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Exorcism: A Child Possessed

A case reported by Richard Baxter in 1691 told of a young girl who was possessed by a demon and delivered from her misery by the hands of exorcists. In one of his treatises, he gives the eyewitness account of Dr. Henricus ab Heer, a doctor in a small village.

 

A young girl was brought to Dr. Heer in September of 1625, suffering from convulsions, fits and a number of other odd symptoms. Her mother related that the problems had begun on a fine day in May when an old woman had come begging at the door to her home. The door was answered by the nine year old daughter of the house, who gave the old woman bread and beer. The woman gave her a sorrel leaf, which the girl chewed and swallowed. No sooner had she swallowed the leaf than, in the words of the good doctor, "she began to be Tortured in her Bowels, to Tremble all over, and then to be convulst, and in fine, to swoon away and fall as one dead."

 

Her mother immediately called for the doctors of the village, who tried various remedies for "many days", but the young girl continued to have convulsions and seizures. Eventually, her parents turned to the exorcists, not an uncommon practice in the 17th century. The monk who was chosen to perform the duty arrived and was shown the girl. He had no sooner begun the ritual of prayer and exorcism when, quite literally, all hell broke loose. According to the account the parents gave to the doctor, the girl began to arch and twist and contort herself into impossible positions. She then began to vomit up "…horse-dung, Needles, Hairs, Pins, Feathers, Bottoms of Thread, Pieces of glass Window, Nails drawn out of Cart or Coach Wheels, an Iron Knife above a Span long, Eggs and Fish Shells".

 

The girl's parents also reported that whenever the "witch" came near, their daughter was in such torment that she couldn't be eased, or that she would faint and be like one dead until the witch was far away. In mid September, having exhausted all other options, her parents brought the girl to the home of Dr. Heer in the hope that he could cure her. After examining her, he sent for the a 'Capuchin', a monk of his acquaintance, to come and examine her. The day after she arrived at his house, the girl suddenly fell into a dead faint. Upon examination, the doctor found no sign of breathing, and noted that her fingers and toes were twisted and 'convulst' so that the second and third joints were stuck so firmly together that he couldn't force them apart. The mother, who was present, immediately said that the Capuchines - the exorcists - were on their way, and sure enough, within moments they were knocking on the door.

 

As they prepared to perform a ritual exorcism, the girl remained as she was, so unmoving that the doctor believed that she was dead. That changed the moment they incanted the first words of prayer over her still body. At that point..

 

"…the Girl which hitherto had lain more immoveable than any dead Corps, fell a shaking all over, her Fingers and Toes continuing as they were, with that Violence, that she could not be held still by six of us, by no means we could use."

 

The doctor himself tried to hold her head still and found that even with all his strength, he couldn't keep her from twisting it about till she nearly faced backward. As the priests continued their praying, her belly began to swell till it was nearly 'under her chin', and she began to vomit up metal pins, nails and needles and other items which included a long knife. At the same time, there was a horrendous sound from the girl's belly which the doctor likened to the sound of tempestuous waves under the prow of a ship. The priest agreed, and the moment that he stopped praying, the girl lay still again, but it wasn't till he had left the house and was some distance away that she awoke and her fingers and toes unbent back to normal.

 

The child remained in the doctor's home for several months, during which time he attempted many cures and tried many experiments. Exorcism was repeatedly tried, and always aborted as it had been the first time - for fear of the girl's life. Eventually, the mother resolved to take the girl to a newly built chapel that was dedicated to the Blessed Mother, where again, numerous attempts at exorcism were unsuccessful, and when she returned to the home of Dr. Heer, she was considerably worsened. Eventually, she refused any type of drink or meat, and lived only on fruits and nuts for fifteen days, after which she seemed to be much cured, and the doctor sent her home.



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