Baker, Robert A. Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1992.
Call#: Van Pelt Library BF315 .B35 1992
Despite William Peter Blatty’s belief of the 1949 exorcism, many skeptics have criticized the legitimacy of demonic possessions and exorcisms. Robert A. Baker seeks to examine imperceptible behavior in his book, looking at alternatives to the religious and paranormal explanations. In Chapter 5, ‘Calling All Corpses or Dial “D” for Dead”, Baker explains the history of known demonic possessions and asserts that they can be easily explained away by mental problems or voluntary acts.
In the 4th century, Zeno of Verona was the first to describe what happens to those who were possessed; by the 16th century, the victim’s behavior had become fairly stereotyped. Among the symptoms were convulsions, increased intelligence with clairvoyance, spontaneous amnesia, and involuntary demonic behavior. After the 17th century, the number of possession victims dropped as mental illnesses became properly diagnosed, primarily with the label of hysteria. Psychiatrists now believe that many of the symptoms actually fall under various psychological disorders, in particular multiple personality disorder.
Demonic possessions were also faked, according to Baker. In 16th and 17th century France, families placed daughters in the convent to avoid the financial burden of a dowry. Being possessed spread among the nuns at this time, who knew how to act and felt it to be a relatively safe way to protest and to escape from their duties. They would become the center of sympathetic attention. Baker believes that the symptoms can be faked. For example, linguists attribute glossolalia, or the speaking in a foreign tongue, to strings of nonsense syllables that, put together haphazardly, sound like word groupings and sentences. Though this story is intriguing, it lacks the credibility to be confirmed. This chapter of Baker’s book presents the views of many historians and professionals that deny the existence of possession, and thus the basis of The Exorcist.