Adventures in Bookland: The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio


Well, it’s a bit dull, really. I know, I know: up to now, one of the iron rules of books about exorcism is that they’re never dull. Mad, sometimes; eccentric, usually; gripping, almost without exception. Almost. This is the exception. And, as such, it is probably much more truthful about the subject than Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil, which is much more involving,  considerably better written and altogether more serious, but I suspect leans so far towards the exceptional as to make it useless as an insight into the normal working of the devil in human lives.

The sort of exorcisms portrayed in The Rite are much more humdrum – and much, much more drawn out. Indeed, I’m reminded of people undergoing thoroughgoing psychoanalysis, a process that demands one or two sessions a week for, quite literally, years, without any guarantee of wholeness at the end. Indeed, since psychoanalysis can be considered as a distorted mirror of religious paths, there might be even more to this comparison than is first apparent.

It’s strength as a book is that it does an excellent job of unglamourising evil: it’s here displayed in all its tawdry tedium. You know that old saying that the devil’s greatest trick is getting the world to believe he doesn’t exist? It’s not true. His greatest trick is persuading writers, artists and almost everyone else that he’s the doomed, defiant figure of Miltonic imagination. I’m not sure of the source (possibly Malachi Martin, which shows what a good writer he was) but someone said the best way to think of the devil was as a reptilian intelligence stuck forever in a repeating pattern of destruction.

So, this book’s great virtue is that no one will go away from reading it thinking that the devil has all the best tunes. All he has is the same old, same old, to the world’s ending. And the men, the priests, meeting him in this struggle have to have the constancy, and the ability to resist the tedium, that this most boring of all angels inflicts upon those he is trying to possess.

God bless them for it.


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