Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Brightshadow Memos: Exorcism

[OK folks, some people may find this offensive, but as usual, I am merely taking some of the weirdness around us and deconstructing it into something that can be made light of. Note the tag on the post. Also note that the news stories linked herein are actually quite fascinating, particularly the cultural reactions in Mexico. There is a deeper, more human, actually real subject to be delved into here, if one so desires, but that is in no way the intent of this post.]

Sir, I have collated the information you requested on the subject of exorcism, and I must say that the official position of Project Brightshadow remains indeterminate. The idea of subtle entities invading or possessing humans is a fairly pervasive myth, which tends to give it some credence. However, there are quite a few… shall we say, more grounded reasons why such behaviors occur. Still, Christianity remains a huge influence around the world, and there is plenty of support for exorcism in the Bible. Christianity also has a way of absorbing older traditions into it, which can mask, or reveal, older traditions and legends.

The Catholic church revised the rite of exorcism to include the possibility mental illness in 1999, but retains the strict hierarchical requirements of its traditions. Protestant exorcism is as splintered as the various sects, though it tends to be flavored by the same focuses that differentiate the sects from one another. And of course, many of the powers that can be granted via demonic possession can also be granted through divine favor, making the discernment of demons and angels subject to the eye of the beholder.

Economic woes, traditionalism, and isolationism can all contribute to greater belief in, or perhaps greater awareness of, the supernatural. As such, recent years have seen the public view of exorcism and exorcists to rise again. Whether it is caused by cultural impact, such as the brutal drug cartel violence in Mexico, or simple capitalistic business opportunities, or indeed an actual rise in demonic activity likely varies on a case by case basis. And this without even touching on non-Christian beliefs.

One thing is certain, in our post-modern, post-Buffy age, a trio of pretty, young, female exorcists can only exist so long before reality TV comes knocking. As usual, we will continue to collect intelligence as we can.

If you are in a horror game, the subject of exorcism is bound to come up at some point, and it does provide a myriad of tropes to follow, twist, and subvert to keep things interesting. As with all real-life things, and horror in general for that matter, know your group before you go there. Religion can be touchy, and the Adversary doubly so. That said, here are a few things to start your creative juices flowing should you want your group to encounter an exorcist NPC.
  1. The exorcist is a charlatan and knows it. If the PCs are ghost or demon busters, this character may follow them around to figure out how they pull off such convincing cons. And if he/she accidentally interferes in that rather important containment ritual…
  2. The exorcist is a charlatan who knows it, but believes he/she is genuinely helping the rubes. Call 'em a professional placebo. This character makes a good likely revenge target, both for relatives of someone who was ripped off and for any demons insulted by the fake exorcism attempt.
  3. The exorcist is a charlatan who does not know it. Can the PCs convince them they aren't helping, and may in fact be making things worse? What happens when he/she encounters a real spirit/demon?
  4. The exorcist is genuine. The character can save the PC's bacon and become a valuable mentor/aid, or could be an antagonist who believes the PCs are interfering in God's work.
  5. The exorcist is genuine but does not know it. Fighting demons tends to make cranky, powerful, supernatural enemies. If a con-artist out to make a buck happens to be using the real/correct rituals to foster a sense of authenticity, they may be getting themselves into situation where they will need protection or rescuing.
  6. The exorcist is genuine but does not believe it. Perhaps he/she is the one key to dispelling a certain malignant entity, and is thus a high-priority target who must be protected through a gauntlet of horror long enough to be convinced or for their power to be triggered.
  7. The exorcist is genuine and wants nothing to do with it. Perhaps freaked out by a prior encounter, he/she must be convinced they can do good by exercising their power once again.
  8. The exorcist is working for the enemy. Maybe the ritual is inverted, opening the victim up to possession. Maybe the cultist is identifying 'marginals' who can be influenced and offering a better life, with just a very minor catch. This one is particularly applicable for evil forces of the long-game or corporatized bent (such as Wolfram & Hart from TV's Angel).

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