Monday, November 1, 2010

Six steps to exorcising Halloween Demons (Elizabethan Style)

Was your child levitating from her bed last night? Was your spouse muttering gibberish and bent over in a sugar-induced stupor? Did your coworkers stagger in today looking disheveled with that telltale frothing at the mouth?  You can blame it on eating too much candy corn, but there may be a far more nefarious spirit at work.

Your loved one may be possessed by Halloween demons! 

Don’t despair. Simply take a page from the Elizabethan guide to exorcisms and choose any of the following demon expunging tactics.  

1. Give Birth
If you were a nubile woman in Elizabethan times, the only way to get rid of some demons was to just give birth. Oddly, the Elizabethans often confused pregnancy with demon possession. Blame the uncertainty on conceptions beliefs.  Doctors at the time believed conception could only take place if the woman had an orgasm. This belief led many sexually ungratified women to assume that their swelling belly was the result of demon possession and not a growing baby. One Elizabethan woman, after becoming pregnant from her affair with a local priest, insisted that her lover exorcize the demon growing in her belly. By all accounts, the priest was more up to this task because she soon gave birth to, 'a little female spirit.' (aka a bouncing baby girl).1

2. The Herbal Method
In Elizabethan times, you would also find the same herbs used to expel a fetus were also used during your typical Elizabethan exorcist. One of the most popular abortificants, rue, was believed to be an anathema to both babies and demons.  Other herbs like garlic were always removed from a woman giving birth and a women being exorcised because they were believed to bind a demon to the room.  At least this one sounds like it was on the right track. No one needs to smell garlic when they are going through labor.

3. Vinegar
When preacher John Lane was called to the house of Anne Mylner to exorcise a particularly ferocious demon, the first thing he did was pour vinegar into his mouth and then spit it into her nostrils. (I can’t imagine what vinegar up your nose feels like, but I guessing it would be far worse than say salt water up your nose.)Vinegar not only protected townspeople from the plague, but also exorcised demons. For centuries, it was believed to cleanse the body in the same way that we would try a detox diet today.

4. Farting
Demons were believed to enter the body through different orifices, with the mouth, nose and ear being preferred. A demon could hide in anything as innocent as a radish and then bam….once you ate the demon laden radish, you were possessed. If mouths, noses and ears were the point of entry, it made perfect sense that the point of exit must be the anus. This thinking led most people to believe that farting would naturally expel demons. Martin Luther was particularly fond of farting to cleanse the body and was never short on fart jokes for his dinner companions. 

5. Fasting
In 1574, John Parkhurst, bishop of Norwich, ordered the whole town to fast to expel the demons in the son of an alderman.  In Elizabethan times, it was believed food generated more blood and since demons fed on blood, fasting was the best method to starve them. This one actually might work if your fasting eliminated all chocolate consumption. 

6. Praying
You would think the old standby of praying to a particular saints would be the first line of defense against demons, but evoking any saint was a dangerous practice in Elizabethan England.  Viewed mostly as popish, Elizabeth I had forbade prophesying and exorcising demons. Any priest that practiced exorcists could be arrested and tried for witchcraft. (This law was especially ironic considering the pope accused Elizabeth’s chief alchemist, John Dee, of necromancy.) When John Darrell dared to use prayer and fasting to exorcise the demons from an apprenticed musician named William Somers, his efforts got him imprisoned awaiting trial. Luckily, local, leading clerical figures campaigned for his release.

Personally, if you have a young one jumping off the walls this morning, I would just pray, pray, pray. Those sugar demons can only survive so long. 

(1)Sand. p. 19
Sources and Further Reading:
R. Sands, Kathleen. Demon possession in Elizabethan England, Westport (Conn.) : Praeger, 2004.
Lake, Peter and Questeir, Michael. Conformity and orthodoxy in the English Church, c. 1560-1660, Woodbridge : Boydell Press, 2000


Heather Carroll said...

Who would have thought exorcism could be so easy! Now I don't have call the local priest for those pesky demons! Love these home remedies

Unknown said...

Very interesting Carlyn!

So many interesting Halloween related posts this year!


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Just one word: YIKES! Fascinating post!