The Most Famous Case of Mass Demonic Possession in History

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Three things happen in life;

  1. Something happens
  2. A book is written about it –
  3. A movie is made from the book and real life events

Normally one of the three (sometimes two of the three) are boring and misinformed and the events may or may not be explained as they have happened.  Take for example the many different books and movies of the Amityville horror. Not to go into details about this event but it is hard to find matching stories anywhere in that event.

So it is rare to come across an event that really happened that was created into a book and a movie that all three parts are fascinating and each part takes a deeper look into those events.

The original event happened in 1634 and is known as the ‘Loudun Possessions’.  The book of this event was written in 1952 and is ‘The Devils of Loudun’ by Aldous Huxley.  The film is ‘The Devils’ directed by Ken Russell in 1971.  All three of these event are tied together – being the book was inspired by the events and the film inspired by the book.

The Loudun Possessions is most famous case of multiple and mass possession in history. Yes, I mean as in demonic possession.

This case involved the Ursuline  nuns of Loudun who were allegedly visited and possessed by demons:

In 1632, Sister Jeanne Agnes and sixteen nuns of the Ursuline convents, allegedly possessed by demons, threw convulsions and used abusive language. Father Jean-Joseph Surin exorcised the demons by inviting them into his body. He lost mental balance as a result. He inflicted injuries on himself and attempted suicide. Describing the plight he said that he was unable to understand what happened to him when the unknown spirit entered his body. He got the feeling that he had two souls and that the alien soul constituted a second personality.

On December 7, 1633, Father Grandier was put in prison at the Castle of Angiers. His body was shaved and a successful search for devil’s marks was made by inquisitors.

Nicholas Aubin’s 1693 The Cheats and Illusions of Romish Priest and Exorcists Discovered in the History of the Devils of Loudun describes what happened next:

They sent for Mannouri the surgeon, one of [Grandier’s] enemies, and the most unmerciful of them all; when he [came] into the chamber, they stripped Grandier stark naked, blinded his eyes, shaved him every where, and Mannouri began to search him. When he would persuade them that the parts of his body which had been marked by the Devil were insensible, he turned that end of the probe which was round, and he guided it in such a manner, that not being able to enter into the flesh, nor to make much impression, it was pushed back into the palm of his hand; the patient did not then cry out, because he felt no pain; but when the barbarous surgeon would make them see that the other parts of his body were very sensible, he turned the probe at the other end, which was very sharp pointed, and thrust it to the very bone; and then the abundance of people [outside] heard complaints so bitter, and cries so piercing, that they [were] moved…to the heart.

Nearly a year later, August 18, 1634, the Royal Commission found Grandier guilty of all counts against him and passed sentence – Grandier would be burned alive at the stake:

We have ordered and do order the said Urbain Grandier duly tried and convicted of the crime of magic, maleficia, and of causing demoniacal possession of several Ursuline nuns of this town of Loudun, as well as of other secular women, together with other charges and crimes resulting therefrom. For atonement of which, we have condemned and do condemn the said Grandier to make amende honorable, his head bare, a rope round his neck, holding in his hand a burning taper weighing two pounds, before the principle door of the church of St. Pierre-du-Marché, and before that of St. Ursual of this town. There on his knees, to ask pardon of God, the King, and the law; this done, he is to be taken to the public square of St. Croix, and fastened to a stake on a scaffold, which shall be erected on the said place for this purpose, and there to be burned alive…and his ashes scattered to the wind. We have ordered and so do order that each and every article of his moveable property be acquired and confiscated by the King; the sum of 500 livres first being taken for buying a bronze plaque on which will be engraved the abstract of this present trial, to be set up in a prominent spot in the said church of the Ursulines, to remain there for all eternity. And before proceeding to the execution of the present sentence, we order the said Grandier to be submitted to the first and last degrees of torture, concerning his accomplices.

The details of the burning;

Father Grandier was promised that he could have the chance to speak before he was executed, making a last statement, and that he would be hanged before the burning, an act of mercy. Instead, the friars who carried Grandier’s crippled body to the stake had drenched him with large quantities of holy water so that his last words could not be heard, and the garotte used for hanging had no slip knot; it couldn’t tighten. Grandier was left to burn alive.

Witnesses to the execution reported that a large fly buzzed around Grandier’s head, symbolizing that Beelzebub, lord of the flies, had come to take Grandier’s soul to hell.

Before Grandier perished, he did have the last word. Struggling, Grandier declared that Father Lactance, present, would die in 30 days. To the day, Lactance did die, reportedly crying out, “Grandier, I was not responsible for your death.” Within the next five years, both Father Tranquille and Dr. Mannouri, the inquisitor, died in delirium. Father Surin became haunted by the exorcisms, eventually unable to eat, dress himself, walk, read, or write. He could not pray, instead seeing visions of demons and black wings. He tried to kill himself in 1645 and only recovered after the new head of the Jesuit College, Father Bastide, cared for Surin in 1648. Surin would not walk again until 1657, 8 years before he died.

The possessions failed to stop after Father Grandier’s execution. The exorcisms had been so appreciated by the public of Loudun that they became a type of tourist attraction at the convent. Nuns would lift their skirts and beg for sexual attention, beat their heads, walk on their hands, and use obscene language. Public exorcisms would follow. These displays continued until 1637, when the Duchess d’Aiguillon, niece to Cardinal Richelieu, reported the fraud to her uncle. Having achieved his original goal, Richelieu cut off the performers’ salaries and ended the shows.

In 1634, Des Niau wrote the following description in his The History of the Devils of Loudun:

[The nuns] struck their chests and backs with their heads, as if they had their necks broken, and with inconceivable rapidity; They twisted their arms at the joints of the shoulder, the elbow, or the wrist, two or three times around. Lying on their stomachs, they joined the palms of their hands to the soles of their feet; their faces became so frightful one could not bear to look at them; their eyes remained open without winking. Their tongues issued suddenly from their mouths, horribly swollen, black, hard, and covered with pimples, and yet while in this state they spoke distinctly. They threw themselves back till their heads touched their feet, and walked in this position with wonderful rapidity, and for a long time. They uttered cries so horrible and so loud that nothing like it was ever heard before. They made use of expressions so indecent as to shame the most debauched of men, while their acts, both in exposing themselves and inviting lewd behavior from those present would have astonished the inmates of the lowest brothels in the country.

Some claim that it was actually Jeanne des Anges who had the public exorcisms stopped. Jeanne allegedly had a vision that she would be freed from the Devil if she made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St François of Assise. She went to Annecy, then visited Richelieu and King Louis XIII in 1638. The demons were gone.

Jeanne des Anges remained convinced of her saintliness until she died in 1665.

Those are the events that happened in 1632 and that inspired the 1952 historical narrative, The Devils of Loudun’ by Aldous Huxley This book takes a look at demonic possession, religious fanaticism, sexual repression, and mass hysteria which occurred Loudun, France with Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier and an entire convent of Ursuline nuns, who allegedly became possessed by demons after Grandier made a pact with Satan.

Now fast forward to 1971 where Ken Russell directs the film, The Devils.  This film never received a release in its original, uncut form in various countries due to its disturbing violent, sexual, and religious content; it was banned in several countries, and heavily-edited upon release in others.  As mentioned before, when an event is written about then made into a movie some of the details and facts are distorted and this film is not an exception to the rule.

An odd bit of trivia – The United States National Board of Review awarded Ken Russell best director for The Devils.

I encourage everyone to read the book, watch the film and research more about this subject – it is completely fascinating.

Now you can watch the Uncut Restored Edition.

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Jason Bayless

Jason Bayless is a life-long activist and is currently working at The Pachamama Alliance. When he is not working he spends his time recording shows, writing blogs, collecting 3D movies, and looking for any reason to use his fog machine and homemade blood.

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