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Exorcisms 101

March 3, 2015

This past weekend I attended a conference that changed how I see everything.  Everything.

The first speaker was a theologian, Dr. Lawrence Feingold.  His talk was entitled Angels and Demons.  There were many brilliant points he made but the most significant concept to me was that just as humans are the very top animal of the created material world, we are also the absolute bottom of the spiritual world. I have created in my own mind a Venn diagram, the intersection of which has a marker which states “YOU ARE HERE.” We are the only creatures in both realms and also the only creatures that cooperate with God in creation, that is, the creation of new humans.  All angels that will ever be were created in the same instant and because they are pure spirit they never die, they also don’t have baby angels.  Another important concept is that humans do not become angels when their physical bodies die, they simply leave their body behind and only their soul, their spirit, remains. All demons made the decision to turn against God in the very instant they were created and there is no conversion among them.  There is no hope, ever, for their salvation and this is just one of the reasons that demons work like mad to separate us from God, too.

Any hoo… back to the scary stuff…

Two of the talks were given by an exorcist.  Yes, a real-life, nothing like in the movies, humble, funny, absolutely brilliant, Roman Catholic priest who exorcises demons out of humans every day. He is extraordinarily busy.

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger is the pastor at a large parish in Milwaukee.  He was quite calm and matter of fact.  I can’t think of a subject that is scarier than exorcism, just ask my family; I avoid demon movies because they’re just too real for my taste.  Fr. Cliff’s dry sense of humor and complete confidence in God made it easier for me to hear the things he talked about and I did not have nightmares after, so that’s a bonus.

There are several different kinds of extraordinary demonic activities and I am not qualified to even attempt to define them.  When I started writing this I looked for a webpage to which I could hyperlink, to provide the necessary definitions. As I read through some of the search results, I decided it is all just pretty frightening, mostly because it is quite real. I don’t want to send anyone to a scary page.  My reason for writing this post is to relay information that was either new to me, surprising, or super cool.

A differentiation was made between a demonic infestation (the attachment of demons to a place, thing or animal) and a haunting, which is a human soul, suffering in Purgatory yet stuck on Earth.  Fr. Cliff explained that “haunted” television shows featuring these poor souls exploit the suffering of a human for entertainment.  He expressed great sadness at that.  It is quite sad.  They need help.  What is needed to free the soul? Go to your local Catholic parish and ask the priest to say a Mass for the soul, although sometimes it may require a few Masses.

During an exorcism, which is performed on a human whose physical body is controlled by a demon, the exorcist commands the demon to tell how they gained access to the person. It turns out there are a terrifying number of ways that demons enter.  Contrary to what we learn from Hollywood, you don’t have to personally invite them.  Each and every time you commit sin you open yourself up to demons, you enter into a contract with them.  They don’t always take up residence but you may notice that after one sin, subsequent sins become easier.  Slippery slope.  Easy fix: go to confession OFTEN and don’t sin.

One case he shared was that of a man who had been experiencing extraordinary demonic activity.  When commanded by Fr. Cliff to tell how the demon gained access to the man, the demon answered “in a can of coke.”

Ho.  Lee.  Shit.

It turns out that this man, who was married, declined the romantic advances of a woman at his place of work.  The spurned woman happened to be a witch and yes, we learned this weekend, witches are real, too. She put a curse on a can of soda and the man drank it.  Fr. Cliff called this a “fortuna” and said curses can be placed on anyone or anything.  Other common items that contain a fortuna include cursed tattoo ink and illegal drugs that have been cursed, often as an offering to Satan, then sold on the street to cause addiction and chaos in the life of the buyer.

At dinner later that night my sister and I half joked that in addition to swearing off cola, we should sprinkle everything we eat or drink with blessed salt from now on.  She carries blessed salt with her at all times, I do now, too.  I mean, c’mon!  Can you imagine the possibilities? An angry food service worker, an evil minded food or drink distributor, farmer, grocery store worker…  There is so much evil in our world and there are those who just want to plunge our society further into darkness.  It makes me want to never eat or drink again.  Oh, wait… that easy fix again: go to confession, attend Mass regularly and don’t sin.  Phew.  But I’m still putting a small container of blessed salt in my purse.

Fr. Cliff explained that what you see in a movie exorcism is nothing like what really happens.  First, it isn’t over in 90 minutes.  Exorcisms often take months or years to accomplish.  What you see in a movie, with all of the terrifying deformities, super human strength, apparitions and voices, is quite accurate but all of the activity one would see in a movie actually often takes place over many, many exorcism sessions.

As I mentioned, he is a pastor in Milwaukee and his parish has a school.  Those responsibilities could each easily be two full time jobs and exorcisms are actually his part-time work.  He said he only does them at night because with a school full of children on the campus of his parish, the shrieking and screaming associated with this job is bad for business.

He also said that possessed people puke during exorcisms.  They puke a lot.  He  keeps several buckets at the ready during the exorcism process.  He can tell how an exorcism is progressing based on the changes in the vomit.  For example, the man who ingested the cursed coke, although it was consumed years earlier, once Fr. was told the method of entry and commanded that the coke (and the demon) leave the body, the man began to vomit coke.

This brings me to something I had never really thought about before.  I guess I just always accepted that demons, although spirits, do have control over things in our physical world but I never really thought about how.  There is a scientific law that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. The coke was reconstructed from the contents of the man’s body and expelled.  Other examples Fr. mentioned of ways in which demons rearrange things within a human body were the appearance of fangs, bruises, scratches and blistering of skin.

Father Cliff told another story of a teenage boy who, having purchased a Ouija board, brought it to the home of a friend where a group gathered to play with it.  The teens invited any spirits present to touch them.  All of them were immediately beaten up by unseen assailants.  Covered in bruises, the owner ran home, leaving the board behind in his friend’s basement.  Once home, crying and praying, he discovered his Ouija board had made its own way home, too.

He told another story of a young man in a cohabitating relationship began to exhibit demonic manifestation.  The girlfriend kicked him out, thinking that the behavior was his.  Having been raised a Catholic, instinctively consulted a priest, ending up with Fr. Cliff.  During the months that followed, the young man went to confession, returned to an active faith and remained in the state of grace, going to daily Mass and Holy Communion.  The demon was eventually exorcised and the man returned to his normal self.  Once himself again, the girlfriend welcomed him back.  Fr. Cliff told the young man that he was better off possessed by a demon with his soul in the state of grace than he was as a demon free man living in his current situation.  Should he die as the former, his salvation was not in jeopardy, as it was in mortal danger in the latter circumstance.

Father said that he always asks the demons’ names and has encountered the same demon in different people.  He also said that some methods of entrance are more common than others, one of those being pornography.  It seems that many pornographic producers  are also active Satanists.  They put curses on their images.  Humans voluntarily ingest (via sight) these images and the demon gets in.  He told us that in one exorcism he commanded the demon to tell him the method of entry and his reply was “through my greatest invention ever, internet pornography.”  I certainly didn’t have to be told that Satan invented pornography but the way Fr. related the story sent chills down my spine.

During a question and answer period someone asked if he was ever in frightened or in danger during an exorcism and he immediately answered “No, not at all.” I believe his courage comes from his complete trust in God and the Catholic faith.  Being a “cradle Catholic”, if I ever encounter a problem of the demonic variety I would immediately seek help from a Catholic priest. I had always been curious about what people of other faiths and denominations do when they have a possession, well curious, but not curious enough to look for an answer.  It turns out that they, too, go to Catholic priests, just like in the movies.  Fr. Cliff told us that he exorcises many non-Catholics and , I was very surprised to learn, large numbers of non-Christians experience extraordinary demonic activity and that they not only seek the help of Catholic priests but they usually convert to Catholicism afterward, too.

Another statistic that I found extremely interesting is that there are two rites for exorcism, one is Latin and a newer one is English.  Fr. told us that of the 80 some exorcists in the United States he does not know of any who use the newer rite.  Apparently the old rite is preferred.  As a fan of all things ancient and Latin this makes me happy.

On another happy note, I was very relieved to know that demons, and angels for that matter, do not know your thoughts. This isn’t to say that they don’t know what you are thinking because they are more intelligent than we could ever imagine and they can usually figure out where you’re heading.  They do, however have complete access to any sensory input you have ever had and all of your memory.  This is how they are able to tempt us with the precision of a surgeon.  They know everything about who, what, when, where and how you are and have ever been.  Yikes.

The simple fix?  The spiritual solution?  The one thing that can keep you safe?  Get in the state of grace and stay in the state of grace.  Frequent confession.  Daily Mass. Don’t sin. Pray.  It is exactly that easy and exactly that hard.  In our world we often forget what the Bible tells us over and over and over: Repent and sin no more, be healed.  I know I’m on repeat but this is it.

Just Be Holy.      +:o)

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger has written several books, some of which you can find here.  For an interesting article published by The National Catholic Register click here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul Nowak permalink
    April 17, 2017 4:33 pm

    I know Cliff, having been to college with him, and was always impressed with the “normal” guy who played rugby, liked beer, and wanted to be a priest more than anything. His personal piety is a gift to his parish, his friends, family, and those of us who have had connection to him in the past. This is an awesome article, and I am so glad to have found it!

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