An Article on Exorcism
Father Martin Articles
Father Martin Articles
The dark shadows of skyscrapers are falling across New York as an elderly white-haired priest leaves the reassuring comfort of his home and heads through the streets towards the apartment block where the others are waiting. He walks quite slowly, carrying a small black case filled with the essential paraphernalia of the ritual he is about to perform. The room has been prepared to his precise instructions: cleaned, sprinkled with holy water, and stripped of movable objects. Of those now gathered inside, only the priest - his face drawn and solemn - has any idea what to expect. Or rather, what to expect. After 30 years as an exorcist, Father Malachi Martin has learnt to recognize the natures of the demons he pursues. They may be ingenious or stupid, coarse or charming, brazen or craven. Hell, it seems, is no place for stereotypes. "I need to know who they are," the Irish-born priest says softly. "I need their names - and their stories." He speaks of the demons in a tone of polite disgust, as a country clergyman might about village boys who have thrown a brick through his stained glass windows. "They are a pestilence," says Father Martin. "They have to be countered and brought under control. People are possessed in the way that dogs are infested." This is New York in the hot summer of 1996. The place is pumping. Rollerbladers in Spandex suits skim through the pathways of Central Park, the hip cafes of Soho and Chelsea are packed with the downtown arts crowd. Can scaly-winged demons really be at large in the city? "Satanism is all around us," says Father Martin gently. "We deny it at our peril. I could point out places only minutes from here where black masses are being celebrated. I know of cases of human sacrifice - the sacrifice of babies. I know the people who are doing these things."
In the apartment, the atmosphere is close and sickly. Sometimes, says Father Martin, the demons can make the air freeze or turn it hot and fetid. No one here knows how long this will take. An exorcism can last for hours, or even days. The Bible says: "Only by prayer and fasting shall these devils be cast out." Until it is over, the priest and his helpers must go without food or sleep. Although Father Martin is a slender man of 75, and in delicate health, he performs at least one of these ceremonies a month. "I have never been busier," sighs the man who visited the cell of David Berkowitz - the serial killer known as Son of Sam - to hear him confess to being a Satanist. The Catholic Church's service of exorcism dates back hundreds of years to a time when demonic possession was held responsible for many conditions now easily explained by psychiatry. Although used less frequently or forcibly than in medieval times, the procedure has remained essentially the same. The possessed man or woman - who must have consented to the exorcism - is made to kneel in the middle of the room. Attending the priest are at least six laymen, usually selected more for their physical prowess than for their theological knowledge. "Exorcism can be extremely violent," says Father Martin. "It is often disturbing, and always exhausting. I have seen objects hurled around rooms by the powers of evil. I have smelt the breath of Satan and heard the demons' voices, - cold, scratchy, dead voices carrying messages of hatred. I've watched men writhing, screaming, vomiting, defecating, as we fought for their souls."
Like a mongoose playing a cobra, the priest will attempt to work the demon into a position first of disadvantage, then of vulnerability. He begins by demanding, with the authority of prayer, to know its name. The demons, says Father Martin, are not always willing to play this game. They lie silent, sullen and hidden. When this happens, the exorcist must provoke them into breaking cover. "You have to tease them out," he says. "The demon does not physically inhabit the body; it possesses the person's will. We have to compel the thing to reveal itself and its purpose. It can be slow and difficult, with the demon taunting, scorning, abusing you - speaking through the mouth of the possessed, but not in his or her Voice. In the end, though, it does come out - and when that happens you experience the sensation we call 'presence'. At that moment you know you are in the company of the purest evil. I have felt the claws of invisible animals tearing at my face. I have been knocked off my feet, blinded and winded. But it is then, when you've sensed the 'presence', that the real attack on the demon can begin." The theory of exorcism holds that once the demon has been drawn out of the body it can be vanquished by the power of prayer. "The whole nature of the thing changes," says Father Martin. "The demon knows it's losing. Instead of screaming abuse, it begins to plead for mercy. It says it's sorry, it begs to be spared. It promises to go home. But the Bible says that only on the last day can the followers of Satan return to Hell. Where they go, I do not know. We do not destroy them, we drive them out. Sometime I encounter the same ones again. As the demon disappears, the person it has possessed is 'cleared', and a wondrous wave of peace comes over them." Malachi Martin was born in Kerry, in the west of Ireland, one of nine children of a gynecologist. Like his three brothers, he had a vocation for the priesthood, and at 18 joined the Jesuits. Ambitious, outgoing and scholarly, he won a place as a professor of ancient scriptures at the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In 1958 Father Martin traveled to Cairo with a Jesuit mission to study a newly-discovered collection of Hebrew writings from the time of Abraham. The trip had profound consequences. "I was asked to help with the exorcism of an Egyptian youth who had got involved in Satanism to the extent of participating in the sacrifice of his own sisters. What I saw convinced me forever of the power of evil - and of the need to fight it." Six years later he left the Jesuits and moved to the States, aiming to follow the gospels and pursue a private writing career. "I had the Pope's blessing," he says. "He told me: 'America is the biggest battleground. There is a war of the spirit going on'." In New York, Father Martin's most immediate battle was to keep himself clothed and fed. He drove a taxi and sold doughnuts. Later came book contracts and the help of a well-to-do New York family who provided him with a large apartment near Park Avenue. Anxious to involve himself more closely in church work, he began to look once more at exorcism. "The possessed have almost invariably been involved in Satanism," he says. "They are not innocents selected at random by passing demons. Most have made a deal with the Devil. Only later do they become aware of the Devil's asking price."
Satanism, he says, is far more widespread than is usually imagined. "The cruelty of these practices puts them beyond the civilized pale. I am speaking of human sacrifice, cannibalism and the sexual abuse of children. Not in far away countries long ago, but right here now in New York." The symptoms of possession, Father Martin says, are often confused with mental illness. "Science spent a lot of time trying to prove that these people were, so to speak, loonies," he says. "Now most of my cases are referred to me by psychiatrists." Victims tend to undergo a startling change of personality. They may become unpredictable, violent and treacherous. They humiliate their families, plot against their friends, lie to their colleagues. "They have become alien entities. They have surrendered their wills. The most extreme state is 'perfect possession', when the demon has taken complete control. The perfectly possessed person is totally lost. There is nothing I can do," says Father Martin.
"The peculiar thing is that these people are usually highly sophisticated, and the last thing you would suspect is that they were in league with the Devil. But there is always something about them. It may be a look in their eyes, a tone of voice, a sense of coldness, of contempt. Some- thing inhuman. When you encounter it, you know you have met the true enemy." Father Martin cites David Berkowitz, the 1970s New York serial killer, as a classic case of perfect possession. "I met him in his cell, at his request," says Father Martin. "He confessed that he had been, for many years, a member of a Satanic coven. This was the source of his evil." The encounter with Berkowitz was light relief compared to the time when he believed he came face to face with Satan himself. "I was standing on a stool in my apartment, reaching for a book and I saw him. He was crouched on the floor looking at me. His body was like a muscular pit bull terrier, but the face was recognizably human. It was the Devil's face. I recognized the eyes They were eyes of the coldest, deadliest hatred. When the Devil sprang at me, I fell from my stool and broke my shoulder, but I felt fortunate. I had seen Satan and I had lived." Father Martin charges nothing for his services. He acts only with permission from his bishop, when all medical options have been exhausted. After two heart attacks he wonders how long he can go on. "Every exorcism takes something out of you that cannot be put back," he says. "The demon goes, but it carries a part of you away with it. A little of the exorcist dies each time. It's a permanent mental fight against a powerful, dangerous enemy."
Resource: Fr. Martin's Web Site in Memorium