THE DARK SACRAMENT – A Book Review from the OCPRS

Posted on February 23, 2012


By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)

            The Dark Sacrament: True Stories of Modern-Day Demon Possession and Exorcism, by authors David M. Kiely and Christina McKenna is a worthwhile exploration on an otherwise greatly misunderstood belief found in Christianity. Of course, by suggesting that it is “worthwhile” does not necessarily mean that the book itself can be appreciated as a Christian text. Instead, it simply offers something for Christians to consider. Typically, the Ontario Catholic Paranormal Research Society does not make use of secular sources. So why was The Dark Sacrament the exception? The book itself presents ten first-hand experiences from those afflicted by demonic possession and manifestations. Also, the perspectives of two exorcists – Rev. William H. Lendrum and Fr. Ignatius McCarthy – accompany the various experiences described throughout the book. Both demonic possession and exorcism are examined through the Anglican and Roman Catholic world view, at least in terms of the ten cases presented. The authors also provided some questionable inclusions – which shall be discussed in this review – in both the introduction and appendix of their book. Overall, what The Dark Sacrament offers is a variety of experiences from which people may learn from.

            While the book does not explore demonic possession in all ten cases, it does address a variety of paranormal phenomena associated to demonic activity. Everything from ghosts, poltergeists, haunted houses, etc. are all owed to demonic influences. Most of the ten cases found in The Dark Sacrament most certainly point out that all such paranormal phenomena afflicting people are owed to Satan and his minions. The world of the paranormal, made popular through entertainment industries, often provides the false and unhealthy forms of spirituality. The sensationalism often found in the promotion of the paranormal tends to invite people to explore non-Christian beliefs and practices. The curiosity drawing people to the paranormal often leaves them in situations similar to the people described in The Dark Sacrament.

            Unfortunately, not all the examples provided in the book concluded with the rite of exorcism. Instead, the diverse and complex aspects of demonic activity served to illustrate exorcism as a dynamic process: how it works, and when it is actually applied. It was interesting to find an importance placed on prayer throughout all ten cases versus the rite of exorcism alone. Rather than attempt to define Christian prayer, the authors permitted Rev. Lendrum and Fr. Ignatius to introduce the meaning behind prayer as it was applied to the circumstances surrounding those afflicted by demons. The impression one may take from the importance of prayer – as stressed by both clergymen – is that all prayer is in fact a form of exorcism. Of course, the difference between the rite of exorcism and prayer became very clear in terms of how one serves a very specific purpose. The variety of instances whereby prayers were utilized in the ten cases demonstrated how important and vital they truly are against the hostilities of the Evil One.

            The dynamics of how prayer was utilized also served to illustrate that an exorcist does not retain any special power (something the exorcists themselves pointed out). Even the people afflicted by demonic hostility demonstrated that prayer is very powerful. In regards to exorcism – or the expulsion of demonic activity – prayer is a reciprocal process whereby humanity in its brotherhood through Christ receives and experiences the grace of God. When an exorcist helps those afflicted, it is not his prayers alone that expel demonic presences. Exorcism involves prayer in a much broader sense. Prayer is not an exclusive and individual process. Among traditional and Apostolic Churches, the term “corporate prayers” often identifies this process. Although this was not explicitly stressed in The Dark Sacrament, it was certainly implied in the majority of actions taken to deal with the demonic activity. Both exorcists and the families identified throughout the book came together in joint prayer. Both the afflicted and the exorcists often depended on one another. Unlike the many misconceptions concerning exorcism, which are sensationalized elsewhere, prayer – for protection, repentance, etc. – was not excluded from the circumstances found in the book.

            Another excellent quality of The Dark Sacrament is how attention to prayer was not overshadowed by the demonic activity described. The sensationalism often found in so-called books of the paranormal which attempt to explore demonic possession, often neglect the attention to prayer as a powerful weapon against demons. To their credit, Kiely and McKenna allowed the experiences documented in their book to speak for themselves. In other words, the authors did not isolate what they believed was important.

            Some aspects, which the OCPRS considered problematic to the overall exploration of demonic possession and exorcism, involved some details found in both the introduction and appendix of the book. In their introduction, Kiely and McKenna identify Dr. Kenneth McAll, who they describe as having “given currency” to a hierarchy of spirits recognized to the souls of the dead. As the authors point out,

“In the mid-1800s, it was proposed that there are three categories of spirit, and each was assigned its own rung on the ladder of spiritual evolution. There were the ‘low spirits,’ those trapped in the world of the living; ‘second-degree spirits,’ who desire only to promote goodness on earth; and ‘perfect spirits,’ those who have reached the pinnacle of their evolution. The three categories are, by and large, still accepted by modern psychic investigators.”

The reality is that Dr. McAll’s attention to what is otherwise a theory stemming from modern spiritualism (a religious movement established in 1840) and its partnership with physical research, rests on non-Christian beliefs. Various sources identify Dr. McAll as a “Christian” but the theories he explored and supported cannot be reconciled to the teachings found within the Church. This, after all, is what the OCPRS explores on a regular basis through a variety of research and investigations. If one considers that The Dark Sacrament is a book focusing on demonic possession and exorcism from Christian perspectives, what should be a major concern to readers is how non-Christian concepts do indeed penetrate the Christian fabric of faith and knowledge in such secular sources.

            The appendix of the book provides a few other strange inclusions. In Appendix 1: Exorcism and History, Kiely and McKenna give a brief background on the overall human experience of “exorcism” as it is found among various cultures and religions. From Hinduism, Buddhism, Talmudic Judaism, and ancient religions stemming from Mesopotamia, the authors suddenly attempt to connect Christianity to these other religious beliefs and practices as though Christian exorcism belongs to an evolutionary process. To be fair, The Dark Sacrament is a secular work, and in Kiely and McKenna’s objectivity such non-Christian inclusions are not uncommon. This is something to keep in mind. What is being suggested here by the OCPRS is that books like The Dark Sacrament may indeed explore a Christian phenomenon, but do not necessarily speak for Christians or for Christianity.

            The OCPRS does regard The Dark Sacrament as a useful resource, although not an authoritative Christian one. Anyone who reads this book should keep in mind that it is not a manual for exorcists. It is a worthwhile read from which people can obtain the basic idea of what demonic possession and exorcism are. Kiely and McKenna have helped to draw the subject of demonic possession and exorcism away from the sensationalism that has wrongfully been associated to these Christian experiences. At the very least, The Dark Sacrament should make people question what it is they think they know about the Church, the Devil, and God.