Lhermitte, Professor Jean - Diabolical Possession, True and False – The devil caused him to see scenes of perverse immorality
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Diabolical Possession, True and False – Jean Lhermitte
A man of about sixty, for many years a civil servant in one of the Ministries, came to consult me on the advice of an exorcist who had at once guessed the nature of his disease. This man, whose external conduct was unimpeachable, told me that for a long time past he had felt himself to be manipulated, possessed by the demon. This diabolical control was something of which he was absolutely convinced.
To begin with, he heard sounding in himself "offensive, substantial and filthy words".
"Ironical thoughts came to his mind, applying to the most respectable persons."
Soon the devil threatened him: "If you advance, you are dead," Satan said to him: "I shall summon all the legions of hell against you."
Later, the devil caused him to see scenes of perverse immorality, the more repugnant because he was forced to witness persons "in postures of homosexuality or connected with nymphomania".
Everything around him became a pretext for symbolization. The devil stayed near him in image, at the same time gliding into his inner self to reveal or recall things which horrified him. This influence of the evil spirit left him no respite, while it entailed a constant restraint over his thoughts and actions.
Dialogues took place between the demon within him and his own personality, in the course of which the devil was irritated if he opposed, mocked or threatened him. My patient, a man of great intelligence, explained to me how, if he resisted by taking refuge in silence, the devil would formulate in succession both questions and answers. More than that, it provoked a sort of automatic language.
"Words formed themselves on his lips without the consent of his own will, giving an impression of spurious possession."
And in this inner conflict against the diabolical control my patient got to the point of wondering whether the devil, so cunning and subtle, were not trying to make him believe in a real possession.
Could not the feeling of domination he experienced be compared to a sort of induced current? However that might be, he was certain that the evil spirit made him think, feel and act in a manner repugnant to him, striving to bring about "a rupture of union, of thought and heart, with the powers he invoked", meaning, of course, the celestial powers.
But it must not be supposed that the devil confined itself to acting on his mind, thoughts and feelings; it influenced and regulated his physiological behaviour.
Thus, the patient would suddenly feel an irresistible desire to sleep, while "with his lips he rejected the malign internal whisper".
In addition, there were "attacks on the head, the optic nerve and the pineal gland" and, one suspects, the genital organs, in a frequent state of "nervous excitement" or "emotion". As I was given to understand, the man tried by every possible means, physical, psychological and spiritual, to combat the demoniacal influence. In what he called his "mental defences" he included silence, self-exorcism, prayer to the archangel Michael and recourse to three powers, St Teresa of Avila, St Teresa of the Child Jesus and our blessed Lady.
With a little attention, the "possessed" man continues,
"the division takes place, one sees nothing more. Everything happens as if the evil spirit were arrested and forbidden to persevere. Above all, one must never compromise."
I have here reported only some of the more expressive marks of the psychosis with which this possessed man was afflicted, but the remarkable thing is the result of the auto-analysis to which the man abandoned himself.
From all the evidence, he did not doubt that the devil acted on him in all sorts of ways, making him experience repugnant sentiments, to think and act against his will and in opposition to his true self. But, he asked himself, am I really possessed by the devil, is it not trying to impose on me the conviction of a possession which is not real?
"Certainly," he wrote, "I am the victim of the devil's malice at the same time as I am benefiting from the support of the divine powers."
But, after all, in what manner can the evil spirit act?
"By influencing my thoughts, by distorting my actions, by suspending a part of my social activity, by making me hear locutions which are abject, ignoble, obscene, etc. All this I can well understand, but might not the devil have a still more subtle mode of action? I mean, not by unhinging or disowning my brain, but by producing the semblance of a psycho-neurosis."
It should be noticed that the subject never in any way envisages being attacked by a mental affliction; he only wonders whether the repeated diagnosis of his state as psycho-neurosis is not in reality a delusive appearance created by the cunning, the hypocritical ruse of the evil spirit.
The case I have recorded is far from exceptional and I have observed others like it. But I have studied it in such detail because it here appears in its "pure state", so to speak, and enables us to understand the tragic series of events of which Fr Surin was the victim at Loudun.