Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Mexorcist: Driving out diablos in Mexico

Throughout history, few topics have inspired such fear and excitement as exorcisms — and it is no different in Mexico.

“Where the devil did you disappear to?” I asked a Mexican friend who had suddenly vanished from WhatsApp for more than a week.

Aspiring exorcists can take courses at the Vatican – skills they may be called upon to use in Mexico.

“I was in Rome,” answered my friend, whom I will call Joaquín. “An unexpected opportunity came up to take a course there, and on the spur of the moment I decided I would accept.”

“A course in..?”

“Exorcism,” he replied, his eyes sparkling, as if he had been taking singing lessons from Taylor Swift.

“What possessed you?” I was tempted to say but didn’t.

Out came Joaquín’s telephone and there he was in front of St. Peters Basilica, with a group of about 25 other exorcism students from all around the world.

All this happened two weeks ago and today he popped in to announce: “Yesterday I assisted in an exorcism. They gave me permission to record it — audio only — just listen to this!”

The exorcist’s apprentice

Joaquín explained that the exorcism took place in a church in Guadalajara and was performed by two Catholic priests.

“I was only acting as an assistant,” he told me, “It was my job to hold the arms of the possessed girl, which means I got spit on more than once.”

Joaquín said he had assisted in an exorcism in Guadalajara the day before. (Pexels)

The girl was 12 years old and had participated in a school visit to a cemetery. The kids had brought along a Ouija board and had fooled around with it in the hopes of contacting someone buried there.

They were overly successful. Shortly after her visit to the cemetery, this girl began to behave very strangely in the evenings, scratching her arms until they bled.

“She was taken to doctors and to a psychiatrist, which the Catholic Church requires before any talk of exorcism is possible. But in this case, none of these professionals could explain what was happening to this niña, and she kept getting worse.”

When the girl started speaking a strange language (which someone thought was Aramaic) an exorcism was authorized.

At this point, Joaquín turned on the audio recording.

It could have been a sound bite from the 2023 film The Pope’s Exorcist, said to be based on the case files of Father Gabriele Amorth, played by Russell Crowe.

The recording was good and I could hear a priest loudly and repeatedly commanding the evil spirit to depart the girl’s body.

Then I heard the voice of whatever was inside that girl. To me it sounded like the roars of a man, not a girl, a man who was absolutely furious and howling in agony.

This “dialog” between the priest and that voice coming from the child ended with a final roar of anguish — and then the girl slumped. My friend Joaquín, who is quite fit, said he had had difficulty holding her arms.

“Suddenly she was a 12-year-old girl again. It was over, just like that,” said Joaquín, who claimed he was looking forward to his next chance to help out in an exorcism.

The Pre-Hispanic approach to casting out devils

The Christian perspective on evil spirits and how to get rid of them came to Mexico with the Spaniards, but it is said that shamans in this country had developed their own way of dealing with non-organic entities long before the Conquista.

By chance, another of my Mexican friends happens to be a shaman (I will call him Rolando).

Pre-Hispanic Mexicans had their own rituals for the casting out of demons.

“This problem has existed since time immemorial,” Rolando told me. “Mexican shamans have always dealt with these creatures without bodies. There are all kinds of them, both positive and negative. And there are hierarchies: some with very little power and others that are extremely powerful.”

Mexico has brujos (sorcerers or witches) and curanderos (medicine men), explained Rolando, but it is the shaman who specializes in facing up to spirits.

Some shamans, Rolando went on, absorb the spirit and afterward release it somewhere else. Others encapsulate it in an egg, an apple, or a coconut, depending on the magnitude of the spirit.

“Sometimes when you absorb it, it can take maybe a week or two to liberate it. And during that week you’re going to feel really bad; people might think you’ve gone crazy. Usually, if the spirit isn’t too strong, you just absorb it and after a day or two, you let it go and no harm’s done. But if it’s a very strong entity you can find yourself in trouble, maybe for a week. I’ve been working in this way for over 20 years.”

I asked for a concrete example and Rolando told me the story of a friend of his, a curandera, who had tried to cure her brother of a hex some witch had put on him. The sister did her best, but failed and ended up in the hospital, in intensive care.

“So I went to see her,” said Rolando, “and began to cure her, and like in the movies, all of a sudden she began to tremble; her whole body shook and she began to jump up and down in the bed and I tried to absorb the spirit as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t. I had to do it poco a poco, little by little. It took more than a month before I got back to normal.”

The scientific explanation

After interviewing my two friends, I made a search for a scientific explanation of these phenomena and found a very recent paper entitled “Interdisciplinary Review of Demonic Possession Between 1890 and 2023” in the Journal of Scientific Exploration.

The authors examined 52 documented cases of possession and came to the conclusion that there was only a 0.019 “probability of a possession case being scientifically unexplained.” They argued that “possession may serve as a mechanism for adaptation and survival within certain social environments” and that it may provide “a means for people to express behaviors or emotions that might otherwise be suppressed or denied.”

Is there more to these stories of Mesoamerican exorcism than simple superstition? (Petr Sidorov/Unsplash)

In the end, however, they concluded that “Spirit possession transcends the individual disciplines of psychology, medicine, religion, anthropology, and culture, presenting an enduring scientific conundrum…” leaving us with no clear answer to the really important question:

The real problem

If you do run into a diablo, who you gonna call?

John Pint has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

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