Friday 19 August 2011

So You Want To Be an Exorcist — BBC Radio 4

This BBC Radio 4 half-hour programme appears to be a serious documentary, but the deadpan delivery of presenter Jolyon Jenkins, and the words of his interviewees, put me inexorably in mind of the spoof documentary series, "People Like Us" — and I couldn't shake the suspicion that the whole thing might be a send-up.
(Streaming audio available in perpetuity or until the beginning of 2099, whichever occurs first.)

Jolyon Jenkins
It was HumanistLife, the news and blogging website of the British Humanist Association (and for which I've written), that linked to the programme and I can see why. The idea of demonic possession seems completely out of kilter with our contemporary world — and I for one don't believe a word of it. But there are those who think it's real, despite much of the rationalization sounding like archaic interpretation of symptoms more likely due to other causes — such as, for instance, constitutional indolence.

What's disturbing is that some of the people being exorcised should probably be undergoing treatment for clinical depression. Convincing them they are possessed by an evil spirit seems at the very least counterproductive.
Why do exorcists and their clients think that demonic possession is on the increase? Exorcists point to an alleged increase in interest in the occult, together with risky behaviour such as practising yoga, reading horoscopes, and an increase in new age forms of spiritualism. One Anglican bishop has said that clues to the presence of an evil spirit include "repeated choice of black, for example in clothing or colour of car".
That people can take this stuff seriously is symptomatic of the tenacity of magical thinking. Here we have the suggestion that you can be controlled against your will by having a little person (who isn't you) inside your body — or your mind — inhabiting your unconscious and making you behave "out of character". Sounds to me like a massive excuse for something or other.

During the course of the programme Jolyon Jenkins gets the opportunity to attend an actual exorcism, and he is given permission to record it. But at the last moment the exorcist tells him that he can't record audio of the event, only take notes. Undaunted, Jolyon Jenkins does just that, after which we are treated to a spirited re-enactment of the whole thing where he performs all the voices.

It's a well-made programme, and actually quite fun — but don't take it as gospel. (To be on the safe side though, you should avoid yoga, horoscopes and wearing or driving anything black. I always thought those London cabbies looked a bit suspicious....)

For another (far more sensational) take on demonic possession you should check out Bob Larson.