From "William Blatty on The Exorcist: From Novel to Film," Blatty shares his research on cases of possession in preparation to write the novel. Below are a few examples from his research. Included in his research and inspiration for the novel, is the case of the Mt. Rainier boy in 1949 [read article here]. The first example is Blatty's additional comments on that case.
William Blatty: I later would learn that even a priest who had requested the material from the Washington archdiocese was told in 1952 that "His Eminence [the Cardinal] has instructed me to inform you that he does not wish the case of exorcism of the boy in Mount Rainier discussed publicly. The parents of the boy made a very strong request to that effect and we have tried to shield them and the boy from any embarrassing publicity."
I cannot vouch for what may have happened prior to the exorcist's appearance on the scene; but certainly no intelligent dialogue in Latin was ever in evidence thereafter, even though the exorcist frequently demanded it of the alien intelligence controlling the boy's response in Latin to certain questions required by the ritual ("What is your name? When will you depart?"); and although the "demon" (whatever ultimate reality may lie behind that name) protested at one point, "I speak the language of the persons," a seemingly childish, if not fraudulent, evasion.
But there was nothing evasive about the levitation of a hospital nightstand beside the boy's bed, which was witnessed by a physics professor from Washington University; nor could one so characterize a repeated and striking phenomenon not mentioned in the Post account: the various markings - described in the diary as "brandings" - that appeared spontaneously and without apparent cause on various parts of the victim's skin.
Many times they were words clearly etched in fiery red block letters that were usually a little over two inches tall; other times they were symbols; at still others, pictorial representations. One of the words that appeared was SPITE. One symbol was an arrow that pointed directly at the victim's penis. And a very clear picture was that of a hideous satanic visage. But by far the most frequent and alarming of the brandings were lengthy lines that at times broke the skin, as if the boy had been raked with the prongs of an invisible miniature pitchfork.
Or, one could say, claws. During brandings, the boy wore only his undershorts. No bedcovers hid his movements. His hands were at all times in view of the exorcist and his assistants and others in the room. One branding that ran from the boy's inner thigh to the top of his ankle, drawing blood, occurred while the exorcist was seated on the edge of the bed, his eyes on the boy, and no more than about a foot away. Other of the brandings were on the boy's back. And one, the word SPITE, did not fade from his skin for over four hours.
The physics professor from Washington, having seen the hospital bedstand levitate rapidly upward from the floor to the ceiling, later remarked that "there is much we have yet to discover concerning the nature of electromagnetism," an observation impervious to challenge. But when we are confronted with the paranormal, is it valid, in this age of scientific awareness, to resort at the last to "unknown forces"? We do not know all of the positive efficiencies of natural forces; however, we do know some negative limitations.
Aldous Huxley’s Devils of Loudun makes a devastating argument to the effect that the seventeenth-century epidemic of demonic possession in a convent of Ursuline nuns in France was a fraudulent, hysterical manifestation; yet even Huxley observes: "I can see nothing intrinsically absurd or self-contradictory in the notion that there may be non-human spirits, good, bad and indifferent. Nothing compels us to believe that the only intelligences in the universe are those connected with the bodies of human beings and the lower animals.
If the evidence for clairvoyance, telepathy and prevision is accepted (and it is becoming increasingly difficult to reject it), then we must allow that there are mental processes which are largely independent of space, time and matter. And if this is so, there seems to be no reason for denying a priori that there may be nonhuman intelligences, either completely discarnate, or else associated with cosmic energy in some way of which we are still ignorant."
And consider what happened to four of the exorcists sent to deal with the outbreak at Loudun. Three of them, Tranquille, Lactance, and Lucas, successively appeared to be possessed themselves, and while in that state, died, perhaps from cardiac exhaustion. The oldest of these men was forty-three.
The fourth, Surin, a noted intellectual and mystic, a truly good man, only thirty-three, became hysterical, they were so in defiance of a psychiatric principle that tells us that hysterics do not blossom overnight; and if hysterical beforehand, though of differing backgrounds, then their hysteria must surely have been the determining criterion employed by the cardinal who picked them for the mission, for how could we otherwise account for the coincidence involved in his selecting four closet hysterics?
William James, the great psychologist, who investigated the case of a girl in Watseka, Illinois, who underwent a total and abrupt transformation of personality and identity, claiming for months to be someone named Mary Roff who turned out to be a real person whom she had never met: a sixteen-year-old girl who had died in a state insane asylum years before. James declared the “spiritist explanation” of the case “the most plausible” one available.
Carl Jung, it is perhaps little known, was connected with another case of possession for almost a year. 14 The case involved a fifteen-year-old girl, the daughter of friends. Normally dull-witted, she manifested three distinct personalities, one of them a chatty and eloquent old man who spoke high German, a dialect completely unknown to the girl. She demonstrated telepathic abilities and an astoundingly accelerated intelligence, all of which phenomena were frequently witnessed firsthand by Jung, who found in them no possibility of fraud.
I found a case that was relatively recent: 1928. In Earling, Iowa. There was only one account of the event, a printed pamphlet written by a monk. The pamphlet carried photographs of the principals. Paranormal phenomena were cited. One in particular gave me pause. It was stated that the victim, a forty-year-old woman, would repeatedly and forcefully fly up from her bed as if hurled like a dart, head first, at a point above the bedroom door, where she would hang suspended by her forehead, as if tightly glued to the spot.
An extraordinary image! I instinctively felt that it could not have been invented. Moreover, while phenomena tended to repeat themselves in the cases I had studied, this was one I had never before heard the likes of. And yet my overall reaction to the pamphlet was a shrug. Perhaps some who are familiar with the pamphlet were impressed, by which I do not imply that my threshold of credulity is higher than theirs.
But the tone of the pamphlet seemed so overly credulous, so replete with pietistic asides and exclamations, that it turned me off. I reacted illogically, I suppose, as the basic phenomena might still have been factual. I simply didn’t trust it. And the people involved were unfortunately dead. That ended Earling, at least for me.
To read Blatty's complete description in much more detail, click here.