Monday, June 2, 2014

Even the Miraculous Needs a Press Agent

Illustration of a demon
The sort of picture I'd remember
if you had seen it.
Rod Dreher today linked to a piece by Julie Lyons on a pair of Texas exorcists. These aren't the first exorcisms Ms. Lyons has seen, having also attended exorcisms "while on Christian church missions in Nigeria and Botswana."She says of Ruth, the Pollard's client in Texas that,
Either she is an Academy Award-winning horror-film actress, with Ferrari-smooth shifts of body and voice, or she is encountering something in a subconscious realm. At one point, she speaks the name of a demon in a distinctly foreign voice: “Ba-al.” Later, in casual conversation, the pronunciation comes out differently: “Bail,” with a bit of a twang—the name of a Canaanite god mentioned numerous times in the Bible.
And of her earlier experiences, she says,
Through travels with church groups to Nigeria and Botswana, I’ve also seen phenomena I cannot attribute to natural means. I watched a boy of 10 or so who fell to the floor and began speaking in a guttural, grown man’s voice. Although I was among ordinary Nigerians who converse in broken, heavily accented English, the boy orated with precise British diction. At another time in the same place, a woman rolled and flailed with such force that she sent plastic chairs scattering.
There is possibly a huge gulf between phenomena that Ms. Lyon cannot attribute to natural means and phenomena that cannot be attributed to natural means. I don't suppose Ms. Lyon has video of the boy speaking "with precise British diction."

When I read it, I found myself thinking of something I had read a few days before. When I stumbled on the article on the death of Washington Irving Bishop, I quickly did a search for more information on him. Among the articles was one that I presume preceded Mr. Bishop's appearance in Cincinnati, by Mr. Moncure Conway. Mr. Conway wrote that he had Mr. Bishop to his home for a little gathering of about twenty people, and given his report, Mr. Bishop might have come in handy if you mislaid your keys:
Dr. Cattell, president of Lafayette college, being present, was requested to lay some object on a secret spot and then remove it to another. President Cattell was in the dining-room, and took out his gold hunting-watch. He at first thought of hanging it for a moment on the gasalier, and raised it there, but went on to the tea-table and placed it inside a glass biscuit-box, with cover; he then took it out and hid it in another part of the room on a side-board, in an empty silver butter-dish with (opaque) cover. When the carefully blind-folded man was led in he first paused beneath the gasilier, motioned upward with his hand, then dashed on, opened and shut the biscuit-box, said "Here!" then darted straight to the butter-dish, took off the top and exclaimed, "Here it is!" This success was very speedily achieved.
Like Ms. Lyons, Mr. Conway was certain that there was no trickery involved. Bishop's demonstration in 1881 included the following:
Mr. Bishop was brought blindfolded before a table on which there were seven or eight books of various sizes, which he had not seen. I told him that on a certain page which I remembered, in one of them, there was a picture which I remembered, and he was asked to try and pic out the book, page and picture. The book (ordinary royal octavo) was found by him after a long search and several mistakes.
Several mistakes? There was an earlier test of mental abilities that went completely wrong. If you get several guesses, you can really trim down the odds. It continues (and I'll keep interrupting):
It being a new one, which would not lie open, there was a mechanical difficulty in his exploring it while one of his hands was holding mine to his forehead. Under the circumstances it was agreed that I should turn the pages consecutively, and he would say when the right page was reached.
I want to note there that both Mr. Conway and Mr. Bishop has only free hand. It's not clear how Mr. Conway is better suited to turning pages.
I began and turned the pages, my hand moving as nearly as could make it, with the regularity of a pendulum. The pictures was passed by about seven pages when he asked me to return; in this way it was thrice passed. He then said; "This is not an ordinary book. I will describe to you the size of the picture." He drew a square of less than half a page, which was right enough.
"Right enough." Should we assume not strictly accurate there?
Presently, as I was turning the pages, with the same regularity, he exclaimed, "Your hand is on the picture," which was true. He then exclaimed, "I feel as if I must give my impression of this picture," and instantly struck an attitude, with one hand uplifted and the other held out straight from his side. This was the attitude of the main figure in the picture, but I made no answer. I said, "Say what you think the picture is." He answered, "It seems to be a dragon or a snake."
After the witnesses are summoned (What? They hand't watched the whole thing? What were they up to when all this fun was happening?)
His bandage was then removed, and he was evidently excited to find how accurate had been his description. The picture is in my demonology, volume one, page 103, and represents a devil with a long hideous, animalized head, holding a long staff in one upraised hand and a key out from the side with the other, and around this figure a huge snake or dragon twines from head to foot. Mr. Bishop's description was minutely correct.
Perhaps this is the demon that possessed the Pollard's client, Ruth.
Had he only described the picture as being something ugly or disagreeable, it would be another thing. What were the chances of fraud?
Pretty good, I think.
Is is possible Mr. Bishop might have known that I had written a demonology? Possibly he had seen it. Among its sixty-seven pictures fifteen have the serpent or dragon in them, prominently in some cases, incidentally in others. But they all have demons or devils; and if Mr. Bishop had known or guessed what book he had in his hand (a quite ordinary book in size) and meant to guess at the picture, he would naturally say, "It is a demon or devil."
Actually, it seems likely that Mr. Bishop knew that Mr. Conway had written a book on demonology. Mr. Conway had been dismissed from the Unitarian Church in 1856 due to his anti-slavery views. A Virginian, he spent the Civil War as a sort of exile in London.
No theory of happy guessing accounts for this imitating the attitude of the figure. If it were all a felicitous "hit" it is one which I believe M. Quetelet would have said could only happen once in a trillion times. What then is my own theory? I have none. Mr. Bishop says he is without one. The fact will be laid before the scientists who are to experiment further.
Two stories, separated in time more 133 years, both involving in some way demons and the unexplained. But I don't think unexplainable. Mind reading acts are viewed as entertaining, but we're unlikely to ascribe them to mystical forces, no matter how much we shelled out for the ticket. The ticket on the exorcism (for the client) runs about $225 to $350. And the Pollards can heal people too, according to Lyons.
The next morning, I gingerly stepped out of bed. I have plantar fasciitis in one foot, and for six months I’d walked with a pronounced limp and considerable pain. I noticed something. It didn’t hurt anymore. Okay, there was a little tenderness if I hit just the right place, but the pain was about 80 percent gone.
Well, partial cure. Bishop on the other hand,
The next experiment was with Mr. Samuel Russel of Boston (U.S.). Mr. Russel had a pain and Mr. Bishop speedily placed his forefinger on the spot just above the inside of the left eye. This was surprisingly exact, the pain being a neuralgic affection of the fifth nerve which curves from the nose above the eye.
He only diagnoses.

The Pollards might be separated by more than a century from Mr. Bishop, but they seem to be in the same trade. Both Ms. Lyons and Mr. Conway seem to be unpaid press agents.
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