The Somersetshire Demoniac

On the 13th of June 1788, George Lukins, of Yatton, in Somersetshire,

was exorcised in the Temple Church at Bristol, and delivered from the

possession of seven devils by the efforts of seven clergymen.

Lukins was first attacked by a kind of epileptic fit, when he was going

about acting Christmas plays, or mummeries: this he ascribed to a blow

given by an invisible hand. He was afterwards seized by fits; during

which he declared with a roaring voice that he was the devil, and sung

different songs in a variety of keys. The fits always began and ended

with a strong agitation of the right hand; he frequently uttered

dreadful execrations during the fits: and the whole duration of this

disorder was eighteen years.

At length, viz. in June 1788, he declared, that he was possessed by

seven devils, and could only be freed by the prayers, in faith, of

seven clergymen. Accordingly, the requisite number was summoned, and the

patient sung, swore, laughed, barked, and treated the company with a

ludicrous parody on the Te Deum. These astonishing symptoms resisted

both hymns and prayers, till a small, faint voice admonished the

ministers to adjure. The spirits, after some murmuring, yielded to the

adjuration; and the happy patient returned thanks for his wonderful

cure. It is remarkable, that, during this solemn mockery, the fiend

swore, by his infernal den, that he would not quit his patient; an oath,

I believe, no where to be found but in the Pilgrim's Progress, from

whence Lukins probably got it.

Very soon after, the first relation of this story was published, a

person well acquainted with Lukins, took the trouble of undeceiving the

public, with regard to his pretended disorder, in a plain, sensible,

narrative of his conduct. He asserts, that Lukins's first seizure was

nothing else than a fit of drunkenness; that he always foretold his

fits, and remained sensible during their continuance. That he frequently

saw Lukins in his fits; in every one of which, except in singing, he

performed not more than most active young people can easily do. That he

was detected in an imposture with respect to the clenching of his hands.

That after money had been collected for him, he got very suddenly well.

That he never had any fits while he was at St. George's Hospital, in

London; nor when visitors were excluded from his lodgings by desire of

the author of the narrative: and that he was particularly careful never

to hurt himself by his exertions during the paroxysm.

Is it for the credit of this philosophical age, that so bungling an

imposture should deceive seven clergymen into a public act of exorcism?

This would not have passed even on the authors of the Malleus

Maleficarum; for they required signs of supernatural agency, such as

the suspension of the possessed in the air without any visible support,

or the use of different languages, unknown to the demoniac in his

natural state.

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