AMONG THE MANY COUNTERFEITS
A Case of Demonic Possession

March 2008By Richard E. Gallagher

Richard E. Gallagher, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in Hawthorne, New York, and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College. He is also on the faculties of the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Institute and a Roman Catholic seminary. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton University, magna cum laude in Classics, and trained in Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Gallagher is the only American psychiatrist to have been a consistent U.S. delegate to the International Association of Exorcists, and has addressed its plenary session.

Este artículo: en español

Amid widespread confusion and skepticism about the subject, the chief goal of this article is to document a contemporary and clear-cut case of demonic possession. Even those who doubt such a phenomenon exists may find the following example rather persuasive. For clergy, or indeed anyone involved in the spiritual or psychological care of others, it is equally critical, however, to recognize the many and infinitely more common "counterfeits" (i.e., false assignations) of demonic influence or attack as well.

This need for caution and precision is especially important at a time when untrained laymen or, worse, public ministries may unfortunately mislead or even exploit the faithful in this area. One has only to turn on a television to witness obvious abuses -- for instance, tele­vangelists' dunning their audience for cash as they conduct exhibitionist ceremonies before large assemblies of the overly credulous. Sharp distinctions -- long known to traditional theologians, but now often ignored -- need to be drawn.

Possession is only one and not the most common type of demonic attack. Possession is very rare, though not as exceedingly so as many imagine. So-called "oppression," or "infestation," is less rare, though hardly frequent either, and sometimes more difficult to discern accurately.1 For our purposes here, a truly "possessed" individual exhibits so massive and unequivocal an assault that we will use it as the paradigmatic example of a genuine demonic attack. This case will be contrasted not to the many lesser degrees of demonic assault, but rather to the varied kinds of purported demonic involvement -- often psychotic conditions -- that turn out to have a purely natural explanation.2 These states should be more widely recognized as such by religious practitioners. This need is especially great among the many laymen now in deliverance ministries, a rapidly growing worldwide phenomenon.3


You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.



Back to March 2008 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Thank you, Dr. Gallagher! You are a man of medicine/science and a man of Faith. Clearly you are a man committed to the health and peace of each of God's children under your care: possessed / oppressed / infested / mentally ill / physically ill or any combination thereof. I hope skeptical clerics, scientists, and others are open to OBJECTIVELY evaluate your findings and not simply dismiss using a priori assumptions as a rationale. Posted by: tom reynolds
March 10, 2008 02:51 PM EDT
This is a beautiful and faith building article! Thank you! Posted by: eakter
April 06, 2008 12:32 PM EDT
This is a fascinating article that helps to shed some light on a reality that unfortunately too many of us are eager to shed from our consciousness - that of demonic presence in the world. My sincere thanks to Dr. Gallagher for having the courage and the mental acuity to accurately and cogently share a very revealing incident with us. Posted by: DeltBunyan
April 25, 2008 03:07 AM EDT
A great article! It would be nice if the public was able to get some data like video material of levitation, for example. You know that otherwise atheists will just claim this all to be a big big lie. Posted by: Erkkimon
August 21, 2008 08:06 AM EDT
Very well written and balanced. I admire Dr. Gallagher for his candor. However, I have some complaints. Dr. Gallagher indicates that several paranormal events took place - for example, the levitation. I understand that Catholic exorcisms are recorded, whether via audio or videotape. Was this event captured on video? If not, why not? In replying to letters to the editor, Dr. Gallagher responded that demons would apparently not care to “perform for a camera.” Presumably, demons will do whatever they do and not necessarily cease what they’re doing because a camera is rolling. By stating that demons are not interested in performing for the camera, Dr. Gallagher seems to make light of an astounding event which defied the laws of physics. One might object that a person of faith should not seek “proof” of such occurrences. However, if this event took place, it would be a factual occurrence warranting further study/investigation. If human beings value knowledge and growth, an attempt at documenting such an amazing event should be strongly encouraged. Further, I see nothing wrong with people looking to some paranormal events in support of their faith. After all, the church documents miraculous events. Perhaps I am a doubting Thomas, but even Jesus let Thomas feel his wounds when Thomas wanted proof. With respect to the appropriateness of seeking some type of “proof,” by writing his article, isn’t Dr. Gallagher doing the very same thing? Indeed, at the beginning of his article, he states that the chief goal is to document a clear-cut case of demonic possession amid confusion and skepticism, and offers tantalizing indications of numerous paranormal occurrences. I have great respect for Dr. Gallagher and this fascinating article and topic, but it appears that Dr. Gallagher wants it both ways. He wants to be able to offer tantalizing information, but then does not seem too interested in actually obtaining and providing documentation of the paranormal. I hope that Dr. Gallagher responds and at least shares more of his views and perhaps provide further information/explanations. I also wonder whether Dr. Gallagher has witnessed other paranormal events at other exorcisms. If so, I would hope he would share such invaluable information.

There are other reasons for the appropriateness of attempting to document an event such as the levitation. Ockham’s razor, for example, indicates that the simplest explanation is usually the right one (or, put another way, the best explanation is usually the one which assumes the least). Here, what is more likely - that in the incredible stress of the situation, religious people already inclined to believe were mistaken or exaggerating about what they think they saw or that an invisible monster from another world was rearing its ugly head? Clearly, if one is inclined to think scientifically, one would not conclude that the latter answer is the right one; thus, the appropriateness of a videotape to document such an incredible event. Also, with respect to mistake and exaggeration, this is very real. I recall reading statements made by a priest (I think one of the priests involved in the case upon which the movie The Exorcist is based) that the tendency to exaggerate what was happening was great. It is not hard to imagine that the five people attempting to hold down the woman saw only parts of her body while other parts remained on the bed. As we all know, people lie too. I certainly don’t believe that is the case here, but my point is that there might be simpler explanations for seemingly paranormal phenomena. In any event, if you can do it, why not grab a camera and start recording?

I also note that more details of the levitation would be nice to have. Dr. Gallagher does not specify whether he witnessed the levitation or was just relaying the reports of the nuns. Did the woman’s entire body levitate at the same time, or only parts of her body, such as her legs? Also, if 2 nuns and 3 others were attempting to hold her down, I would think it would not necessarily be easy to see what was going on. Just some thoughts.

I understand that there could be privacy concerns with recording and subsequently showing an exorcism. However, it is done (some years back, for example, 20/20 showed a Catholic exorcism). I imagine the individual involved could consent to the release of a videorecording. Alternatively, the individual’s face could be blurred and other measures taken.

I know that my comments are somewhat critical, but, as I stated, I have great respect for Dr. Gallagher. I studied philosophy and law (and have read quite a bit about exorcism too!), and I suppose I’m trained to question, doubt, and probe into facts. Hopefully, we can learn more about this fascinating subject area, with the input of the likes of Dr. Gallagher.
Posted by: johnnyc
November 13, 2010 12:25 AM EST
Jesus told us to pray; "our Father who art...", when Doubting Thomas saw Jesus resurrected he said; "my lord, My God" calling Jesus God the father. Jesus said; bless you for knowing... We have one they only God who has expressed himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We image God so as to understand his unselfish loving relationship within God.
Jesus says that if he doesn't go then the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus teaches us is the comforter, can not come. We image God in the physical attributes of God's spiritual image- the family unit. God is one and only bit has shown us three sides, you are born a child and have a natural awestruck love for your parents, you get married and you unselfishly love and comfort your spouse, and you have a child and become a parent. You image God, God is one and by living and understanding the unselfish love which is God, you thank him with all your heart and you emulate him by extending your love to include the human family as he has.
Posted by: Michael
September 01, 2012 09:29 AM EDT
Enoch7thgen - Before anyone posts about the Catholic Rite of Baptism, they should get their information from the primary source before passing misinformed judgment about Catholics, and especially about priests, in particular. I am Catholic and I talk/pray to Jesus everyday, which was what I was taught and encouraged to do by Catholic nuns, priests, and my own very devout Catholic family. "If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" Posted by: BlestBGod4Evr
September 01, 2012 11:30 PM EDT
Doesn't anyone realize that you don't need a "catholic priest" to cast out devils? If you have been born of the water and of the spirit ie; baptized in Jesus name and filled with the Holy Ghost then you have been given authority over demons by the name of Jesus. Demons have to flee at the sound of His great name. Catholic exorcists are what I like to refer to as "sceva sons" who don't know the name Jesus and neither have the authority that that name gives an individual baptized in His NAME = JESUS and not Father Son Holy Ghost as these are only titles - Jesus I know, Paul I know, but who are you? No wonder the woman possessed wanted catholic priests to perform an exorcism - because there's no power behind their ritual and the demon is free to resurface at a later time. No catholic priest is ever baptized in the name of JESUS - they are always baptized in titles so as not to take on the name above all names. There is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved. Mark 16:17 "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils..." Jesus warns us to come out of her; Rev. 18:4 "And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." Let him who has ears hear...who is this her? God bless Posted by: Enoch7thgen
September 01, 2012 02:04 AM EDT
AWESOME!!!!1 Posted by: bonnie payne
November 05, 2012 10:17 PM EST
If this article is actually real it should be free to the public and anyone who would want to read it keeping it and charging people for it simply isn't right Posted by: Person of intrest
November 04, 2012 04:58 AM EST
Thanks for sharing this case Dr. Gallagher. I think that people should diagnose someone as being possessed only when supernatural activity accompanies the person's behaviour. Otherwise, it may just be a mental case and then a priest cannot properly address something medical. The person may end up worse off. Genuine diabolic activity is preternatural in nature. Posted by: Luitgard
February 19, 2013 08:02 PM EST
Add a comment