Halloween Reading: The Demonologist

demonologistThe Demonologist, an account of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s career in demonology, is one creepy-ass book. The Warrens’ names should sound familiar if you’re an “Amityville Horror” obsessive. (I am—with the original conspiracy, anyway, not the tepid film series.) To those who followed the saga of 112 Ocean Ave, either in its heyday, or in subsequent books, television specials, and/or truly abhorrent film adaptations, the Warrens should already feel like family. When the Lutz family fled their brief home after only 28 days and spouted off about the evil residing within, outsiders who eventually became involved in the controversy were actively split in regards to the legitimacy of the claims. In short, they either believed the Lutzes, or they didn’t. The Warrens and other occult specialists did, Law enforcement didn’t, and the media didn’t care—but they covered every inch of it like hungry canines.

While The Demonologist does mention Amityville from time to time, the Warrens don’t have much to say on the subject, other than they believed in the Lutzes and tried to help as best as they could. Instead, the book is actually a very detailed account of their careers and their life together—and of the evil that often followed them home from their “exorcisms.” The Warrens generally helped rid two kinds of infestation: oppression (ongoing harassment by a demon to break down a person’s will and make their body easier to inhabit) or possession (the invasion of a person’s body by a foreign entity). The book is largely comprised of direct quotes from Ed and Lorraine themselves, relating their own experience and encounters.

demonologist2The book’s author, Gerald Daniel Brittle, does a commendable job taking this information and weaving in relevant information to fill in the gaps and create a coherent narrative. Chapters alternate between recollections of more memorable visits to homes where demon infestations once occurred, and the Warrens’ clear explanations of demonology in answers to questions author Brittle poses—and it’s especially helpful that Brittle asks the same questions that you or I would while reading the book.

What exactly is demonology? How does one become a demonologist? Because psychology is so often mentioned alongside cases where demonology (specifically exorcisms) is involved, does that mean there is a correlation between the two? Why don’t more people know about demonology?

Ed mainly handles these questions, answering each with a wealth of information based on his years of experience in the field. While Lorraine, too, is considered a demonologist, she instead refers to herself as a clairvoyant—one who is more sensitive to her surroundings and capable of seeing, hearing, and sensing things that most people do not. Houses infested with demons, she explains in the book, give off moods just like a human being does, and she is able to sense these moods during her preliminary walkthroughs of the houses in question. She also claims to see “auras,” which provide information – in the form of different colored halos – that surround every human being.

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The Amityville House: 112 Ocean Ave

Even with Ed matter-of-factly reiterating information from past cases, the book is effortlessly creepy. A typical person who saw 1973’s The Exorcist and found it over-the-top would be shocked at how that film only managed to scratch the surface of what a true exorcism entails, and the traits those infested with a demon or demons may possess. The Exorcist featured unnatural vomit, physical manipulation of the unfortunate host, wildly fluctuating temperatures surrounding the possessed, and the knowledge of previously unknown languages. Ed Warren verifies all of this activity in the book. What The Exorcist didn’t portray was the materialization/dematerialization of objects, faces of the possessed briefly transforming into that of an animal’s, the smell or even physical appearance of excrement, or the presentation of foreign objects not previously located in the house. In one instance during an exorcism, Ed claimed a softball-sized rock appeared in midair and thudded on the floor, and upon having the rock tested by a specialist at a nearby university, confirmed that that specific rock was from a wooded area over 75 miles away. It’s this kind of information – unorthodox, unusual, and inherently unthreatening – that truly makes the claims that much more unnerving. Yes, if during The Exorcist Regan’s face had broken out into that of a cat or dog (or a gorilla, which Ed claims occurs the most frequently), the audience would have broken out into jeers. But with the mere explanation of that having happened in the past before you only in words, your imagination fills in the gaps, and it becomes a genuinely frightening thought—because that simply does not jibe with everything we like to think we know about the subject of exorcism. We think spinning heads and pea soup, not animal noises and mysterious stones falling from the sky and pelting the house of the afflicted.

While the book touches on some rather famous cases, such as West Germany’s Annaliese Michele (which inspired The Exorcism of Emily Rose), and the possession of Robbie Mannheim (alias), a boy from Maryland (which later inspired The Exorcist), a large portion is dedicated to the oppression/possession of the Donovan family. It is during these pages when the book is at its creepiest, and photographs of the damage done by the spirits are present.

Ed shares one particular encounter – not related to a case the Warrens were investigating – that I found especially unnerving, only because of how random the encounter was:

Only a few months ago, Lorraine and I had just been on a television show uptown in New York City. Afterwards, we took a taxi down to Chinatown for lunch. As we were walking along the street we saw there was some trouble at the corner, with police cars all around. So I suggested we cut through a walkway or alley on our left-hand size, which led to Mott Street.

Well, we took the alley, which was full of beat-up trashcans overflowing with garbage. Flies, maggots, and vermin were everywhere. The combination of the heat and the stink of decomposing garbage quickly began to sour our stomachs. Nevertheless, we kept going. Further back, the alley crooked slightly, so that beyond the middle you could no longer see the street.

We walked quickly, but as we got to the middle of the alleyway, at the end of this long row of trashcans, we saw two feet sticking out. I told Lorraine to stand still while I walked up ahead. When I got closer, I saw it was a man—a derelict. He was a Caucasian, between thirty-five and sixty-five—you couldn’t tell. The man was barely alive, sitting up against the wall with his legs stretched out into the path. He was filthier than anyone I have ever seen: covered with sores and scabs, and obviously riddled with disease.

But that just begins to tell the story. Because piled on top of him – as though he were sitting in bed with a quilt over him – were heaps of runny, putrefying garbage. This foul mess covered the man all the way up to his chest and down to his knees. His arms were plopped in the middle of this rotting slop, and flies were landing all over his face and body. Rats had apparently been gnawing on his feet and toes. It was evident the man hadn’t moved in days.

Ironically, his shoes were neatly placed beside him, shined up and ready to go. Now I have been in war and I have seen spiritual abominations in haunted houses but I doubt if I’ve ever seen anything so repulsive or disgusting in my life. How could this happen? How could a human being be reduced to such a stage?

I looked at this poor, wretched soul from the feet up, and was overtaken with compassion and grief. When I finally came to look upon his face, I was stunned and instinctively took a step back. His face was twisted into a perverse sneer—and there was that ugly, inhuman look of delirium in his eyes. Then I knew what had happened to him. And what was possessing that man, in turn, knew me, too.

‘You bastard!’ I said to it, so sickened was I by this scene. It laughed, mockingly. ‘I am killing him,’ it said to me. ‘In a few days, he will be dead. And do you know, there is nothing you can do about it. Because it is already done.’

Also in the book are several pages of transcribed audiotapes featuring Ed’s interrogations with the possessed. A piece of one of those interrogations is as follows:

Voice: I do not choose to be here!
Ed Warren (EW): Why did you come then?
Voice: I am under the Power!
EW: Whose power?
Voice: A white light!
EW: Describe yourself to me.
Voice: No. (A crucifix is then set in place, followed by agonized screaming by the possessing spirit.)
EW: Describe yourself to me!
Voice: I must in truth tell you what I look like. I am wicked—and ugly looking. I am inhuman. I am vindictive. I have a horrible face. I have much gross hair on my body. My eyes are deepsunk. I am black all over. I am burnt. I grow hair. My nails are long, my toes are clawed. I have a tail. I use a spear. What else do you want to know?
EW: What do you call yourself?
Voice: (Proclaiming) I am Resisilobus! I am Resisilobus!

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Resisilobus

And another, in which the possessing entity allegedly called himself Fred and spoke in a British cockney accent:

EW: Do you want me to bring a priest in here?
Voice: Yeah, all right. Bring ‘im in here. I’ll kick ‘im in the backside.
EW: What would you say if the Blessed Mother told you to leave, Fred?
Voice: Yeccch. Ugh.
EW: Do you know what this is, Fred? What do you see?
Voice: Uh…a cross.
EW: That’s right, a cross. That cross means your days are numbered here.
Voice: I’m gonna chop somebody’s head off.
EW: The next time I come back here, Fred, you’d better be gone. Because the next time I come I’m bringing a very powerful exorcist with me, someone you won’t want to mess with.
Voice: (There is a long lull.) Ed. Ed. Ed…Ed…Ed-ward.
EW: What is it, Fred?
Voice: Let’s play exorcist. Go get the holy water.

The Demonologist is infinitely fascinating to those with even a passing interest in the subject, regardless of where your belief system might lie. However, I must warn you that this book is definitely not for everyone. If you are a person who fervently believes that the world you see before you is all there is to see—that there’s nothing beyond—then you will probably receive no enjoyment from this book whatsoever. While the history and information would probably be interesting to all readers, its claims would be so easily dismissed from the first page that there would be no point for some people to continue reading. For all intents and purposes, the book is labeled and considered non-fiction—much to the chagrin of the more close-minded that question that label with a smirk.

I am a skeptic, by and large. I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts and demons and everything in between, but I also don’t believe things like that are impossible, either. Unlikely, perhaps—but not impossible. So when Ed recites, without a hint of irony, his experiences with haunted mirrors, or Ouija boards presenting very real dangers, your own personal prejudice is going to determine how you react. Because I am not 100% on board with the beliefs of the Warrens, I found some of the claims bordering on absurdity. However, the Warrens firmly believe in their careers as demonologists, and in the unseen entities they battle on almost a daily basis, and so because of that the book gets my respect. They were fully aware, even during the writing of this book, that they were opening themselves up to mockery by the more close-minded, but they were not deterred by that fact—instead, their aim of the book remains emphatically clear: demons are very real, and can very easily enter our world. The Warrens dictate what kind of people are more open to these invading entities (those who spend most of their days angry, or depressed; those considering suicide; alcoholics/drug addicts), and what things a person has to do to invite them in. (While the Warrens resist talking specifically about what a person has to do to entice these entities, they do confirm certain ceremonies performed by various people who later became victims of demons they foolishly invited into their life.)

Neurologist Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society (which is like being president of Sticks in the Mud, Inc.) has investigated the claims of the Warrens, and is pretty quick to dismiss their history as demonologists. “The Warrens are good at telling ghost stories. You could do a lot of movies based on the stories they have spun. But there’s absolutely no reason to believe there is any legitimacy to them.”

To lend a little credibility to the Warrens’ careers, it should be noted that they have never accepted payment from those claiming to suffer from demonic oppression or possession. If you called the Warrens, they came to you, and if they determined your claims were genuine, they stayed until the invading entities were gone—for free. Further, they even insisted on bringing home with them any particular items that may have been the catalyst for an invading demonic entity in the first place. They reason that to leave the objects with the family runs the risk of letting the same demon back into their lives, or to destroy the cursed item would unleash the demon into the world in general. And so, their “dark museum” grew considerably over the years:

There are about a hundred items in the collection so far, and almost every item has a story attached to it. There’s a string of pearls that when worn around the neck, strangles the wearer. There’s the long black spike a satanic witch used long ago to murder her newborn infant as a sacrifice to the devil. There is the sage plaster doll dressed in Victorian clothing that not only took on the features of the old lady who once owned it, but became animated and behaved like a human being for over 20 years. There are the crania of human skulls that have been used as “chalices of ecstasy” for drinking human blood during witchcraft rituals. There’s the coffin in which a possessed man slept each night for his whole adult life. There are stones – some quite sizeable – that fell out of the sky onto homes under diabolical siege. There are crucifixes that have actually been exploded by demonic spirits and excrement. There are written pacts with the devil, the black candles and conjuring book from the Hillman case, and by the door to Ed’s office is hung the conjuring mirror take from Oliver Bernbaum’s house in New Jersey. The planchette and burned picture frames from the Dononvan case are displayed on a table not far from a wooden cabinet in which Annabelle, the Raggedy Ann doll, now sits holding a plain wood crucifix in her little cloth hand.

The Demonologist was first published in 1980 and then for a long time afterwards was out of print, but a new edition is available, and time has been well to its contents. The information remains rich, intriguing, and scary. While Ed Warren is sadly no longer with us (he died in 2006), Lorraine has continued the battle against the darkness as a member of The New England Society for Psychic Research.

the-conjuring2013’s The Conjuring, directed by filmmaker James Wan, dove into the Warrens’ past to tell the story of the Perrons, a Rhode Island family who dealt with a demon infestation of their own during the 1970s. While the exploits of the family may have been discussed in the book, their name is never used, so it’s hard to say. The Perron family have maintained that, for the most part, the events of the film occurred as presented — including the possession of the mother. In a letter to Horror Movies.ca, Andrea Perron wrote: “The Conjuring is based on a ‘true story’…our story. However, the film is not based on my trilogy ‘House of Darkness, House of Light’. It is, instead, based upon the case files of Ed & Lorraine Warren. … There are liberties taken and a few discrepancies, but overall it is what it claims to be — based on a true story, believe it or not.” The stellar direction by Wan (also responsible for Insidious and Dead Silence, among others) takes an otherwise clunky script and churns out an excellent horror film – though it’s one that may or may not play fast and loose with the events as dictated by the family who claim to have lived them. [Norma Sutcliffe, the current owner of the Perrons’ former home, has gotten so sick of the tourists who have come to see the legendary house that she’s put together a comprehensive video dunking the claims found in Andrea Perron’s auto-biographical trilogy. Strangely enough, Andrea put together her own video with Norma, whom she refers to as “her friend,” so Norma could share the “spooky experiences” she’s had while living there.]

The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist, another infamous Warren case, is currently in production with Wan back at the helm, and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga returning as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively.

All of the Hollywood magic and she-said/she-said aside, The Demonologist remains a powerful, well-researched, and eerie piece of writing, and regardless on which side of the fence you stand – skeptic or believer – it covers interesting ground.

The Demonologist is available on Amazon, naturally, and several chunks can be sampled here.

For more information on the Warrens, be sure to check out their (woefully out-of-date) official website.

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