In his letter to the Ephesians 6:12, St. Paul wrote that “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”
For me, the scariest movie I’ve ever seen isn’t the sci-fi movie Alien or the supernatural movie Rosemary’s Baby. It’s The Exorcist III, originally titled Legion, about demonic possession of patients in a psychiatric hospital.
Indeed, theologians and exorcists such as the late Fr. Malachi Martin maintained that, among the reasons (such as habitual sinning) which can make a person vulnerable to demonic possession is the emptying of self. In his 1992 book Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans, Martin warned about the spiritual danger when a person becomes an “aspiring vacuum” to “whatever happens along” by, for example, dabbling in the Ouija board.
But it is not just the occult that poses a danger.
It is partly through our faculty of reason that God protects us, so any activity that impairs our mind and will is a threat to the integrity of our selfhood. Any activity that involves an abandonment of self-control can provide an opening to the demonic. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the invitation is extended for something or someone to enter in to fill the void. In that light, it is interesting that an Alcoholics Anonymous counselor once told FOTM’s Joan that a recovering alcoholic’s mental age is much less than his chronological age; it is the individual’s biological age when he first began drinking. In other words, the person was not really present during the alcohol-soaked years, which raises the troubling question of who — or what — was there instead.
A vacuum or absence of the self can come from engaging the occult, abusing alcohol and drugs, or severe mental illness and senile dementia. It is the latter that makes the remarks of Kimberly Littrell of interest.
Littrell is a Catholic psychiatric nurse practitioner at Promedica Psychiatry Group and Research Center in Loganville, Georgia. She is also the founder and executive director (1985-1995) of Schizophrenia Treatment and Rehabilitation. At a retreat in Atlanta organized by writer Michael Brown, Littrell was asked to speak about her experience with psychiatric patients. This is what she said:
“Everyday I see people who are experiencing some type of possession, some manifestation of the spiritual battle. There are things that are clearly out of the diagnostic categories. Most people in the field want to give it a nice psychiatric code and move on. But the enemy is not just imbalances in [the neurotransmitters] dopamine and serotonin. It is Satan.”
Littrell recounted one case when a strange voice challenging the nurse erupted out of a woman who had an abortion. In another case, a patient coughed up a nail. Littrell said that the devil seems to especially target those who can have the greatest impact on other people, such as teachers and clergy. “And I’m not speaking about priests,” she said. “I’m talking about all kinds of clergy, married or not. Celibacy is not the issue.” Even deliverance ministers can be affected.
Littrell has witnessed bizarre “epidemics” of her own, such as a recent spate of fifteen patients who all said they had their sleep disrupted at 3:31 a.m.
The ultimate effect of possession, claims Kimberly, is suicide. “When a patient is taking 600 milligrams of a psychiatric drug and still wants to kill herself, it tells you something,” she says.
Attacks most often stop through simple prayer. In Mark 2:9, Christ tells us that some spirits come out only with prayer and fasting.
A man suddenly turns feral on a Miami causeway and begins devouring a homeless indigent’s face. A midnight screening of a Batman movie becomes the scene of a massacre. Another mass shooter kills 6, then turns the gun on himself in a Sikh temple. We seem to be living in a time when the veil is thinning, when spirits seem to have been activated around us. Kimberly recommends, in addition to prayer and fasting, the buffer of Bible-reading, Confession, the Rosary, and taking Communion.