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Demonic Foes a thorough, scholarly analysis of the phenomenon of diabolic attacks

While consulting hundreds of priests and other ministers, Dr. Richard Gallagher has witnessed more cases of demonic possession and oppression than any other psychiatrist in the world.

Detail from "The Demon" (1909) by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (WikiArt.org)

Dr. Richard Gallagher is not just some psychiatrist on the fringes of his field. He is a magna cum laude graduate from Princeton University and trained as a resident in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. He is currently Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College and a faculty member of the Psychoanalytic Institute of Columbia University in addition to having his own private practice. Looking at these credentials, few would expect this man of science to pen a book about possessions, diabolic attacks and the paranormal.

The skeptics and the naysayers are usually quick to dismiss accounts of demonic activity as myth or outdated cultural ideas, but what Dr. Gallagher has written on the subject must be taken seriously.

One morning 25 years ago he was approached by a priest who wanted him to examine a woman the priest believed was suffering from a demonic attack. She was covered in bruises and claimed an invisible spirit regular beat her. Finding nothing mentally or physically wrong with the woman, Dr. Gallagher concluded this was not psychosis but something else entirely.

Since then he has investigated and experienced the history and present reality of demonic activity and exorcisms. He is the longest-standing American member of the International Association of Exorcists serving as a scientific advisor on its governing council as the only layman and sole psychiatrist. While consulting hundreds of priests and other ministers he has witnessed more cases of demonic possession and oppression than any other psychiatrist in the world. For many years he has taught pastoral counseling to future priests at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, including me back in 2015.

This October he published Demonic Foes: My Twenty-Five Years as a Psychiatrist Investigating Possessions, Diabolic Attacks and the Paranormal. It is an important and unique contribution to the study of this controversial topic. The many statements by Pope Francis on the reality of demonic activity or the two books written by the most experienced exorcist in the world, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, are likely to do little to convince the many skeptics and naysayers. What has been missing from these efforts is a more “credible” source that treats the topic scientifically. This void has been filled by Dr. Gallagher’s new book. As Dr. Joseph T. English notes in his forward to Demonic Foes: “… his book may well be unique in history: the serious treatment of a long-disputed topic by a superbly credentialed academic physician—a full professor of psychiatry—who can actually offer personally informed accounts in painstaking detail of modern-day examples.”

The existence of demons

The existence of demons is de fide, both divinely revealed in Sacred Scripture and defined as dogma by the Church.

God created all things, both visible and invisible. Faith tells us there are in this universe the angels whom we cannot see. They, like God, are pure spirit. They possess the Beatific Vision and are always in contact with God through their prayerful contemplation, adoration and intercession on our behalf. Like us, the angels have intellect and free will. Just as we humans were put to the test in the Garden of Eden, the angels were put to the test in heaven. They had to merit the Beatific Vision by choosing to remain faithfully in God’s service. Many angels did not, however.

The greatest of them, identified by tradition as Lucifer (“Light-bearer”), led a rebellion against God and invented evil. He did this out of his prideful disdain for the Incarnation—that human nature was to be assumed by Jesus—the Second Person of the Trinity. The angels have a higher nature than we men. Lucifer was appalled at the notion of serving a God Who would take on our lowly human nature which is beneath the dignity of his own angelic nature. Because God was to become a man in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, Lucifer rebelled against the Lord with the cry “Non serviam!” (“I will not serve”). When Lucifer fell he became Satan (“the Accuser”), and many other angels joined his sinful rebellion. The rebellion of these fallen angels which we call demons, was met with resistance by the heavenly host led by St. Michael the Archangel.

The demons were cast into hell but are also active here on earth prowling about seeking the ruin of souls. The Book of Revelation reveals all this (Revelation 12:7-12).

Satan’s greatest triumph in our own day are the two errors C.S. Lewis warns against in his famous novel, The Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Dr. Gallagher’s book is a good antidote to both. The reader will learn much about this topic and find the evidence presented to be credible but startling enough to dissuade one from morbid curiosity.

Though Dr. Gallagher is a faithful Catholic, Demonic Foes is not written with a doctrinaire or Catholic inclination. As both a physician and a believer, he wrote this book with a desire to strike a sensible balance between extreme skepticism and naïve credulity.

Demonic Foes presents a true scholarly perspective into the phenomenon of demonic activity—a multidisciplinary approach with a mix of medical, historical and spiritual insights. While reviewing several of the cases he worked on, Dr. Gallagher sheds light on a number of important and interesting topics.

Types of demonic attacks

Demonic attacks don’t just come out of the blue but seem to always involve some form of dabbling in the occult. Some cases presented involve common practices found in Hispanic communities such as Santeria, an Afro-Cuban folk religion, or devotion to the Mexican folk saint Santa Muerte, which is especially prominent among members of the infamous gang, MS-13. The most shocking case in the book involves the high priestesses of a Satanic cult. Other cases presented have their origins in less overt affiliations with the occult.

Belief in New Age ideas is growing. There has been a recent proliferation of neopagan practices such as witchcraft which Dr. Gallagher believes “arise primarily out of a personal rebellion against monotheistic religions, along with some of their moral codes and demanding creedal systems.” Many still foolishly “play with fire” when they flirt with spiritualism, yoga, astrology, Ouija boards and Tarot cards.

The different types of demonic attack classified as either possessions, oppressions, or infestations are spelled out. Amidst all the disturbing details of each case, the perspective of the compassionate physician is never lost in Dr. Gallagher’s writing. These are tortured individuals seeking help. The major task of the physician assisting the exorcist is to differentiate what may be termed troubles of the spirit from troubles of the mind. If no diagnosis could be made to explain the sufferings of the patient then the ritual of exorcism is recommended—the gripping accounts of which are described in detail.

Knowledge from experience

In the seminary, Dr. Gallagher taught us a course titled pastoral counseling. When the topics of possession, diabolic attacks and the paranormal came up he was always measured and insisted that as priests, we not be overly credulous or in any way fall for, or promote, superstition or harmful exaggerations. Things being equal, he did also share the details with us about some of the cases he came across where he could determine no natural explanation for the patient’s condition. In these cases, he saw relief come only by means of the rites of exorcism.

I remember a story he told us about how he and his wife were woken up one night around 3:00 a.m. by their two normally docile cats who inexplicably began to go wild, acting in a very strange and frightening manner they never had before. The two were scratching and clawing at each other intent on inflicting some serious harm. As they were separated into two different rooms they continued to grow and bristle. Awaiting Dr. Gallagher in his office the next morning was a woman referred to him by an exorcist-priest who claimed to be the high priestesses of a Satanic cult. She greeted him with the question “How’d you like those cats last night?”

I recall being quite taken with this story when I heard it those years ago back at the seminary. In Demonic Foes, this case along with many others are expounded upon in detail. Dr. Gallagher presents persistent but unequivocal factual evidence of demonic attacks in a contemporary context. The open-minded reader should find it to be a compelling, informative, and sobering read.

My Twenty-Five Years as a Psychiatrist Investigating Possessions, Diabolic Attacks and the Paranormal
By Dr. Richard Gallagher
Harper One, 2020
255 pages $27.99


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About Father Seán Connolly 44 Articles
Father Seán Connolly is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He attended Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, where he received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology as well as a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts. He currently serves as parochial vicar at the Parish of St. Joseph in Middletown, New York.

7 Comments

  1. To believe in the reality of demonic spirits necessarily implies a belief in a God who is perfectly Good. To believe in God necessarily means that one’s life shows evidence of this belief.

  2. Beyond the more dramatic manifestations, we need to remember that the devil is the author of all discouragement. That can take people who are vulnerable to dark places too. Especially in times like these.

  3. If I recall correctly C.S. Lewis also mentioned in “The Screwtape Letters” that a serious “fixation” on phenomenon like demonic possession leads people to discount or forget about the much more common influence of demons through temptation. Possession is probably always good for the soul, because it involves suffering, but temptation could lead to vice or virtue.

  4. Fr Connolly’s interesting essay on the reality of Satan, which most who comment on CWR likely agree exists has value if only to remind us of his influence in the world. Possession, and oppression is well described by Dr Gallagher and author Fr Connolly. Neither possession nor oppression, also called infestation require that the victim be evil. To the contrary many seem to be innocent of evil. Although frequently evil behavior, sometimes unwittingly, dabbling with Ouija boards, attending seances may become the entree. If I might add another category of the diabolic, a word on Satanic Obsession. Obsession may include willful activity like Satanic worship, covens, the woman “priestess” who harassed Dr Gallagher. It most often involves an obsession with evil that is unwittingly, unknown by the recipient to be inspired by the daemonic. French priest historian Msgr Léon Pierre Cristiani wrote on this latter phenomenon in his Evidence of Satan in the Modern World 1959. The primary example he gives was Nazi Germany, of a people largely obsessed with evil, perpetrated by Adolf, and his delusional counterpart Heinrich Himmler. A return to pre Christian cultic idolatry of the Nordic gods. And with that glorification of war, of homicidal killing, of a strange fatalistic obsession with death itself. All especially the latter Satanic. We find some of these dynamics at this time in the US in the trend toward destructiveness, annihilation during the riots, the virtual suicidal adherence to deadly drug overdose, murderous violence, as well as the obsession with trans gender, predatory homosexuality, the increase of child adult sexual activity often ending in suicide, murder or both. Leftist has become synonymous with this obsessive trend, and if not overtly as participant by partiality. This is our great challenge as priests, not only to distinguish and repudiate, rather as worthy ground for introducing the Cross of Christ and conversion. The Bidens and Cuomos of this world, enablers of this obsession require sharp retribution, and similarly strong, unmitigated appeal to the truth of Christ.

      • If someone in a position of executive authority within the State with power to initiate policy that affects the lives of millions, specifically the life or death of infants in the womb, at the moment of birth and vows to enforce a no restriction policy, who has vowed to enforce a mandate on the Little Sisters of the Poor and all Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives and abortifacients, who vows to enforce same sex rights to all institutions and facilities including girls showers, toilets, who vows to provide and support Planned Parenthood and incarcerate protesters, who vows open borders for illegal migration, and to provide unconditional citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants many with repeated criminal conviction, to enforce ‘reeducation’ programs on sexuality, minority prominent racial justice for Americans, to permit minors against their parents wishes to ‘transgender’, and nevertheless calls himself a faithful Catholic in concurrence with the Chair of Peter is a grave threat to the faith, to society, to the family, and to the safety and well being of its citizens – is without reservation a man obsessed with evil and a servant of the Evil One. A man who is an inveterate enemy of Jesus Christ.

  5. I first read Dr Gallagher in (I think) the Washington Post. Remarkable insight into the reality of the Demonic. Brave man for telling the truths. Have downloaded his book this evening.

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  3. Catholic World Report | 12/11/2020: Demonic Foes a thorough, scholarly analysis of the phenomenon of diabolic attacks-et varia – chaos
  4. “The Best Books I Read in 2020” – Catholic World Report

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