ABC News reports that exorcisms take place more frequently now than ever. The methods of attack vary from exorcist to exorcist. According to their story, "some [exorcisms] involve tying people to chairs and then trying to scream the demons out of them; [in] others [people] retch and curse while writhing on the floor. Some are more like therapy sessions, where counselor-exorcists discuss demons of lust and guilt along with traditional mental health concerns."
Closer to home, I recently spoke with a woman and her brother who claim they lived in a "possessed" house in Independence, Oregon, where an inimical spirit has threatened their family for years. They finally called in a Catholic priest to perform a church-sanctioned, full-blown exorcism to rid the abode of the angry ghost. It didn't take. Within weeks, the hostile entity returned to harass the family. Fearing eventual insanity or worse, the siblings have packed their things and moved to Beaverton, leaving their father behind to fend for himself. He has boarded up the upper portion of the house (where the ghost remains) until he can sell the damned thing, and effectively, get the hell out of Dodge.
These examples of botched exorcisms beg the worrisome question: If Popes and priests and shrinks can't get the job done who can?
Tideman Johnson and the Accidental Exorcist
Jess Gulbranson is an average looking guy. He's 23, and his appearance suggests he is a friendly, blue-collar man. He's got a family, a good job making animal feed for Land-O-Lakes, and plenty of friends. The Virginia native came to Portland (as he tells it) because of his stepfather's unpleasant habit of brutally murdering senior citizens and avoiding police manhunts.
"We got here in '91," Gulbranson reveals. "My mother, younger brother and I--on the run from our serial killer step-dad. We moved in with our cousin. The [Virginia] State Police were not suggesting we move really, because they wanted him to come back so they could grab him. But the local sheriff said, 'Hey, clear out tonight.'
"So, we moved out here. We really didn't like our cousin a lot, we didn't like his house, but we stayed there out of necessity. That's right down off of Johnson Creek [in the Eastmoreland Neighborhood]. I used to wander around down to Tideman Johnson Park all the time. I'd creep into the area quite a bit for refuge from said cousin."
"Anyway, things were going a little bit rough with him, and he and my mother would fight a lot. One thing we noticed is that when that happened, there would be noises in the garage, like a large animal like a raccoon or something. We'd go out and nothing was there--nothing's knocked over even though it sounded like holy hell had broken loose. And it was always when they were fighting."
For the next few years, Gulbranson and his family endured numerous examples of strange activity at their cousin's home and in the surrounding Johnson Creek area. Lights would flicker on and off for no reason, and Gulbranson's stereo, which he had "dismantled and unplugged," would blast for no apparent reason. During one trip into the woods (to make out with his girlfriend at the time), Gulbranson experienced another disturbing event.
"We were walking arm-in-arm, and suddenly she breaks away and wades into the creek. I was like, okay, you know, she's kind of a weird girl. So she goes in the water, then holds the water in her hands and starts talking to it. It was total gibberish from what I could tell. I've studied five languages, and it was nothing I was familiar with. After a couple minutes, I was like, 'Hey! Are you coming out of there?' She sort of looked up stunned and came back out. She said, 'What are you talking about?' And I said, 'You were in there talking to the water. What's wrong with you?' She said, 'I wasn't talking to the water.'"
Naturally, I asked Gulbranson if they had been drunk or on the pipe.
"Oh no! Nothing!" he said.
Gulbranson's mother had her share of weirdness near eerie Tideman Johnson Park, which she only shared with her son recently. She saw skulls.
"My mother is a real gem for telling me things long after the fact. She told me that when we lived there, she would be digging in the garden, and she kept hitting big stones-- big glacial stones--and whenever she dug in and hit one, she would have this hallucination of the stones being a bearded man's head. She didn't have a clue as to what was going on. She would freak out cover the stone back up, and go back inside."
One thing they all shared, but never talked about at the time, was a vision of an old man who frequented the property, and the Johnson Creek area. Gulbranson believes the old man was the ghost of Tideman Johnson haunting his former digs. He described a typical vision that occurred near his favorite waterfall.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an old man on the trail behind me. It wasn't real surprising at first. I look back there and nothing, so I turn around. Out of the corner of my eye again, I see the old man. He was bearded, and looked like he was wearing oilcloth or something, a hat, and antique clothing."
Whenever Jess tried to look directly at him, the old man disappeared. "It was very bizarre," he said.
Was Tideman Johnson angry or just enjoying the scenery?
"I never got that. The only thing I ever got from him, as far as a feeling, was Well, you know when people are just sort of... cruising through the last few years of their life? They're just sort of there and taking it all in? That's what I got out of him.
"One day, after a particularly vicious fight with my mother, my cousin went out to the compost pile to dump some stuff and came back in white as a ghost, freaked out, didn't say anything. He didn't fight with my mother after that. Something happened to him out there. I don't know what. Another time, my little brother was three by then, and my cousin's daughter was six. They came in one day laughing, and saying they were talking with a funny old man out in the yard. Funny old man? I go outside--nobody there."
Human Remains, Ghost Goes
The house was set up in a 90-degree depression, the house was up here, and the yard sloped down. My cousin had terraced off part of it for gardens. At the very top was a little old shed."
One day, Gulbranson, helping with the garden, was on his knees installing a French drain near his cousin's shed. Sifting through the dirt with his hands, he unearthed human remains: what appeared to be a jawbone. He took it to his biology teacher.
"Sure enough, it was a human jawbone and pretty old. It freaked me out. The moment I saw it, I thought, That's a human jawbone. It was from the joint down to about here (mid-chin). It had a real gloss to it, kind of an amber color. It had been buried for quite some time."
Instinctively, Gulbranson felt he had to act with impunity to rebury the human relic. While holding the decrepit piece of human face in his hands, Gulbranson had an idea. He would rebury the toothy bone and exorcise the ghost of Tideman Johnson.
Looking for the right thing to say at an awkward backyard burial and exorcism, Gulbranson searched for the perfect prayer book. According to him, his cousin was a "religious nut" who had an expansive collection of abstruse tomes.
"One of them happened to be a nice version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I had been perusing that, and using it seemed like the right thing to do."
Why the Book of the Dead?
"I knew about that sort of thing. I had never gotten that close to a ghost before, and I knew there was something wrong with finding a human jawbone in my backyard. With all these various things happening at the same time, I thought, 'Well, there is something in here and I can do something about it.'"
Gulbranson read through the book, and found what he believed would be a fitting invocation for his exorcism.
"I took the bone and buried it as deep as I could. I read from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the sutra on convincing someone that they're good enough and smart enough to move onto the next plane."
"I didn't see him again after the fact. But, about a year or two later, they started developing the area. They put in a trailhead for the 40-mile loop. They put up a little exhibit, showing the history, the fauna and flora, and one of the things it has, is a picture of Tideman Johnson. Guess who that was? The guy that I saw."
"So, I was talking about this recently with my mother. I hadn't told her about the exorcism part yet, but she said, 'Oh, do you remember back in [that] house? I had the craziest things happen.' She told me about the stones, and seeing the guy's head. She told me, 'I went walking down by the waterfall the other day, and I saw a picture of Tideman Johnson, and that's who that was.' I told her my end of it, and that's how we figured out it was Tideman Johnson at unrest. It had to have been him. I don't know where he lived in that area, or if he actually lived there, but it was him."
As it turns out, Tideman Johnson did live there, from about 1878 until his death in 1912. Johnson Creek is named after him. The area also has a gritty history following Tideman's death. Over time, the place has developed into a swampy sanctuary for drunks, vandals, thugs, punks, gangs, dealers and prostitutes. In the 1960s, it was the training playground for serial killer Gary Gilmore, whose delinquent activities in the park led to his incarceration at the infamous MacLaren Reform School for Boys. MacLaren had a notorious history of cruelty and inhumane disciplinary actions.
Gilmore was the first person to be executed in the U.S. after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. He was shot by a firing squad for the murder of two shopkeepers in Utah. Whether influenced early on by evil spirits along Johnson Creek, or by the suffering he endured at MacLaren, Gilmore is no longer available for comment.
Right Idea... Wrong Religion
So, what chance does an amateur exorcist have, when so-called 'professionals' can't seem to get it right? I asked this question to Martina DeLude, a member of Oregon's Phantom Seekers, a group of paranormal investigators--or ghost hunters.
"I do psychic investigations," DeLude told me, "and there have been moments where I have released a spirit from a particular location. However, they are few and far between for me. Most ghosts I encounter pretty much 'belong' where they are for some reason or another. Poltergeist activity is another matter--that usually revolves around an individual in a household and is sometimes not even spirit-related, but telekinetically brought about by pent up frustrations/adolescence. This is why exorcism in these types of households with this type of activity is rarely effective."
DeLude believes simple blessings can remove spirits that are not welcome, but she offers an ironic rationale as to why some spirit exorcisms may fail.
"If you have a Catholic priest come in to remove a Buddhist spiritthat will normally not work the way it is planned to."
The EMP Shotgun Approach to Exorcism
Jeff Gulbranson isn't actively looking for another spirit to exorcise, but if another opportunity comes his way, he wants to be ready.
"My wife is a die-hard skeptic. She's very close-minded about ghosts and hauntings and anything paranormal. She thinks I'm a nut for wanting to think about those things. She's really concerned about the negative aspects and tells me not to go looking for trouble. I'm not. I want to do something, though."
That something is bootstrapping his arsenal. By developing plans to utilize existing technology, Gulbranson wishes to build a device that would allow exorcists to search and destroy unwanted spirits at will. At first, Gulbranson considered building a "Ghost Bomb," using a powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which would clear a large area of ghosts, but leave buildings standing.
Many ghost-hunting websites offer (for purchase) a device that registers electromagnetic frequencies that some ghost hunters associate with the presence of ghosts. They are used to detect and trace the manifestations. Once detected, Gulbranson could use an EMP "shotgun" to blast ghosts from the hither regions to the thither voids, where they belong. Combining the two devices, Gulbranson could get the spirits in his crosshairs and blow them away. He suggests if a spirit is made of energy, it can "surely be disrupted," but allows the following karmic caveat.
"If it was just a kindly old lady who lived there forever, and then she shows up to tuck the kids in at night after she's dead, you probably wouldn't want to (shoot her). My first problem is using it so it doesn't knock out electrical stuff and kill people that are nearby. It's strong enough that it'll disrupt nerves."
Fervor, Panic and Ecstasy: How Much is Too Much?
Jefferson Davis, Pacific Northwest ghost expert and author, thinks Gulbranson may have seen 1973's creepy The Legend of Hell House one too many times. Using a similar device in the film, Roddy McDowall's character clears evil spirits from Hell House, to put a stop to their pesky demonic murdering.
I ask Davis how plausible it is for an amateur to perform a successful exorcism. He backs Gulbranson's claim and adds that one could even live to tell about it.
"Many people do perform their own 'exorcisms,'" Davis says. "Often, exorcisms are performed simply to cleanse one's house of a bad atmosphere, but can be effective for removing benevolent spirits or dangerous ones, as well."
For beginners, Davis suggests visiting a "metaphysical" shop and purchasing pre-made sage "smudge-sticks" or other herbs to use during the ceremony and invoking whatever spiritual means the exorcist has.
"No two hauntings are the same," says Davis, whose fourth book, A Haunted Tour Guide for the Pacific Northwest, hit the stands last month. "What you see are trends, which can be vague. I don't know that (Gulbranson) was in any danger from his spirit, but he could have 'psyched' himself out by going through it alone. Who knows what kind of long reaching effects fervor, panic, or ecstasy could have?"
Davis thinks Gulbranson may have actually "energized the haunting" himself. Based on his experience, Davis thinks ghosts often get their energy from the very people they haunt.
"If he reached an emotional high (or hysteria) he could release a lot of energy tap-able by the ghost. Kirlian (bio-energy) auras fluctuate depending on emotional and physical health."
Conversely, if Gulbranson's energies were focused, he could perform the exorcism and complete it with a sound mind relatively intact.
"Dark elements," Davis declares, "are thought to be just remnants or any part of the past that still lingers onthat is, disembodied energy or impressions, not self-aware spirits. Of course, many haunted houses contain more than residual energy from past tragic events. Sometimes, the ghost of a former owner may stick around for various reasons. Some cannot pass on to a different plane of existence due to a tragedy they cannot let go of or unfinished business. Many of these spirits are harmless. They make themselves known by the creaking and groaning, shadows and things moving about. Again, sometimes these entities respond to either a smudge or better yet, a conversation.
"These are the spirits I recommend talking to," Davis suggests. "This kind of harmless, yet prominent spirit usually wants to be acknowledged. I have talked to a lot of people who live with this type of ghost. I suggest they go to the room where the paranormal events are strongest and just lay out some ground rules. The ghost usually responds. In the case of unfriendly ghosts, this doesn't usually work."
Davis says exorcists come in all guises, from Native American Shamans (which Davis calls "self-help specialists") to rabbis and priests. Others, like Jess Gulbranson, do it themselves.
"Priests usually have to be called back if the exorcism doesn't take," Davis notes. "This sometimes, or rather, usually happens. Sometimes, it works for a few weeks and then the activity comes back with its energy recharged."
With typical campfire ghost story zeal, Davis offers the following tale--the reverse side of having professional help during an exorcism.
"A few years ago, a woman was sent to her minister because she and her family thought she was possessed by a demon. During the exorcism, the minister and his helpers laid her out on the floor in the shape of a cross and nailed her hands and feet to the floor. The sound of her screams and sight of her blood shook them out of their religious fervor and they panicked and ran--leaving her there for two or three days."
Clearly, this is an example of an exorcism one should never try at home.