Michael Freze, S.F.O. is a name amongst names when it comes to the study of demonology. He’s one of the more popular names in this esoteric field, having quite literally written the book on the subject. That work is actually a 12-volume series, which stands in addition to the rest of his extensive bibliography. For the curious, S.F.O. is short for Secular Franciscan Order. Adds a touch of authority to this, I think, though I freely admit not being overly familiar with them (yet — I’ll dig more later). Basically what I understand going into this is that Freze is a devout Catholic, and as such he’s a true believer in what he puts forth in this text.
By contrast, I am not Catholic. I’m not even remotely Christian, nor do I follow any other path you could give a name to. My path is my own, and I follow where my heart and mind take me. I deal with personal experience, and I keep an open mind insofar as it’s not open enough for my brains to leak out. I have studied the extensive rabbit hole that is angelology for a couple of decades. Demonology is, of course, the sister discipline to this, and there is a considerable amount of overlap. As religious as I’m not, there is much to be found, especially in the apocryphal and mystic lore, that is rarely in the public eye… for a reason. This is compounded when you know that even within the Catholic Church, the study of demonology is closeted and limited to only a mere few. That’s no surprise given the abuses of such practices throughout the whole of the Church’s history, combined with the idea that this stuff is presumed as dangerous as it comes, and they want to ensure only the top level experts get in there and do the job correctly. Since about 1967, the Church has considerably backed off its acknowledgement of such things, but not completely. Thanks to the Satanic Panic books and films of the 1970s, popular culture just won’t let go of certain preconceptions, and authors like Freze feel that part of their mission is to help set the record straight. My, how times have changed since the Inquisition.
For purposes of this review, let’s just work with the conceit that all of this is totally real, regardless of what you personally subscribe to. Can we agree to that? Ok, good. Here’s goes…
This book opens with a brief history of exorcism in the Church and really focuses on how it applies to Canon Law since around 1913 or so. Before that point, the Church was rather consistent on what could or could not be done, by whom, and under what circumstance. Due to some restructuring and redefinition over the decades since, some of that changed, and the author documents that for us here. It does take into account the idea that now we understand that some “possessions” are in fact mental illness or other kinds of medical issues. If you’ve not read the book Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susan Cahalan, I recommend doing so.
The greater part of this book is, of course, exactly what the title says it is: the rules, procedures, and prayers used in a Catholic exorcism. I will just say up front that, from the perspective of a medievalist, this book is delightfully Medieval in thought, form, and execution. Regardless of the occasional reference to modern social media or updates within the Church, this has more in common with the Counter-Reformation than anything after the so-called Age of Enlightenment. One of these days, a legitimately trained exorcist is going to have to explain to me why reading a tale out of the Bible will exorcise a possession, or why if the entire point of the Crucifixion was to have saved humanity and if the act of Baptism is in itself a form of exorcism, why it is necessary to beseech seemingly every single Saint by name, in turn, with the exact same prayer. Does the demon leave from sheer boredom? This comes across to me as less of a weapon against a possessing demon and more of a desperate whimper of “Please don’t hurt me, Mr. Demon.” And, of course, even under optimal circumstances, the demon can’t do anything anyway. Contrary to what’s in this book, demonology tradition holds that possession can’t take place without the permission of the host, especially if the host is a true innocent (as in with children). Just as importantly, and according to this book, the demon doing the possessing can’t make the host do anything against their will, which is pretty consistent with everything I’ve ever learned prior to this point. You do the math on that one, folks. Regardless of what you believe and how tightly you cling to it, demons have no real power except what you give them. It’s smoke and mirrors at best.
But regardless of how much you believe — or want to — the point isn’t to convince anyone of anything here. This book is a presentation of how the Church goes through it. If I were the type that bought the Church’s dogma hook, line, and sinker, I’d be very afraid for my soul at this point because their main line of defense is a complete and utter joke. It demonstrates how very little they truly understand — or want to — about what’s out there. It’s the supernatural equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and repeating as loudly as possible that you can’t hear something. A couple of thousand years as God’s chosen intermediaries, and this is the best they’ve got? Wow, that’s pathetic.
Even so, I was entertained for what it was. As I say, this is delightfully Medieval.