Former Jesuit priest Malachi Martin died in 1999, but he wrote one of the most comprehensive books on possession and exorcism in 1976 — Hostage To The Devil. Those who are unfamiliar with the man’s work may dismiss Hostage as fare for old school Catholics, but it is much more than that. Anyone who is interested in humanity’s struggle with morality, truth, free will, sex and gender, spirit and psyche would do themselves a favor by purchasing it soon.
Regular readers of this blog know that the intersection of politics and popular culture are covered on a regular basis. Movies, music and comic books are reviewed, but at the heart of it all is a fight against moral relativism.
The message is simple: Good and Evil exist. To deny that, or to pretend as though a man can go through life making morally neutral decisions, is to walk down a road of confusion. And, as Fr. Malachi notes, confusion seems to be a “prime weapon of evil.”
The author says:
“The surest effect of possession in an individual — the most obvious and striking effect common to all possessed persons, whether observed or apart from Exorcism — is the great loss in human quality, in humanness.
Curiously enough, the difficulty in talking nowadays about possession and describing its progress and effects in those attacked does not come from the weird, bizarre, or ‘unimaginable’ happens that may accompany possession.
The difficulty comes, instead, from the insistence of latter-day opinion makers that the religious view of good and evil is outdated; that the personality of each man, woman, and child exists only as a cross section of single traits and attributes best revealed in scores we achieve in psychological tests; that the truest and purest models for our behavior come from ‘lower animals’ and from ‘natural man,’ a mythical invention that has never existed and that we cannot imagine. …
Even though our coverage of these questions concerning Jesus and Lucifer must be brief due to limitations of space, we are not merely indulging in a comforting cliché when we make one observation: The best that latter-day prophets and modern doom sayers seem able to do with these matters is to ignore them and tell us to do the same. They cannot prove them false, but only increase their efforts to persuade us so. And for all their mighty efforts, they cannot repair the damage they do in this way to our humanness.,” Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 409, 411-412.
In short, the bulk of Hostage deals with five cases:
- Zio’s Friend and the Smiler — 29
- Father Bones and Mister Natch — 83
- The Virgin and the Girl-Fixer — 173
- Uncle Ponto and the Mushroom-Souper — 249
- The Rooster and the Tortoise — 321
As readers can see by the pagination, trying to respectfully break down any one of these cases in a book review would be difficult. Exhaustive interviews were conducted with all parties involved, written records were examined, and hours upon hours of audio recordings analyzed.
What is important to know before buying the book — particularly for skeptics — is that Fr. Martin is not an intellectual slouch. He is a very intelligent man. He is serious, and the content within Hostage is extremely disturbing.
The fact of the matter is that possession is nothing like Americans see in Hollywood movies. It is much more insidious than that because bodiless beings that can glean knowledge from eternity are not stupid. Possession is a process by which patient demons wait for an entry point, exploit confusion, and ultimately seize control when victims voluntarily present their souls on a silver platter.
Exacerbating this threat is a culture that grants Satan “the ultimate camouflage” — the belief that he does not exist.
“Raised more and more in an atmosphere where moral criticism is not merely out of fashion, but prohibited, [we] swim with little help in a veritable sea of pornography. Not merely sexual pornography, but the pornography of unmitigated self-interest. Whether spoken or acted out without explanation, the dominant question of the younger generations among us is, What can you do for me? What can my parents, my friends, my acquaintances, my enemies, my government, my country, do for me?
The difficulty is that as individuals and as a society, we are no longer willing — many of us are no longer able — to give an answer to that question that will satisfy anyone for long. …
Not to believe in evil is not be be armed against it. To disbelieve is to be disarmed. If your will does not accept the existence of evil, you are rendered incapable of resisting evil. Those with no capacity of resistance become prime targets for Possession,” (Preface, XIII, XIV, XV).
As Fr. Martin says, “no one wants to believe in evil, really, above all, not in an evil being, an evil spirit,” because acknowledging that places a perpetual responsibility on our shoulders.
“That [disbelief] is the opening through which [Satan] crawls, stilling all suspicions, making everything seem normal and natural. This is the ‘thought,’ the unwariness of the ordinary human being which amounts to a disinclination to believe in evil. And, if you do not believe in evil, how can you believe in or even know what good is?” (389)
Hostage is an amazing book. Anyone who is remotely spiritual should read it, but they must be forewarned that it will leave them shaken to the core.
If you have any questions about the cases covered by Fr. Martin, then feel free to ask in the comments section below.
Hmm, sounds very interesting. I am one of those moral relativist who did not believe in evil for much of my life. Let me tell you, that is most inconvenient when you actually come face to face with it.
“Hmm, sounds very interesting. I am one of those moral relativist who did not believe in evil for much of my life. Let me tell you, that is most inconvenient when you actually come face to face with it.”
The truth about possession is much more frightening than anything people see in a movie theater or with a Netflix subscription. I think most people who read this book with an open mind will not be able to sleep well at night as they’re going through it. In fact, many people will look back at their own life with an entirely different perspective. It may explain certain situations with a kind of clarity that is both refreshing and terrifying.
Many of the people in this book who were possessed were very intelligent (including a priest). In many ways the book is scarier because the author is not trying to scare you — he’s just giving you the facts. We all walk along a spiritual precipice, but many people do not even realize it.
A question about the book’s accessibility (from a reading standpoint).
I’m a practicing Christian, but from the Protestant branch of the faith. I firmly believe that Catholic Christians belong the universal Church (body of Christ, lowe-case “c'” catholic Church, those going to Heaven, whatever you want to call the collective genuine, de facto followers of Christ), although I don’t subscribe to some elements of Catholic theology, nor am I overly familiar with the finer points of Catholic theology/tradition/trappings, etc. Would the latter be a stumbling block to understanding the book, or would a reader who has the broad basics of Christianity down be able to follow it?
“Would the latter be a stumbling block to understanding the book, or would a reader who has the broad basics of Christianity down be able to follow it?”
You should be good to go. It’s very accessible to anyone. As long as you know what a priest is and that they perform exorcisms, then you’re off to the races. 🙂
Like I said, though, the material at times is very jarring. There isn’t anything gratuitous about the exorcisms, but … you’ll see what I mean.
Here’s the deal: Since you’re interested in reading the book, then buy it on the condition that I will reimburse you if you feel as though it wasn’t worth the cash. This deal only applies to you because you’re a regular reader.
Great review. I have heard him in interviews, but never read his book. I should check this out. Thanks Doug.
“Great review. I have heard him in interviews, but never read his book. I should check this out. Thanks Doug.”
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Chris. I appreciate it. Feel free to circle back around once you’ve finished the book. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
I actually have a copy of this book, but read it quite a few years ago, so some of the details about the cases Fr. Malachi Martin recounts are a bit hazy. However, I do remember the opening prologue set in Nanking, where the parish priest is looking for one of his parishioners, who’s wanted by the police for several murders. The description Fr. Martin gives of what happened was chilling enough…until you realize this account was taking place right before the Japanese invasion in 1937. And if anyone knows their World War II history, you know how horrifying the “Rape of Nanking” was. Really got the point across on how evil begets evil in a very frightening way. So I agree, Doug, this book’s definitely worth the read, but definitely not for the faint of heart.
“I agree, Doug, this book’s definitely worth the read, but definitely not for the faint of heart.”
Thanks for commenting, Mike. I really appreciate it.
There was a part of me that wanted to add in some of the darker elements, but I figured that’s the kind of things movies focus on. At the end of day this book is far less about the “clash” during the exorcism between the priest and the evil spirt(s) and more about the process by which evil pollutes the body, mind and soul.
“You should be good to go. It’s very accessible to anyone. As long as you know what a priest is and that they perform exorcisms, then you’re off to the races.🙂”
That’s good to hear. Since the Protestant branches don’t seem to have much of an exorcism tradition, about all I really knew about the was the few Biblical instances of it (which sound a lot less complex than modern accounts).
“Like I said, though, the material at times is very jarring. There isn’t anything gratuitous about the exorcisms, but … you’ll see what I mean.”
I’m sure the subject matter isn’t all rainbows and technicolor unicorns. We are talking about the Devil ruining people’s lives. There’s not really any way to sugarcoat it (and there probably shouldn’t).
In regards to the offer:
I’ve had a few things on my plate lately (with the holidays and other stuff), so I haven’t had much time to look into finding the book at the store, library, whatever (I’ve got quite the backlog of a reading list). That’s kind of the way life has been lately and I’m not seeing changing anytime soon, so it might be hard to coordinate things. However, I do thank you for making the offer in the first place.
I did find a excerpt of Martin’s book online. Looks fascinating, if intense. I’m personally more drawn to the apologetics aspect of theology, so it will be interesting to branch out, when I can get around to reading it!
I was given this book about twenty-five years and was fascinated by Martin’s theses and approach to evil as intelligent entity.