Warning: The following story contains references to spiritual matters of an extremely frightening nature. Readers with heart conditions, children and those who are otherwise ill-at-ease with detailed descriptions of demonic possession and its associated behaviors may not wish to continue reading beyond this point.
In 1928, an exorcism was performed in a convent just north of the peaceful hamlet of Earling. It was one of the last exorcisms officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church. The case was reported in several famous pieces of literature. One is a 48-page booklet called "Begone Satan" by the Rev. Carl Vogl, a witness to the event. The second is a book, "The Devil Rocked Her Cradle," by David St. Clair. The third is a novel inspired at least partly by this exorcism and one other in Washington, D.C. The book is called "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty and it inspired a film of the same title, which is considered to be one of the most frightening horror films ever made.
The truth is a difficult thing to preserve after so many years, but Papal records do acknowledge that the exorcism of Emma Schmidt did take place at the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters over a period of 23 days, an unusually long period of time. The convent is gone now, but the controversy remains.
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It is said that Emma Schmidt had been possessed most her life, according to "Begone Satan." Born in 1882, Schmidt's Aunt Mina was reputedly a witch "who had placed a spell on some herbs which she placed among the girl's food." A Capuchin priest, Father Theophilus Riesigner, performed the rites of exorcism on her the first time in 1912, but she became possessed again "due to the curses hurled against her by her wicked father." The Earling exorcism was performed in three stages between Aug. 18 and Dec. 22, 1928.
According to Vogl in "Begone Satan," Emma Schmidt was a God-fearing woman who began to experience some very unusual things. Though she wanted to go to church, she felt as though something inside of her was preventing her from going, some "interior hidden power."
"She was conscious of some sinister inner voices that kept on suggesting most disagreeable things to her," according to Vogl's "Begone Satan." "These voices tried their utmost to arouse thoughts of the most shameful type within her, and tried to induce her to do things unmentionable and even to bring her to despair. The poor creature was helpless and secretly was of the opinion that she would become insane. There were times when she felt impelled to shatter her holy water font, when she could have attacked her spiritual adviser and could have suffocated him. Yes, there were suggestions urging her to tear down the very house of God."
By the time Father Riesigner approached his superiors about the Earling exorcism, Schmidt had not known a peaceful night's sleep for 26 years because of the voices inside her.
The modern debate is between those who believe Emma Schmidt to have simply been insane versus those who believe her to be a true example of demonic possession. It is not the position of the Daily Nonpareil to advocate one position over the other. However, the evidence for possession, the evidence that convinced a Capuchin priest and inspired decades of controversy, books and film was that Emma blasphemed whenever holy relics were brought near her. She foamed at the mouth. She made a variety of animal sounds. She was able to detect blessed food and rejected it. She spoke and understood Latin and other ancient languages in which she had no formal training. On at least one occasion, she levitated to the ceiling in front of witnesses.
During the exorcism, nuns were made busy in removing bucket after bucket of unusually foul smelling waste and green vomit from the woman who had eaten nothing in days.
A pea-sized lump moved freely underneath Emma's skin. Voices emanated from inside her chest identifying themselves as various demons, threatening participants with bodily as well as spiritual harm.
"Her body was completely distorted, swollen so badly that the nuns feared she would burst," according to the Web site, "Haunted America." "Emma's head swelled and turned red, her eyes bulged from their sockets and her lips protruded to twice their normal size. Sometimes she seemed to float above the bed, other times, her weight became so great that it bent the bed's iron frame."
According to Rev. Vogl's account, a hideous smell as well as the many loud noises drew the curious from Earling while at the monastery, an "epic battle" was raging.
"It was during this time that the poor woman admitted during her periods of rest that she had visions of horrible battles between the good and evil spirits. Countless numbers of evil spirits continually arrived. Satan tried his utmost not to be outdone this time. The good angels came to assist at the exorcism. Many approached seated on white horses and under the leadership of St. Michael, completely routed the infernal serpents and drove the demons back to the abyss of hell."
As the exorcism continued, the evil spirits appeared to be losing ground although it was noted that they often try to fool the exorcist by pretending to leave the body of their victim.
"Their bold, bitter demeanor gave way to more moaning and despairing tones. They could not bear the tortures of exorcism any longer ... Father Th. demanded in the name of the Most Blessed Trinity that at their departure the devils should give a sign by giving their respective names ... Father Th. shouted, 'Depart, ye fiends of hell! Begone, Satan, the Lion of Juda reigns!' ... (Emma) fell upon the bed ... a piercing sound filled the room ... voices saying, 'Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina,' could be heard. And this was repeated over and over until they faded far away into the distance. 'Beelzebub, - Judas, - Jacob, - Mina.' To these words were added: 'Hell--hell--hell!' Everyone present was terrified by this gruesome scene. It was the long awaited sign indicating that Satan was forced to leave his victim at last and to return to hell with his associates."
There was much rejoicing and it is said that Emma was able to attend mass and partake of all manner of holy rituals after that time.