Thursday, 12 September 2013

My buffy-slaying days.

I once read about the bragging rights of a Catholic priest by the name of Gabriele Amorth who claimed that "he's done more than 160, 000 exorcism!" He is 88 years old and he said that at his peak, he had performed 20 exorcism a day. Wow, that's a lot of disembodied spirits made homeless by one man.

Mmm....this kind of reminds me of our local jolly hangman, Darshan Singh, who commented that he had once hung 18 men in a day. The 75 years old robust Indian even boasted that he had executed close to 1000 convicts during his long career. I guess the main difference between the hangman and the priest is that one ends a life and the other returns it back.

But still, I wonder in the case of exorcism, is the expert priest able to differentiate between a possessed subject and one beset by psychological/psychiatric illnesses? Should the Van-Helsing-like priest be well versed in the thousands of mental illnesses classified in the DSM V so that he could distinguish the truly possessed from the mentally ill? Because god forbid that the demon slayer should perform exorcism rites on someone  who can clinically be diagnosed as suffering from severe autism, multiple personality disorder, alcoholic hallucinosis or even acute stress disorder instead of an unsolicited visitation of disembodied spirits.

Or, can some adolescent rebellions or teens who are BPC (Beyond Parental Control) be deemed as at least mildly possessed or even possessed by lesser known demons? Or, can the DSM labels that the psychiatrists give to mentally unsound patients be merely secular euphemisms disguising its true origin, that is, demon possession? I know these are tough questions that are long on ignorance and short on enlightenment.

In 1850, a New Orleans physician named Samuel Cartwright discovered a new disease and called it drapetomania. Don’t let the name frazzle you. It is simply a disease causing Negroes to run away for their masters. Having studied ancient Greek, Dr Cartwright took two words “drapetes” meaning “runaway slave” and the familiar “mania” and clumsily joined them together. No joke. Dr Cartwright considered such behavior as most bizzare and classified it as a mental illness. Of course, we know better now – much better. But at that time, it was a disease that was literally treated by “whipping the devil out of them.” Somehow, such treatment is reminiscent of demonic activities. Here’s an etiology of the disease that might interest you, as found in the Buffalo Medical Journal, “drapetomania occurs when the nervous erythism of the human body is thrown into relations with the magnetic pole…this directing the slave’s footsteps northward.How incredulously strange?

Then, in the mid-sixties Singapore, there was an outbreak of koro. Again, the name is a red herring. It is merely a medical case of shrinking manhood or genital retraction. Western psychiatrists at that time applied a Freudian term and called it “castration anxiety”. Many red-blooded Singaporean men inflicted by koro panicked and rushed to the emergency rooms for immediate medical attention. At that time, rumors swirled that koro had many causes like eating contaminated pork, poisoned Thai food and tainted cigarettes - even demonic possession was not spared as a possible cause. Some of the traditional remedies recommended were drinking young boy’s urine, consuming human placenta, regular relaxation and prolonged bed rest. The really desperate even underwent certain mediumistic cleansing much like the exorcism rituals that we are familiar with here.  I guess when all else fails, one can always find a demonic attribution to a mental affliction.

As an aside, I had my fair share of buffy-slaying days during my untutored youth. And the one that stuck out like a sore thumb for me was when a close friend of mine, a Christian leader mind you, was allegedly demon possessed. Here’s the story stripped bare.

It was about 23 years ago and he called me one eerie night to tell me that he was demonized. To prove it, he told me the color of my undergarment with uncanny precision. No joke. (Alas, upon reflection years later, I could have been more discerning since we shopped regularly and he knew I had always bought the same color).

I freaked out that night and the next day, I gathered a cohort of cross-bearing, tongues-muttering pubescent youth at botanical gardens to perform our first public exorcism. We encircled the subject and prayed with apocalyptic fervor. My possessed friend manifested, growled and hissed at us before breaking the holy encirclement and ran off - howling like a monkey with ebola.

We then gave chase, cussing and swearing, and ran around the gardens like a couple would normally do in a typical Indian movie minus the corny romance around coconut trees and the hypnotic bangra music. After what seemed like eternity, we managed to subdue the beast and our friend fitfully returned, triumphant. That day, we all went back home completely sobered and serious with our faith.

About ten years later, my friend, the one who had claimed to be possessed, confessed to me that it was all a spiritual ruse to get us to be serious with God. Imagine the shock! Muttering to myself, this time without the tongues, I wished I was then armed with a baseball bat at botanical gardens as a practical supplement to the traditional laying of hands. At least, if I don't get the demons scampering with the usual pentecostal massage, I could beat some honesty out of him! Alas, the folly of youth, and the gullibility of religious extremism.

So, therein lies my personal experience with demon possessions. I hope my tale has been instructive (if not amusing) and the questions I have posed above would provoke some discussion on this foggy area of faith where even angels fear to go at it alone. Cheerz. 

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