Accomplished psychiatrist says demons, demonic possession are real
WESTCHESTER, New York — In a book he says is aimed at the well-educated with an interest in the subject, accomplished psychiatrist and professor, Dr. Richard Gallagher, delivers compelling findings from his decadeslong career to make a compelling case that demons and demonic possession are real phenomena.
For many Christians, Gallagher’s findings presented in his 272-page book, Demonic Foes: My Twenty-Five Years as a Psychiatrist Investigating Possessions, Diabolic Attacks, and the Paranormal, first published in the fall of 2020, could simply be treated as an acknowledgment of what the Bible has been telling them for centuries.
“In my experience, the idea of demonic possession is so controversial and so often misunderstood that I want at the outset to establish some scholarly plausibility to the notion along with my bona fides,” the board-certified psychiatrist, who serves as professor of psychiatry at New York Medical and a psychoanalyst on the faculty of Columbia University, begins in the introduction of his book.
“Typical reactions to the topic reflect our nation’s polarization. Despite widespread belief in evil spirits in the United States and around the world, some people find the subject farfetched, even moronic. Yet others spot the devil everywhere. And so, here I detail my personal story and highlight the credibility of possessions while simultaneously offering some sober reflections on various exaggerations and abuses.”
The book is an elaboration of the psychiatrist’s 2016 op-ed on the subject published in The Washington Post, titled “As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.”
Gallagher, who is Catholic, is the longest-standing American member of the International Association of Exorcists which meet every two years in Italy.
He begins his narrative with the story of a troubled devil-worshiper named Julia who he concluded was possessed after an exorcist in the Catholic Church brought her to him for evaluation before attempting an exorcism.
“Before I encountered Julia, I had already seen about eight or nine cases of what I regarded as full possessions. I define those as cases where the evil spirit completely takes control of someone, such that the victim has periods when he or she has no remembrance of such episodes,” Gallagher writes. “I have since seen scores more such possessions and a much higher number of cases of oppression, which are far more common than possessions. Because of my involvement with the International Association of Exorcists, I have heard reports of hundreds more of each type, but that hardly implies they are anything but rare conditions, as I still know them to be.”
Gallagher highlights stories about the manifestation of demonic powers like levitation and remote viewing where possessed individuals like Julia can, for example, communicate what someone is doing and where they are doing it despite being a hundred miles away.
“Julia demonstrated to me very clearly that she could see, for instance, the chief exorcist at a distance [even though] he was 100 miles away,” Gallagher explained in an interview with The Christian Post at his home last Thursday.
“She could describe him to a tee and what he was doing which was unusual for his normal routine. There's no way she could have guessed that. If one is familiar with occult literature, one realizes that there are occultists, people [who] have turned to dark arts who claim they have a third eye, and that they can see things from a distance, this is an analogous phenomenon,” he continued. “She had this paranormal ability to do that. And she was very clear where she got that ability.
“People have tried to study these things for years without reaching much in the way of a conclusion. Human beings don't have those abilities on their own. They either get it from below or from above,” Gallagher added. “Julia recognized that and she recognized that she got these paranormal abilities from Satan himself.”
Gallagher explained that while he remains committed to science, he has found that all knowledge cannot be explained by science.
“I do want to emphasize in all that I write and say, that I am committed to science, that scientific methodology has immensely helped the human race,” he said.
“But not all knowledge can be verified by lab experiments and that sort of thing. Most of what we're talking about when we talk about religious truths, and certainly this field of the demonic, is essentially historical knowledge. It's observations and observations about historical facts can be true or false, depending on the credibility of the witness, depending on how sensible seems the reports of these phenomena,” he noted.
“But that doesn't make it unscientific because it's historical. We talk about Washington crossing the Delaware …, most people would say that's knowledge. And, in a similar way, these reports, of demonic phenomena and exorcisms and that sort of thing, it is a type of genuine knowledge, which is what the word science originally meant. It meant knowledge, it didn't mean only the scientific method,” he explained.
While Gallagher says demonic possession is very rare today, it appeared to be a more common occurrence in the Bible.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus’ fame grew as a result of His exorcisms. In Mark 1:1-28 it is recorded that Jesus cast out a demon from a man inside a Jewish synagogue and the people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “'What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits, and they obey him.’ News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.”
After Jesus appointed his 12 disciples in Mark 6, it is noted in verse 13 that “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”
Gallagher warns that even though there is evidence suggesting that demons and demonic possession are real, care needs to be taken when discussing the subject to avoid hysteria and misconceptions.
“Unfortunately, there are people in this country … there are many people who just dismiss the whole idea. But there were also people in this country who exaggerate its prevalence,” he told CP.
“Possession itself is the most intense form of demonic attack, and it's rare. And so, anybody who's seeing possession all over the place is mistaken. What some people who exaggerate the prevalence of the phenomena mistake for possession are things like illnesses, especially mental illness, especially in today's world,” the professor said.
“In the past, there may have been confusion with some odd neurological conditions like Tourette's disease, like certain forms of temporal lobe epilepsy, epilepsy, that sort of thing. Most of those neurological and other medical illnesses are better understood in today's world to have a brain-based foundation, but there's still a fair amount of people sometimes among less informed Christians who interpret certain forms of mental illness as demonic and I don't regard that as a professor of psychiatry,” he continued.
“I think that's mistaken. The conditions that are most commonly confused with possession in certain Christian subcultures are psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, where people claim they're hearing voices of demons and stuff. Now those are brain events, those are hallucinatory experiences. That's not, that's not possession,” he insisted.
“Other people have misinterpreted what's called dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, where there may be an evil personality, even a demonic seeming personality, but it has to be still recognized as a psychological disorder, not a possession. And then there are people who deal with very strong evil impulses,” he said.
“There are certain personality disorders which are consumed with feelings and thoughts of destructiveness for instance, borderline personality, but there are even people who are sociopaths, what we would normally call criminals, who deal with very evil and sinful tendencies all the time. I do not regard those people as possessed. Those people may be influenced as all human beings are, by temptation from evil spirits, but I don't think we should go around acting like we can cure them with deliverance or that they have some serious possession.”
Despite all the mental health disorders with a brain-based foundation, says Gallagher, he still wants people to understand that the findings he records in his book bear witness to the existence of the demonic.
“I tell people, you don't have to believe what Dr. Gallagher writes, you know, there are people who write these books and make up stuff. My book was 100 percent accurate. All I did was change the names of people,” he said.
“Paul, when he went to Corinth, which is, I suppose, a little bit like a preacher from Kansas, going to San Francisco or something. He said, ‘Look, I saw the resurrected Christ. But you don't have to believe me, there are 500 other people, most of whom are still alive, you can get their witness too.’
“And of course, many of those people suffered and died for their beliefs, including in the resurrected Jesus. So, there are other psychiatrists who believe exactly the way I do, they're just a little maybe more reluctant to speak out, or they just haven't seen as many cases as I have. Nobody just has to believe my book,” he added. “Go out and learn about it from many other faithful people who have recorded their own experiences.”
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