then spiked to a heat that made it feel as if they were standing next to a boiler. These manifestations are not uncommon in the experience of exorcists, though they are often indicative of a more powerful demon being present.
The Desire of the Will
This possessed woman had chosen to serve Satan, did so daily, and enjoyed many “benefits” in return. She was hooked, both in the corruption of her will and by the claw of Satan who was not willing to let her go.
This was partially true for the following reasons:
- Her free dedication of herself to Satan
- Her repeated rituals involving grave evil (such as abortions) freely performed to honor this dedication, and
- Her use of preternatural gifts and assistance from evil spirits
At that point, she was not only hooked on the power and the promises and the “protection” that Satan provided – she was legally bound to Satan and unable to break free without the aid of the Church.
This is one of the important aspects of this case. The demons resisted the exorcist, basing their resistance on the claim that “no one has a right to liberate her” because she freely gave herself to them. It is not uncommon for the demon to make this assertion, though, particularly when the root cause of the possession involved the individual freely inviting the demon inside of them.
However, while the demon is correct that the person freely chose the possession, and that this made the bondage stronger, Christ and His Church still have the right and authority to liberate her. This claim by the demons, though, reflects one of the torments with which demons afflict individuals: despair, as a result of the threat that God cannot save them since they freely chose this miserable state.
For her to break free, she needed to fully renounce Satan and all his empty promises, and dedicate herself to Jesus Christ, submitting to the liberating yoke of His Gospel and grace. When we renew our Baptismal promises, which is recommended by exorcists and traditionally done on the anniversary of our Baptism, we use this language: “I renounce Satan…and all his works…and all his empty show.”
She, however, did not want to do this, so the exorcism failed. She wanted the company of the demons, the power from Satan, and the reward of serving him in Hell as his “queen,” as she was regarded in her cult.
Through the Gates of Hell
For those in a state of sin who have refused or have broken from the easy yoke of the Gospel, they are in a state of spiritual bondage to Satan at the moment of death. As a result of this, they are led captive into perdition and eternal suffering in Hell. This is how we are damned: by leaving the temporary realm of this mortal life without the fortification of sanctifying grace. What is seen in an exorcism, such as the above, is a glimpse of what Satan’s kingdom will be like in its fullness: domination, despair, torture of the senses, and imprisonment to evil desires.
In my research, I have begun to realize that there are surprising permissions which God has granted to the diabolical, once the demons are welcomed into the life of an individual. These permissions, these actions, are warnings to us all, for, essentially, they are what await us in Hell, should we end up there.
In cases of possession, many experience being beaten by invisible entities, in such a way that real bruises are left on their bodies. They are also scratched and strangled. Further, many report being sexually assaulted at night by these same invisible entities. An additional experience, as reported by Dr. Gallagher, is that of an internal burning sensation caused by the demon who is tormenting them. This, of course, is in addition to a wide variety of other pains and apparent diseases which the demons cause in the person’s body.
The Satanist mentioned above spoke to the psychiatrist of experiencing punishments from Satan many times prior to her visits to the exorcists to end the possession. She remarked that it was impossible for her to renounce Satan, stating, “Renounce Satan! Are you kidding me? How can I do that? Who knows what’ll happen to me? This isn’t someone you want against you. Trust me, I know.”
Her personal experience of the “burning sensation” was clearly understood by her to be caused by Satan, whom she otherwise served willingly. This was just one aspect of the punishments he inflicted on her even while “faithfully” serving him for years. She expected, after her death, to be given a high place in his Kingdom in Hell, as she was promised, even though she expected that to also entail the experience of his punishments.
“As We Are, So You Will Be”
While most Catholics will not experience these attacks from the diabolical, a knowledge of the abilities and motivations of demons is critical nonetheless. Not only in the experience of the possessed, but also in the experience of the great Saints, we see the manifestation of the true malice of the diabolic.
When confronted with a willing victim (as in possession) or a staunch opponent (as with the great Saints), demons are inclined to reveal their true identities, remove their masks, and “take the gloves off.” The assaults that they wield reveal both their hatred for humanity and their total disgust for the sacred. When God permits it, faced with a willing victim or a Saint, demons will make it known exactly what they long to do to man when they are allowed to get their hands on him.
Thus, the existence of extraordinary diabolical activity serves to warn everyone, even those who never personally experience it, of one key spiritual truth: hell is truly hell. The same demons who, on earth, depend on God’s permission, will have a free hand there to administer every form of torment they have conceived, with no one present to liberate those resident souls from their grasp.
Therefore, Pray and Fight!
Today, though, we have no cause for fear! We have all the weapons and means of grace to fortify our souls and persevere in grace to the end…and be saved.
Though repentance for sin out of a fear of hell is “imperfect contrition,” it is, nonetheless, sufficient to obtain God’s pardon in Confession! The desire to avoid hell is a great motivator for sanctity.
Let us all heed the teachings of exorcists and the stories of those who suffer under diabolical affliction. They offer much to instruct us as we navigate this world which currently shudders under a renewed onslaught of the powers of darkness.
We must be like St. Teresa of Avila who, in her famous prayer, reminds us, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.” It was this same Saint who, in the midst of frequent attacks from demons, took great consolation both in the power of holy water to repel them and the obvious limitations that Our Lord set upon their activity. It was also she who, upon realizing that the devil had appeared above her bed one night, casually dismissed him saying, “Oh, it’s just you.”
We are sons of Light and temples of the Holy Spirit. We must remain that way, growing in grace and strength in the face of spiritual opposition. In time, if we are faithful, not only will we conquer the agents of darkness, we will one day, in glory, participate in their condemnation.
Links from this post earn affiliate income for OnePeterFive.
Charles D. Fraune was the founding Theology teacher of Christ the King Catholic High School in Huntersville, NC and was a Theology teacher there for ten years. He now works full-time with his Slaying Dragons Apostolate, writing and researching on topics related to spiritual warfare. He has a Master of Arts in Theology from the Christendom College Graduate School, as well as an Advanced Apostolic Catechetical Diploma. He is the author of Come Away By Yourselves, a guide to prayer for busy Catholics, Swords and Shadows: Navigating Youth Amidst the Wiles of Satan, and Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know (also in Spanish). He lives in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC with his wife and three young children.