by Ian Sputnik
Horror literature has often imbibed folklore and myth into its storylines. Werewolves, vampires, demonic possession, and ghosts being the main topics. Even today, most works of dark fiction have their roots extensively and intrinsically linked to these mythologies. True, there have been new themes that have grown to be part of the classics (aliens being the most recent addition to the stable of classic horror monsters).
It must be remembered that when these ideas and fears were first released upon the world, much of the population didn’t fully dismiss the notion that there could be evil creatures lurking in the dark. As time and knowledge of the world has influenced us, these fears have—on the whole—been relegated into the folder of our collective consciousness marked “fiction.”
Everyone still likes a good ghost story, but the lack of evidence in this new modern era of CCTVs and cameras has yet to give us the concrete proof that most people wish for.
There is, however, one theme that has stood the test of time and, for some, is considered to be a very real possibility.
The idea of demonic possession and exorcism have fuelled writers and filmmakers with enough material to continue chilling audiences for a very long time. Back in 1971 writer Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist, the story of a 12-year-old girl whose body and mind are invaded by a demonic entity. Two years later, this was made into what was to become one of the most seminal horror films to date and one of the most profitable (it’s currently rated as ninth highest grossing film of all time in both the United States and Canada).
What might surprise people to know is that this film is based on an actual exorcism that was performed in 1949 on a 14-year-old boy born to a German-American protestant family in Maryland. William Blatty read about the story in an article in the Washington Post. There’s obviously much speculation as to the veracity of the events. Most consider the boy to have been a deeply troubled person, though the fact of an actual exorcism having been performed remain. Jesuit priests were called upon to perform the ritual, which took four days. Whether the young man was merely disturbed, or whether there were other factors involved, may never be proven. One of the friars, Friar Bowdern, remained silent on the issues, and carried his feelings about it to the grave. When the other, Friar Halloran, was asked if he believed it to be a genuine case of demonic possession said “I have always thought in my mind that it was real.”
We all know that work based on a true story should be taken with a large pinch of salt. But out of the few categories of horror—many of which we know are superstition and pure fantasy—tales of demons, Satan, and bodily possession still ring true for many and is greatly feared by a large number of the population.
Many calls for exorcisms are attributed to mental illness and spiritual problems, along with the occasional flight of fancy. While generally all requests for exorcisms are investigated by the Vatican, the vast majority of them are dismissed and no rite is carried out. But they do still take place.
It may surprise many to find out that in April of 2018, a seminar was held by the Catholic Church to address the growing calls for exorcisms; there’s been a threefold rise in requests over the last few years, with 500,000 requests in Italy alone. Over 250 priests from 50 countries took part in this training course which taught them the Rites Of Exorcism. It seems that the Catholic Church was concerned by the lack of qualified priests who can perform the rigorous ceremony, and were spurred into action.
Whether this is a blurred line between science fact and horror fiction, or just a reinforcement of the Church’s call for a reaffirmation of the public’s faith remains unseen. But one thing is certain: possessions and dramatized exorcisms will continue to be a staple of horror media so long as people continue believing in demons. And, given the recent exorcism seminar, it doesn’t look like people will lose their faith any time soon.