An Anglican Exorcism of an “Unclean Spirit”


From The living monument, in parts, with some compositions in rhymes of liberal thoughts of past and future events, to lovers of light and liberty, N. Swenson, 1919

From The living monument, in parts, with some compositions in rhymes of liberal thoughts of past and future events, to lovers of light and liberty, N. Swenson, 1919

In these lax, pre-apocalyptic days, demons have been (regrettable term) “trending.” You can hardly open the Daily Mail or Mirror without finding some new story of a murder commited either to rid the world of a demon or under the auspices of one. An eminent TV evangelist has also given the helpful warning that there could be demons in second-hand clothing. “Demon houses” are a dime-a-dozen on paranormal TV and as the subject of self-published books, while amateur exorcists calling themselves “Demon Wranglers,” claim to be on the black-t-shirted front lines of the ultimate battle against Evil.

Things were somewhat better regulated in the past. The ordained clergy and the minor order of exorcists were consulted in cases of possession. A Bishop had to authorize the rite, for which the exorcist strenuously prepared by prayer and fasting. The ritual was carefully scripted and only performed as a last resort. There were no Deliverance Ministries performing spontaneous mass layings-on of hands in sports stadiums; no police officers exorcising suspects. We have previously looked at what appears to be a Methodist exorcism and “Polt or Possessed?” on Prince Edward Island. Let us turn now to the narrative of an Anglican clergyman who exorcised a man haunted by an unearthly creature; what he believed to be an “unclean spirit.”

A second example of successful exorcism, now to be narrated, is from the pen of an eminent and well-known clergyman of the Church of England, whose literary labors in the early part of the Oxford movement, were recognized and rewarded by high authority in the English Church. Only a slight verbal alteration here and there to make the narrative of itself quite intelligible, has been made by the Editor.

“The subject is almost too sacred for pen; and I only put it on record to show the goodness of God, and to indicate that His powers are not withdrawn, nor His Arm shortened. It is some years, however, since the event to be related happened; and the subject of it has long gone to his last account. I must scrupulously refrain from any indication of place and person; though, in these latter days of rude and coarse unbelief, when such inter-positions of the Almighty’s mercy are laughed to scorn, some may find comfort and edification from its recital.

“The son of a farmer, who had just come of age, having heard a sermon of mine, which I had preached some five years previously, came a distance of more than thirty miles to seek at my hands ghostly counsel. From his childhood he had been led to indulge in breaches of the seventh commandment, and these after a while were certainly of a heinous character. He believed himself (when I saw him) to he possessed by an unclean spirit. Wherever he went, he asserted that he saw a hideous black figure, darkly draped, with a, form like a man, but with the face of a beast, sitting opposite to, huddled up, and staring at him. It would appear for weeks together, at home, abroad, in his sleeping-room, in the field, in the market. Sometimes he would throw himself on to the floor in an agony of distraction, and pray God that it might be removed. For a short term he would cease to see it. But in due course it reappeared. And at last (an event which had never happened hitherto,) it would likewise haunt him in dreams. On one occasion he declared that it seemed to elongate itself into a long serpent-like figure, and, as he asserted, tried to creep down his throat. But wherever he went he almost always saw it. Thinking it might be the result of bodily ailment he consulted a physician; but with no effect.

“I am free to say that I was not long in coming to a conclusion, that it was a case of possession; though I did not arrive at that conclusion until I had taken counsel from one of the most pious and holy clergymen I ever knew, and had commended the subject to God Almighty in very earnest prayer.

“The result was that I unfolded to the subject of this apparition my intention, with God’s help, and his own sanction, to cast out the spirit, according to the old rule and custom of Holy Church. Prior to this he made a full and frank confession of his whole life, and resolved by God’s help to amend. Having made an appointment, a fortnight hence, with him, and being resolved to consecrate my proposed act, by special deeds of fasting, self-denial, and prayer, I was alarmed to hear, by letter, of his most serious illness a few days later. His relations asserted that he was suffering from epilepsy, and that the fits were rapid and most severe.

“The following day, taking with me a book containing an authorized form of exorcism, I went to see the sick man. His sufferings seemed to be excruciating: his fits shocking to witness. At a half-lucid interval he saw me; and, starting from his bed, tried to throw himself out of the window. When he was calmer, I knelt down and prayed for him with his relations; making several times an act of Faith.

“Then signing him with the cross on forehead, mouth, and breast, I began the authorized form. During this, his fits returned; and his violence and ravings were terrible to witness. Throughout I felt sustained in my action by a Higher Power, and completed my task in the Name of the Adorable and Ever-Blessed Trinity. Here he sank into a deep sleep; and this sleep proved to be the beginning of a complete change for the better. The fits ceased, the body was no longer tortured with writhings; and, as I heard from him afterwards, the hideous vision or apparition vanished, and was never seen again. A few years afterwards he died, as I believe in grace; and, as I commended his soul to God, so I committed his body to the dust; and have always looked upon this remarkable event as a token, to myself most unworthy, of the Almighty’s power and Presence amongst us, as well as of His exceeding great mercy and goodness to this poor sufferer.”

Glimpses of the Supernatural, Frederick George Lee, 1875

The unnamed narrator tells us that his client was enmeshed by sexual sins of an unspecified “heinous character.”  The “unclean spirit” with the face of a “beast,” might suggest bestiality, although the imagery of a serpent-like figure trying to creep down his throat seems an obvious reference to homosexuality. Thrusting those irrelevant and prurient speculations aside in favor of medical reality,  if the man was an epileptic, he might simply have been having hallucinations or he may have had some other sort of hallucination-inducing disease.

As someone who was formerly consulted about paranormal problems and who would not deliberately take a case where anything demonic was claimed because it was well above my pay grade, I still sometimes blundered into poltergeist manifestations that the experiencers wanted to label “demonic.” I never quite understood this. Although some of these individuals held strong religious beliefs, most of them simply seemed to find the idea of a demon, rather than a dysfunctional family, more appealing. One wonders if something of this sort was going on here–a rural community, a young man steeped in sexual sin, perhaps of an unnatural sort and certainly damning. Better the devil you know…

Other Protestant exorcisms or any thoughts about who the “eminent and well-known clergyman of the Church of England” might have been? Chriswoodyard8 AT

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