The Exorcism of Roland Doe

ABH

In the late-1940s, a boy who was living a normal life had his fate turned around when he went through several near death experiences. He then endured a nearly-two-month process of exorcisms from several priests for the small mistake he had made.  The priests that had performed these exorcisms gave this 14-year-old boy the pseudonym “Roland Doe.” What led Roland to this moment? His beloved aunt had given him an Ouija board as a gift and had taught him how to contact spirits with it. However, she had died shortly after teaching him. Roland, heartbroken about his deceased loved one, decided to contact her from the afterlife. However he contacted a demon instead.1

Priest banishing demons from Roland Doe’s body | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Before being possessed, Roland used an Ouija (Wee-gee) Board, which is a board usually made of wood with the alphabet spelled on it, as well as the words “yes” and “no,” and it may have numbers “0-9.” The board comes with a pointer that spirits are able to move onto each letter to make words to talk to you. Although it has been rumored that the Ouija Board had just appeared from nowhere, some say the first one was created in Maryland in the 1890s. After many disputes and law suits over what this board was in the 1920s, it was decided that it was not a religious device, but simply a board game instead. Yet, it was still used by mediums as a professional tool to contact spirits.2 The Ouija Board is also a type of seance, which is a French word for “session,” and this refers to the practice of gathering together as a group to receive messages from ghosts or listen to spirits. However in cases that aren’t led by professionals, they may lead into possession by demons.3

Alexian Brother Hospital where Ronald Doe was held to end his possession | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The teenage boy Roland Doe started getting marks and scratches all over his body while at home, which led his family to realize there was a problem. These scratches ended up turning into words. The first word happened to be “LOUIS,” relating to his worried mother’s hometown of St. Louis. Once there, the family contacted a medium to talk to this demon that was living in her child. However as the medium was conducting a seance, more marks appeared upon his skin. The marks ended up turning into letters again, which bore the words “NO SCHOOL.” Upon seeing this, the medium contacted a Jesuit Priest by the name of Father Raymond Bishop, who happened to be a priest  at St. Louis University, to perform a blessing on the possessed child. However while Bishop was praying to the child, Roland’s bed began to shake and tremble while deep bloody gashes started appearing on Roland Doe’s chest. After witnessing this event, the priest immediately called upon the Archbishop to perform a full exorcism.4

The Catholic Church believes that the devil finds all of the souls he can to torment and bring them to sin. The Church also believes some people will become possessed with demons from hell. A big problem with exorcisms in the eighteenth century to today is that many scientists and skeptics believe that people who become possessed by Satan are faking it and it is just some mental disease. However some cases of exorcisms have shown unbelievable occurrences that have happened while the people are possessed. Therefore, possession, which is a demon taking away your soul and body in order to spread evil and hate, was and still is too difficult and too complex to be equated with any modern physical illness. There is also no space in the Catholic tradition to deny the existence of demons because of the presence of the devil in the Bible and the prayers that expel demons.5 Catholics believe the devil’s existence is rooted in the first story in the Bible, which tells of Adam and Eve disobeying God and giving in to the snake’s (the devil’s) lies and took forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. This temptation to sin is the easiest form that the devil takes in order to make people become less faithful. Catholics also believe in St. Micheal, who is a defender of the church and people and is hated by demons and the devil all over Hell. There are even prayers in the Bible that talk about the Devil and getting rid of him and his temptation. “Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man”(Psalms 71:4) is a scripture in Psalms that is a prayer for those in need of God to come and save them from the wicked hands of the Devil.6

Ronald Doe levitating above his bed | Courtesy of All That’s Interesting

The tantrums that Roland Doe suffered and the exorcisms that followed after Father William Bowdern went horrifically. A crucifix in Roland Doe’s room began to tremble, at the same time his bed shook, and the vial of holy water that was supposed to be protecting the teenage boy shattered into a million different pieces sending glass shards everywhere. All throughout the exorcism there were continuous markings that other priests believed couldn’t have been self-induced. The explicit language that Roland Doe had shouted and babbled at night reeked of sexual abuse as a child. However, the words he was using should not have been known for a child his age. This suggests it couldn’t have just been a mental disease. It became so bad sometimes that the priests believed they needed to baptize the boy. However, while on the way to the church, Roland tried to swerve the car off the road with the intent to crash and kill. The weirdest part about the events that occurred to Roland Doe is that during the morning, he was completely normal, but as soon as night fell, it was almost like he fell into a trance.7

Two crucifixes attached to rosary beads | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ever since creation of the world, in the Catholic view, there has always been the threat of the devil. In fact, Satan even means “opponent,” and it is believed that he is the opponent of God and his children. Many Catholics even believe that if people don’t believe that Satan exists then he has even more power over you. Catholics believe that in order to truly get rid of demons inside of the possessed, they have to acknowledge the demon inside of them and pray to God to get rid of this wicked spirit.8 However for those that are not able to do that by themselves, they need to call upon a priest to undergo an exorcism. The purpose of an exorcism is to dispel or frighten away demons or spirits that were contracted from a seance or another unnatural occurrence. Traditionally, most exorcisms are are carried out by Catholics with the use of holy objects, incense, and loud noises of all kinds (mostly prayer).9 In contrast, Protestants believe that possession is associated with personal guilt so their methods include fasting and many personal prayers. Regardless, whenever a person that is possessed gets to a certain point where they lose control, there is nothing that they can do for themselves any more and they must call upon priests for help.10

Roland Doe was finally cured in 1949 during a lightning storm. He had no memory of what happened over the past months of torture he endured. He did move on past these experiences and had three kids and a successful career. Unfortunately, one of the priests that tried to cure him not only was on the brink of insanity by the end of the exorcisms but had also become possessed as well. On this priest’s death bed it is claimed that he used explicit words against a nurse and tried to choke her to death. Although many researchers of this case believe that this was just a mental illness, it can not be confirmed because of the events that occurred to the young teenager. It is even said that the spot where Roland had the exorcist is permanently cracked into the concrete.11 This case also inspired The Exorcist, which was a novel published in 1971 that was also made into a movie. However instead of a 14-year-old boy, the novel was written with him being a 12-year-old girl. Despite that small change, the events that occurred in the exorcisms were just as gruesome and horrible, including the girl levitating, her head spinning, and projecting vomit at the priests. Nonetheless, the events that occurred on those frightful nights gave many people nightmares for decades, and if Roland hadn’t lost his memory he probably would have lived his life in a mental hospital.12

  1. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  2. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019, s.v. “Ouija Boards,” John L. Crow.
  3. Patrick McNamara, Spirit Possession And Exorcism: History, Psychology, And Neurobiology (Praeger, 2011), 34.
  4.  Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  5. Moshe Sluhovsky, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, no. 1 (2014): 113.
  6. Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version. (American Bible Society, 2010).
  7. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  8. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Satan,” Rebecca Kraft.
  9. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2019, s.v. “Exorcism.”
  10. Moshe Sluhovsky, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, no. 1 (2014): 113.
  11. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  12. Michael Cuneo, American Exorcisms (New York: Broadway Books, 2002), 7-9.

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This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I loved this article! Reading about exorcisms or watching movies about them is always tricky because I want to believe in all of it so bad! I’m not religious, but I am very gullible. A huge part of me wonders what would these people have to gain from lying? What could possibly encourage them to lie and how do they know just what to say? Then again, another part of me goes, “Really, levitating? As if gravitation laws would ever allow that to happen.” Regardless, these people are clearly going through something. Whether it be a demon possession, or some form of schizophrenia, help is needed. Fourteen is so young to experience so much pain.

  2. Avatar

    This was a very interesting article, i don’t think i have stumbled upon any articles that relate to exorcism in this website. This story was so interesting to read of course i have heard of possessions and so on but i don’t think i have ever really heard of a “true story” one. I think it was also really interesting to read that Ronalds story is was essentially inspired the novels of the exorcism. I think that was a very interesting sort of “fun fact.”

  3. Avatar

    ] I like the concise style of the narration, it gives the story the spirit of being a tale more than a real-life happening, which seems to me like a great idea. I always wondered where did all those exorcism stories come from, but now that I read about Doe I understand it fully. I imagine the bibliography on Doe’s case has to have been immense, and that diving into it implied discerning between fictional retellings and academic texts. For the American society of the 1940s, such a story sounds as astonishing as a story from Nabokov, and I imagine many more might have thought the same. It’s interesting to ponder on the story of exorcism from the Catholic perspective, how such a religion built an interpretation of such a thing.

  4. Avatar

    Stories of exorcism usually contain an interesting note that befuddles their later audience. With all the information that we know as of today, could we really pinpoint such an occurrence to a mental disease or deterioration? Or does the spiritual world found in Christian religions offer some credibility to the ways the earth function, even in its rarest of times? It is an unnerving question that may or may not have an answer during our lifetime, or ever. But curiosity still gets the best of us and creates situations that had befell Roland Doe in his time and possibly much more unrecorded. Nevertheless, the spiritual guidance of the Catholic Church is bound to help lessen such occurrence and provide assistance when it does occur.

  5. Avatar

    This article was quite interesting. In fact, one of my former theology teachers in high school (who was a former Jesuit) told me that he had met one of the priests who participated in Roland Doe’s exorcism. It is quite frightening when you’re being taught in a religious school that bad/evil entities do exist in the real world, but I like how this case went onto inspire the move the Exorcist and subsequent sinister-horror movie genre.

  6. Avatar

    I really loved this article!! I’m really interested in the paranormal world and possessions by demons. I cannot understand how after all these years many of these clearly detailed and recorded possessions aren’t backed by scientists and other medical professionals. It was very insightful getting to hear Roland Doe’s story and the origin of a popular film. There has been many distinguishing characteristics between a mentally unstable person or someone “possessed” so I really would have liked to see those outlined in this article more thoroughly. Otherwise, I really enjoyed your take on this horrific reality for many victims who still don’t have the validity from the “real” world.

  7. Avatar

    The exorcism in the article is a very disturbing one because of all the events that happened to the young boy. There are so many cases about exorcisms around the world but this one is very unsettling. The article was very intriguing and covered a lot about the boy and the exorcism itself.

  8. Avatar

    This article was pretty frightening all throughout. It was very interesting and it was my first time hearing of Roland Doe. I had no idea that the “The Exorcist” was inspired by Roland’s story. I thought that it was crazy how he didn’t have memory of the torture he endured. Reading about topics like this always give me chills, but it’s very interesting and intriguing. Such an informative and spooky article.

  9. Avatar

    Every time that I read a story about possession or demons, it always makes me interested in them again. I still don’t know where I personally stand on the idea of spirits, demons, and other evil things but, it’s always interesting to hear other people’s take on it. There’s always two sides to how these stories go; either people don’t believe them or people fully believe them. Personally, I stand somewhere in the middle. However, this article made me think again about how I think about demons and spirits. Most of the time it seems extremely fake or cliched. But, this article made it feel real and made the entire story about exorcism interesting and made me want to dig a little more into it.

  10. Lesley Martinez

    This article was frightening, yet interesting. I cannot believe Ronald Doe was only 14 years old when this happened to him. I have always been afraid to even get near an Ouija Board because of movies that I’ve seen. Also, I always wondered what medical practitioners or scientists thought about exorcisms and to read that they believe it is some mental disease is surprising. It’s interesting to note that Catholics and Protestants have different ways of carrying out exorcisms. I will definitely be careful next time I get near a game board isle!

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