From Fortean Times 204 (December 2005):

"So many of our data are upon a godness that so much resembles idiocy that to attribute intelligence to it may even be blasphemous" - Fort, Books, p601.

Romanian religious rigmaroles [FT200:4-5] are timeless. No surprise in a land where the word for `God' is `Dumnezeu' (almost 'Dumb Zeus'), and from where (the Romans called Dracula's homeland Dacia) comes this text (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 3.7756) in the kind of Latin punished by John Cleese in The Life of Brian: "We saw the spirit of an eagle descend upon three snakes. One big viper entangled the eagle. We who saw this freed the eagle from danger."

'Googling' discloses umpteen crucifixion sites, some alleging it still continues in Romania, plus 4,700 on self-impalement. Describing the public auto-crucifixions of Silesian cobbler Paul Diebel, Fort (p1023) reported: "In Munich recently he remained nailed to a cross several hours, smoking cigarettes and joking with his audience."

Thanks to the New Testament and Hollywood, we associate crucifixion with pagan Rome (cf. Michael Hengel's Crucifixion, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1977). Constantine, the first Christian emperor, did indeed abolish it. He also extended the range of capital crimes and their punishments (all documented in the Codex Theodosianus), e.g. the burning of heretics and death by pouring molten lead down the victim's throat - plus ça change...

Fort (p992) provides a delicious gloss on exorcism: "A woman who, sometime before, had been accused of witchcraft, practiced various incantations to exorcise the witch, or the evil spirit, or whatever. She died suddenly... the coroner decided not to hold an inquest."

Both pagans and Christians practised exorcism. The emperor Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, bkl ch6) thanks a teacher for steering him away from it. His contemporary, the Syrian-born satirist Lucian (Lover of Lies, chl6), lambasts a fellow-countryman, for making pots of money out of it - one of his Byzantine commentators wrongly takes this as an attack on Christ. Jewish exorçists are attested both by their national historian Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, bk8 chs46-9) and the Christian polemicist Irenaeus (Against the Heresies, bk2 ch32 para4).

"Exorcism was to Christians a deliberate and official activity, not a private trade pursued for profit" (AD Nock, Conversion: the Old & the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo, Oxford Univ. Press, 1933, p104). Tertullian (Apology, ch23 para4) claimed any Christian could do it. The first mention of professionals occurs in a letter (Eusebius, Church History, bk6 ch43 parall, gives the text) of Cornelius, Bishop of Rome (d. 253). Theophylus's (To Autolycus, ch2 para8 - second century) "Up to the present day, the possessed are sometimes exorcised" looks like an attempt to play it down.

The Roman Catholic Church formally banned the practice in 1972. Unfortunately, this did not prevent that cinematic abomination The Exorcist. Linda Blair? Better to exorcise Tony...

"We wonder how far our neo-mediaevalism is going to take us. Perhaps [..] only mediaevalism will be the limit." - Fort, p656.

Barry Baldwin
(reprinted with permission of the Author; blame any typically graphic transcription errors on dm)