Sunday, May 04, 2014

Raising the Devil

Bill Ellis is a Penn State folklorist who's published Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media; Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live, and Lucifer Ascending: the Occult in Folkore and Popular Culture. 

He writes from a skeptical perspective. He's nominally Lutheran, but his analysis is consistently naturalistic. He's a contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer, founded by militant atheist Paul Kurtz. 

In Raising the Devil, he attempts to trace the "Satanic Scare" (i.e. repressed memories of Satanic ritual abuse) to the influence of modern exorcism (e.g. Kurt Koch). He believes this represents the evolution of an urban legend. He connects this to related "legends" like alien abduction narratives and ouija boards that channel the dark side. These, and other "legends," are elaborated in his two later books. 

He also ties this into the charismatic movement and deliverance ministries. He contends that Pentecostals had to construct a "satanic counterfeit" to distinguish Spirit-possession from demonic possession. 

In the course of his research, he's uncovered a lot of interesting background material and some striking parallels. But there are problems with how he tries to work this disparate material into his overall thesis.  

i) For instance, the need to distinguish between Spirit-possession and demonic possession hardly originates with the modern charismatic movement. That's a theme in both the NT and the OT.

ii) Likewise, exorcism was practiced by the ancient church. Denominations like Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism have exorcists. 

At best, Ellis can only argue that charismatics are reinventing or rediscovering a preexisting paradigm. Convergent theological evolution. 

iii) Whether or not you think ouija boards channel the dark side is, in part, a worldview issue. If you're an atheist, you will demand a naturalistic explanation. 

When Koch's Between Christ and Satan appeared in English in 1962, he immediately found himself in demand outside Germany. That year he came to the US for the first time to give talks on demonology at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the Dallas Theological Seminary. Soon after, he was involved in a series of world tours, visiting fundamentalist seminaries in Latin America, Australia, and Asia.  
Two major British discussions of demon possession, Michael Harper's Spiritual Warfare (1970 and John Richards's But Deliver Us from Evil (1974) repeatedly cite Koch's case histories as authoritative. In the US, Koch was endorsed by the fundamentalist theologian Merrill F. Unger in his Demons in the World Today (1971). 
This complex of ideas soon influenced secular psychological medicine as Koch and HIs mentor Alfred Lechler inspired respect from professionals. When John Warwick Montgomery organized a symposium on demon possession at the University of Notre Dame under the auspices of the Christian Medical Association (1976), participating clinical psychologists were often skeptical of demon possession. Nevertheless, they cited Koch and Lechler more frequently than any other resources. 
In particular, Dr. John White, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, endorsed Lechler's diagnostic description of demon possession, noting cases from his own practice.  
These three elements developed among some networks of therapists into a core set of beliefs and practices, which became for secular psychiatry the analog of the "diabolical medicine" created by Koch and his followers. That is, many different puzzling mental disorders were now diagnosed as resulting from multiple personalities. Intensive therapy, often involving clinical hypnosis, attempting to get the patient to recall memories of of childhood trauma, thought to be the cause of the disorder…Over time, these traumas were identified as evidence for real acts of "ritual abuse" carried out by members of satanic cults.   
Bill Ellis, Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media (University of Kentucky Press 2000), 17, 87-89.

i) This fails to document the charismatic connection, which is a key link in Ellis's thesis. Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary are cessationist strongholds.

ii) As an Anglican exorcist, John Richards has his own case histories to draw upon. He's not dependent on Koch. 

iii) John Warwick Montgomery is Lutheran rather than charismatic.

iv) It's unclear how John White supposedly influenced secular psychology. Although he was a psych prof., White was also a Christian missionary and Vineyard pastor. 

v) Unger didn't rely on Koch. Unger corresponded with foreign missionaries who bore witness to the same phenomena as Koch. 

vi) How would the fact that secular psychologists cite Koch or Lechler indicate that they were influenced by Koch and Lechler, rather than citing them to document what some Christians believe? 

The most frequently cited authority in the first generation of demonologists was the Lutheran Charismatic, Kurt E. Koch. born in November 1913 in Berghausen, a town located in the German provoke of Baden, near the Black Forest and the Swiss border, Koch receiving his Doctor of Theology degree from the University of Tubingen, specializing in mental heath counseling. Returning to Baden in the 1930s as a pastor and youth counselor, he found the area afflicted by a "flood of magic." In fact, the chaotic period between the two World Wars was marked by a revival of many forms of occultism. The focus of many of these magical practices was The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, an early analog of Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible describing how to perform black magic. 
Koch himself was sensitive to mental problems linked to occultism, since as a child he found that whenever he visited his grandparents he would wake up in the night and see "a huge beast with glowing eyes." These vision puzzled him for years, until his father mentioned that he had had similar night visitations during his own youth. Koch continues: 
The bombshell dropped when my father related how his grandmother, while raising her children, had practiced magic with the Six and Seventh Books of Moses. This, then, was my great-grandmother. At one stroke I understood why the experiences of my father and his siblings were similar to those of my own childhood. My grandmother, about whom there had been many rumors, was the demon-oppressed daughter of an enchantress. Now I could see how my grandmother and great-grandmother were responsible both for my father's frightening experiences and also for my own terrifying moments of fear. This insight motivated me as pastor and evangelist to conduct thousands of conversations with soul-sick, occult-oppressed persons and come to hear similar things.  
Beginning in the 1930s, Koch specialized in counseling individuals suffering from depression and other signs of mental illness. He noted that such patients inevitably had had contact with folk healers like his great-grandmother, or had practiced some form of folk magic. 
By 1949 he had developed a relationship with Wiesbaden psychologist Alfred Lechler, one of a group of Christian therapists in Germany who accepted demonic influence as a valid diagnosis for some mental problems. Lechler, too, assumed that involvement in folk magic could lead to such demonization. He argued: 
What then must we regard as the cause of demonic enslavement and possession? If we enquire closely from such people…we very often find in their background the use of magic means such as are employed in black magic, viz. acts of charming or being charmed, the sin of fortune telling or visits from fortune tellers and card layers, and participation in spiritist sessions. Black magic is much more prevalent than is ordinarily assumed…Together with spiritist activities, magic stands in a class of its own in relation to other sins, when it includes an appeal to Satan's services or even a formal pact with Satan…For by invoking Satan man yields himself unequivocally to powers of darkness, in that he attempts by magic and the help of Satanic power to gain something that God has forbidden or withheld.  
Following Lechler, Koch developed a "demonic" clinical psychology based on his belief that Brauche, or Germanic folk healing, was  a dangerous ritual that derived its power from evil sources and so constituted an implicit pact with Satan. Koch used narratives and beliefs drawn from folk healing to demonstrate the evils of the occult.  
Koch developed a huge file of cases from his ministry in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, which he organized under types of occult involvement…These books include many accounts, anecdotal and firsthand, of cases involving what he defined as demonic activity. 
Koch's works on discerning and remedying demonic possession were cited as authoritative within the deliverance ministry. Three of his ideas became essential to the deliverance mythology, and so his key arguments formed a theoretical base for much of the anti-Satanism propaganda that followed. First he argued that charms and procedures used in Germanic folk healing, even when they appeared to help the patient, were always satanic in nature. Such diabolical charms left "engrams," or concealed psychic inures, in the personality of the person healed, which later emerged as physical or mental illnesses of demonic origin. Most importantly, these engrams were multigenerational in nature, inherited by children or even grandchildren from relatives who were in league with demons.  
Koch built a theological argument identifying Germanic magical healing as a satanic parody of spirit-filled ministry. This tradition is often called "brauche" ("using" occult powers) or "pow-wow" in areas of the US where it is still actively practiced. Healers, as folklorists have observed, do in fact resemble priests as channels of superhuman powers that drive away evil forces causing the illness. While no two powwowers use the same or even similer motions, their rituals are often analogous to those of a priest's blessing. Koch also notes this similarity and argues that the healing ritual was in fact a close counterfeit of institutional Christian liturgy. The healer's conventional invocation of the Trinity or "three holy names" correspond to addressing God in prayer; use of a charm was equivalent to use of the Scriptures; symbolic actions such as drawing the ailment to the healer matched sacramental laying on of hands; and the fetish often used related to holy water or the Sacrament. 
In short, folk healers in the Germanic tradition often function as exorcists, banishing not only the ailment but also the evil spirits that caused them…When one recognizes, too, that such folk traditions were often passed on and practiced by females in the face of a patriarchal religious instate, we see how the powwower could be considered a serious folk rival to the institutionally ordained pastor or priest.  
Koch was hardly original in attacking folk healing: many pastors before him had denounced it as superstitious and ignorant. But Koch believed that it was more than superstition; indeed it worked all to well. Rather than simply calling it irrational, he conceded that powwowers could produce medically valid cures. But he argued that such healing only appeared to have a beneficial effect. 
His second major contribution lay in his use of existing psychological terminology to define the mechanism by which this spiritual harm was caused. It is well known, Koch notes, that disorders in the mental realm could lead to physical, "psychosomatic" illnesses. But he argued that the reverse was also true: magical cures of organic illnessness were actually curses that could lead to mental disorders. This explained why those who apparently had been healed successfully by charming later on fell prey to mental illnesses…In some cases, the problems could be traced to conscious guilt over having dabbled in sorcery. In other instances, as when a child was charmed at birth, the effects of the magic healing led to otherwise inexplicable physical and mental problems. 
Koch argued that when magical healing took place, the physical trauma was not in fact exorcised; rather, it moved to the "organic unconsciousness" and became an engram that could later produce mental disorders.  
Koch's third and most long-lasting contribution to the deliverance mythology was his argument that the effects of "occult sins" were multigenerational. That is, mental illness could be caused by individuals' own dabbling with the occult or, equally, to the use of folk magic by parents or grandparents. One reason underlying this argument was the belief that white magic was a satanic as black, and the same persons who promised to help patients could and often did use their powers aggressively to harm them.  
The interaction of "good" and "bad" healing powers, often wielded by the same individual, is a regular and presumably functional part of this tradition of belief. Certainly the dual role of healers has been employed described in other cultures' traditions of belief, notably that of the African Diaspora (e.g., Jackson 1976).  
Koch relied on widespread folk traditions of becoming a witch through some sort of ritual demonic pact. Likewise, he accepted stories that described the effect of such pacts on the children of such sorcerers. One woman, who claimed to have subscribed both herself and her unborn child to the Devil, later saw the child suffer early senility. And a man who contracted with the Devil to gain a wife from a higher social class later fathered twins that were born "horribly disfigured." 
Stories and rumors current among American healers frequently assume that a witch is likely to–perhaps even obligated to–cause the death of a child or other family member in exchange for her magical gifts (Randolph 1947; Yoder 1962; Stewart 1976). Hence, in traditional witchcraft stories, the gaining of supernatural powers accomplishes the exact reverse of healing and making the community whole. Koch adopted this belief in his own theory; even when children seem at first to be unaffected or unaware of their parents' occult powers, they still suffer later in life (15-22).

i) I'm puzzled by his classification of Koch as a "Lutheran Charismatic." To begin with, that's almost oxymoronic. To my knowledge, Lutheran theology is broadly cessationist. Admittedly, it antedates some of the contemporary distinctions. 

Moreover, Koch wrote about the tongues movement. He's closer to the cessationist end of the spectrum, although he allows for the possibility that, in isolated cases, God may grant this to individual Christians. Cf. The Strife of Tongues. 

ii) This misclassification is not an incidental mistake. Since Ellis is arguing that Pentecostalism was a catalyst for the Satanic ritual abuse legend, classifying Koch as a representative of charismatic theology is pivotal evidence for his claim.  

iii) It's important to distinguish between folk medicine and folk magic. Although some folk remedies are occultic, there's nothing inherently occultic about a folk remedy. Likewise, even if a folk remedy traditionally utilizes a magic ritual, that may be separable from the remedy itself.

For instance, if a tribe inhabits the Amazon jungle for generations, it may, by trial and error, discover the medicinal properties of certain fauna or flora. That lore is transmitted from one generation to the next. Even if the tribal herbalist is a witchdoctor, the remedy may have genuine therapeutic value, regardless of the mumbo jumbo that accompanies it. 

iv) We need to distinguish between Koch's case studies and his interpretation. He developed a theory to explain the evidence. His theory may be deficient. The mechanism ("engrams") is speculative. And he may be guilty of hasty generalizations. But you can't dismiss the evidence by demising the theory.

v) Ellis doesn't really engage the evidence. On the face of it, there's some general plausibility to the connections which Koch made, even if that needs to be refined or scaled back. 

vi) How should the contemporary Christian church address the question of demonic activity? Unless you take a hyperdispensational view, which disallows the very possibility of this occurring during the church age, it's something we need to deal with at both a theological and practical level.

Obviously, "deliverance ministries" are magnets for quacks and charlatans. One problem is making diagnosis and deliverance too formulaic. 


  1. For the uninitiated on this "deliverance ministry" see Conrab Mbewe here-

  2. I've collected some links on the topic of demons and angels HERE. The phenomena of apparently demonic and angelic encounters in almost all cultures at all times (past and present) should suggest to everyone (including atheists) that a supernatural realm does exist.