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Exorcism in Memphis…

18 Feb 2016 | Categories: Featured Blogs, General | Posted by: Sean Herman

This piece is an exert from the most recent blog I wrote for www.serpentsofbienville.com.  For the full article, click here.

Enjoy!

“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”

Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose


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As I sat and watched in horror, I could hear nothing but the consistent thud and crunch on the concrete as the man smashed his head, repeating “But what now?” over and over again, yelling in a distorted voice that sounds like, not just one, but a group of people.  His forehead was now gathering blood, dripping down to collect in his eye socket, the scrawled homemade tattoos that covered his body now exposed, he appeared more undead than alive. My eyes cut to the stranger, whose unfamiliar eyes are cutting through the man on the ground, repeating louder and louder, “In the name of Jesus, get out…”  The phrase was shouted over and over, with the thud on the concrete growing louder and harsher, intensity reaching a boiling point.

“In the name of Jesus, get out…”

“In the name of Jesus, get out…”

“In the name of Jesus, get out…”

Until the thuds stopped. There was silence.


EXORCISM IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH

Exorcisms in the American South are far more common than you would think.  In Alabama alone, you can find an Exorcism Healing Deliverance School, along with plenty of people on call to perform the rituals for you, like Reverend Mark Renfoe, orReverend Bill French.

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Reverend Bill French was a pastor in Irondale, Alabama, who started Advocate Ministries in 1974.  He was an evangelical exorcist and claimed to cast hundreds of demons out of people.  French’s methods were less akin to the film “The Exorcist”, and more a laying of hands and authoritative prayer, the more evangelical southern way.  Though French did once say, “I’ve seen everything that was in the movie ‘The Exorcist’ except somebody’s head turning all the way around.”  His son, the Rev. Michael French, said. “He dealt with people most folks wouldn’t want to stop and talk to.”  Those typically consisted of people with multiple personalities, some manifesting as growling voiced demons, sometimes becoming violent. His son recounts one situation:

“He was praying with a lady coming out of witchcraft. They were sitting in folding chairs. She was about 5’2″, 120 pounds. He was six feet tall, 220 pounds. She flicked her foot and kicked him 10 feet into the wall.”

French was performing exorcisms during the heyday of “Satanic Panic”.  In 1985 an ABC-TV “20/20” show about satanism set off waves of panic and media attention that culminated in Geraldo Rivera’s “Devil Worship” special in 1988. Other “Geraldo” segments in 1988, 1989 and 1991 followed up. Sally Jesse Raphael did episodes on “Baby Breeders” in 1989 and “Devil Babies” in 1991. Oprah Winfrey did programs on the subject in 1986, 1988 and 1989. Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder wrote a book in 1980 about women bearing children for satanic sacrifice, called Michelle Remembers, the first satanic cult survivor story. Maclean’s Magazine in Canada did an expose on Michelle Remembers, interviewing relatives who lived with Michelle Smith during the period she described but that were never mentioned in the story.

“I believe there are frauds, but they’ve reached some wrong conclusions,” French said at the time. “There are frauds here and there. That doesn’t take away from the real incidents that are taking place all over this country.”

 


“All possessions were sacred dramas. They were performances. The demoniacs and the exorcists, who were trying to drive out the devils, were following scripts that were encoded in their religious cultures. And these scripts were widely known, you have some of them in the Bible, but you also have all these accounts of other possessions that people read at this time. And once it was suggested that someone might be demonically possessed, you know they had fits or something like that, they would follow that script. […] Certainly the anxiety was real, and they are responding to it.”

Brian Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West

To read the rest of this blog, go to www.serpentsofbienville.com, or you can click here.

 

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