Tag Archives: possession

SATAN TAKES A CONVENT

THE DEVILS OF LOUDON by Aldous Huxley

devils

I’m not sure how I came across this book, but the blurb on Amazon was enough to have me seek out a non-fiction book written in 1952. Huxley takes on the strange case of possession of eighteen nuns in the small French village of Loudon in 1632. The village priest is a lothario who makes the wrong enemies and is burned at the stake for it. The book combines The Exorcist with the hysteria of the Salem witch trials.

Father Urbain Grandier was undoubtedly a scoundrel who seduced many village women, eventually impregnating a well-respected merchant’s daughter. He quickly makes powerful enemies including the famous Cardinal Richelieu. When all legal attempts to hold Grandier accountable fail, the locals bide their time. Soon on the scene is the young Sister Jeanne who has authority as prioress over seventeen impressionable Ursuline nuns. Jeanne has come to the Church by default rather than any spiritual calling. Hearing stories about the handsome, bad-boy Grandier, she develops elaborate romantic fantasies.

Urbain Grandier

Urbain Grandier

When her attempts to get the Father to act as confessor for the nuns fails, she is more than a little disappointed. With encouragement from some of Grandier’s enemies, it’s not long before the nuns are displaying signs of demonic possession. Grandier thinks he’s safe because he has never been in the convent. Not so! God isn’t the only one who works in mysterious ways. Exorcists are brought in and the nuns perfect their techniques and the hysteria gains momentum. Eventually, all of France learn about the diabolical happenings at Loudon as the nuns are exorcized before public gatherings (which becomes very profitable for the convent). Although many in the Church don’t think Father Grandier is in league with the devil, he is put on trial, found guilty, and publicly burned.

Evidence against Grandier at trial, 1634. A signed, diabolical pact written backwards.

Evidence against Grandier at trial, 1634. A signed, diabolical pact written backwards.

Unfortunately for the nuns (well, maybe not), the devil is not sent packing with Grandier’s death. With traditional exorcism failing, a Jesuit priest arrives with a new idea. Instead of casting out the demons, he will work with the prioress eliminating her sins and making her a model of Christian virtue where the devil cannot hold sway. Unlike Grandier, Father Surin is sincere in his calling. With a strong mystical bent, Surin believes all the phenomena manifesting in the convent is the work of the devil and he fully believes he can take Satan on.

What Surin doesn’t know is that the prioress has been putting on a show all along and that she has no desire to give up the attention she has garnered. Instead, she takes up the quest to be holy by starting to act as if she were the next St. Theresa of Avila (a noted mystic who Jeanne had studied before coming to Loudon). Now instead of contorting her body on the floor and screaming obscenities, Jeanne begins to create miracles. The transition of demoniac to saint happens as Father Surin physically takes on the demons Jeanne sheds. The prioress eventually bears the stigmata of holy names on her arm and produces a chemise bearing holy drops of scent. Poor Father Surin’s health declines and he goes mad. The Prioress takes to the road exhibiting her miracles in front of thousands as she travels through France. She meets Cardinal Richelieu, and the King and Queen of France. The holy chemise is even draped over the Queen’s abdomen during the birth of Louis XIV. After that, Jeanne returns to the convent and lives out her life. Father Surin struggles for years believing that God has condemned him to hell. Late in life, he regains some lucidity and is able to write and preach again.

Louis XIV by Charles Le Brun, 1661

Louis XIV by Charles Le Brun, 1661

Written in the 1950s, the book isn’t the easiest of reads. There are long digressions on side topics and discussions of the mystical the average reader would be unfamiliar with. Strangely enough, there are long passages and poetry in French which are not translated. However, quotes in Latin are so you can get a glimpse of the rituals performed. Huxley was convinced that this story is as pertinent today as it was at the time it happened. Those human frailties that made Loudon possible are still with us. Lust, greed, revenge, self-centeredness, and the quest for power remain modern vices.

This week’s moment of synchronicity: a new article connecting Huxley’s work to modern mass hysteria events (especially in girls & young women).

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/mar/29/carol-morley-the-falling-mass-hysteria-is-a-powerful-group-activity

Advertisements

21 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Spiritual/Mysticism, Spooky stuff

THE INCIDENT AT WATSEKA

We’ve all probably read and seen movies about possession. I doubt very many missed The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, or the Amityville Horror. These tales follow the familiar saga of demonic possession. But what happened in Watseka, IL in 1877 was different. In this wild tale in a small town, the possession was helpful and healing. Did it really happen?

Lurancy

Thirteen year old, Mary Lurancy Vennum began to suffer fits and fell into trances in which she saw heaven, angels, and the spirits of the dead. People around her believed Lurancy was going insane and needed to be confined to an asylum. Back in 1864, the town of Watseka had had a previous case of an eighteen year old, Mary Roff, who had manifested similar symptoms to Lurancy’s. Unfortunately, Mary Roff turned violent, cutting herself and lapsing into unconsciousness. When she came to, she existed in a state of raving mania with various extra-sensory abilities. She expired in a mental hospital after five days. Mary Roff’s father, Asa, learned about his neighbor’s predicament and pleaded with the Vennum’s to bring in consulting physician, Dr. E.W. Stevens.

MaryRoff

Dr. Stevens diagnosed Lurancy with spirit obsession and hypnotized the teen. In this state, Lurancy claimed to be possessed by evil spirits. Interestingly, Dr. Stevens was a spiritist, someone who believed in spirits and reincarnation (which distinguishes him from spiritualists who don’t necessarily believe in reincarnation). Dr. Stevens suggested that one of the spirits might be able to help Lurancy and Lurancy named Mary Roff as an entity willing to do just that. In this way, Mary Roff took over Lurancy’s body in February 1878. Lurancy moved in with the Roff family for several months during which time she acted like Mary Roff picking up her former life and recognizing old friends. She recognized distant relatives and used nicknames Mary Roff had used. The Roff family and many in the small town believed Lurancy was Mary Roff. Also during this time, Mary Roff- in the body of Lurancy, exhibited clairvoyant abilities, traveled out- of- body, and visited astral planes. She also shared information about Dr. Steven’s dead children in heaven. In May, Mary Roff announced that Lurancy was ready to come back. She fell into a trance, and awoke as Lurancy fully healed. This was the same girl for which medical authorities had no treatment other than confinement in a state hospital.

In 1882 Lurancy married and moved to Kansas. Mary Roff continued to watch over Lurancy occasionally possessing her for her protection. Over the years, Lurancy was protected from pain during childbirth (she had 11 children) and given information clairvoyantly from Mary Roff. Lurancy died in the 1952.

WatsekaThe case is an oddity standing apart from the traditional demonic possession story. It also happened in a time when spirit contact was all the rage in spiritualism circles. Some people regard this as a reincarnation case, but Lurancy was two when Mary Roff died. The timing doesn’t seem plausible and generally, in reincarnation cases, a child will recount previous life stories as soon as language develops. A walk-in case? A hoax? Some think it might have been since Asa Roff played such a large role in Mary’s arrival. Others believe it was Asa’s guilt which drew Mary’s spirit back to help another teen destined for the asylum.

For more information on the Watseka Wonder:

THE WATSEKA WONDER- A Narrative of Startling Phenomena Occurring in the Case of Mary Lurancy Vennum by E. Winchester Stevens

http://www.amazon.com/Watseka-Narrative-Startling-Phenomena-Occurring/dp/1230414614/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406751816&sr=1-5&keywords=Watseka+Wonder

THE POSSESSED- movie of events at Watseka

http://www.amazon.com/The-Possessed-Christopher-Saint-Booth/dp/B002348RFQ/ref=tag_dpp_lp_edpp_img_in

The Roff Home- still standing in Watseka (so is the Vennum’s but a family lives there).

http://www.roffhome.com/

 

12 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Spiritual/Mysticism