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Observations placeholder

The Possession of Father Surin



Type of Spiritual Experience



When exorcisms resumed at Loudun, they were led by the expert exorcists Capuchin Father Tranquille, Franciscan Father Lactance, and Jesuit Father Jean-Joseph Surin, and they were held publicly; up to 7,000 spectators attended. The priests employed dramatic commands, threats, and rituals …..

Adding to the hysteria prompted by the public exorcisms were the stories told by both nuns and Father Grandier's former lovers. …. the claims made against Grandier were overtly sexual and showed visible physical responses. Because they were public and dramatic, the citizens of Loudun and surrounding areas were set against Grandier.

In addition to the dreams that Jeanne des Anges and other nuns had related, Jeanne added a third demon to the array of possessors afflicting the nuns: Isacaron, the devil of debauchery. After admitting to this third demon possessor, Jeanne went through a psychosomatic pregnancy. In all, Jeanne and the other nuns claimed to be possessed by a multitude of demons: Asmodeus, Zabulon, Isacaaron, Astaroth, Gresil, Amand, Leviatom, Behemot, Beherie, Easas, Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, Naphthalim, Cham, Ureil and Achas.

A description of the experience

The Mind Possessed  - Dr William Sargant

Father Surin, one of the Jesuit exorcists of the nuns of Loudun, finally became possessed himself by the spirits he was exorcizing. On 3 May 1635 he wrote to a friend, and the following further excellent examples of paradoxical and ultraparadoxical brain activity following stress may be quoted:

Quoted in T K Oesterreich - Possession

I have engaged in combat with four of the most potent and malicious devils in hell . . . At all events, for the last three and a half months I have never been without a devil at work upon me . . .  I cannot explain to you what happens within me during that time and how this spirit unites with mine without depriving me either of consciousness or liberty of soul, nevertheless making himself like another me and as if I had two souls, one of which is dispossessed of its body and the use of its organs and stands aside watching the actions of the other which has entered into me.

The two spirits fight in one and the same field which is the body, and the soul is as if divided. According to one of its parts it is subject to diabolic impressions and according to the other to those motions which are proper to it or granted by God.

Father Surin then goes on to complain that in the ultra-paradoxical phase his feelings were as follows:

When I wish to speak my speech is cut off; at Mass I am brought up short; at table I cannot carry the morsel to my mouth; at confession I suddenly forget my sirs; and I feel the devil come and go within me as if he were at home. As soon as I wake he is there; at orisons he distracts my thoughts when he pleases; when my heart begins to swell with the presence of God he fills it with rage; he makes me sleep when I would wake; and publicly, by the mouth of the possessed woman, he boasts of being my master, the which I can in no way contradict.

Father Surin finally developed a state of severe persistent melancholia, and his mental illness lasted for no less than twenty years. But eventually he recovered and was able to write his reminiscences of what had happened to the possessed nuns of Loudun and to himself. And no better description, in terms of the various phases of brain inhibitory activity under stress, and the suggestibility induced by the possession state, can be given than this fascinating document, penned by a sincere believing Catholic and Jesuit priest of the seventeenth century.

The source of the experience

Ursuline Nuns of Loudun, the

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps