Yes, it’s a somewhat haunted ghost story

Let’s say that you have these Southern guys who are willing — for $2,000 or so — to show up at your house or camp out on your property and perform some kind of deep-fried mostly secular exorcism.

The bottom line is that they smoke a few cigarettes, tell a few ghost stories, down a couple of cold ones, watch for “demonic orbs” and — yes, you knew this was coming — they say also a prayer or two.

Who are Gracy Carter and his associates and what are they doing in the hallowed pages of The New York Times?

Grady, 66, is the winner of three purple hearts in Vietnam; his son, Chris, 41, is a former long-haul trucker; and Andy, 46, is a former bodyguard. Now all three Carter men are Twisted Dixie, a team of
paranormal investigators — or, to use their less preferred term, ghostbusters. For fees upward of $2,000 per demonic possession, they camp out at night in clients’ houses, barns, businesses or woods and “document paranormal activity,” Andy explains, referring to “ghosts, demons, poltergeists.” Twisted Dixie grosses a little more than $50,000 a year, sometimes charging fees for long investigations and sometimes working on spec at famous sites like Fort Sumter and the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbe­ville, S.C. — often called the birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy, and the home of Twisted Dixie. No matter the job, they always work at night because, they say, that’s when ghosts tend to whisper.

On one level, it sounds like a reality show in the making, a franchise that will fit somewhere out there in cable TV land between the Bigfoot investigators, the UFO historians and the folks that wrestle with gators, giant snakes and fish.

Yet this ghost chasin’ is taking place deep in Bible Belt country. You know religion is in here somewhere, haunting the proceedings. Right?

The goal on this night is to find out why the tortured souls of some dead slaves are so angry. You see, there’s this cotton gin that mysteriously started running again, saith the owner, and she also heard screaming.

The cotton gin took up almost the entire barn. It was a monstrous machine, all gears, levers, belts, funnels, steam boilers and bits of cotton caught in its jagged teeth. At that point, the investigation officially began: Chris opened a cooler and passed out 24-ounce cans of beer; everyone lighted cigarettes; Andy unfolded aluminum deck chairs. Then we all stood around in a circle, heads bowed, while Chris recited a prayer to St. Michael the archangel, “to deliver us in battle from malice and the snares of the devil.” Chris explained that ghosts manifest themselves to mortals because they’re looking for help from their torment. “So we say the prayer so they won’t follow us home,” Chris said. “Sometimes they will, because let’s face it, if you were a ghost, would you rather hang out in an empty house with other ghosts, or with people and have a good time?”

And so forth and so on.

So, GetReligion readers, what are the questions that you are asking right now? I can think of several, right from the get go.

* The Catholic Church — the folks who usually hang out with St. Michael the Archangel — have real clergy who are trained as exorcists. I don’t think that’s who these folks are, based on the depth of the Times reporting.

* There are plenty of evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians who take “spiritual warfare” pretty seriously, these days. However, I have never heard of them taking money for this work. Come to think of it, they normally wouldn’t show up with an ice chest full of beer and some cigarettes, either.

* Truth is, I’m having a hard time imagining Catholics or Protestants hiring these folks.

This brings us to some rather basic questions that need to be answered in an article of this kind.

Why are these guys, in terms of the religious claims they are making? Who are their supporters? What do the local religious authorities — Catholic, Protestant and otherwise — think of them?

Not a clue, after reading this story.

Who hires these guys and writes them checks to perform these freelance exorcisms?

Not a clue, after reading this story.

The basic impression is that this whole thing is a deep-fried joke. If this is the case, it would be nice if the story included enough basic facts for Times readers to be able to render that kind of judgment.

It’s an interesting story. Where’s the rest of it?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Karl

    I doubt that any local church would approve of charging money for exorcisms. It sounds like these guys’ clients are people without any specific religious beliefs or nominal Christians.

  • http://markbyron.typepad.com/main/ Mark Byron

    I’m having a hard time imagining Catholics or Protestants hiring these folks

    It could be that huge Orthodox contingent in Dixie doing the hiring. Other than that, I’m with Karl.

  • Martha

    The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel? That made me prick up my ears. From that I’d assume they were Catholic, but who knows?

    As to who would hire them, you’d be surprised. If rural America is anything like rural Ireland, there’s a lot of folk religion which easily shades into superstition, and someone who might feel awkward about asking their local priest/pastor/minister/elder to come bless their house or barn for a haunting would be happier to get a ‘paranormal investigator’ to check it out first. If the guys pray, that’s even better, because that makes it not witchcraft.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I don’t think the Orthodox would embrace these dudes.

    Meanwhile, for the curious:

    Saint Michael the Archangel,
    defend us in battle.
    Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
    May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
    and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
    by the Divine Power of God -
    cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
    who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

    Amen.

  • Julia

    tmatt:

    In addition to saying the “Last Gospel” (first part of John) at the end of Catholic Masses, after the dismissal we used to also say that prayer to St Michael and a prayer for the conversion of Russia.

    The New Mass got rid of a lot of things, not just Latin.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    There are actually longer versions of the Prayer to St. Michael, but I’ll spare you the quotes.

    Catholics would not have trouble with the beer or cigarettes, of course, and Hispanic folk might go to the curandero or bruheria, but I don’t know of an Anglo alternative to a plain old priest.

  • Bill

    “…wickedness and snares of the devil.”

    That conjured up an image from my altar boy days a few hundred years ago. The old monsignor would hiss those words such that I’d half expect the serpent to rise up from behind the altar.

    Thanks, Julia, I’d forgotten about the prayer for the conversion of Russia.

    Martha, where I grew up a lot of the people were from rural Ireland and Italy, and there were elements of their religious practice that would probably not receive receive official imprimatur. It reminds me that the Church throughout the centuries has had to choose its battles carefully; some folk practices would be allowed, some condemned, and some ignored.

    I agree Catholics would not have trouble with beer and cigarettes, but generally not during services. Even here in rural Texas, I’ve never seen anyone bring a cooler to Mass.

  • Vapour

    Ghosts are different from demons.

    Ghosts can’t hurt you since they are probably manifestations of people in purgatory. If you see a ghost, you need to pray for that person. Most ghostly activity is in areas where the Church has been persecuted.

    Demons can hurt you if God allows. Truth is, they don’t need to bother with most people. Furthermore, God doesn’t often allow them to manifest themselves. Your Guardian Angel is not permitted to allow the demons free access to you.

    I don’t know why people aren’t making the distinction between ghosts and demons.

    But nobody makes distinctions anymore.

  • Larry “the grump” Rasczak

    I think you called it on the “reality show franchise in the making” thing. Demons are a higher and more powerful form of life than we are. They view humans as prey. Exorcisms about the exorcist invoking the power of God to expel the demon, the exorcist does NOT do it “on their own”. The idea of a demon taking orders from a human who is “mostly secular” is roughly the same as the 4 Star General Commanding US STRATCOM accepting a launch order from a long tailed Chinese dwarf hamster.
    Speaking of secular exorcists, there is a movie coming out next year about “unauthorized exorcism”, something that may not be totally unrelated.

  • Hector

    Re: The idea of a demon taking orders from a human who is “mostly secular” is roughly the same as the 4 Star General Commanding US STRATCOM accepting a launch order from a long tailed Chinese dwarf hamster.

    I don’t know about secular exorcists, but I do know that Islam, Judaism and Hinduism (maybe Zoroastrians too) also do exorcisms. I know someone who claims to have witnessed, in a Hindu context, something that sounds remarkably like a Christian exorcism. (Oddly enough, he doesn’t believe in exorcism, and just refers to it as ‘something really weird’.) While I’m a Christian, I wouldn’t necessarily want to set limits on where and when God can operate. If he chooses to respond to the entreaties of one of these ‘mostly secular’ fellows, I certainly think that’s possible, if rather unlikely.

  • Hector

    Re: I don’t know why people aren’t making the distinction between ghosts and demons.

    I’m not sure Christians have any particular warrant to believe in ghosts (though we do, of course, believe in demons). Souls in purgatory are, by definition, not here on earth. (They’re also, while suffering, living in joyful hope, so I doubt they would be hanging around harassing people).

  • Tiller

    I really hope these men stop, for their own physical and spiritual health. I seem to recall a story in the Acts of the Apostles where some men who acted outside the authority of Christ and His Church to cast out demons in His name. It did not turn out well for the parties involved, and I hope God protects these men into repentance.

  • Will

    But in the Gospel, the disciples report how they stopped a man “casting out demons in Your name”, and were rebuked with “whoever is not against us is for us.”

    As for these people, I suspect they are a group who looked up “exorcism” online.

    Since we are meticulous about religious terms: “imprimatur” means “Let it be printed”, so it really should only be applied to published matter.

  • Bill

    Will #13 wrote, “Since we are meticulous about religious terms: “imprimatur” means “Let it be printed”, so it really should only be applied to published matter.”

    Thanks, Will. Good catch.

  • http://myfatherschild.net Jenny

    Hector wrote: “I’m not sure Christians have any particular warrant to believe in ghosts (though we do, of course, believe in demons). Souls in purgatory are, by definition, not here on earth. (They’re also, while suffering, living in joyful hope, so I doubt they would be hanging around harassing people).”

    While holy souls may be in purgatory, we don’t know where purgatory is, or if it is even a “place” in the same way we think of a particular destination here on earth. Many theologians allow that God may give permission for a holy soul to do its penance (or part of it) on earth, especially in the vicinity that caused problems. I remember reading a passage from a priest in the 1800′s to whom God revealed the fate of a holy soul – she was doing penance outside the door of the church, and could not enter the church, because of the number of times she had attended Mass and been disrespectful and/or inattentive. Another soul had to stay in her coffin and watch her physical body rot in reparation for her vanity.

    While I don’t believe that the holy souls “harass” people, I do think it is possible that some suffer among us. That is why we all should be praying for them, for they cannot help themselves anymore and can only suffer. We can offer them one of the greatest charities by aiding them with our prayers and speed up their release to heaven.

    St. Gertrude was given a prayer by Christ that promised to release 1,000 souls from purgatory when recited with love and devotion. The prayer is as follows and I hope many are able to say it often:

    Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal church, in my home, and within my family.

    Blessings, Friends!


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