My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
[Truncated] The legendary bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, whose books have sold over 14 million copies, reveals the amazing true story of his work as an exorcist — kept secret for more than twenty-five years — in two profoundly human stories of satanic possession.
For the first time, Dr. Peck discusses his experience in conducting exorcisms, sharing the spellbinding details of his two major cases: one a moving testament to his healing abilities, and the other a perilous and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against darkness and evil. Twenty-seven-year-old Jersey was of average intelligence; a caring and devoted wife and mother to her husband and two young daughters, she had no history of mental illness. Beccah, in her mid-forties and with a superior intellect, had suffered from profound depression throughout her life, choosing to remain in an abusive relationship with her husband, one dominated by distrust and greed.
I’m deviating from my usual format for a book that is not speculative fiction and for a discussion of what is contained within rather than a review. Glimpses of the Devil is from my non-fiction exorcism research list for my paranormal/horror The Exorcist’s Assistant (working title).
Though some might feel that a book recounting exorcisms is written on shaky foundation, I believe in the supernatural and, more specifically, the existence of evil spirits we call “demons.” I am not, however, a Christian, so I bring my own opinions to the reading of these stories, which is the impetus for this blog entry. I believe that every spiritual explanation–from major religions to individual experiences–is like a blind man trying to describe an elephant. The observation touches on something true about the whole, but the interpretation misses the entire picture.
In Glimpses of the Devil, Dr. Peck, who is a psychiatrist and converted Christian, recounts two experiences where he acted as an exorcist. He holds these two cases up as proof of demonic possession. Enough evidence exists in what he presented that, if he has presented everything factually, I believe these are cases of true demon possession.
However, I disagree with his interpretation of events in two specific areas.
The first rule of exorcisms…
Glimpses of the Devil is described as a factual representation of events; however, it ends up as an autobiographical account of a man who decides, without religious or demonological training, to exorcise two patients. This becomes clear throughout the book as Dr. Peck wrestles with his decision. One of my chief concerns regarding all this is that he never asks, “Should I do further research into exorcisms beyond reading Malachi Martin‘s books?”
Mr. Martin is widely criticized in the exorcist community as writing sensational books full of half-truths and for decidedly un-Christian-like conduct, such as several affairs. Dr. Peck goes so far as to claim that no other handbook for exorcisms exists beyond Mr. Martin’s, which is patently untrue. (See again my reading list, which is far from a compendium on all exorcist non-fiction.) Dr. Peck’s ignorance of the best practices in dealing with demons is evident from the beginning.
The first case is Jersey, a girl who has been possessed since she was twelve. Dr. Peck and his team exorcise her, which goes well. He then spends three weeks with her in psychoanalytic therapy, preparing her for re-entering the world.
After the exorcism, Dr. Peck is in contact with her over the years. During one visit, she explains to him that the demons still talk to her, but she is able to ignore them. In one instance, she told them to “shut the fuck up,” and they did. However, out of curiosity, Dr. Peck asks to hypnotize her, as he did in the past, and to speak to the demons through her. She agrees and the resulting conversation is confusing. Nothing particularly demonic happens; instead, the entity speaking through Jersey identifies itself as a clerk living in Anaheim. He ends the hypnotic session and sees her rarely after that, though she, at press time, is happy, healthy, and no longer possessed.
I am appalled. Shame on you, Dr. Peck, for opening the door to allow a demon to speak through Jersey. I won’t be surprised if the ending to the story is that she ends up possessed again.
Look, I’m no expert, but I have read a few things and I have some common sense. One of the preeminent exorcists of our times, Father Gabriele Amorth, has given extensive precautionary information in An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories. These two books are not pea-soup-spitting horrors but are thoughtfully written tradesman’s books–discussions of the nuts and bolts and challenges facing exorcists. They could be about plumbing or IT development but are instead about exorcisms. At the time that Dr. Peck conducted his exorcisms, the books had not yet been written; however, I would expect a non-fiction published in 2005 to at least acknowledge the existence of Father Amorth’s books.
In his books, Father Amorth advises, quite sensibly, against engaging a demon in conversation. Assuming you believe demons are creatures of inherent evil and you aren’t interested in unleashing evil into the world, you can agree that you shouldn’t talk to them. Why? Because they lie. Even if they’re not lying about whatever you ask, how do you know that? You’re begging to be manipulated. What is there to learn, other than that they’re evil, which you already know?
It’s an exciting, gripping, fascinating world to step into. The lure of talking to something not human is immense. It’s no wonder the Catholic Church refuses to promote its work in the realm of exorcisms.
This deviation from “get the hell out of that woman” to “hey, guy, whatcha doin’ in there?” becomes prominent in the second patient’s exorcism. Dr. Peck is fascinated with the idea that Beccah is possessed by Satan, an evil creature millions of years old. He senses a giant, immoveable snake, as old as the world itself, coiled supernaturally around or inside of his patient. He wonders why it has possessed her. He asks it questions. He hypothesizes why it won’t leave her. He does everything except exorcise it.
I wasn’t there. I don’t know. Maybe it went differently, and his ruminations are for the book only. But the exorcism of Beccah took a subtle shift from the exorcism of Jersey. With Jersey, he very strongly orders the demons to leave for three days straight. With Beccah, he ends up falling to the floor weeping at one point and another team member must step in and complete the exorcism. Is it no wonder that it turned out the way it did?
The moment of possession
I’m also uncomfortable with the conclusions that Dr. Peck has drawn, aided by Malachi Martin, about the reasons behind demonic possession. Both men claim that every possessed person is complicit in their possession, that to become possessed, one must open the door for that possession, even if only a crack.
When the first patient Jersey was twelve, her father molested her. She allowed him to do it because he claimed to be a medical doctor and was “examining” her after her appendix was removed. He held a PhD and was a practicing psychologist but was not a medical doctor.
Dr. Peck claims that at twelve years old, Jersey knew the difference between a psychologist and a medical doctor. Though he doesn’t outright blame her, he explains that in not protesting what her father did to her, she created a kind of cognitive dissonance that allowed the demons to gain a foothold. She willfully believed a lie, and therefore, she opened the door to being possessed.
Are you kidding me, Dr. Peck?
I have no idea why that poor girl was possessed, but the only proof the author had that her demonic interference started at twelve was her word while she was possessed. It could have been one of the demons speaking through her to hide the real timing and cause of the possession. Her bad behavior only starts manifesting in her twenties. Why did the demons wait so long?
And I just don’t agree with the idea of Jersey bringing this on herself because she was molested. “Oh,” Dr. Peck says, “you didn’t bring the molestation on yourself; however, you did bring the possession on yourself.”
In healing psychological trauma, it’s important to identify and acknowledge all feelings. Thus in a rape, a victim might say, “I feel that I brought this on myself.” While this may be a turning point for the victim, the turning point is because he or she is releasing that negative thought. A follow-up might be an acknowledgement that she didn’t bring it on herself or perhaps that she could have taken a different route home but had no way of knowing what would happen. It is not suddenly a fact that the victim brought the horrific tragedy on herself just because she thinks she did. It’s psychologically freeing–which we see in the case of Jersey–but that doesn’t make it true.
This preoccupation becomes even more apparent in Beccah’s case, and Dr. Peck’s search for the moment of her possession may have distracted him from being useful to her. Beccah was found wandering six streets away from her home when she was eighteen months old. Though little is known of her mother beyond that she was seen by Beccah as evil, this is exceedingly atypical behavior by a child in that age range, as asserted by Dr. Peck himself. Non-traumatized children nine months to several years old are afraid of strangers and cling desperately to their mothers. That Beccah ran away from home before she could talk says that she was already maladjusted, due to her circumstances, well before she had a choice in the matter.
While it is important to note that everyone has a choice and that choice is important in defeating a demon, we are all victims of our circumstances. A woman may end up being narcissistic because she was genetically predisposed and her mother modeled that behavior; she may free herself from it by taking responsibility for her actions. Going in is not a choice, but coming out is.
The very definition of a demon is a creature that preys on human victims. Have we forgotten what victims are? They’re victims. And it’s not a far stretch to believe that supernatural creatures intent on anguish and destruction choose innocents. It’s comforting to tell ourselves that we won’t ever be targets because we don’t do anything to invite evil into our lives, but that smacks of untruth.
I admire Dr. Peck’s open discussions, including failings that he freely admits. The books was fascinating, but I’m cautious about naming the elephant. Whenever we delve too far into specifics when it comes to religion, we become distracted and unable to see the entire picture. Though it’s obvious that “invoking “he name of Jesus Christ” holds sway over demons, that doesn’t prove that every piece of Christian dogma is correct. Exorcisms have been performed successfully for thousands of years across all cultures and religions, despite what the Catholic church might want people to believe.
I’m convinced that there’s evil in the world. And sometimes, we can do nothing to stop being swept away by it. Educating ourselves on all aspects of evil and opening ourselves to understanding beyond our own narrow worldview will aid in defeating it in our own lives and as collective humanity.