Demonic Possession Case Study: The Real Exorcist

July 26, 2013 12:00 pm

There are countless horror films out there that deal with cases of demonic possession, but none do so quite so well as “The Exorcist” directed by William Friedkin and based on the book by William Peter Blatty. The film had audiences across the world recoiling in terror as they watched a little girl becoming possessed by demonic forces while two catholic priests do battle with the devil in order to save her. The film was released in 1973 and has since gone on to terrify generations of horror film enthusiasts around the globe, It is currently considered one of the scariest films ever made. What is more terrifying, however, is the fact that it was based on real life events that occurred in 1949, 24 years prior to its release.

The event from which the book and film take their inspiration was the alleged demonic possession and exorcism of an American boy living in Cottage City, Maryland, who was given the pseudonym Roland Doe by the Catholic Church for the sake of his and his family’s privacy. Despite being admittedly reluctant to speak about the factual aspects of the film, director Friedkin states that he made the film in order to immortalize the events that occurred in Cottage City in 1949. The film set itself was also reported to be haunted as many of the participants in the making of it, including writer Blatty described many strange occurrences during filming. Could this have had something to do with the original incident?

The story goes that back in 1949 Roland Doe lived with his Lutheran Christian family at their home in Cottage City, Maryland. Roland was an only child who lacked any playmates his own age and thus relied on the adults around him, mainly his aunt Harriet with whom he is very close, to provide him with entertainment. Aunt Harriet was a spiritualist and on one occasion introduced Roland to a Ouija board when he apparently showed an interest in what it was. According to some sources they played with the Ouija board a lot and frequently tried to make contact with spirits from the beyond. As you may have guessed already, this is when things started to get weird.

The first strange occurrence started on January 15th when the family noticed a steady dripping sound in the night. After checking around the house no leaky faucets were found but to the family’s confusion the dripping continued steadily for about a week. Then, on the 26th January, Roland’s aunt Harriet suddenly dies without explanation. The family recall her being in normal health and had no idea on how this could have happened. Roland struggled with the loss of his aunt having never dealt with the death of someone so close before. Several sources even claim that, on several occasions, Roland took to the Ouija board to try to make contact with his deceased aunt.

Over the next few nights the noises became more severe, they began to include loud footsteps belonging to no one, furniture moving on its ownPossessed and objects flying across rooms as if it had been thrown. One specific picture of Jesus Christ began to appear as if someone was banging it hard from behind the wall. One night Roland’s mother heard him call out to her from his bedroom where he had been sleeping. She dashed out of bed and went to his aid only to find that his entire bed was vibrating and shaking with Roland still on it! The confused family took Roland to a doctor but he was sent away as being nothing more than “highly strung”, a by-product of his entering into puberty.

Around about a month after his aunt’s death strange marks began to appear on Roland’s body. The family began to suspect that the spirit of Roland’s aunt may be trying to make contact with them and they try, in vain, to reach her on the Ouija board. That night more marks appeared scratched into Roland’s chest with the name Louis appearing as if it were some kind of sign. After consulting the family’s pastor, an exorcism was arranged to take place at Georgetown University Hospital. During the exorcism Roland became violent with the priest and used a bedspring to cut him all the way from his shoulder down to his wrist. The wound needed over a hundred stitches and Roland was sent home to be with his family and the exorcism abandoned.

After this, Roland and his relatives travelled to St Louis where a cousin spoke to one of his professors at the university there. He, in turn, got in contact with another priest and together the two of them visited Roland at home. After witnessing first hand the boys symptoms, which by this point included an aversion to anything sacred, a shaking bed, flying objects and Roland speaking in a guttural voice that was not known to be his own, the two priests sought permission to perform an exorcism on Roland. The request was accepted by the Archbishop on the one condition that a detailed journal be kept of all events that took place during and throughout the exorcism.

Roland returned to the hospital with the two priests to begin the process. Just before they began the help of a third priest who also worked inside the hospital was enlisted to restrain Roland while the exorcism was performed. While praying by the side of the bed the boy lay on, holy water was flung from the bedside table violently towards the third priests face, narrowly missing him. The exorcism takes place over several nights with Roland’s activity varying from talking obscenely with priests about genitals and masturbation to urinating over them several times a night. Journal entries made by the clergymen as requested by the archbishop describe several such scenes.

April 23rd, Exorcism day 8:

“He fought and kicked and spit so nearly three men could barely hold him, he has been violent towards the priests and he is worsening”

“He proceeded to urinate over those present while giggling and laughing, there were several such urinations a night.”

As the exorcism continued Roland became increasingly violent as the three priests invoked the name of god. By now the clergymen believe that the devil is speaking freely through the boy yet refuse to enter into conversation with it as instructed by an old roman text from which they studied the processes of exorcism. On March 31st Roland, or whatever it was possessing him, requested to be handed a pen and some paper and begins scrawling words on it. Another extract from the journal explains what the priest saw when he took the note from Roland.

March 31st, Exorcism day 16:

“What he wrote was, ‘I am the devil himself, in ten days I will give a sign.”

The priests were exhausted and decided to try use what they thought was their most lethal weapon against the prince of darkness, baptism. Roland agreed to go through with it and for a while afterwards it looks like the devil has been cast out. But, as soon as the priests leave everything starts back up again in full force. The priests return and again exorcised Roland this time invoking the lord’s name as much as they could. After an intense battle of good versus evil, the priests were supposedly able to finally cast the devil out of Roland, which reportedly resulted in a loud sound ringing through the hospital, signaling his departure. After the incident, Roland grew up to be a happy and successful father and grandfather until his death in 1980.

So there you have it, the real life events that inspired The Exorcist one of the scariest films of all time. Several years after its release in cinemas, in an interview in the year 1995 with The Kansas City Star, two of the priests present described their experience. 

“Arrows and words like ‘hell’ or ‘go’ were on his arms, chest, stomach, and his legs,” One of the priests explains. “The image of a winged bat or devil appeared on his skin.” One of the priests who assisted went on to add, “I believe this was a genuine case of possession,”

Further investigation into the exorcism of Roland Doe has uncovered further questions about the validity of some of the accounts of people present and also claimed some to have been exaggerated. Other non-believers try to explain Roland’s erratic behavior as mental illness. The most popular medical condition being touted as responsible being temporal lobe seizure as sufferers are prone to hallucinations, dissociative actions, hyper-religious thought and delusions. There are even claims that Roland was simply a spoilt, disturbed bully who threw deliberate tantrums to get attention or get out of school. While this could never be ruled out there seems to be an awful lot of unexplainable phenomena surrounding these events and it is unlikely that the full truth will ever be known. Whether what happened to Roland was the result of a mental illness or a real life case of demonic possession, one thing is for sure, no one person can say they know the whole story.

What are your thoughts? Is demonic possession a legitimate phenomena? let me know in the comments and poll.

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