I swear, I thought this was a poe at first. Three pretty young women, wielding fancy embossed crosses with the triumphant air of Buffy discouraging a vampire, have gone to Britain to make war on the demons infesting Harry Potter’s home turf. Because, you know, Britain is “a hotbed of occult activity whose origins go back to pagan times” and all the spells in the Potter books “are real and come from witchcraft.” Between the crosses and their black-belt karate skills, they are clearly out to kick some demon ass.
But they are not the story. They are a gimmick – a matched set of home-schooled, brainwashed-from-birth, cynically manipulated stage props, living examples of the sort of conditioning that Dawkins considers a form of child abuse. The real story is their Charlie, referred to in the article as their “trainer”: the Reverend Bob Larson, exorcist extraordinaire.
Larson is able to call himself Reverend and wear a natty clerical collar on the strength of his ordination by the Evangelistic Messengers Association, a family business in Tennessee that has been “providing ministerial credentials for independent ministers from 1933… to the present” – that’s right, the ministerial equivalent of a diploma mill. He started off in the 1960s as a rock singer with a twist; he was an anti-rocker, protesting the satanic evils of rock and roll and Eastern mysticism with his own albums, books, and radio show. (Aside: I well remember my uncle the fundamentalist minister thundering against rock and roll, as a demon-inspired Communist plot to subvert the youth of the free world and open the door to the Antichrist. You can imagine what he said about JC Superstar.)
From his musical roots, Larson moved on to being “the world’s foremost expert on cults, the occult, and supernatural phenomena,” according to himself. Apparently, he made much hay during the Satanic Panics of the 1990s. Now he runs his own church, the Spiritual Freedom Church of Phoenix, plus a movement known as “Do What Jesus Did” (DWJD), plus a correspondence school to train the faithful in his exorcism methods, plus his own tv show, plus thirty-one books and a raft of DVDs, plus an energetic international tour schedule of seminars and exorcisms, plus what can only be described as personal mentoring and therapeutic services. Along the way, he claims to have performed upwards of 15,000 exorcisms.
Now, Larson’s view of demonic possession is a bit confusing, mixed up with huge dollops of pop psychology. Many of us are “demonized” without even knowing it, by demons with names like Lust, Fear, Anger, Hate, Murder, and – in one notable case – Quetzalcoatl. For a hefty proportion, though, the root cause is sexual abuse, repressed or not, though the Buffy Brigade seems to think it is sexual promiscuity. Also, a surprising number of the demonized carry curses inherited from previous generations, as in this example from Larson’s website:
Last week in Siberia, Russia a lovely 33-year-old woman named Yana manifested demons. Her arms were covered with scars where she had cut herself. She abused drugs and was self-destructive. The Lord revealed that she was suffering from a family curse. A grandmother, during the starving times of Stalin, killed someone for money. This Babushka sedated the victim with certain herbs, and then buried the person alive! That curse of murder was ruining Yana’s life.
The exorcisms are pure theatre, of the sort familiar from other faith-healing televangelists, like Popoff or Hinn, as a browse through Larson’s youtube channel will show. The main difference is that the clients talk back more, and occasionally snarl back, fight back, or tell the Reverend Bob to fuck off, which is exactly what my inner demon would itch to say. I strongly suspect that the more dramatic and lengthy exorcisms are enacted by shills, some of whom are very poor actors working with terrible scripts. Particularly entertaining are clips from Larson’s Russian tour, where he had to communicate with the demons through an interpreter. Funny he didn’t need one for Quetzalcoatl…
What is not so entertaining is that the genuine clients, the non-shills, the sad people coming to Reverend Bob’s demon-busting sessions with real emotional problems and hopes of healing, are being both damaged and fed upon.
Of course, money comes into it. I was excited to see that Larson’s website includes a simple questionnaire that will tell you if you are possessed, and in need of his personal and rather pricey services – alas, I shall never know, because even taking the test costs ten bucks, which I’d be reluctant to put into Larson’s pocket. A constant theme on the website is how financially strapped Larson’s organization is, how desperately in need of donations to ward off financial disaster or clear credit cards maxed out in the Lord’s work….etc. Bloody typical.
As for Bobbie’s Angels, well, I’m sure it’s very exciting for them right now, what with the travel and attention and license to be all bad-ass and yet self-righteous at the same time. But I hope they’re young enough still to develop a conscience, and maybe get out of show business before it’s too late…