Not long ago, the following authentic case of possession was communicated to the editor of Rome by the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Delalle, Titular Bishop of Natal, Africa. The bishop wrote:
Two months ago, I promised the editor of “Rome” an account of certain facts that happened in my vicariate last year (May 1907) concerning two native girls whom I believe to have been possessed by the devil. I shall simply relate the facts, without a word of comment, and shall content myself with vouching for their absolute truth. If anyone thinks differently from me on the subject, he is quite free to do so; I mean, provided he admits the facts, he may draw his own conclusions.
There is in the Vicariate of Natal a mission, now in charge of the Trappist fathers, where a great deal of good is done, although it was a long time before any results could be seen. This mission is dedicated to St. Michael, and it is about twenty miles away from the nearest village, the magistracy of Umzinto. For several months, I was constantly receiving letters from the priest in charge of St. Michael’s in which he declared that two girls of the mission native school were possessed by the devil, and he asked for permission to practice the solemn exorcisms. After some time, I allowed him to do so, and things were quieter for a little while; but soon the distressing phenomena reappeared worse than before. I was very much annoyed and hardly believed it was a case of possession, but rather I put it down to hysterics. I wrote to St. Michael’s, telling the priest to expect me on the Tuesday following.
We set out on Monday and arrived at St. Michael’s on Tuesday at noon. I really did not believe it was a case of possession, and Fr. Delagues laughed at the very idea of it. You may imagine, therefore, my annoyance when on arriving at the mission, I found the natives in eager expectation; the priest had told them that the bishop was coming to cast out the devils, and prayers had been said every day for that intention. I had, therefore, unless I wanted to lose all prestige and authority in the natives’ mind, to settle the case one way or the other. So I turned to Our Lord and told Him the whole thing was now His affair, and He had to help me.
We then went to see the two girls, Germana and Monica, who were kept in separate rooms and away from the other children. As soon as Germana saw me, she began to tremble and shake all over, shrinking from me. I told her to kneel down, which she did, gnashing her teeth. Fr. Delagues threatened to punish her if she did not behave properly; he had no sooner said this than she jumped up in a perfect fury: “Because you are from Durban,” she said, “you think you can do everything, even strike a spirit!” (Please note that she did not know the priest, neither did she know whence he came.) She then began to tear her dress, and we went away to see Monica. The latter seemed to suffer terribly, but she said nothing. I was yet very uncertain, and I called the priests (three Trappists) and also the sisters and asked them some particulars about the ways of the two girls. Here are some of the things they told me:
They carry enormous weights that two men could hardly lift (the girls are about sixteen years old). They understand Latin while in their fits, and they even speak it sometimes. They reveal the secret sins of the school children, etc. Sometimes they are lifted off the ground in spite of the sisters holding them. A few days before, while the sisters were holding Germana, she shouted, “I am on fire!” The sisters withdrew and saw the girl’s dress ablaze. Another time, her bed began to burn also, although there was no fire nearby. And so on.
It was getting very serious, and the poor sisters, weary of this terrible life, begged of me to help them. After all this, I thought it was my duty to begin the solemn exorcisms. I ordered the four priests and three sisters to be ready to begin at 2:00 p.m. in the sisters’ choir, and I excluded everyone else from the church. Just before the time, I had the holy water font emptied and filled with plain water, while I took a small bottle of holy water in my pocket. Then I put on the rochet and mozetta and waited for Germana.
The sisters brought her into the chapel, and I sprinkled her at once with water from the font. At first, she looked up with a slight shudder, but as I continued, she laughed mockingly and cried, “You may go on; this is not holy water!”
I then took the bottle out of my pocket and sprinkled her anew, but this time she shrieked and cried and asked me to stop. Now, I must remark that all the time that the ordeal lasted, I spoke Latin only, the girl obeying all my orders and answering me, usually in Zulu, but sometimes in Latin.
After some prayers, I asked her, “Dic mihi quomodo voceris?” (Tell me what you are called). She replied, “Dic mihi nomen tuum!” (Tell me your name!)
I insisted, and she said, “I know your name, it is Henry, but where did you see that spirits have names?”
“They have, and I command you to tell me yours.”
But on my placing on her head a relic of the true Cross, which she could not see, “Take that away,” she cried, “it crushes me!”
“What is it?”
“Then now tell me your name.”
“I can’t, but I’ll spell it: D-i-o-a-r.”
“Now, who is your master?”
“I have none!”
“But you have one, and you must tell me his name.”
“‘I cannot, but I shall write it,” and she wrote with her finger: “Lucifer.”
“Now,” I went on, “tell me why you were cast out from Heaven.”
“Because God showed us His Son made man and commanded us to adore Him; but we would not, because He had taken unto Himself an inferior nature.”
While I was going on with the prayers of the ritual, she (should I not say he? However, you understand) interrupted me constantly, objecting to all the invocations. When I read extracts from the Gospels, she suddenly exclaimed:
“I know Matthew, I don’t know Mark!”
“This is an untruth, and to make up for it kneel down at once.” Which she did. While we recited the Magnificat, she interrupted again:
“Stop it, I know it better than you, I knew it long before you were born!”
As one of the fathers commanded her to be quiet, she turned on him: “You fool! Who gave you authority over me? Did the bishop or the abbot delegate you?”
At times she remained quiet and disdainful; but sometimes she raged and gnashed her teeth: “I’ll make you sweat before I get out,” she said once; then all of a sudden, she begged to be allowed to go in to another girl, Anastasia:
“Stop your prayers,” she said, “they hurt me; if you stop, I shall go out tomorrow morning!”
Time went on, and, as I was tired, I commissioned one of the priests to read the prayers for me. He did so, but with a droning voice; as he stopped at the end of a paragraph, she turned fiercely upon him:
“Exi, immunde, spiritus [Come out, unclean spirit]!” she said.
From time to time, she went into awful fits of roaring; on such occasions, I had only to place two fingers lightly on the throat, and she could not utter a sound. To make a counter-experiment, I asked one of the sisters to do the same as I did, but it had no effect. “Tell me,” I said, “why you are so much afraid of the priest’s fingers?”
“Because,” she answered, “they are consecrated,” and she made the motion of the bishop anointing the priest’s hands at his ordination.
We went on thus from two in the afternoon until nine o’clock in the evening, when I decided to stop until the following morning. Afterward, Germana was somewhat quieter, and she came, begging of me not to give her up: “I am sure,” she said, “that if you said your Mass for me tomorrow, it would be easier.”
“Yes,” I answered, “I shall, but on the condition that you will go to Confession and Communion tomorrow morning.”
The night was awful, and the poor sisters had to remain with her all through. She went to Confession and Holy Communion in the morning and remained quiet until at 8:30 we began the exorcisms again.
From the very first words, she became unmanageable, and we had to tie her feet and her hands, since eight of us could not control her.
“You have sent away Anastasia,” she cried. “I can see her with another girl on their way to another mission, but I’ll find her again.”
It was true, early in the morning I had sent her away, but Germana could not possibly have known of it. After a while, someone called a priest away; he came back half an hour later.
“Where has he been?” I asked.
“He went to baptize a man who got sick suddenly.”
That also was true, though nobody in the chapel knew it.
Then she asked for a drink, and one of us fetched her a cup of water. After drinking some of it, she stopped:
“Wretched men,” she said, “you gave me holy water!”
Still, I made her drink the whole of it, and she became quite defiant.
“All right, give me more still, it will not make me suffer more than I do.”
It would be too long were I to repeat everything she said. Suffice it to say that every moment, it became more and more awful, until at last she tried to bite a priest. He, somewhat excited, gave her a little tap on the mouth, at which she became worse and called him the most stupid of men, who wanted to strike a spirit. As I commanded her to keep quiet, she cried, “Now, no more obedience!”
It was the end, evidently, but the struggle was terrible. At last, she fell to the floor and moaned with awful pains. Her face swelled up suddenly so that she could not even open her eyes, and the tears came down her cheeks. But the sign of the cross brought the face instantly back to its natural size. Then there was a kind of convulsion, and she remained motionless, as if dead. Locus vero foetore redolebat (The place, however, was odorous with a stench).
After about ten minutes, she opened her eyes and knelt down to thank God. She was released. “Dioar” had gone.
This is the summary of what happened to Germana. If anyone can explain the signs, the symptoms, the words, and the cure, otherwise than by possession, he will be more clever than I am.
As unmistakable signs of obsession or possession by evil spirits, the Church has always regarded:
- The power of knowing the unexpressed thoughts of others.
- The understanding of unknown languages.
- The power of speaking unknown or foreign languages.
- The knowledge of future events.
- The knowledge of things passing in distant places.
- The exhibition of abnormal physical strength.
- The suspension of the body in the air during a considerable time (in imitation of a similar phenomenon observed
in the lives of the saints.)
- Hatred of saintly persons, of the ordained, of sacraments and sacramentals, even of near relatives; persistent impulse to suicide. A safe sign (according to Poullain) is persistent opposition to the exorcist, so different from submission to the hypnotist.