Psychiatrist, a “man of science,” claims to exorcise real demons

As I’ve noted before, Pope Francis is a big believer in devils and demonic possession. The Vatican has an Official Exorcist, and there are hundreds of Catholic priests holding the equivalent of Exorcism Licenses. Not many people know this (and the Church, for obvious reasons, tries to keep that under wraps), but it’s information easily accessible with a few mouse clicks.

What I didn’t know until now is that the exorcists are assisted by non-priest professinals like psychiatrist Richard Gallagher,  a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. And, in an article in the July 1 Washington Post,”As a psychiatrist, I diagnose I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession,” he notes that over the years he’s developed the expertise to distinguish people who are mentally ill from those who are actually possessed by Satan or demons! His ability to diagnose demonic possession is, he said, based on science.(You can see one of his case studies here.)

Here are a few excerpts from his article, including a list of the criteria he uses to see if someone is infested with demons.

I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether [a woman who described herself as a Satanic high priestess] was suffering from a mental disorder. This was at the height of the national panic about Satanism.

. . . But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed.

So there you have the “evidence”: these people, under demonic influence, blurt out things that they could not possibly have known otherwise, and they speak in languages they couldn’t possibly have learned or picked up. But there’s more! Levitation! Superhuman strength!

But I believe I’ve seen the real thing. Assaults upon individuals are classified either as “demonic possessions” or as the slightly more common but less intense attacks usually called “oppressions.” A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.) He or she might demonstrate “hidden knowledge” of all sorts of things — like how a stranger’s loved ones died, what secret sins she has committed, even where people are at a given moment. These are skills that cannot be explained except by special psychic or preternatural ability.

I have personally encountered these rationally inexplicable features, along with other paranormal phenomena. My vantage is unusual: As a consulting doctor, I think I have seen more cases of possession than any other physician in the world.

Well, he didn’t actually see the levitation, but he knew people who swear that they did. And yet Gallagher claims that these conclusions are scientific:

For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.

. . . As a man of reason, I’ve had to rationalize the seemingly irrational. Questions about how a scientifically trained physician can believe “such outdated and unscientific nonsense,” as I’ve been asked, have a simple answer. I honestly weigh the evidence.

So if there’s all this evidence, and even levitation (LEVITATION!), why haven’t scientists documented it? After all, surely there are ways of detecting whether the possessed have prior knowledge of languages or whether they are doing a form of “cold reading,” or even know something about the exorcist. Sadly, these remarkable abilities seem to vanish under scientific scrutiny:

I have been told simplistically that levitation defies the laws of gravity, and, well, of course it does! We are not dealing here with purely material reality, but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand. (The official Catholic Catechism holds that demons are sentient and possess their own wills; as they are fallen angels, they are also craftier than humans. That’s how they sow confusion and seed doubt, after all.) Nor does the church wish to compromise a sufferer’s privacy, any more than doctors want to compromise a patient’s confidentiality.

Damn! That makes it tough to demonstrate real demonic possession, doesn’t it? We’ll just have to take Gallagher’s word. But he adds another line of evidence. First, many cultures have stories or examples of possession by spirits, and the descriptions are often similar. And many cultures believe in spirits. Surely that can’t be coincidence, or reflect cultural inheritance. Nope: it’s demons all the way down!

In the end, Gallagher concludes that “the evidence for possession is like the evidence for George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. In both cases, written historical account with numerous sound witnesses testify to their accuracy.”

Well, we’re talking about miracles here, not George Washington in a boat, and so we need some substantial evidence. Videos or examination by magicians and “mind readers” like James Randi would be useful, but we already know that both the Church and those pesky demons are loath to be filmed or examined. We might invoke Hume’s principle of miracles here: is it more likely that there are non-divine explanations than that levitation is occurring, or that some “possessed” person suddenly speaks a language that she’s completely unacquainted with? I, for one, want to see those films of levitation, and not levitation of the Criss Angel type.


Note: Gallagher doesn’t describe head-swiveling

Why was this published as a long piece in the Washington Post? Well, if there were a possibility it was true, and there were real evidence for demonic possession—even just a bit—it would be provocative. But I can’t help thinking that the Post likes this because it gives some evidence for numious, for Catholicism. Yet if regular people and even scientists can be fooled by stuff like this, why can’t Gallagher? It takes magicians to reveal how these tricks or done, or to suss out the “miraculous” stuff. In the meantime, and assuming that there isn’t demonic possession, the Post, like Gallagher, is doing substantial damage. By claiming that we can distinguish demonic possession from psychiatric disorders, or even trickery, both Gallagher and the paper not only enable all the invidious follies of Catholicism, but may even prevent the mentally ill from getting real treatment. Surely we can agree that the application of a cross, holy water, and cries of “OUT, SATAN!” aren’t efficacious in real cases of mental illness. When they do work, it’s surely on people who are faking their symptoms, possibly to get attention.

By the way, I was amused by a juxtaposition of the article’s text with one of those links that papers interpolate to get you to click on other stories (the IAE is the International Association of Exorcists). Here’s a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 10.54.01 AM





  1. John Hamill
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Why would the Devil prefer to speak in Latin as opposed to any other language … and why is it only Roman Catholic psychiatrists who claim to have seen evidence of demonic possession as per Catechism 1673?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know, but I wish I knew the devil when I was doing my Classics degree because I would have looked like a genius!

    • Vaal
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, and while we are at it, why does God make only some specific Protestant denominations speak in tongues?

      And why does God bless prosperity gospel preachers with big houses and cars?

      I just can’t figure out an explanation for all this. 😉

    • John Hamill
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 2:53 am | Permalink

      Why is it that djinn only appear in Muslim countries and the Virgin Mary only appears in Catholic countries? Especially when she’s delivering messages for unbelievers, wouldn’t you’d think that the Virgin Mary would appear to .. you know … some unbelievers?

      • jimroberts
        Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        My rather old coffee machine drips, so I have to be careful to ensure that the drips can’t land on a surface where they could form an image, because of my fear that the Virgin would manifest herself and I would have to become Catholic.

  2. chris moffatt
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    perhaps we can begin to disabuse ourselves of the flawed notion that psychiatry is a science.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Because of one nutty psychiatrist?

      • Barry Lyons
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s because psychiatry, as a profession, appears to be inherently nutty — like religion.

        • Scott Draper
          Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          You seem to have an ideology that this is true to the point that you accept crazy rants as solid reasoning.

    • stephajl
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Hear, hear!

    • Erp
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Psychiatry is a medical field. Psychology is the science. I note he has not shown any interest in researching what he can’t explain from previous knowledge.

      He does agree that most of his fellow psychiatrists disagree with him over demon possession.

      However a bit that made me boil was where he wrote:

      “In a case that helped induce the hysteria, Virginia McMartin and others had recently been charged with alleged Satanic ritual abuse at a Los Angeles preschool; the charges were later dropped.”

      No mention that one of those charged spent 5 years in prison before the charges were eventually dropped. Or that in many other cases people were charged and convicted and spent even more time in prison. People might want to read about this relatively recent witchhunt

    • Posted July 5, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Psychiatry ought to be a *technology*, like engineering, or a *technic* like auto repair.

      (I.e., grounded on scientific research and explicit appropriate simplifications and value judgements.)

      *This* psychiatrist is unlikely to be science-friendly from the get go – he’s a *psychoanalyst*, after all. Psychoanalysis (note: not psychotherapy) is a pseudoscience, through and through, or a pseudotechnology, -technic.

  3. Jim Knight
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that the Catholic Church would want to document these possessions,as that would be a demonstration of what they have been trying to preach all along. All we ask for is some tangible evidence…

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      But…but… faith! You know, “blessed are those who are gullible have not seen and who believe.”

  4. Geoff Toscano
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I continue to be amazed by television conjurors. I just can’t think of how they can possibly do some of the tricks they do.

    The thing is, though, I don’t believe they are exhibiting supernatural powers, and nor do they claim to be. Which is why, as you say, professional magicians should be verifying these demonic possessions.

    In the meantime the gullible will continue in their internet forums to blame science for ‘ignoring’ the evidence.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Hey, I just said that (at #5).

  5. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    . . . But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride.

    “Confirmation Bias”, meet “Cold Reading”. Have a nice trip down the garden path.
    (Also, typo or paste-o at “psychiatrist, I diagnose I diagnose mental illness.”)

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Because something “exceeded what I could with my training,” doesn’t mean it’s supernatural. Talk about hubris – he can’t explain it therefore it can’t be explained.

      As well as a God of the gaps, we’ve got a devil of the gaps too.

      And it’s completely irresponsible of the Washington Post to publish something like this and thus give it credibility. It is doing potential damage to those with mental illness.

      Since Pope Francis formally recognized exorcism and exorcists, fully a third of phone calls received by the Vatican have been related to the subject. They’re training exorcists rapidly to cope with the increased demand. Between 1995 and 2013 the number of USians who believe in a literal devil has doubled.

      This is another thing the Catholic Church has to answer for.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Talk about hubris – he can’t explain it therefore it can’t be explained.

        Exactly what I was getting at with my comment on tides.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Heh, I know. I guess some god is responsible for making sneakers too because it’s beyond my training to understand how to make a pair. Blessed are the shoe makers.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha!😀

        • Richard
          Posted July 5, 2016 at 4:33 am | Permalink

          How can you say that when PCC(E) had graciously provided detailed photographic evidence of how footwear is constructed?

          None so blind as those who won’t see, I guess. 🙂

  6. Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Jesus christ…
    How someone is allowed to retain a license as a psychiatrist given their obvious disregard for actual science is deplorable and it would be laughable except people will be being diagnosed by that crackpot…scary. Psychiatry has never been highly regarded outside of itself, but when there are people like Gallacher allowed to practice psychiatry it really adds more fuel to the fire, that psychiatry is questionable at best.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      One of the rarely-written rules of fire-fighting is to check that you haven’t connected your hoses to the local petrol (“gas”) hydrant. However, for this guy, I’ll place the order for the extra, more detailed signage for his offices. Seems necessary.

  7. E.A. Blair
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I wear a different brand of jeans, so when I get possessed by a demon I perform Lee-vitation, not levitation.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha – off brand possession.

  8. Mark Joseph
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, these remarkable abilities seem to vanish under scientific scrutiny

    “He couldn’t believe in ghosts or demons. He knew that supernatural happenings tended to break down, under detailed examination, into eminently natural events. The ones that didn’t break down—stopped. Ghosts just wouldn’t stand still and let a nonbeliever examine them. The phantom of the castle was invariably on vacation when a scientist showed up with cameras and tape recorders.” (Robert Sheckley)

    “Why is it that people want so desperately to shake hands with otherworldly beings? That people will even insist that they have seen visitors from Spica hovering above their backyards? In other times it was ghosts and fairies and goblins, and voices in the night. Is the company of our own species so dull that we need to invent the Other? On the other hand, maybe that explains it.” (Jack McDevitt)

    • jimroberts
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Sheckley’s Ghost V is a very entertaining story. Thank you for reminding me of it.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

        No problem; I use this quote a lot, and yes, it is a very good story.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s a universal loneliness humans feel. They want to interact with other intelligent beings. The movie/book Contact alludes to this as well.

  9. Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    This is totally unbelievable. What century are these people living in? But then, I say that about members of the world’s 2nd religion too.

  10. Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I saw this in the Washington Post and cringed when I read it.

    My question pertains to journalism standards: does it diminish the WP that the printed this nonsense, or would they be remiss by not printing it, as evidently this guy has a license to practice and believes in this particular superstition.

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Objective evidence for demonic possession cannot be had b/c the demons shun the investigation, eh? They know when you are recording, and they, demonically, stop doing their thing you say?
    Like the ‘Church Lady’ on SNL used to say:
    ‘How conveeenient.’

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      The devil is in the details, as they say.

  12. somer
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Totally embarrassing and sad that this guy is in charge of vulnerable patients. In retirement perhaps he can host a show telling us that there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden. Less harmful than literally demonising people or encouraging them to believe they are “possessed”

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, if you’re appealing to the inexplicable than instead of a ‘god of the gaps’ you’ve got an ‘incubus of the interstices’.

    There’s an invisible rift in America between what I call ‘skeptical Buddhists’ and ‘New Age Buddhists’ and on the rare occasions when I hear the latter give credence to stories of monks who can levitate due to meditation, I generally want to cringe. (It’s taken seriously in both Nepal and Tibet!)

    I should probably just treat it with levity.🙂

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Good one! 😀

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Can’t believe this guy has not appeared on Dr. Phil? Gee Willy’s

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Or he hasn’t teamed up with Dr. Oz to promote some sort of devil-be-gone vitamin cure.

  15. Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    This diagnostic proposition is aggravating my intellectually justified oppositional defiant disorder.

    We’d be better off deferring to the psychiatric advice of, say, Leo Gallagher.

  16. Scott Draper
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Demons are not that crafty if they make their presence known so easily. One would have to ask what exactly their motives would be to possess someone, if the likely result is to scare people back to the supposed safety of the Church.

    If their goal was to “sow confusion and seed doubt”, they’re not doing a very good job of it; better to become the GOP presidential nominee. If one hasn’t already…

    • Scote
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      “If their goal was to “sow confusion and seed doubt”, they’re not doing a very good job of it;”

      Yes, this aspect has always struck me as one of the most ridiculous. Christians think that the Great Deceiver, and immortal being with god-like powers, comes to earth in person or by possessing people, yet they, mere humans, think that they can see through the deceptions. Right. Because the way to deceive people is to levitate and speak in a gabble of languages – not suspicious at all.

      If Satan is a great deceiver then pretending to be god would be the greatest deception. Perhaps Satan was Jesus? Or maybe just Paul. (Or both, just for extra giggles). No way Christians can prove he wasn’t.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      They’re just teasing us. Demons seem playful.

  17. Scote
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    “I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia.”

    Well, there’s the problem. This man is university trained in pseudoscience, and later became a faculty member there. He is primed for confirmation bias.

    As much as I’d love to blame just religion for his nonsense, I’d say Columbia, which still has a Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, must take at least some of the blame for teaching postgraduate level pseudoscience.

    Meanwhile, shouldn’t he be testifying in criminal trials, helping the demonically possessed acquitted for crimes that the literal demons are responsible for?

    • Robert Bray
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Princeton, Yale, Columbia. Poisonous Ivy. Three degrees designed never to get one out of one’s own head and into reality.

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Uh oh.
    Suicide bomber (car bomb?) at the Tomb of Mohammed in Medina.
    Talk about agitating a stick in a hornet’s nest.

    • Somer
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      Some Wahabis see this as saint worship – worshipping others besides God – to them most muslims are heretics from hadith (presumably doubtful authenticity) that there are 99 types of Muslim faith but only one of them is Islam
      (famous medieval scholar) Taymiyyah had declared war on Shi’ism, Sufism and Greek philosophy. He spoke out, too against visiting the grave of the prophet and the celebration of his birthday, declaring that all such behavior represented mere imitation of the Christian worship of Jesus as God (i.e. idolatry). Abd al-Wahhab assimilated all this earlier teaching,

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 5, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Well, they’re all religions, and as such equally contemptible.

  19. Mark R.
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I bet every person who has ever been “possessed” is a religious person. Go figure.

  20. cornbread_r2
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Following in the footsteps of Jesus, exorcism has always been recognized and practiced by the Catholic Church. What Pope Francis did recently was officially recognize a particular group of exorcists.


    Demonologists debate whether demons can read minds or not. The majority thinks that they can’t, but are rather just really good at reading body language. I’m not joking.


    Traditional, conservative Catholics really, really, REALLY hate Ouija boards. They see them as nothing less than gold inlayed on-ramps straight to hell.


    People in fear of demonic oppression are often advised to place blessed salt and sprinkle holy water on all of their exterior doors and windows because, I suppose, powerful diabolic immaterial entities are limited to home entry through fenestration.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      Fun info!

  21. jeffery
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    You should have seen them eat him up in the comments! He actually popped up once, whining that the headline of the article was “misleading”, and that he was being “misunderstood”. His Catholic brainwashing has him invoke the “demon of the gaps”: have a phenomenon you can’t explain? Must be….DEMONS!

  22. Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    “E plurbis unum, ex libris, ipso facto, In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen, ad nauseum…”

    “My goodness, how could she possibly know all that Latin? It must be Satan!”

    Nevermind that she’s Catholic, and has probably attended at least one mass. On top of any number of reasons why someone would lean another language, even a dead one. If course gibberish is often the most common language spoken in tongues, and there’s never a linguist around to confirm syntax or meaning, or a recording ever sent for translation.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Grundig blaupunkt luger frug
      Watusi snarf wazoo
      Nixon dirksen nasahist
      Rebozo boogaloo!

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted July 5, 2016 at 6:49 am | Permalink

        Si Senor Daerdago
        Forte lorez inaro
        demno lorez demar trux
        si fitz inem, cuzan dux.

        Translation available on request.

        • Posted July 5, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          Or …

          In noreni per ipe,
          in nòreni cora;
          tiràmine per ito,
          ne domina

      • PJ Allen
        Posted July 5, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Goodgulf Greyteeth!

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      And why Latin? Everyone knows that a proper demon speaks Aramaic.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        All educated demons are versed in Classics. It’s a hangover from Darwin’s time.

    • Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Expecto patronum! This is proof that Voldemort is real, for I haven’t even read the books.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      I like going with the classics: hocus pocus (from hoc est corpus) & semper ubi sub ubi which we wrote on my high school Latin teacher’s retirement cake.🙂

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        High School Latin? I graduated in the states in ’87. Latin was never offered, only French, German or Spanish. When I graduated, only 2 years of foreign language was required. I’ve heard that some major school districts (like Seattle #1) doesn’t even require 2 years of foreign language. Thus Trump I suppose.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

          I went to the high school I chose because it offered Latin (language geek even at 14) and my parents had to fight the school board to allow it because I technically wasn’t in that school zone. After my Latin teacher retired, the Latin curriculum was also retired, which is a shame. I took Latin in high school for 4 years, French for 5 and German for 4. I then took more German in university as electives and picked up Latin again when I did my second degree in Classics. I also studied Ancient Greek at that time for 2 years. Oddly enough, you didn’t need to have ancient languages to get a Classics degree but you needed to know them, along with a second European language to do graduate studies. So, I took the languages as electives. It was heaven – all Classics all the time!

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

            Most impressive!

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

              I’m glad you think so. Growing up I don’t think people were all that impressed except if I said I was in archaeology, then suddenly I was Indiana Jones!

    • Robert Bray
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Carrie and Kristy Liaison were traveling around the Holy Land in search of Grace. But they were lost. Then they ran into a another girl named Gloria Tua, who gladly joined them in their hejira (they didn’t really know it was the wrong word for what they were doing; but then neither did Joni Mitchell). Anyway, somewhere around Nazareth they pulled into a oasis about half past dead. The place was called Espiritu Sandflow. Gloria, who thought she had some street credo, hopped out of the van and called out for the proprietor, who eventually emerged from a ramshackle hut. ‘Whaddaya want?’ Just some water and a little gas, Pater, Gloria replied. Then we’ll be on our way to Canaan. But. . . uh. . .we ain’t got no money.’ ‘Begone with ye, ya stinking pilgrim tramps! Fore I set my dog Grailbiter on ye! A pox on yer minibus!’

      So the three girls, utterly miserable, drove a little further up the dusty road, until soon the van’s fuel finally gave out. ‘I guess we’ll have to rely on your beseeching names from here on,’ Gloria Tua said, screening her eyes against the hot sun in the west. Carrie and Kristy nodded in unison, and the three of them set off walking in the terrible heat. They’d heard of legendary places of succor somewhere up ahead. Now they had to persevere and find them: the domiciles of Mr. Harry Nobis and his wife Donna Nobis Patchem. And of course the livestock farm of Agnes Day.

  23. Joseph Lapsley
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I posted this comment after the article: “Well I look forward to the paradigm shattering news that all we know of physics is wrong, “demons” are real, etc. With this “confirmed” example supposedly all we know of science has been turned on its head. Now it may well appear that Gallagher is not the most reliable witness, to say the least but hey, I’m waiting . . .” And somebody wrote that I didn’t understand that was only “causal closure” physics . . oh. The WP deserves some sort of censure for this kind of thing, or context, or something.

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    This cat Gallagher may have “stud[ied] the classics at Princeton … trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia,” but he’s clearly never learned Feynman’s first principle regarding the easiest person to fool.

  25. Vaal
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the notorious 20/20 episode in the 90’s that documented an Exorcism of a young, Catholic girl. It had huge hype at the time.

    The lead up to the Exorcism had priests – trained to recognize “real” demon possessions from illness of course – claiming one often sees superhuman feats of strength, clairvoyance, speaking in languages unknown to the subject, and levitation. In fact, some family members of the “possessed” girl claimed to have seen her levitate, and be pulled across the floor by unseen forces.

    But when the 20/20 cameras showed up to document the exorcism, what did we get?
    Just a young girl making angry faces and talking in a raspy voice. No feats of strength, no clairvoyance, no speaking on alternate language, and of course no levitation.

    Oh, those crafty demons…bet they had a laugh!

  26. Posted July 4, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    What breathless inanity! And the fact that it’s coming from the mouth of a self-professed “man of science” in a publication with a major impact on public knowledge, this is positively contemptible.

    Perhaps Gallagher should spend a little time reading up on psychics and how they ply their trade. Consider his expert “scientific” analysis with a single word changed:

    “…But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her **readings**, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed.”

    If only his piece was satire!

    • Sastra
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      Sometimes the announcement that one is a “man of science” or a “scientist” needs to be taken with the same industrial strength grain of salt as “I admit it, I’m a skeptic.” It is in fact the rare purveyor of woo who doesn’t initially claim that they’re hard to fool, as skeptical as they come, scornful of nonsense, quick to demand evidence, hard to convince, full of doubts and questions, and so forth and so on. Oh, they are such a tough nut to crack you wouldn’t believe it! The buildup is impressive.

      And then it usually turns out that they were persuaded by experiences which could be used as examples in Skepticism 101. “Undue pride? Why, that’s MY weakness, too! Right next to my lack of confidence! A-maz-ing!”

      • Jeremy Tarone
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        An oldie but a goodie:

        That word does not mean what he thinks it means. (Science)

  27. Posted July 4, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Years ago, I was appalled to read a book by another psychiatrist claiming to exorcise patients, “People of the Lie” by Morgan Scott Peck.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Was it an autobiography?

      • Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it claimed to be a collection of real cases from the practice of this “doctor”.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          I was thinking of the word “Lie” as being the autobiographical part.

          • Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think he was lying – he seemed to believe the medieval superstitions he was putting on paper. In other words, he seemed to need a psychiatrist himself.

  28. Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Are there language experts on hand to verify the possessed person’s fluency? Surely, charlatans could train the “victim” in some useful phrases as part of the con? If they have the ability to levitate objects, why not levitate the White House so everyone can see their power? Oh that’s right, those conniving demons are smarter than us and won’t let us scientifically verify their act. Of course, that’s when they’re not demonstrating their powers of language and levitation for all on hand to see. Apparently, demons are also known for the mercurial personalities.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Think of how far god’s come down in the universe. First he creates everything, then he floods the world, rains down plagues on Egypt, turns water into wine, walks on water, then raises the dead. Now it’s all he can do to appear on toast and roadkill stains. Maybe demons have had a similar decline.

  29. Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I feel so sorry for this man’s patients. What probably starts as someone experiencing perfectly natural hypnagogic hallucinations culminates with an exorcism and a lasting sense of shame.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Or imagine he’s treated you for some time & you then read this! You’d doubt all your treatment.

      • Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        Especially if, prior to that, I’d been so impressed with said treatment that I’d recommended him to my friends. *shudder*

  30. Pliny the in Between
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I suppose this is progress of a sorts – a century or so ago the Catholic Church thought all cases of mental illness were demon possessions – now at least some of them are recognized for what they are.

  31. Emerson
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    “He or she might demonstrate “hidden knowledge” of all sorts of things – like how a stranger’s loved ones died, what secret sins she has committed, even where people are at a given moment.”
    Fine. Let’s consider the “List of stolen paintings” from wiki ( Can please someone say to Gallagher whether he can ask the next demon that he meet some information about the localization of these paints?

    • Posted July 4, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Don’t be silly! These demons are cunning linguists, not Sherlock Holmes.

  32. Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Levitation indeed. As I told an acquaintance who claimed to be studying “zen levitation”, I’ll believe it when I see someone levitate off the George Washington Bridge with a glide path different than a brick.

  33. Les
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    An example of Levitation during an exorcism.
    (funny ending).

  34. Les
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    An example of levitation during an exorcism😉

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink


  35. Posted July 5, 2016 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    So, satan himself, lord of darkness, possess some random person and make them float around briefly — and they then get locked away in an institution? That sounds plausible. After all, The Creator of All, the Universe, of Billions of Billions of stars, of time itself is routinely concerned with the outcome of sports events.

  36. Posted July 5, 2016 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    “But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training.
    She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride…”

    Argumentum ad ignorantium. It must be supernatural because I don’t know of any other explanation.

    I was once at a party where people were discussing palmistry. So I said as a joke (with a straight face) that I could read feet. So somebody challenged me. And I started reading feet right then and there.

    Well, I surprised everybody, including myself. I could tell people things about themselves by feeling their feet.

    As an atheist and materialist, I do not believe there exist such things as supernatural or preternatural powers.

    But there is empathy, the limits of which I do not pretend to know. Some people can sense things about others that most people cannot.

    Possibly, what makes some people paranoid is that they act in ways that put others off. Then they sense the hostility they themselves have generated in others, but do not perceive that their own behaviour was the cause.

    This could possibly be treated by REBT, which I came across 50 years ago. Albert Ellis was the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

    Similar to the advice of Anselm of Canterbury, “You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than a whole barrelful of vinegar.”

  37. Bob
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    “But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training.” May I suggest the he needs more training? Physician, heal thyself.

  38. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I can honestly say that I was a witness to a demonic possession. A bunch of us young couples were having a party, drink was taken, the party slowed down and the lights were low…

    One person started gabbling and throwing themselves around – as if possessed. This was the time when ‘The Exorcist’ had recently been released. Shocked, some of us dragged them along to the local vicar for spiritual advice.

    His advice was ‘Go away’. It worked. Now if he had invited us in, said a few prayers in Latin and waved some holy water around that would have worked too.

    But I suspect it was the fresh air and sobering up that *really* worked.

  39. Posted July 5, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    As undergraduate with more critical thinking skills than politeness, I deliberately took a philosophy and psychoanalysis class to be the voice of science. Anyway, one of the assigned texts, I still remember, referenced the _Malleus Maleficarum_. (I did an index categorization as part of showing the field’s intellectual isolation.) Maybe there’s a connection to this guy …😉

  40. Wayne Tyson
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Please explain just why psychiatry is a science.

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