Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Psychiatrist Gallagher combines experiences from his practice and from witnessing exorcisms with academic interpretations of exorcism accounts in this beguiling memoir. Putting his “professional qualifications on the line,” to write the book, Gallagher, a devout Catholic, recounts how he first became interested in “psychosomatic medicine” after his brother claimed to be healed of various physical ailments by a witch in France. The author first observed possession firsthand after an American Catholic priest asked Gallagher to evaluate a patient in a psychiatric hospital who described her condition as “demonic oppression.” True demonic oppression and possession, Gallagher contends, are rare and feature several distinctive attributes—superhuman strength, aversion to sacred objects, and “speaking foreign languages or possessing hidden knowledge.” Gallagher details cases, five of which he gives a personal account, like that of Anneliese Michel, who received a Catholic exorcism in Germany in 1975, and his engagement in the early 1990s with the hair-raising Satanic priestess “Julia” who “was never delivered from her demonic presence.” A lack of verifiable empirical evidence about any of the cases covered, however, will fail to convince skeptics and critics. Regardless, Gallagher’s piquant accounts should appeal to believers.
The world’s leading psychiatric authority on demonic possession delves into the hidden world of exorcisms and his own transformation from cynic to believer over the course of his twenty-five-year career. Successful New York psychiatrist Richard Gallagher was skeptical yet intrigued when a hard-nosed no-nonsense Catholic priest asked him to examine a woman for a possible exorcism. Meeting her, Gallagher was astonished. The woman’s behavior defied logic. In an instant, she could pinpoint a person’s secret weaknesses. She knew how individuals she’s never known had died, including Gallagher’s own mother, who passed away after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer. She spoke fluently in multiple languages, including Latin but only when she was in a trance. This was not psychosis, Gallagher concluded. It was in his scientific estimation, what could only be described as paranormal ability. The woman wasn’t mentally disturbed she was possessed. This remarkable case was the first of many that Gallagher would encounter. Sought after today by leaders of all faiths: ministers, priests, rabbis and imams, Gallagher has spent a quarter-century studying demonic activity and exorcisms throughout history and has witnessed more cases than any other psychiatrist in the world today. In this eerie and enthralling book, Gallagher chronicles his most famous cases for the first time, including: a professional who claimed her spiritualist mother had ‘assigned’ her a spirit who ‘turned on her”. Another case was a petite woman who was about 90 pounds who threw a 200 pound Lutheran deacon across the room to the horror of onlookers in a church hall. Another case was a woman named “Julia” the so-called Satanic queen and self-described witch, who exhibited “the most harrowing” case, a “once in a century” possession. Going beyond horror movies and novels, Demonic Foes takes you deep into the hidden world, sharing in full details of these true-life tales of demonic possession. Certainly meant for a specific audience.