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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The English Werewolf

     "These days" I've heard it frequently said, "we would see demon possession as a form of mental illness." Well, of course we would! If we are not prepared to accept the reality of possession, then we must call it something else. But what does it mean? A lot of mental illnesses are well established, with symptoms and criteria, causes, and treatment. But when the only symptom of the illness is the very condition under consideration, then "mental illness" is simply a label masquerading as an explanation, a way of saying, "We don't know the cause, but it is assumed to be internal," while "demon possession" means, "We don't know the cause, but it is assumed to be external."
     I could write a long dissertation on the sorts of mental aberrations which might be interpreted as possession by demons. Let me just say, I consider it a false dichotomy. After all, except in cartoons, when we talk about being tempted by the Devil, we don't think of one of the little imps sitting on our shoulder, whispering in our ear. The influence of the forces of evil, like the forces of good, are far more subtle. Likewise, we should abolish the idea of some semi-sensual being somehow inhabiting a body. Ultimately, possession implies the taking over of a person by an evil personality, whether it comes from the dark side of the mind, or the dark side of the spiritual world, or both.
     Is this all a rationalisation - an attempt to retain the concept while emptying it of substance? Then let us examine the case of Bill Ramsey, the English werwolf. Now is the appropriate time, because the latest film, The Conjuring is based on the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and this is another of their cases.
     On television, William David Ramsey presented as a stolid, matter-of-fact, working class Englishman, not given to histrionics or overstatement. To watch and listen to him, you would never suspect the ordeal he had been through. Born on 11 November 1943 in the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, where he was to spend the remainder of his life, his otherwise normal childhood was marred only by a horrifying occurrence which he tried hard to push to the back of his mind. It was a Saturday afternoon in 1952 ie in his ninth year, and he had come home from watching the movies, and was playing alone in the back yard. All of a sudden, he felt a wave of icy coldness sweep over him. The sweat froze on him. He started to shake. And there was a stench so vile, he thought he was going to vomit. His play having ceased, he wandered over to the fence with a confused mind, dominated by an idea of running away to sea, and thoughts of wolves.
    When his mother's voice was heard, calling him into the house, an overwhelming rage took hold of him. With the strength only adrenaline can give, he tore out of the ground a fence post which few adults could have moved, swinging it like a bat, with the wire netting still attached. As his parents raced out to calm him, he tore at the wire with his teeth. An intense coldness gripped him, and likewise a raging fury. A growl issued from his throat as he visualised himself as a wolf. His parents fled back to the house until he had calmed down.
     It seemed to him that he had somehow changed by the incident. But initially, things went on as normal. In 1965 he got married, and had three children. However, in the first two years of marriage, he would wake up in cold sweat from a terrifying dream. He would be approaching his wife from behind, she would turn to face him, then flee in terror, because he had the aspect of a monster. The dream ceased in 1967, but a year and a half later, he woke up to the sound a low, animal rumbling. Some wild animal appeared to be in the bedroom. Then he realised the sound was coming from his own chest!
     The following decade passed without problems, but in the early 1980s some weird and disturbing incidents began to emerge. He woke up one winter night, stared out at the moon, and images of wolves suffused his mind. But the first crisis arose the evening he went to a pub with some friends, and a cold chill passed through him. After a few drinks, he went to the men's room, looked in the mirror, and saw a wolf. Shortly afterwards, as they were driving home, a horrible sensation came over him. He began growling and, without his volition, turned upon the friend beside him in the back seat, his hands curling like claws as he attempted to bite his companion's leg. The driver pulled over, but it took several minutes to control him before the frenzy passed.
     The next year and a half everything was all right. Then, one night, his wife awoke to see her husband silhouetted against the full moonlight, growls rising from his throat. And he began to cry. But the real crisis occurred on the night of 5 December 1983. Feeling severe chest pains, and fearing an oncoming heart attack, he checked himself into the emergency ward of the local hospital. But once on the guerney, with his blood pressure being checked, the familiar cold sensation, the deep growling in his chest, and visions of wolves crept up on him. He sank his teeth into the arm of the treating nurse, then sprang up and ran berserk through the ward. Shoulders hunched over, lips bared and snarling, his fingers curled up into claws, he started smashing property, and knocking down with the strength born of ferocity anybody who approached. At last, overwhelmed by weight of numbers, his wrists handcuffed by a passing policeman, he eventually succumbed to a tranquiliser injection.
     They rushed him by ambulance to Runwell Mental Hospital. By morning, after the drug had worn off and he had wolfed down some breakfast, he was back in his right mind. The attendant doctor listened with commendable patience to his bizarre story, and asked to keep him longer in order to perform some tests. But he was a voluntary patient, so they let him go - but with the doctor's warning that the problem was likely to recur. It did.
     On the night of 28 January 1984, he had just driven away from visiting his mother when he felt an attack coming on, and immediately checked into the hospital. The emergency ward lobby was empty, so the nurse told him she would get someone to see him. Instead, he threw her aside, and went on a rampage. He was in the process of choking an orderly, when four policemen burst in. Cautiously, they encircled him, as he faced them, snarling and growling. All four leaped on him at once, but he managed to injure one so seriously that he had to be hospitalised for four days. Only when the handcuffs were forced upon him did his frenzy abate. He was completely himself again by the time they got him into the black maria. At the lockup, he was first of all interrogated as a common criminal, then finally handed over to the police surgeon, who managed to keep a remarkable poker face as he told his story. Probably he felt it was too fantastic to be invented. Mr Ramsey was tempted to take up the surgeon's suggestion that he admit himself voluntarily to the mental hospital, but he was afraid of the stigma it would cause. But he was obviously now in his right mind, so they let him go.
     After that, things settled down. Then came the night of 22 July 1987. He had had too much to drink, and was driving home when he saw a nineteen-year-old streetwalker and enticed her into his van. No, it is not what you think. A crazy idea had taken hold of him that he should make a citizen's arrest, and take her to the police station. As soon as he stopped the car, she bolted for the station. Meanwhile, he could feel the growling rising in his chest, and sensed that the same old thing was about to happen again. Out came a big, hulking policeman, and attempted to question him politely. But when the officer took him by the arm, the wolf mania exploded into action. With cortorted face, wild eyes, and snarling lips, he threw the officer to the ground and began to choke the life out of him. It took a dozen of the policeman's fellow officers and two injections of the surgeon's sedative to subdue him.
     This time he went straight to Runwell for an involuntary committal. For ten days he remained, rational and lucid in the house of the insane, while doctors performed brain scans, x-rays, and other tests in a vain attempt to diagnosis the problem. Then they released him - because for ten days he had been his normal, stolid, sensible self.
     By now it should be obvious that this was no ordinary mental illness. Under severe stress, a healthy person may experience an isolated psychotic incident - but even then, the symptoms are likely to be more prolonged. However, repeated attacks represent the acute phase of a chronic mental disorder, particularly schizophrenia. Without medication, such acute phases tend to be prolonged and, of course, the baseline of the chronic condition is a certain level of disordered thinking, disordered speech, and auditory hallucinations. One does not just go from stone cold, motherless normal to stark raving berserk and back again in the space of a few hours.
     Things were getting worse. In the next year and a half, he suffered several more seizures, including one in which he got down on all fours, yet held off twenty policemen. At interview, he mentioned how, feeling an attack coming on, he went into a police station and said, in effect: "I'm a discharged mental patient, and feel I'm about to have a fit and do something to endanger the public and myself. Please lock me up until the fit passes." He also expressed the opinion that, if he hadn't ultimately received help, he would have eventually killed or maimed someone, and spent the rest of his life in an asylum for the criminally insane.
     Furthermore, his family was now being stalked by the press. Nevertheless, this turned out to be his salvation. A TV show publicised his story just when Ed and Lorraine Warren, the self-styled American "demonologists" were visiting London. Now, I am in no position to comment on the Warrens' credentials. Personally, I am always suspicious of people claiming to be experts in the supernatural, because I don't believe there is any such animal. Besides, as a disinterested seeker after truth, I am always more comfortable if I believe my sources are hard-nosed, scientific, and skeptical. But I am also sure that, if I personally required help in the field, I would be uncomfortable with such a clinic, detached attitude.
     Be that as it may, when Lorraine heard the program, she immediately diagnosed demon possession - if it were accurate. Fearing a hoax, she telephoned the police station at Southend-on-Sea. To her surprise, the detective constable was quite forthcoming about the terrible events he was familiar with, the injuries to his officers, and the total inability of anybody to explain them. To cut to the chase, the Warrens were able to interview Bill and his wife. They found him diffident, if anything, given to understatement. No, he had never thought in terms of demonic possession but, in retrospect, the event at age nine could be seen as the start of it all. He had never thought of exorcism.
     Now, Bill belonged to the Church of England, which has its own exorcists, but the Warrens had their own favourite exorcist in Connecticut, Bishop Robert McKenna of the Traditional Catholic Church (which broke away from Rome after Vatican II, and still uses the Latin mass). Not to worry, they managed to get a tabloid newspaper, The People to sponsor the Ramseys' trip to the US.
     They left on 23 July 1989. The first night in the US, Mr Ramsey had a mild wolf fugue while asleep. It struck again with greater fury the night before the exorcism, when he attempted to strangle his wife - again, while asleep.
     At the exorcism itself, he was initially unimpressed, as he sat listening to the bishop's prayers in Latin, and feeling it was a bit of mumbo-jumbo. But thirty minutes into the ritual, when the exorcist placed his stole around his neck and commanded the demon to depart, Bill's face contorted, his fingers clawed, and the werewolf fury came upon him one last time. It was all graphically recorded on film. Then it was over.
     Previously, the wolf "attacks" had been arriving in ever greater frequency and severity, but following the exorcism they ceased completely. At least, there had been no relapses up to 1992, when he gave his television interview. From a web search, I note that the world appears to have lost track of Bill Ramsey after that date. No doubt that is a good thing. Considering the original publicity, if he had gone back to rampaging through Southend-on-Sea, I suspect we would have heard about it.
     As I said before, the current orthodoxy holds that demon possession is a species of mental illness. So, let us look at the bottom line:
  • A man is psychologically normal in all respects but one: at irregular interviews he suffers a fugue state in which he behaves like a ravening wolf.
  • No treatment is offered, or possible.
  • However, the condition is completely cured by exorcism.
     So what conclusion should we reach?

References: (1) Werewolf. A true story of demonic possession by Ed and Lorraine Warren, with William Ramsey and Robert David Chase, St Martin's Press, Oct. 1991. The authors interviewed several third parties apart from Bill Ramsey and his wife - which may explain the discrepancies in the descriptions of the 1983 attack. They also consulted the newspaper files. The reason I read the book was that I was particularly impressed with:
(2) the testimony of Bill Ramsey, along with the Warrens, on the Sally Jessie Rafael Show in 1992.

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