By the time consultant psychiatrist Dr Alan Sanderson began treating Peter for ‘demonic possession' his life had already fallen apart.
Peter Johnson, a 50-year-old career civil servant, had once been a model citizen. He lived a quiet middle-class life in South East England. He worked hard, loved gardening and adored his wife Joan. There was nothing unusual in his life in any way.
But then came Askinra - a ‘demon' that ate into his soul and took over his life.
"It was as if I had an alien presence living inside my body," says Peter. "When it was fully active it penetrated and permeated my entire body, including my brain."
Peter first became aware of Askinra's presence during his dreams. A dark forbidding entity would enter his body and seize control. At first, Peter ignored the recurring nightmares but eventually they began spilling over into his daily life.
Blistering headaches made his life intolerable. Uncontrollably dizzy spells and bouts of narcolepsy swept over him without warning. These were bad enough - but then came the hallucinations. In these, Peter took a backseat as another spirit gained increasing control over his life.
"I thought I was going mad," he says.
At around this time, his wife began noticing dramatic swings in behaviour. Peter embarked on a series of affairs and his emotions alternated between ravenous lust and the depths of despair. His body began falling apart too. Bouts of uncontrollable retching and diarrhea seized his body, his temperature fluctuated wildly and his joints were wracked with pain.
Peter was repeatedly hospitalised but he appeared to be suffering from no known physical ailment. Eventually he was referred to Dr Alan Sanderson, a highly respected consultant psychiatrist with a powerful interest in the esoteric. Dr Sanderson had seen such cases before and quickly diagnosed "spirit attachment" - or possession.
"It's much more common than people think," says Dr Sanderson, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. "If you use a Ouiji board, or ask spirits to come through to our side, then one just might attach to you."
Many would regard exorcism as a relict of the middle ages with no relevance to the 21st century. Surely demonic possession has no basis in fact and is merely confined to the fevered imaginations of halfwits and fools? Well, strange as it may seem, exorcism is gaining increasing medical credibility and remains part of the religious mainstream.
The Vatican University recently announced that it is to run courses on the practical aspects of driving out demons. The British TV network Channel Four has screened a live exorcism. And over 100 US medical schools now teach spiritual medicine. Such things as faith healing, the power of prayer, and the rudiments of exorcism can now be found on the syllabuses of American medical schools.
Such things are no longer confined merely to the US. In the UK, psychiatrists are increasingly referring their patients for private exorcisms. And the Royal College of Psychiatrists now has a group studying spiritual medicine.
"The study of exorcism is gaining academic credibility," says Professor Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychologist from London University. "The most important question to ask is, ‘do patients get better?' Those given pharmaceutical drugs and those who are exorcised do tend to get better."
Whilst some psychiatrists who use exorcism undoubtedly regard it as a mere comfort for their patients, others believe they really are expelling spirits. For them, it is far more than a placebo.
"I do not doubt for a moment that the spirit world is real," says Dr Alan Sanderson. "I believe there are many kinds of spirit entities that can attach to us. The most common ones are earthbound entities which are usually the spirits of people who have died.
"These have not gone to ‘heaven' so we send these towards the light when we release them. There are also negative spirits and animal entities too."
For most people, exorcism will be forever associated with the famous Hollywood film. But the story of Father Damien Karras' duels with the devil are actually based on a real exorcism in St Louis, Missouri, in 1949. The real story involved a 14-year-old boy rather than a girl but is no less terrifying.
The story begins after Richard, the 14-year-old boy, and his aunty summoned up spirits using a Ouiji board. Shortly afterwards, his aunty died mysteriously. A few days later, strange events began happening around Richard. Tables and chairs moved of their own accord, pictures fell off walls, and foot steps could be heard in the loft of the family's home.
But even stranger things were happening to Richard. His chest became covered in arcane lettering carved into his flesh. Claw marks appeared on his arms and legs. A Catholic priest was called in to perform an exorcism
At first, Father William Bowden expected to drive out the demon with a few simple prayers but he quickly realised that he was up against a powerful foe. Every time Richard tried to say a prayer and renounce Satan, a force would seize control of his body and prevent him from doing so. During the exorcism rituals, Richard became enormously strong and it took three men to pin him down.
Father Bowden battled the demon for day after day with Richard continuously taunting him and spitting at his helpers. At one stage the boy grabbed a pen off Father Bowden and scrawled: "I am the Devil himself".
After 28 days, an exhausted Father Bowden tried once again to exorcise Richard and drive out the Devil. But this time was to be different. As Richard struggled to say the Lord's Prayer, a new force seized his body and helped him utter the words needed to expel Satan. Richard was free at last. Later, Richard said that the archangel Michael had intervened to help him say the prayer. He apparantly also saw a vision of the saint battling Satan at the mouth of a burning cave.
Peter Johnson's demonic possession was no less bizarre. Askinra's presence only became apparent when Peter was hypnotised by Dr Sanderson. Under hypnosis, Askinra would temporarily gain control of Peter's body and use his voice to communicate.
Askinra apparently attached itself to Peter during his former life as a child in 1950s Tibet. He was bayonetted to death at the age of twelve by a Chinese soldier. The soldier's sheer bitter hatred for the boy sucked in a nearby spirit which became attached to Peter's soul. When Peter was re-incarnated, Askinra was dragged back into our world too.
Under hypnosis, the spirit claimed to have come from "a dark flame" and his driving purpose was "to cause pain".
The spirit then revealed its deeper intention: "If I destroy him then I can be free."
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