Exorcism for Fun and Profit
by Loren Rhoads
My mom was a school librarian and didn’t place any limits on what I read, figuring that if it was too mature for me, I simply wouldn’t understand it. She limited what I could watch, though. I wasn’t allowed to see The Exorcist in the theater, but she didn’t stop me from reading the novel. Long after everyone I knew was terrified—or claimed they were terrified—by the movie, I checked the novel out of the public library.
The part that struck me more than anything else was Blatty’s introduction, in which a man is tortured in a dirty prison cell with a cattle prod and a bucket of water. I was a farm girl. My dad’s cattle prod lived on the telephone desk in the kitchen, where it was close to hand in case the cows got out. I knew a cattle prod would make a 1200-pound steer sit down. I could easily imagine what it would do to a man.
Blatty’s point was that men did such evil to each other that demonic possession was easy to believe in. It would be decades before I wondered about humans possessing demons.
A couple of years after I read the novel, I came home from university one weekend when my parents weren’t home. Of course I invited a couple of friends over to my folks’ place in the country. Because there was whiskey involved, everyone was expected to spend the night.
My memories of that night come in fragments, like a broken kaleidoscope: there was pizza. Under-aged boys. My best friend from high school. It goes without saying there was puking.
In the middle of the night, I crawled out to the family room with my misery. Unable to sleep at the best of times, my friend Martha had the TV on. The only thing she could find to watch in the middle of that interminable night was The Exorcist.
I wonder now if the movie had been edited for TV. I remember the boils and the pea soup and the backbend and the spinning head. The possession was not, by a long stretch, the most horrific thing I saw that night.
Even so, Father Merrin, speaking the rites, lodged in my imagination.
Many years later, Brian Thomas followed the story I’d written about a succubus meeting an angel by possessing my succubus with a mortal girl’s soul. Suddenly, Brian and I were writing the book that would come to be called Lost Angels.
Clearly, if there was a possession, there would need to be an exorcist. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I don’t know the rituals of the Church. I do know–all too well–how it feels to be a young woman completely out of control, when something else takes control of your body and poisons you. The possession was easy to write. The exorcism worried me. I wanted to get it right, to do justice to my influences.
Poking around in the Brand Bookstore in Glendale with Brian, I came across Exorcism Through the Ages, published in 1974 by the Philosophical Library of New York. It was exactly the book I needed to guide the exorcism of a mortal girl’s soul from the succubus Lorelei. Wheels within wheels: a historical overview of exorcism inspired by a fictional exorcism inspired by the real-life exorcism of Roland Doe…and all of it inspiring the events in the back room at Lost Angels.
Here’s a little taste of the exorcism at Lost Angels:
The exorcism was working. Lorelei felt a dreadful tearing in her chest, like the agony a cell feels as it divides.
Joseph watched her closely. He raised his hands to shoulder height, palms facing her, and began to pray. “Satan, Father of Lies, Author of Evil, look in pity on this your servant, now caught up in the coils of this human spirit. Unravel this angelic labyrinth, break asunder these snares and traps, put this childish ghost to flight. By this sign,”—he drew an upside cross—“let your servant be protected. Keep watch over the inmost recesses of her heart, rule over her emotions, strengthen her will. Let vanish from her flesh the temptations of this human child. As we call on your name, O Satan, allow this child to retreat in grace and in peace, so that this servant of yours may sincerely and steadfastly render you the service which is your due.”
The agony spiraled beyond anything Lorelei had previously imagined. The more she tried to shove aside Ashleigh’s ghost, the more of her own spirit she felt ripped away. Her flesh had turned to stone, galvanized by lightning. She convulsed and arced and struggled, breathing out a steady tormented moan.