Richard Gallagher has written an article reporting on what he has learned about the signs of demonic possession after about 25 years of studying it. He is a practicing Catholic which naturally raises questions about his impartiality so he emphasizes his academic credentials, to assure us that he is not some kind of religious nut. His byline tells us that he is a “board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College.”
The text of the article continues that effort, where he speaks of himself as being skeptical of “hocus-pocus”, an “academic physician”, a “sophisticated psychiatrist”, and informs us that, “I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia.”
So what are the signs that he looks for that indicate that a demon is playing around with you? He says that warning signs are that the person suddenly speaks multiple languages that they could not have known, knows things about the backgrounds of people they have never met and their secret sins and weaknesses, shows enormous strength or even levitates, and “may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion”.
He says that he has personally seen, or heard from reliable sources, all these things. So how come we never seem to get concrete evidence of these things? He gives the usual answer.
As a man of reason, I’ve had to rationalize the seemingly irrational. Questions about how a scientifically trained physician can believe “such outdated and unscientific nonsense,” as I’ve been asked, have a simple answer. I honestly weigh the evidence. I have been told simplistically that levitation defies the laws of gravity, and, well, of course it does! We are not dealing here with purely material reality but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand. (The official Catholic Catechism holds that demons are sentient and possess their own wills; as they are fallen angels, they are also craftier than humans. That’s how they sow confusion and seed doubt, after all.) Nor does the church wish to compromise a sufferer’s privacy any more than doctors want to compromise a patient’s confidentiality.
So there you are. We simply have to believe him and other observers. But why will these crafty fallen angels not allow themselves to be videorecorded? What better way than to convince people of their existence and sow confusion and doubt among skeptics?
But the good news is that I have never exhibited any of these symptoms of demonic possession and although I have criticized religion, it has been run of the mill and can hardly be described as with “astonishing venom and contempt”. This is a relief because it would be a real nuisance to have my body inhabited by someone else. Furthermore, I am not sure what an exorcism involves but it sounds painful.