Mod­ern-day ex­or­cism

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Front Page - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY RUS­SELL SHAKE­SPEARE

“Come out. Come out. COME OUT, ”

com­mands a 58-year-old man with a shock of sil­ver hair, black jeans and a Queens­land tan. With a grim, un­wa­ver­ing stare, he’s at­tempt­ing to ban­ish demons from the pale young woman be­side him on a couch, who says she’s been plagued by spirits for the past seven years.

Five of us are sit­ting in a cir­cle in a lounge room in a bat­tler Gold Coast sub­urb on a dark evening in mid-July. The wooden shut­ters on the win­dows are closed. Mugs of tea and in­stant cof­fee, dough­nuts and a pile of ki­wifruit are on the ta­ble in front of us. All eyes are on the young woman.

“No, no, no,” she whim­pers, “we don’t want to.” Head bowed, with one hand clasp­ing her breast, she trem­bles and raises her other arm over her face in a de­fen­sive ges­ture.

“Come out,” the ex­or­cist re­peats more force­fully. “Come out or I’ll burn you.” The ver­bal wran­gling con­tin­ues, her words re­sist­ing and his in­creas­ingly stern. “Come out in the name of Je­sus.” The young woman’s right hand curls and be­comes rigid. His voice rises.

“Let go of her hand. Let go!”

Af­ter a few min­utes, the young woman raises her hand to her mouth. Fin­gers straight, she twists her lips open repet­i­tively in scis­sor mo­tions. Mo­ments later, she leans her head back and blows out an au­di­ble breath. A spirit, we’re told, has emerged.

Charis­matic and con­fi­dent, ex­or­cist Peter Whif­fin has the air of an age­ing rock star. A for­mer plumber, in­ven­tor, es­tate agent and en­trepreneur, he’s been per­form­ing ex­or­cisms for about 25 years. Nowa­days, he says, de­mand is higher than ever and he does one nearly ev­ery day (some, as for a woman in Ja­pan who growls like an an­i­mal, are per­formed via Skype).

The woman be­ing ex­or­cised this evening, Peter says, is by far the most dif­fi­cult case he has ever worked on. “Some­times,” he says, “she bites me.”

Be­fore this evening’s rit­ual be­gan, a prayer had been said to pro­tect ev­ery­one in the room, in case a malev­o­lent spirit was to emerge from the young woman – and find a new home in one of us.

Men­tion ex­or­cism and many peo­ple im­me­di­ately think of Hol­ly­wood

movies: fright­en­ing de­pic­tions of the pos­sessed, eyes rolling back, heads spin­ning, bod­ies lev­i­tat­ing and dis­em­bod­ied voices mak­ing threats.

While real-life ver­sions may not be so dra­matic, they’re prac­tised across the coun­try by priests, min­is­ters, heal­ers and psychics. Hardly the fringe rit­ual you might ex­pect.

In­deed, if you’re Catholic, chances are you’ve al­ready un­der­gone a sim­ple or mi­nor ex­or­cism dur­ing Bap­tism. For more com­plex ones, each dio­cese across the coun­try should have its own ex­or­cist. De­tailed in­struc­tions on per­form­ing the sacra­men­tal rite – which has been en­dorsed by Pope Fran­cis – can be found in the Vatican’s of­fi­cial 84-page book Of Ex­or­cisms and Cer­tain Sup­pli­ca­tions.

Closer to home, the Arch­bishop of Ho­bart, Ju­lian Por­te­ous, who per­formed ex­or­cisms as Aux­il­iary Bishop of Syd­ney, wrote a book for priests, Man­ual of Mi­nor Ex­or­cisms.

Arch­bishop Por­te­ous de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this fea­ture, but in a talk at the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney in 2012, said the church’s teach­ing was “that demons are real, ex­is­tent be­ings” rather than per­son­i­fi­ca­tions or mytho­log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tions of evil. Peo­ple who are pos­sessed, he says, en­dure great suf­fer­ing and may feel they are trapped in “a liv­ing hell”.

Strict pri­vacy and pro­to­cols sur­round ex­or­cisms in Catholi­cism. The iden­ti­ties of priests who carry them out is con­fi­den­tial; they’re per­formed qui­etly with min­i­mal at­ten­dees and there’s a re­luc­tance to dis­cuss the is­sue pub­licly ( The Weekly ap­proached the Catholic Church re­quest­ing in­ter­views for this fea­ture, but to no avail).

Mark Franklin, a spokesman for the Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Ho­bart, did pre­pare a writ­ten state­ment for The Weekly, ex­plain­ing that ex­or­cisms are a type of bless­ing in which the church “asks pub­licly and au­thor­i­ta­tively in the name of Je­sus Christ that a per­son or ob­ject be pro­tected against the power of the Evil One and with­drawn from his do­min­ion”.

With per­mis­sion from a bishop, only priests are per­mit­ted to per­form the ma­jor form of ex­or­cism in the Catholic Church, “di­rected at the ex­pul­sion of demons ... through the spir­i­tual au­thor­ity [of] Je­sus”.

“In this sit­u­a­tion, the priest pro­ceeds with pru­dence, strictly ob­serv­ing the rules es­tab­lished by the Church,” the state­ment says. “Ex­or­cism is per­formed in an at­mos­phere of prayer and in dis­creet man­ner with­out pub­lic­ity.”

The rea­son for this, ac­cord­ing to the United States Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, is con­cern that in­di­vid­u­als could “get caught up in a sen­sa­tion­al­ist men­tal­ity and thus cre­ate a kind of sideshow af­fair”. Sophia Hausler, a mother-of-one whose home we’ve come to on the Gold Coast, says that she was tormented and mo­lested by a de­mon as a child grow­ing up in a Mor­mon house­hold.

“Later, when I was born again [as a Chris­tian], I went to a de­liv­er­ance ser­vice, but I don’t think they knew what they were do­ing,” she says.

To find out if the spirits are there, you have to pick a fight.

“By the time I found out what it was, the spirit had grown very strong.”

Sophia says she had a tu­mul­tuous child­hood and left home at 16. She fell in with the wrong crowd, had an abor­tion and en­tered a dark phase. “It was like I was sucked into some kind of vor­tex,” she says. “I felt so unloved, I did what­ever it took to get peo­ple to love me.”

Hav­ing a son, how­ever, gave her pur­pose, she says, and the im­pe­tus to get her life to­gether.

About 18 months ago, Sophia had some fe­male friends over and in­vited Peter Whif­fin to her home for Bible study, which de­vel­oped into an ex­or­cism.

“They got hit by spirits com­ing out,” says Peter. “I texted Sophia the next day and asked what she thought about what hap­pened. She said,

‘I’m gob­s­macked’.”

Some­times, Peter uses a sho­far (ram’s horn), cru­ci­fix, Bible, oil and holy wa­ter in ex­or­cisms. Most of the time, how­ever, he says he re­lies solely on the power of his prayers.

He reck­ons Sophia was likely plagued by a male sex­ual predator de­mon called an in­cubus (the fe­male coun­ter­part is called a suc­cubus). “That’s a strong strug­gle,” he says, “be­cause that spirit be­lieves it’s the hus­band or wife of the per­son ...

A lot of ladies are sex­u­ally at­tacked. They feel like they’ve been raped.”

Look­ing back, Sophia is con­vinced her de­mon was sab­o­tag­ing her re­la­tion­ship prospects in the phys­i­cal world. “I had chances with re­ally nice guys,” she says, “and then some­thing would al­ways hap­pen to end it.”

The med­i­cal pro­fes­sion has ex­pressed con­cern about men­tal health con­di­tions be­ing con­fused with de­monic pos­ses­sion. Pro­fes­sor Mal­colm Hop­wood, Pres­i­dent of the Royal Aus­tralian and New Zealand Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists, ac­knowl­edges spir­i­tu­al­ity is an im­por­tant source of sup­port for peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems. “How­ever, the belief men­tal ill­ness may be caused by pos­ses­sion of spirits or demons is some­thing that has been with us for cen­turies and has been clearly dis­proved,” he says.

Us­ing ex­or­cisms as a treat­ment would be “wrong, in­ap­pro­pri­ate and po­ten­tially very dan­ger­ous”, he adds, cit­ing a 1993 case in which a Vic­to­rian woman with a his­tory of schizophre­nia died dur­ing an ex­or­cism.

The Catholic Church con­curs on this, with the Vatican’s up­dated ex­or­cism book in­clud­ing a warn­ing not to con­fuse men­tal ill­ness with de­monic pos­ses­sion.

Psychological ill­ness “can only be prop­erly ad­dressed through ad­e­quate psychological care”, says the Arch­dio­cese of Ho­bart’s state­ment, adding that con­sid­er­able time is spent on as­sess­ing the na­ture of an af­flic­tion be­fore an ex­or­cism.

Peter Whif­fin, a non­de­nom­i­na­tional Chris­tian whose views on ex­or­cism and be­liefs di­verge sig­nif­i­cantly from those of the Catholic Church, be­lieves the an­swer is less clear-cut. He sug­gests that demons can cause ill­ness or the two may co-ex­ist.

Among the symp­toms of pos­ses­sion which Peter cites are fan­tasies, para­noia and com­pul­sions such as food ad­dic­tions.

“I just test the spir­i­tual side,” he says. “You don’t know un­til you look for them. To find out if the spirits are there, you have to pick a fight. You’ve got to shake it out of them. It’s a bit like hit­ting a wasp’s nest.”

Demons are “like par­a­sites”, he says. “They’re liv­ing be­ings – they plan, they think and can make peo­ple kill them­selves. Peo­ple think it’s their thoughts [talk­ing to them] but it’s not.”

Even if an ex­or­cism is suc­cess­ful, Peter warns, that doesn’t mean a per­son will nec­es­sar­ily en­joy any­thing be­yond a tem­po­rary respite, nor gain pro­tec­tion from a worse re­cur­rence.

Con­cerns about yoga, reiki, Ouija boards, tarot cards, Tai Chi, voodoo, and witchcraft ap­pear to be com­mon among ex­or­cists. Peter is among those whose con­cern ex­tends to J.K. Rowl­ing’s Harry Pot­ter books and Stephe­nie Meyer’s Twi­light se­ries.

View­ing this kind of en­ter­tain­ment “awak­ens peo­ple” to dark arts and pro­vides a kind of tacit ap­proval for spirits to en­ter them, Peter says.

Sophia Hausler is wary about any­thing that could stir up the spir­i­tual world. “I got into the Twi­light se­ries,” she re­calls. “I ended up with a guy who was a vam­pire goth.”

Her brow fur­rowed, she con­sults Peter about whether her son could put him­self at risk tak­ing up mar­tial arts (Peter ad­vises cau­tion be­cause he re­gards “chi” en­ergy as a de­mon).

“In a lot of rock mu­sic, the mu­si­cians have sold their soul to Satan,” Peter says. “Peo­ple who lis­ten will also open them­selves up to spirits.”

So what’s the prob­lem with yoga? “Yoga awak­ens the serpent at the bot­tom of the spine, [en­ergy known as] kun­dalini,” says Peter. “That serpent will wind up your spine.

It’s re­ally hard to get it out.”

Yoga poses can also open up spir­i­tual port­holes for demons to en­ter the body, he claims, even when prac­tised for health, and is linked to Hin­duism.

In his Syd­ney Uni­ver­sity talk, Arch­bishop Por­te­ous re­vealed his wor­ries about reiki, from which he said he had helped ex­tri­cate peo­ple.

“[Prac­ti­tion­ers] lay their hands over peo­ple and send power in to heal,” he said. “But there are stages where you in­voke cer­tain spir­i­tual forces … peo­ple have told me, for a while, it’s won­der­ful. [But] they’ve opened them­selves up to a spir­i­tual world in a way that has en­abled evil to come in.

“What seems good then turns dark and they find them­selves trapped.”

Ex­or­cisms are not con­fined to Chris­tian­ity. Alex Tel­man, an exbar­ris­ter who per­forms ex­or­cisms as part of his prac­tice as a healer in Bris­bane, is Jewish. “I’ve been us­ing the Ro­man Catholic one for years,” he says. “It works, so I keep us­ing it. I started do­ing it be­cause peo­ple kept ask­ing for it.” His web­site shows a man writhing, growl­ing and retch­ing on an ex­am­i­na­tion bed as Alex stands over him, or­der­ing his spirits out and throw­ing holy wa­ter over him.

For Peter Whif­fin, it was a friend’s mother per­form­ing an ex­or­cism on him in Fiji in 1990 that led to his ini­ti­a­tion. “I was a smoker,” he says. “She gave me the Bible and said, ‘I will pray for you to never smoke again.’ When she prayed, the room went dark and I saw this thing come out of my mouth. It was like a lit­tle ball – like a burr.” Since then, he says, he’s never smoked again.

While Peter be­lieves he has a gift for ex­or­cisms, he’d “pre­fer to be teach­ing peo­ple to do it. There’s so much need and not enough peo­ple to do it.”

The fa­ther of four does not charge for ex­or­cisms. Once, he says, he listed his ser­vices un­der the ti­tle “Free Ex­or­cisms” on the clas­si­fied ads web­site Gumtree.

“You can’t buy and you can’t sell love,” he says. “If it’s a trans­ac­tion, it loses its power.”

Peter says ex­or­cisms can be dra­matic and vi­o­lent. He tells of peo­ple scream­ing, throw­ing chairs, their eyes rolling, vom­it­ing and back­flips. When his daugh­ter was 10, he says she re­counted see­ing black smoke com­ing from a man whom he was ex­or­cis­ing.

Back in the Gold Coast lounge room, it’s get­ting late. Joe Cut­tabut, a quiet, gen­tle man who was part of the Abo­rig­i­nal Stolen Gen­er­a­tions and has found peace through heal­ing ser­vices, ac­knowl­edges some el­e­ments may seem far-fetched or extraordinary to those not well-versed in the group’s be­liefs. “It’s nor­mal for us – we’ve had ex­pe­ri­ences,” he says.

He’s not wrong. Peter draws our at­ten­tion to a bib­li­cal ref­er­ence to ju­niper. He points out this is the wood in broom­sticks, thus linked to witches. He also tells of gi­ants of the Bible, Nephilim (their fos­silised re­mains, he claims, “are found all the time, but it’s hid­den be­cause there are forces that don’t want it known”) and hy­brids born of fallen angels – mer­maids, pan men and more.

“There’s a drive for more in life,” says Joe, “more of a spir­i­tual way.”

The woman whom The Weekly ob­served be­ing ex­or­cised con­sid­ers her­self a work in progress. “I’m still con­scious [dur­ing the ex­or­cism],” she says. “I don’t like the feel­ing, but I feel more clear and peace­ful af­ter­wards.”

De­spite an un­der­ly­ing ag­i­ta­tion, she comes across as co­her­ent, ed­u­cated and ab­sorbed in the spir­i­tual world as a so­lu­tion to her an­guish. “I know I’m not crazy,” she says. “I know demons are real. I know Je­sus is real.”

The room went dark and I saw this thing come out of my mouth.

When Sophia Hausler in­vited Peter to her home for bible study, it de­vel­oped into an ex­or­cism. She be­lieves she was tormented and mo­lested by a de­mon as a child. Peter be­lieves Sophia was likely plagued by a male sex­ual predator de­mon called an “in­cubus” . Sophia is con­vinced the de­mon sab­o­taged her re­la­tion­ships. OP­PO­SITE: Peter per­forms his ex­or­cisms us­ing a cru­ci­fix, bible, oil and holy wa­ter. Some­times, he uses a ram’s horn (sho­far), but usu­ally he re­lies on the power of prayer.

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