a taoist exorcisme seance
‘My friend is going to conclude an exorcism service this morning and, if you are really so interested, he hopes you can come and witness it.’ He paused uncertainly. ‘But I must warn 86 you that it is not a pretty sight. Really it is most unpleasant, disgusting and revolting…. ‘ He paused again. ‘It is to some extent dangerous, but it depends on the potency of the demon who is in possession of the energumen.’ My curiosity was too great to back out and I promised, with great enthusiasm, to attend as we bade good-bye to Lichun’s friend.
Abbot Lichun called for us after ten o’clock to take us to the exorcism ceremony. He said it had been going on for two days but today would see the final effort, made by his abbot friend, to dislodge the recalcitrant spirit or spirits who had taken possession of a young farmer a year ago. He enjoined us not to be afraid and, above all, not to upset the ceremony by talking aloud or asking too many questions or by screams of fright.
We arrived at a medium-sized stone courtyard, half-way up the hill, situated in front of a temple. There was a small group of onlookers standing in corners in the shadow of the. walls, among them a distracted couple who, Lichun pointed out, were the energumen’s parents. The energumen himself, a rather emaciated man of about twenty-five, clad in white jacket and trousers, lay on an iron bedstead on a rush mat. He was very pale and there was a wild, roving look in his fevered eyes. The priest, Lichun’s friend, was attired in full ritual robes and stood before a portable altar on which was an incense burner, the small image of a god, a vase with holy water, a ritual sword and other articles and a book from which he was reading. Two monks were assisting him, whilst four muscular men watched the prostrate demoniac.
The abbot was reading the scriptures in a monotonous, droning voice, repeating mantras over and over again with a great deal of concentration. Then he stopped and, taking an elongated ivory tablet, the symbol of wisdom and authority, he held it ceremonially in both hands in front of his chest and approached the bed slowly. There was a visible transformation on the energumen’s face. His eyes were filled with malice as he watched the priest’s measured advance with a sly cunning and hatred. Suddenly he gave a bestial whoop and jumped up in his bed, the four attendants rushing to hold him.
‘No ! No ! You cannot drive us out ! We were two against one. Our power is greater than yours.’ The sentences poured out of the energumen’s distorted mouth in a strange shrill voice, which sounded mechanical, inhuman—as if pronounced by a parrot. The priest looked at the victim intensely, gathering all his inner strength; beads of perspiration appeared on his thin face.
‘Come out! Come out! I command you to come out ! ‘ He was repeating in a strong metallic voice with great force. ‘I am using the power of the One compared to whom you are nothing. In His name I command you to come out.’ Immobile, he continued to focus his powers on the energumen’s face. The man was struggling in the bed with incredible strength against the four men who held him. Animal growls and howls issued from time to time from his mouth which became square, his teeth gleaming like the fangs of a dog. Now his face became purple, now white, like paper, or covered with red blotches which appeared and disappeared with bewildering rapidity. I had the impression that a pack of wild animals was fighting inside his body. For a moment the struggling ceased and the energumen turned his baleful eyes on the monk with such a look of unearthly hatred that involuntarily I shrank into the shadows. Terrible threats poured out of the contorted mouth, now fringed in white foam, and interspersed with such incredible obscenities that women had to plug their ears with their fingers; they did not dare to look at the priest or the people around them. But the uncontrollable curiosity and desire to see this dreadful and macabre business to the end kept them rooted to the ground.
Again the abbot cried his command to the unseen adversaries to leave the prostrate man. There was a burst of horrible laughter from the victim’s throat and suddenly with a mighty heave of his supernaturally strengthened arms he threw off the men who held him and jumped at the priest’s throat like a mad bloodhound. But he was overpowered again. This time they bound him with ropes and fastened the ends to the bedposts. The energumen, evidently exhausted, closed his eyes and there was a deathly silence. The abbot, still immobile, continued his conjurations in a metallic voice, his eyes never leaving the body. With unutterable horror, we saw that it began to swell visibly. On and on the dreadful process continued until he became a grotesque balloon of a man.
‘Leave him ! Leave him ! ‘ cried the monk concentrating still harder. A novice handed him the book and he began to read again in a strange, unintelligible jargon, the words of power and release. Convulsion shook the monstrous, swollen body, and the things that followed were disgusting and revolting in the extreme. It seemed that all the apertures of the body were opened by the unseen powers hiding in it and streams of malodorous excreta and effluvia flowed on to the ground in incredible profusion. Not only I but also Lichun and Koueifo and others were overcome by the stench and sight of these loathsome proceedings and became nauseated. For an hour this continued and then the energumen, resuming his normal size, seemed to come to rest, with his eyes watching the unmoved priest who was still reading. The attendants untied the demoniac and, forming a screen with bed-sheets, hurriedly washed him, changed him into another suit of coarse pants and a jacket and cleaned up the mess.
It was already long past lunch-time but none of us could even think of food. The priest stopped reading ; with sweat pouring down his face, he backed down to the altar, laid down the tablet and took up the ritual sword. Threateningly and commandingly he stood again over the energumen.
‘The struggle is useless ! ‘ he cried. ‘Leave him ! Leave him in the name of the Supreme Power who never meant you to steal this man’s body ! ‘ Another scene of horror evolved itself before our dazed eyes. The man on the bed became rigid and his muscles seemed to contract turning him into a figure of stone. Slowly, very slowly, the iron bedstead, as if impelled by an enormous weight, caved in, its middle touching the ground. The attendants seized the inert man by his feet and arms. The weight was such that none of them could lift him up and they asked for assistance from the onlookers. Seven men could hardly lift him for he was heavy as a cast-iron statue. Suddenly he became light again and they put him on a wooden bed which had been brought in. A long time passed with the abbot reading and commanding interminably. At last he sprinkled the inert man with holy water and advanced to him again with a sword. His concentration was so deep that he did not seem to see anybody. He was utterly exhausted and swayed slightly. Two novices came up to support him.
‘I have won ! ‘ he cried triumphantly in a strange voice. ‘Get out! Get out ! ‘ The energumen stirred and fell into dreadful convulsions. His eyes rolled up and only the whites were visible. His breathing was stertorous and he clawed his body until he was covered with blood. Foam was issuing from his mouth and a loud gurgling sound. He wanted to shout something but could not control his vocal cords. The abbot raised his sword threateningly, making mystic signs with it.
‘Damn you! Damn you ! ‘ came a wild scream from the foaming lips. ‘We are going but you shall pay for it with your life.’ There was a terrific struggle on the bed, the poor man twisting and rolling like a mortally-wounded snake and his colour changing all the time. Suddenly he fell flat on his back and was still. His eyes opened. His gaze was normal and he saw his parents who now came forward.
‘My parents ! ‘ he cried weakly. ‘Where am I?’ He was very feeble and they carried him out in a specially ordered sedan chair. The abbot himself was in a terrible state of prostration and was half-carried and half-dragged away by his novices.
Peter Goullart. The monastery of Jade Mountain.
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