from Ten Days with an Exorcist

Line Kallmayer

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An exorcism works on the body, unlike a confession, which works on the soul and fills it with light. The demon, while it possesses the body, feels whatever the body senses in a given moment. Many spirits leave the body through expiration via the mouth or the nose. They use the body to express emotions, feelings; to laugh, smile, shout. They are everywhere and move about with complete freedom.

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Dear Drew,

I have seen him. Sitting in a mellow basement room with translucent curtains drawn in front of double windowed doors leading to an outside terrace. In front of him is a great, shiny black grand piano that he does not touch. He has no stool. He is positioned on the carpeted floor with his back turned to me. Next to him, there is an animal of some sort. It may be a dog. I notice his legs. They are not right. They are non-functional pieces of human tissue pointing in opposite directions like exposed beams. Twisted, you know, as if he is doing the splits. His legs must be numb, passive. His gaze is downwards. The piano is open, but no one is playing it. He is lean, short with grey hair and strongly built. Sixty to seventy years old, I would guess. His eyes. They are black. He wears white or light clothes, light summer clothes. I am standing at the open doorway, observing him, and he knows I am there. He sees me. He sends me thoughts. He wants me to do something for him. Something unbearable. Every time the thought enters me, I levitate from the ground and feel the power of his temptation; his will, my will. When I let him. When I accept. But I fight it. I fight and every time, I slowly come back to the ground, slowly. It goes on for a while. I don’t know why it is so hard to resist, I know how wrong it is. I still cannot conceive of the terror of what he is proposing.

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14 DECEMBER, 2011

Almost immediately I heard voices and I saw a silhouette of a tall, slim man wearing a long black priest’s robe appearing in the corridor with big thick glasses that made his eyes look gigantic and penetrating as his gaze hit me. He had little hair, a shiny bald head with grey hair around the sides. It was hard to tell his age. His lips were thin and he had a faint almost boyish smile; he approached me with what appeared to be curiosity. There was no time to be nervous or hesitant. I reached out my hand and muttered “Padre José?” A small white hand appeared from underneath the black fabric. He smiled invitingly when I presented myself. I reached out my cold hand to greet him with a steady handshake.

He asked me if I preferred to walk or sit.

I said, “whatever you prefer, Father, it is up to you.”

“I like to walk,” he said.

We were walking. For a while I still thought we were going to walk outside, but as one room led on to more rooms, and as we continued pacing together, I started to see that this was the walk. We stayed in one long rounded room. It seemed unused, with some of the furniture in protective wrapping. This room was more renaissance in style than the others. Another priest passed through the space. “Boungiorno.” He was in trousers, cap, and had only the white collar to signal his priesthood. He looked at us curiously. I nodded in acknowledgement.

Padre José gestured that he was ready to hear my story; why had I come, how could he help me? I said that I assumed that he might know a little from Padre Nicola.

“Padre Nicola only told me that there was a woman who wanted to see an exorcist urgently. That is all I know. Do you have some kind of demonic issue?”

“Well, I don’t think so. I don’t think I am possessed if that’s what you are referring to,” I said, trying to assure him of my honesty. I laughed nervously. We started pacing in the elongated room on the cold floor. The light was penetrating persistently through the long curtains. My bag was still on my shoulder with my camera in it, and I was still in my trench coat. We paced. Together. Back and forth. I started to explain my story; my suspicions, my professional and personal interest in the subject matter, my investigation for a film. He seemed to listen. Back and forth. I noticed that I was feeling very dizzy. I concentrated intensely on keeping myself together, still explaining. My intellectual thoughts and ideas seemed to bounce right off him as if they meant absolutely nothing, and an impulse to just let go came over me. To surrender it all.

I asked him about the material level of faith. I had read another exorcist talking about this almost objective level. Did faith have an independent form? And if so, what form was this? He seemed puzzled about my question and went into talking about the objects that he would use. The crucifix. He said he often would kiss his crucifix because he felt like it. He would kiss his Bible all the time. He gestured a kiss and held up his hand to show me how he would do it. “I will kiss my crucifix, I will kiss my Bible,” he said with his Spanish accent and soft light voice smiling the smile of an excited boy. “But the objects are not necessary really. The faith is. That is all I really need essentially in performing an exorcism or deliverance.”

He explained to me that no exorcism case was ever the same as any other. Each case would have a totally different nature. He would never be able to predict it, and always he would only have his heart to guide him. Sometimes he would use the ritual. Other times not. He would not wish to perform an exorcism if the process had just become a pattern or a routine.

I had studied the idea of possession for years, from books, films, case studies, any materials I could get hold of. Glimpses from some of these cases had lingered with me and taken hold of me, as if at times I would find myself in the room where it took place. These were enough for me to continue my journey; the images I had seen, the things I had felt. I was curious about the issue of discernment, particularly. Was there a distinction between what we could explain psychologically and something outside that? I had vague suspicions. They reappeared frequently. There was one reoccurring point of attention. The point of entry. I knew that the possessed would have had to somehow invite the entity in. This invitation was not necessarily simple.

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Dear Drew,

My eyes are closed. His breath at my neck. I don’t want to see.

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15 DECEMBER, 2011

Padre José never planned on becoming a priest. It just happened. He wanted to get married and live a normal life. “I wanted to have a lot of children. Children are a blessing. I would have married a woman, who would be willing to bear a child every year. My father was a businessman, and I came from a very normal family really.”

At the age of seventeen, a strong urge to become a priest had come over him. He had asked his family if he could join the seminary, which he did soon after. Everything just took off from there. “I would never have imagined that this would be my role,” he said.

When he did his final thesis, the bishop had called him up on the phone. He told the young priest that he wanted him to specialize in exorcisms. He had protested strongly because he wanted to research the history of the church, a subject he was immersed in and very passionate about. The bishop had kept insisting. This is what he had to do. There was no explanation. It was an order. In the end, Padre José had to give in. He started to study exorcisms. He knew nothing of it before then. Only what he had read in the Bible. He knew of Jesus’ exorcisms from the Bible. That was all.

In Mark, there was a story of a man who brought his son to Jesus, claiming that he was possessed. The father explained how the demon threw the boy into fire and into water to try and kill him, and how the boy was forced into raging fits and deprived of the ability to speak. Jesus then exorcised the demon by helping the father in his faith. “Help me not to doubt,” the father pleaded. Jesus explained to his followers that this kind of spirit could only be forced out using prayer. He appointed his apostles and gave them the power to cast out demons, to perform exorcisms, but according to the Bible, every Christian man could do so.

We were approaching St. Peter’s, moving through the entrance to the Vatican. The sky was darkening. Rain was near and a wind started to stir—something which became more apparent by the flapping of Padre José’s robe and the sound the wind created when it moved the heavy fabric. “I think it will rain soon,” I said. He seemed unaffected.

“Don’t you ever doubt? Surely everyone doubts?” I asked him.

“I suffer,” he said. “There are times when I wonder. There are times when I see a couple in love. It hurts. There are times when I am afraid that when I die, there is nothing. ”

I tried to imagine how he felt when the doubt came to him, the sense of nothingness. The fear of being wrong. I imagined his suitcase packed with his cassocks for every occasion, the Bible, an icon. I imagined his wardrobe, his fridge, his television, his bed, his curtains, his toothbrush, shaving cream and the door handle to his flat.

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A demon manifests through the act of temptation. It uses any possibility to lead you astray. It seeks to provoke and test you again and again to cause evil to you. It will evoke your imagination to stimulate a sense of passion. The evil presents itself as something seemingly good. It might taste good, but the effect can be dangerous. An infestation affects a place, an object—a physical reality. Supernatural occurrences can take place; strange sounds, broken things and apparitions. Often people living in these places or in possession of such objects can suffer dreadful nightmares. Obsession affects the mind of a person and manifests through obsessive thinking, suicidal or random looping thoughts imprisoning a person in their mind, unable of reaching clarity. Vexation attacks the body of a person through disease or weird, non-diagnosable ailments. The pain and suffering moves around, shifting its location and type without any apparent pattern. Possession. The worst and rarest type of demonic influence, which takes control over the body. Most possessed victims know or feel that someone or something is in there with them … somehow.

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“Would you like to come with me?”

We entered into the restricted area of prayer on the left side of the big church. He sat in the front on the right side, and I stayed at the back on the left. There were a few other people praying and some of the confession booths were lit for use. I noticed how they were marked with different languages, so that people from all over the world could confess.

I prayed.

It went on for about twenty minutes, maybe more. We sat there. Padre José was almost motionless and serene, gazing at the tabernacle. He would kneel as he began and he would kneel when finishing his prayer. He placed his small digital alarm clock, which he kept in his pocket, on the wooden bench in front of him.

I could not help studying him, while I was sitting there. The back of his neck, where it met the white linen in a tight grip so that a piece of his skin created a neat hairy fold against his collar. His grey hair, what was left of it, was cut precisely around the edges. There was something about him that seemed so much older, even though there was hardly one fine line in his soft round face.

I wondered if he was lonely. I wondered what he was thinking. I wondered about everything. Wondered. He was so pale. Steady. Calm. Synchronized. Friday night was approaching. The dark was kicking in. I wondered about him and a tremendous sympathy, empathy, and love came over me, as if a deep suffering had entered my heart. I did not know if this was his suffering or mine. Was he suffering? Was I feeling sorry for him when really there was nothing to feel sorry for? Was I just projecting my own sadness on to him? I did not find the answer and went back into prayer. I closed my eyes.

In the evening, I sat down at the piano and played until I dropped down tired in bed.

At night I bled through the sheets.

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Dear Drew,

I am sorry for my delay in my responses. Very busy currently, things in progress here. Will tell you when I get more time. Just had long talk with a Spanish exorcist. I am tired now. Your dreams sound great. I don’t have many clear dreams currently. It’s rare at least. Okay, will write more soon.

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16 DECEMBER, 2011

“I wish I could come to Rome with you,” he had said. It had been a few days before my departure, and I had not seen him for a while. We were in a small bar in Copenhagen. It was the end of October, and the long winter was on its way. He and I had known each other for years, but long periods had passed with only sporadic contact.

“It is a really difficult time,” he said. “All of a sudden, I find myself living in a small room in a friend’s flat, realising I am actually very unhappy. My job is killing me slowly. My second marriage did not work out as I thought it would. I make a lot of money, but over the years my expenses have only increased, and I find that I am tied down by commitments to the things I have established. I look in the mirror, and I think I look old. I really started to look old within the past few years. I am not that old! … Anyway, let’s have a drink.”

We were getting through a lot of drinks. We could have been together, today. We both knew it. But the timing had never been right.

“You drink so slowly,” he repeatedly remarked and ordered another round of double gin and tonics. “What will you be working on there?”

“I am interested in investigating the tangibility of God, faith really,” I told him. “I have prayed since I was very little, but I never considered myself religious. I think I need to examine these things further.”

He moved around in his seat.

“Let me ask you … please. What does this faith give you?” He laughed a little to himself. “What does it give you?”

I observed him for a moment quietly.

“No, tell me. Please …” He kept insisting, bursting with eagerness to answer his own question, whilst leaning across the table sliding the thick fabric of the blazer across the wood.

“Your reaction sure is intense,” I said.

“It is not something I acquired. It is. Even in my refusal.”

He sat back and looked at me, repetitively making small sounds with his lips, studying me from behind his small eyes in his round face. He kept pulling the blazer across his chest, as one would draw a curtain. We got drunk on gin and tonics and he leaned across the table and kissed me. “I really wish I could come with you.”

“Can I sleep with you tonight?” he asked when we said goodbye on the corner of the street, hugging.

I walked home alone through the loud streets of Copenhagen. The pavements were crowded with people of all ages, drunk like there was no tomorrow. Intoxicated myself, I went home. To sleep. Once I had wanted him.

A few days later I left for Rome.

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Dear Drew,

The pain comes suddenly. Suddenly what is pleasure turns into pain. Something comes to an end. I deny and try to pretend. It leads to more pain. My body stiffens into hard cement. I am devastated. It is lost, and I do not know how to get it back. It has been going on for years. I now place it in abstract materializations and conceptual endeavours. I simply start to travel with my mind. Every time I go back to it, even for a brief moment, it hurts just the same. It is my little secret. Sure I tell some people along the way; doctors, therapists and a friend. They treat it as something in the past. But I know that if I try to go there again, to feel again, it will all come back in the present. I have given up trying to understand. I simply am not this kind of person anymore.

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“Do you pray every day?” Padre José asked abruptly.

I hesitated and said, ”at the moment, yes. I always prayed regularly. I did not always pray every day.”

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17 DECEMBER, 2011

Dear Drew,

I am in a basilica in the prayer room. I go there often, alone. I sit in front of the same image every time. To the left side of the altar. I close my eyes. I look at him. He reaches out his hand towards me as if to meet mine, not in a handshake, not to pull me in, but rather to make me lift up mine to place my palm against his. He moves. One day, I feel his image enter me. He leaves the wall, which I feel convinced is something you are able to find an ample explanation for.

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In the dim room outside, Padre José asked me to take a seat and pulled out a Gothic looking chair for me. He wanted to bless me again. It was totally dark apart from the weak light coming from the streets outside where the sun was setting. I accepted. He put his hands on my head and continued in the usual strange words that were now becoming familiar to me.

The nuns were beginning their singing on the other side of the door. Loud and rhythmic, an almost insistent chanting pounding in my mind, as I felt a warmth spread from my head, down my neck, and a letting go in my body, accepting the weirdness of the moment, the dark, the catholic priest’s hands on my head, the words, the spookiness … everything. The nuns’ chanting. Again he asked me if I felt the warmth which I confirmed. I started to feel ill at ease. Nausea came over me. I told him. He asked me to describe everything that happened. Increasingly sick and noticing a stirring in my stomach, I worried I might have to throw up. Suddenly.

“It is a demon tempting you to sadness,” Padre José said. “It is not possessing you, it is around you.”

He now began addressing the demon, “in the name of Jesus, I order you to leave this lady,” he repeated several times.

“In the name of Jesus, I order you …”

I became increasingly uneasy and sick and wondered if it would get worse, if I would faint or vomit. He kept repeating and I felt the warmth disappear. He was finishing up.

“We will stop here,” he said.


ART: Teri Frame, Line Kallmayer

FICTION: Matt Dojny, Jessica Halliday, Corey Zeller

NONFICTION: Brandel France de Bravo, Line Kallmayer, Ben Merriman, Nicole Walker

POETRY: Mary Jo Bang, Sam Cha, Ching-In Chen, Natalie Eilbert, John Estes, Jessica Fjeld, Margaret LeMay, Nina Puro, Lauren Russell, Dara-Lyn Shrager, Donna Stonecipher, Henry Walters, Kerri Webster, Betsy Wheeler

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