Author wrestles with 'the Devil'
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
By RAY KELLY
Readers of "Glimpses of the Devil" might be tempted to ask, "What would possess a respected psychiatrist to pen a book about his work as an exorcist?"
For M. Scott Peck, the answer is the passage of time.
Now 68 years old and suffering from Parkinson's, the Harvard University-educated author of the 7-million copy bestseller "The Road Less Traveled" and 13 other books wanted to recount his experiences before his death.
"I'm getting old and I'm going to die one of these days," said Peck in a telephone interview from northwestern Connecticut home. "I thought it would be a sin to go to my grave and take these stories with me. I owed it to society, science and religion to tell the stories - and tell the stories scientifically."
"Glimpses of the Devil" is not packed with supernatural tales of levitating beds or head-spinning victims. Rather, the two 25-year-old cases he chronicles involve women who hear voices and behave in a manner that Peck says cannot be explained by conventional science.
Peck said he explored the possibility demonic possession in the 1970s to confirm the non-existence of Satan.
The first two cases referred by clergy to Peck did nothing to alter his view.
It was the third case, that of Jersey, a 26-year-old mother who was abandoning her children in pursuit of New Age spiritualism, that shook Peck's belief.
"I went to confirm my belief that the devil didn't exist," Peck said. "What happened was that my belief was shaken up - more than shaken up, it was blown to smithereens."
Jersey had been seen previously by a psychiatrist hired by her family in the Southwest. He was unable to engage her in therapy and she informed him she was possessed.
Although the family was Protestant, they contacted the local Roman Catholic diocese, which investigated the matter and called upon Peck for his scientific evaluation.
Peck said he was initially unsure as to whether the woman was possessed, but took part in a deliverance, or prayer service, and later, an exorcism.
Jersey exhibited what Peck described as a pretense of severe schizophrenic psychosis. He came to believe her possession was genuine and began at the age of 12.
During a four-day exorcism, Jersey revealed four different personalities and exhibited satanic expressions, Peck said. Although the events were recorded, none but a brief facial change were captured on videotape, he said.
Following the exorcism, Jersey began a productive life and was deemed mentally fit by another psychiatrist.
The second exorcism Peck led involved Beccah, a 45-year-old New York woman who was in deep depression over a series of questionable business dealings she and her husband were involved in.
She had been Peck's client for a year and underwent traditional psychotherapy before he broached the possibility of possession with her.
There was a three-week remission of her depression following a deliverance ceremony, Peck said.
A full-scale exorcism was performed in which Peck said he and his team witnessed Beccah take on a snake-like appearance (again not apparent on videotape), exhibit superhuman strength and have a negative response to Holy Water and the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
In Beccah's story, there was no happy ending.
The recovery was brief, Peck said. She dismissed Peck and two years later contacted him by telephone to inform his she was dying of cancer and was still possessed.
Peck, who said he believes Beccah's possession began in childhood, said he believes there was no way of aiding her because the demonic influence was of a long duration and she lacked supportive family and friends.
Peck said he is not expecting to win over doubters with his book. Rather, he said he would like to see possession studied seriously by psychiatrists.
"If people's position is rigid enough, I am not going to be able to convert them," Peck said. "We need a scientific institute for the study of deliverance."
Such talk of demons and deliverance might lead some to think that Peck is a darling of religious groups, but he says that is not always the case.
"Religious people can be as doubting as any secular person," he said.