2016-06-30
In this excerpt from "Glimpses of the Devil," psychiatrist M. Scott Peck describes an exorcism he conducted on a 27-year-old wife and mother he calls Jersey. Sexually abused as a young teenager, Jersey's behavior in her twenties became more and more erratic. She finally sought help from the family psychiatrist, Dr. Philip Lieberman, telling him, "I'm possessed." Though the family was not Catholic, Jersey's mother consulted Father Terry O'Connor, a Catholic exorcist in the diocese. Jersey was eventually referred to Peck, who gathered a small group of clergy and mental health professionals to perform a deliverance, and then a full-scale exorcism, on Jersey. The team included Bishop Worthington, a conservative Episcopal bishop. This excerpt begins on day three of a four-day exorcism.

Reprinted with permission of the Free Press.


In the first session after lunch Jersey quickly began to speak in a touchingly realistic way about her possession. "I've been possessed for fifteen years now," she said, "and all that time it is as if nothing happened to me, as if I hadn't even lived. I know I'm supposed to be twenty-seven, but the reality is that I am still twelve years old. I have two children but I know nothing about being a mother. I know nothing about being a wife. I'm just twelve years old. How can I be expected to raise my two children or be a wife? Don't you see? It's hopeless."

This was the most real Jersey had yet been, and we told her so. We told her it was not an imaginary problem but the actual position she was in. We said the only way she could make it would be with a great deal of help, and we outlined one by one the specific ways in which she could be supported. I explained again how immediately after the exorcism she would see me for approximately three weeks of intensive psychotherapy-a period when she would not have the responsibility of a wife and mother-and when back home, she could see a psychiatrist of her choice as frequently as she desired. Jersey immediately elected Dr. Lieberman, even though he had failed to help her twice in the past. It was a wise choice I knew, thinking of the man's extraordinary flexibility. We then went through a whole number of other kinds of support she could have and finished by telling her how we would find a small Christian church community for her to work with.


Until that moment her face had been quietly impassive, but now, in an instant, it utterly changed. Her mouth turned into a harsh, malicious grin and her entire face was convulsed in a haughty sneer. The expression was similar to what Father O'Connor and I saw when confronting her the day after the failed deliverance, only now the superciliousness was magnified threefold. The expression could only be called satanic. There was no question whether we were dealing now with the real Jersey. Almost immediately I said, "There seems to be a demon in the room. What is your name?"

It answered in Jersey's own voice without hesitation: "Damien." Jersey had mentioned the names of many of her supposed demons before, but Damien was not among them. We let it talk for a minute. Its words made no sense. I was not about to be drawn back into this meaningless drivel halfway between sanity and insanity. I commented, "You seemed to appear right when we were talking about a Christian church support group for Jersey."

"I don't want her children to go to church and become sissies," it pronounced. "What they need to learn is karate and self-defense."

Now that the demon was speaking in its own language, it did not take us long to realize that it was, in fact, a demon of self-defense. Indeed, it shortly even explained its name to us, saying that the a should really be pronounced flatly because the name meant "Dam me in." By "dam" it didn't mean "damn," but a concrete barrier through which no enemy could approach.

After perhaps a quarter of an hour, Bishop Worthington and I arrived at the same conclusion as to the falsity of Damien's teaching, and alternating as a boxer might his left and right fists, we began to bombard it with the truth. We told it that human beings, including Jersey, could not survive behind concrete. They had to be fed and touched and held and loved, and all such things were made impossible by barricades. We granted that a kind of helplessness was inherent in the human condition living without barricades. "There are so many potential dangers," I said. "Humans don't begin to be smart enough to defend ourselves, no matter how much karate we might know. We survive not because of barricades or physical strength, but by the grace of God. Without God, whether we believe in Him or not, we all would have been dead long since. But because we are surrounded by the grace of God, which is our only true armor, most of us get to live out our full life span. In fact," I continued, "the more we are aware of that grace, the more wise we become. Jersey will become very wise when she is rid of you, Damien, with your false preaching-when she no longer has to listen to your lies."

As Bishop Worthington and I went on in this manner-the bishop being far better than I with appropriate biblical quotes-the satanic expression on Jersey's face rapidly turned to confusion and then peace. Damien was gone, no longer in its victim or in the room, and by the end Jersey was actually laughing with pleasure at her relief. Her face, recently so harsh and ugly, was now soft. It was time for a break, the first break that all of us took in joyful celebration, including Jersey.



We wasted no time, beginning at seven o'clock sharp the next morning. Bishop Worthington lit the candle and offered his customary opening prayer, and I addressed Jersey with my customary, "Jersey, child of God, in the name of God who created you and Jesus Christ who died for you, I order you to hear my voice as the voice of Christ's church and, though I am but a humble and unworthy servant, to obey my commands."

Then I simply asked, "Jersey, are there any demons left?"

"Yes," she answered, "there's one who very much wants to talk. Well, maybe two. The strong one is the Lord Josiah, but there's also a weak one, Jim, who tends to follow him around."

"Let Josiah speak," I directed. Instantly Jersey's face was again distorted into the satanic mask we had by now become accustomed to. Josiah's name was the only one Jersey had mentioned prior to the exorcism, and it rapidly became clear he was the demon to which Jersey was the most attached in many ways, including sexually. It described itself as the spirit of love and gentleness. To confuse things a bit, the demon Jim from time to time would interrupt. It described itself as a spirit of war and fun. It was as if Jim were Josiah's shadow side. Addressing Jersey, I simply noted that I was not surprised she should also have a demon of fun, because I had a feeling that throughout her life she had never been able to have the kind of fun that most children or young adults have.

But it was Josiah who spoke the most. Primarily it spoke gibberish, but it was more or less clear that the essence of love and gentleness was either a thought or a feeling. With the gibberish, it took an hour of passive attention before I knew its weak spot, and the strategy of my attack.

We all took a short break during which I discussed the strategy with Bishop Worthington. He heartily concurred, and when we reconvened, after our customary rituals, the bishop and I began. We started by declaring Josiah to be not a spirit of love and gentleness, but in fact a spirit of insanity. We explained that all truth was rooted in reality and that insanity was not so rooted; rather, it was rooted in some kind of lie or unreality. I acknowledged that demons could sometimes speak the truth, but it was always in the form of a half-truth. Indeed, half-truths were the devil's most common weapons.

I gave examples from my clinical practice of how love was not wholly a thought or feeling. ...We proclaimed that love was primarily an action, and unless thoughts and feelings of love were translated into action they were so much chaff. The old proverb "Handsome is as handsome does" was the truth, we explained, and behavior was the test of love. Any "love" that was not reflected by behavior was not rooted in reality; rather, it was rooted in unreality and hence insanity.

Josiah apparently did not like being identified as a demon of insanity. For it was at this point Jersey (or the demon), for the first time, started to argue back with all manner of obfuscation. We told it to shut up. It demanded to be treated with respect. We snapped back that demons were not worthy of respect and commanded it to listen. At that point Jersey got off the bed, proclaiming that she wanted a cigarette-maybe even a joint-and was leaving the room for that purpose. Gently but firmly, all of us on the team took hold of her arms and ankles and placed her back on the bed. It was the first time in more than three days that she had to be restrained. The team even joked about it. We felt it was no accident that Jersey had to be restrained only when the spirit of love and gentleness was present, since, of course, all the business about its love and gentleness was a lie.

We had to restrain her for merely an hour. Occasionally she struggled, particularly at first, but then she almost seemed to enjoy the strength of our hands upon her wrists and ankles. We began to believe that Josiah might indeed be linked with the seldom-mentioned Jim, who had described himself as a demon of war and fun. For throughout the hour, Jersey was clearly having a great deal of fun. And was funny. At times we had to work to keep straight faces. Earlier I had told her I thought she had difficulty in having fun for some kind of psychoanalytic reason. Now it was as if our use of restraint had somehow liberated her to be the raucous little girl she had never allowed herself to be. She continually waved to the camera, saying boisterously, "Hi Mom, hi Dad" as if she were on TV. Repeatedly she asked if the camera was still running.

Although earlier she had rather prissily complained about the team's bad language, now her speech was filled with obscenities. Every time she struggled sufficiently that we had to tighten our grip, she commented, "Watch out how you handle the merchandise." She flirted outrageously with Bishop Worthington, looking for his wedding ring and when she couldn't see it, proposing that they should become much better friends. The performance would have seemed quite human as well as humorous were it not for its shameless quality.

Each time she renewed her struggle it was with the excuse that she wanted a cigarette or a joint, something I soon used to bring her back to the idea that had been such an anathema to the demon Josiah: namely, that love was an action rather than a pure emotion, thought, or desire. She knew how much I liked my cigarettes, so it seemed to have real meaning to her when I said, "I want a cigarette too, Jersey. I'm dying for one, and I am much more hooked than you. But it is not yet time to end this session. I'm not going to smoke as I normally would. You could say that it is a kind of sacrifice I am making-an action I am making for you because I love you."

This seemed to have a profound effect upon her. By the time I had finished my little speech about sacrifice she had stopped struggling, and for the next quarter hour she lay quietly back on the bed, talking only occasionally but with perfectly good sense. Gradually it dawned on us that the demonic presence seemed to have gone. I asked her, "Is Josiah still there?"

"No," she answered, "he left."

"Good," I said. "Then don't let him back." And that seemed to be all that was required to exorcise the Lord Josiah. We had not been restraining her for some time. It had taken two full sessions-the whole morning-and we were hungry and concluded the session by simply saying, "It's time for lunch."



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