A dangerous delusion
We live in an age of scientific wonder. Technology allows us to see into the deep past of the universe and explore the core of the smallest bacteria. Physicists are teetering on the brink of science only seen in Star Trek: creating anti-matter and accelerating particles to the speed of light. Medical advances mean some deaf people can now hear and hearts can be fixed, and the next generation will see the end of many common killer diseases.
But sometimes things happen that make me think that the Dark Ages aren’t really that far away. Our dark psyche is haunted by myths borne out of fancy or misunderstanding. Most rational people expose them to the harsh sunlight of reason and science, leaving the supernatural to the realm of amusement and titillation. Some people though, still believe that they live in an unseen flat earth of spirits and gods, and that communication with the dead and divination are reliable practices.
So, what’s the harm in it all?
Take possession and its partner, exorcism.
Just last month thirteen-year-old Tomomi Maishigi was a victim of such beliefs. Her parents had requested the help of a Buddhist monk in ridding the young girl of an evil spirit which they believed was causing her to suffer physical and mental illness. Tomomi died from suffocation after hours of ritual torture which involved pouring water over her head whilst she was held down.
Last year, two-year-old Jezaih King was asphyxiated to death by his mother and an accomplice whilst performing an exorcism. The list of deaths through exorcism is long, and the number of people physically and mentally damaged is difficult to quantify.
Rather than dying out as it should, the demand for exorcism is growing, with the Catholic church reporting an increase in the number of priests trained in exorcism to handle the seeming growth in Satanic episodes. Even cars and council houses can be exorcised. In some places, ‘holy’ men prey on the poor and the ignorant, offering exorcism for ailments that are treatable by readily available mainstream (and proven) medicine. All for a price, of course.
Exorcism has a tragic history, and no shortage of victims. Deaths and increasing psychoses. Children are particularly vulerable to parents who are deluded into believing in possession, and children dying from exorcisms or other ‘casting out’ rituals are sadly common.
It seems unbelievable that in the 21st Century people can still be so deluded.
Some of these people who believe in possession and exorcism have newspaper columns. Take the Shields Gazette’s Mike Hallowell, who recently covered the murky world of possession and exorcism in three articles over three weeks. To Hallowell, possession isn’t some ‘what if’ speculation or an account of some inexplicable episode, it exists in the realm of reality:
“Of course, the first question that raises its head is whether “possession” is really possible. Believe me, I know that it is.”
His possession articles weren’t harmless space-fillers about people riding the placebo euphoria of acupuncture or the titillation of something going bump in the night, they were peddling a dangerous ignorance, which finished with his final article in the series giving exorcism the stamp of religious approval, coincidentally his own religion of choice. It paints a picture of a world where people can be ‘possessed’ by demons or spirits, and be ‘cured’ by exorcism. It seems highly irresponsible that someone could write articles implying that dark age ritual mysticism can be used on people suffering from mental illness, and that a newspaper editor could allow the printing of assertions that could put vulnerable people in harm’s way.
It’s worrying that there may be people with mental illness who will see such articles as confirmation of their delusions, and take themselves, or their children, into an environment of spiralling harm, and away from genuine medical treatment.
People suffering from mental illness, brain disorders, or any ailment should be seen and treated by medical professionals, not by shamans or priests. But the risk of people with real mental illness avoiding much needed medical attention and following paranormalists down the rabbit hole of delusion is all too real.