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A Family Bewitched: The Hoffman Poltergeist

Chris Woodyard

I am in the throes of the Big Push for The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past and said throes are cutting into my sleep. So in the interests of time, today I’m going to revisit a story from The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales. There you will find a much fuller account of an entity labeled “IT” by those it tormented, in a chapter called “A Family Bewitched: The Hoffman Poltergeist of Wooster.”

I like to think that I’m pretty well up on the literature of poltergeists. Slashing polts like the ones you will read about below are found as least as early as the 15th century. It is puzzling, if you believe that all poltergeist activities are merely pranks caused by mischievous teenaged girls, how their activities follow the same patterns, remaining unchanged over the centuries. Personally, I think polts are a form of spontaneous PK arising from trauma and repression. Polt vectors are likely to be frustrated, angry, or even abused individuals, who feel that they have no choices and cannot solve the problems they face.  Hormonal shifts seem to play a role, whether in puberty, menstruation, or menopause. Dissociative behavior is often part of the picture. What the mechanism is, I haven’t an earthly….

As I outlined in another chapter in FITW, “Rock, Fire, and Scissors: The Mysterious Poltergeist,” poltergeists often have specialities. There are the garden-variety ones who throw household items and rap on walls; there are ones who materialize water; there are the stone-throwing devils or lithobolia; incendiary poltergeists like the tragic Minnie Merkle in “Haunted by Fire: A Fire-Spook in Springfield,” from FITW. Lastly, there are the slashing poltergeists who shred clothing and other textiles in what feels like a very personal, intimate attack. While IT did many things to the unhappy Hoffman family, its attack on their wardrobes was one of the most interesting (and distressing) features of the case. Here is a representative article about IT’s depredations.


There have recently been doings in Wayne County, Ohio (reports the New York Times), as marvellous as any that ever frightened Cotton Mather, or mystified Dr. Johnson. In the little city of Wooster there lives a quiet and respectable family, named Hoffman, which for nearly two years has been haunted and tortured by malignant spirits. The persistent demons cannot be entreated or exorcised away; and their proceedings bear a like close resemblance to those of divers familiar imps conjured up by modern spiritualists, and to those of the famous Cock Lane ghost of a century ago.

The mysterious pranks that afflict the Hoffman family were begun in June 1869, while the family lived in Millersburg, Holmes   County, Ohio. At that date, by way of keynote or prologue to the weird drama to come, Mr. Hoffman one day lost two dollars from his purse. He did not at first attribute this to any Satanic or supernatural agency, although he felt subsequently called on to do so. Prudently resolving to hide his money more carefully in future, he went his way. But put his loose cash where he might, the cunning depredator spied it out and relieved him of it. The poor man soon found that it was absolutely impossible to keep any funds about him at all; and this was only the beginning of his woes. Articles of food and of dress began to disappear in the same unaccountable way. Crockery fell from shelves without the aid of human hands, and was smashed to pieces. Stones, eggs, and other small objects were tossed wildly about the house; and now and then the unseen tricksters got up a little shower of gravel and sand, which would be playfully thrown in the faces of the inmates.

The family were at first very naturally surprised and annoyed; afterwards they got alarmed, and having unsuccessfully tried every means that occurred to them, both to discover the cause of these visitations and to put a stop to them, they resolved to quit their home. Mr. Hoffman took another house for his wife and three children—the latter being aged twenty-seventeen, and fifteen respectively—in the town of Wooster, at some distance from their former abode; while, with the discretion that appears to characterise him, he took up his own temporary quarters at a mill where he was employed. The family now hoped to remain unmolested; but they soon found to their chagrin how trivial were the impediments of space or locality to their malefic attendants. The prudent Hoffman, indeed, escaped further attentions; but his spouse was less fortunate. That lady and her offspring being domiciled at the house of one Snooks, in West Liberty Street, Wooster, [Spitzer B&B is at 504 W Liberty St] now became the victims of an extraordinary series of persecutions. The clothes of the mother and eldest daughter were first abstracted and then returned in fragments, having been cut and slashed to pieces. Sometimes the garments would be stuffed in out-of-the-way places. One day, for example, most of the linen of the family was discovered carefully packed in the mouth of the cellar drain. Another time a silk dress was found under a wood pile; and skirts were dug up that had been deliberately buried in earth or sand.

A fresh feature was now added to the entertainment, in the shape of notes that arrived, none knew from whence, although they sometimes appeared to be thrown form the cellar. These missives contained various threats and admonitions. One of the number advised Mrs. Hoffman, in a friendly way, that if she would come down the cellar stairs backward on her knees, at a specified day and hour, she would find a box containing 2,000 dollars. The worthy lady was anxious to clutch the glittering prize, but “being afraid of bodily injury, was dissuaded by neighbours from making the hazardous attempt.” It occurred to her, not unreasonably, that the task might be more wisely undertaken by her husband; and she therefore repaired to that cautious person at his mill, and induced him to go with her to Wooster. The spirits, however at this juncture, promptly transmitted another note to the effect that no one could possibly get the money but herself; and we are not surprised to hear by the latest accounts that hit has not yet been secured. By way of amends for this disappointment, the concealed powers have begun a new and lively round of diversions. Poundings are heard on the walls at night, stones from the size of pebbles to that of a man’s fist are pitched through the doors and windows, dishes rattled, and “a general rumpus is created, as if imps were holding high revelry.” A bold young man, a visitor, having said something disrespectful of the unseen agencies, a red-hot stone was dropped on his head, and on taking out his pocket-handkerchief, he found it was cut into shreds. All sorts of mystifications are practised. Mr. Hoffman, for instance, answered one of the “spirit notes,” and put his reply in the cellar; but just as he got upstairs into the room above, “his own note dropped on the floor by his side—all his family being present.”

The family are now quite impoverished by the thefts and other ravages of their demoniac tormentors. Mrs. Hoffman and her daughters have no clothes save those worn by them daily on their backs; while the husband and father has only a single worn old working suit left to him. Nearly all the domestic utensils, such as plates, cups, and saucers, and even the table cutlery, have been either broken or carried away. Of course the obvious suggestion is that all this mischief has really been wrought by cunning mortals, and not by spirits at all, and that, as with the artful William Parson and his family in 1761, discovery, if long averted, must be certain at last. The local press declares that most careful watch has been kept, and that hundreds of men and women have visited and inspected the premises without being able to suggest any clue to the mystery. Several clergymen and physicians have investigated it, and a circle of professed spiritualists have likewise essayed to do so. As yet no light whatever has been thrown on the matter, and, so far as the postponement of detection goes, this Ohio ghost must certainly be allowed to surpass in cunning his predecessor of Cock Lane, who so marvellously perplexed the wise heads of last century. The Week’s News [London, England] 20 May, 1871: p. 628

The original article appeared in The New York Times 24 May 1871

The Cock-Lane Ghost was the talk of 1762 London. Although the manifestations were of a poltergeist type, they were attributed to the ghost of the restless spirit of “Scratching Fanny,” a former resident of the house. She rapped out that she had been murdered by her husband. He denied it and claimed that someone was trying to extort money from him. The case was investigated by Dr. Samuel Johnson himself. Spoiler Alert: A 12-year-old girl was responsible. You can read more about the story in Dr. Johnson’s account in The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1763, or in Cock Lane and Common Sense, Andrew Lang, 1894. “Cock-Lane Ghost” was used in the 19th century papers as shorthand for any sensational ghost story, perhaps as we might say, “It was a real Amityville Horror case,” or “The place was like something out of The Shining.”

As with so many poltergeist cases, this one doesn’t really have a satisfactory ending, where, after an exorcism, the torment stops; a teenaged girl is caught red-handing throwing something; or an enemy is discovered trying to drive the family out of a property for reasons of malice or greed.

After the Hoffman family left Wooster, they went to Akron where the family seemed to shatter. Mrs. Hoffman, who had been told by some mediums that she herself had the Power, and her son, Jacob, lived in an apartment while Mr. Hoffman worked as a teamster and lived in a boarding house a few blocks away.  Husband and wife did not divorce, but they never lived together again. I have theorized that Mrs. Hoffman, at a hormonally difficult time of life, might have been the poltergeist vector.  Many of the stories about this case stress how Mr. Hoffman was left unscathed–until his wife begged him to move to Wooster and “protect” them and help her get the money she thought was in the basement.

Given the information I have, it’s not possible to prove who was responsible. If you just look at the case in a symbolic way, it becomes still more baffling. Food, clothing, and money were the targets–everything essential for life.  But what was the motive? Someone was furiously angry: stealing money and food and chopping up the family’s clothing—its second skin, as it were–was a highly aggressive and personal attack. I don’t have any answers. I can only suggest that IT ultimately destroyed the family as thoroughly as it shredded their clothing and possessions.



Businessman bought a ghost town, believed in mysticism and decided to stay there forever

Two years ago, a young American businessman Brent Underwood bought a ghost town. Once there was a silver mine, shots rang out every day and famous gangsters from the Wild West met. And now – almost nobody, and a few hours’ journey to the nearest store. Underwood arrived in his city in early March, and after two months in complete solitude decided to stay there for a long time. 

In the summer of 2018, Brent Underwood received an offer that is difficult to refuse. “Want to buy a ghost town?” – asked a friend.

Prior to the purchase of Cerro-Gordo, Brent Underwood was engaged in marketing books and enjoyed some fame in this area. In 2016, he decided to demonstrate the simplicity with which crooks and crooks “wind up” the ratings of the largest online store Amazon, and in a matter of minutes brought a best-selling photograph of his own leg. When the media wrote about the trick, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos phoned Underwood.

The message was accompanied by a link to a note on the sale of Cerro Gordo – an abandoned town in the days of the Wild West. “At first I took it for a stupid joke, but still clicked on the link and began to read,” says Underwood.

It turned out that Cerro Gordo is located in the mountains on the edge of the Death Valley. The city appeared in 1865, when silver was found in those places. Entrepreneurial people from all over California immediately rushed there.

Three years later, businessman Mortimer Belshaw settled in Cerro Gordo. He quickly put the mining of precious metal on a big foot and soon sent the first wagon loaded with silver bullion to Los Angeles. Each ingot was 45 centimeters long and weighed 36 kilograms.

The first approach was followed by others. A year later, more silver and lead was mined in the town than in other mines in California. In just a few years, the thousands of miners who gathered in Cerro Gordo dug underground tunnels with a length of almost 60 kilometers.

Near the mine appeared a church, five hotels, seven saloons and two brothels – one on each edge of the city. A fort was built nearby that protected the locals from the Indians.

There was little entertainment: the miners gambled, drank a lot and visited prostitutes. Any quarrel ended in a shootout. Every week someone was killed, and it was possible to die even by accident. In order not to fall under the stray bullet, the workers had to sleep behind sandbags.

It was a true Wild West from Westerns. It was rumored that Butch Cassidy, the famous robber of banks and trains, was hiding in Cerro Gordo. The walls of the Belshaw mansion, which still stands, still have 156 bullet holes, and a blood stain in the hotel’s gaming room

Ten years later, the reserves of the precious metal were noticeably depleted, and the fall in silver prices that began at the end of the 19th century signed the city’s death sentence. The miners went somewhere, and Cerro Gordo was empty. At the beginning of the 20th century, it experienced a revival when zinc was mined there, but this boom was short-lived. In the 1930s, the mine was finally closed, and only its owner lived in the city until 1957. After his death, no one was left in Cerro Gordo.

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The American Hotel. Established 1871

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People returned to the city only in 1985. One of the surviving houses was occupied by a distant relative of the former owner of Cerro Gordo, Jody Patterson, along with her husband Mike. Jody from 1973 in parts bought the city from his uncle’s wife, who inherited it, and by 1984 became his full owner. She lived there until her death and is buried in the cemetery of Cerro Gordo.

Mike Patterson did not leave Cerro Gordo when Jody died and turned it into a tourist attraction. Wild West lovers could rent a bedroom in Belshaw’s house for $ 150 a day, or spend the night in a former workers’ dormitory for $ 300. The toilet, as in the 19th century, was in the courtyard, but the guests did not complain.

One woman wrote a thank-you letter and praised me for having talcum powder in the street toilet. It didn’t immediately reach me that she had in mind quicklime to be thrown into a cesspool

Mike Patterson, former owner of Cerro Gordo

Patterson’s relatives put up for sale the city. By that time, the only inhabitant in Cerro Gordo was the voluntary caretaker Robert Demare. A former school teacher moved there in the late 1990s in the hope of finding silver. “For 22 years, I have found the equivalent of a full wheelbarrow of silver,” he claimed in 2019.

22 buildings survived in Cerro Gordo: several houses where the miners lived, a working dormitory, a hotel, a church and a former store in which Mike Patterson set up something like a museum. The city had an electric generator and water supply (although only in three buildings), but to get to the nearest store, it was necessary to drive for more than 40 kilometers. 

But Demare got used to the life of a hermit. Year after year, he repaired broken windows, cleaned up the garbage that “bad people” throw, he said, once a month poured potholes on a country road and shot snakes and rats. Koyotov, the caretaker never touched them: he considered these animals “important and wonderful creatures.”

Own city

Underwood got the idea to buy Cerro Gordo. He already had a small tourism business: a small hostel with five employees in Austin. But the real city of the times of the Wild West is a completely different matter. He believed that this was the ideal place for modern tourism, where a beautiful Instagram picture is more important than anything else. In addition, such a picturesque wilderness can attract creative people.

The sellers expected to receive 925 thousand dollars for Cerro Gordo. Underwood and his acquaintance were ready to give all the savings for him, but there was still not enough money. To collect the necessary amount, they had to look for investors. Somehow, Underwood managed to interest the former marketing director of American Apparel, one of the leaders of Hulu and several other large businessmen. This made it possible to scrape together 1.4 million dollars.

Several more buyers claimed Cerro Gordo, and some of them offered larger amounts for it, but the sellers liked Underwood’s idea. So he and his friend became the owners of their own city.

At first, in Cerro Gordo, everything remained the same. Underwood paid the caretaker a salary and visited him once a month. He was planning to surf the Internet, build a viewing platform and equip a music studio in a former dormitory, but soon discovered that it was far from easy. “Things went very slowly over the next year or so,” he recalls. “We were waiting for permissions and tried to start the reconstruction, but it took a lot of time to do everything, because it is very difficult to bring materials and people there.”

The ghost town was an expensive pleasure. About 10 thousand dollars were spent on repaying loans, salaries, utilities and satellite Internet every month. And this is without repair: as it turned out, even replacing a broken pump for water supply costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When the epidemic started, the ranger called Underwood. “His wife lives in Arizona, and he wanted to return to her until they introduced quarantine measures,” he says. “He asked me to keep an eye on the city so that it would not be looted.” I thought that I’ll take care of the repair and maybe I’ll start renting out the houses for the guests. ”

Snow Isolation

The businessman arrived in Cerro Gordo in the midst of heavy snowfall. The car got stuck in the snowdrifts, not reaching the city half a kilometer. “I threw it in the middle of a single-lane road and walked the rest of the way on foot,” says Underwood. – It snowed almost daily for another ten days. It got to the point that I could barely open the front door. “

By March 19, when California introduced a regime of self-isolation, it was ideally isolated by nature itself. It was almost impossible to get out of Cerro Gordo before the snow melted. “For the most extreme case, there are snowshoes, but they will have to cover 11 kilometers along a steep slope,” says Underwood. He tried them on and was out of breath just a few meters away.

The food they had taken with them quickly dried up, but the ranger left a large supply of rice and canned food. To get water, Underwood melted snow. You can’t watch Netflix over the slow satellite internet , so he had to look for other entertainment.At dawn, he went for a walk, studied his possessions during the day, and photographed the starry sky at night.

Underwood walked around the mine and found graffiti made in 1938 on the mine wall. He had extra furniture, so he moved the sofa, carpet and floor lamp there, arranging something like an underground shelter. In the house where the former owner lived, a huge collection of old video cassettes was found, including a copy of Kubrick’s The Shining. His characters were also stuck in a snowy mountain hotel, and it ended badly. Underwood decided not to watch it.

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Day 71 at Fat Hill

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Locals believed that true ghosts inhabit Cerro Gordo. Several years ago, a documentary was shot in the city about the ghosts of dead children in one of the mansions, and the former owner of Cerro Gordo, Mike Patterson, kept a picture of a man’s face appearing on a window net. He believed that it was the ghost of Alfonso Benoit, who was killed more than a century ago in a nearby lumberjack camp.

Underwood lived in the same room where they saw children’s ghosts. He did not wait for their visit, but nevertheless noticed something strange. Most of all, he was embarrassed that in the working dormitory, curtains open from time to time and the light turns on. Just in case, he decided to bypass this place.

The longer I live here, the more I come across things that I can’t explain. Until I bought the city, I completely did not believe in this

Brent Underwood

Underwood was occupied by ghosts of a different kind. In one of the houses he came across a suitcase with the belongings of a miner who worked in Cerro Gordo during the zinc boom. Inside was his whole life: bank statements, applications for withdrawal of plots, unpaid checks, lawsuits, love letters and divorce documents. “This man had hopes and dreams, ups and downs, and all that was left was a suitcase full of papers,” says Underwood. 

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I found this briefcase a few days when cleaning out the old general store at Cerro Gordo. It was neatly tucked under an old blanket, under a counter, behind piles of furniture and junk that hadn’t been touched in decades. The briefcase is made of paper that still shows bourbon at $0.69 a bottle.⁣ ⁣ I opened it to find hundreds of documents – bank statements, checks, mining claims, lawsuits over unpaid accounts, contracts to sell ore, contracts to buy land, and even a divorce from the Supreme Court that cited “extreme cruelty.” ⁣ ⁣ The highs and lows of former miners lives, all spelled out in faded ink and crumpled contracts. It’s strange going through a box like that. You’re hesitant to touch anything in fear you’ll damage history But as I sifted through the box I found records of three former miners – a Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Leary, and Mr. Carothers. All three miners that tried their hand at the American dream. ⁣ ⁣ In the bit of research I could do it seems Mr. Leary was born in 1881. Mr. Reynolds in 1884, and Mr. Carothers in 1893. They all were miners by trade. All staked their own mining claims and tried their hand at the American dream. The letters and lawsuits lay out the difficulty of that path. But in the other letters is an overwhelming sense of hope. A hope that the next drilling will bring the riches they’ve been searching for. The hope of a dreamer you can still feel today in Cerro Gordo.⁣ ⁣ Here is a few of the documents:⁣ ⁣ 1. briefcase showing the start of documents⁣ ⁣ 2. briefcase in old general store (not where it was found, but placed on shelf)⁣ ⁣ 3. checks from 1926 for $20 and $31.65 and a check from 1931 for $20⁣ ⁣ 4. a mining lease Mr. Leary took out in 1934⁣ ⁣ 5. a letter to Mr. Leary in 1934 from the Utah Junk Company offering to buy 200 tons of his zinc ore⁣ ⁣ 6. the final decree of divorce in 1939 for Mr. Reynolds citing “extreme cruelty” ⁣ ⁣ 7. a lawsuit from 1943 demanding Mr. Reynolds to pay $10.66 to Lone Pine Lumber⁣ ⁣ 8. Mr. Carother’s income tax return from 1945. He made $2,386.22. Occupation: Miner⁣ ⁣ 9. Mr. Carother’s bank statements from 1952. He had $89.70 in his Bank of America account.⁣ ⁣ 10. A letter to Mr. Carothers from a f

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With the help of experts from Reddit, the entrepreneur learned to understand the tracks of animals in the snow. It turned out that his porch regularly visits a lynx. Other footprints were left by coyotes and a bear, it seems. Underwood learned to cycle floors and was used to talking with a couple of local ravens, whose names were Hekil and Jekyll. He liked life in a ghost town more and more.

The problems started when the snow fell. First, Underwood was hospitalized with appendicitis. And in early June, a fire broke out in Cerro Gordo. At three o’clock in the morning an old hotel broke out, then the fire spread to the glacier cellar and the house, where in the days of the Wild West there lived a man named William Crapo, who once shot a postman. “All I could do was call 911,” says Underwood. “And then, with the help of a caretaker, desperately pulling buckets of water from the tanks and trying to fill the flames.”

Perhaps we will never know how the fire started. Firefighters told me that there are a thousand different reasons. Anything could happen in such old buildings

Brent Underwood

The fire destroyed three buildings, but Underwood still expects that the city can be restored. Even before the caretaker returned, he decided that he would stay in Cerro Gordo for a long time. “I already plan what I will do next winter,” he admitted to a New York Times journalist who spoke with him before the fire. “Until then, I’m not going to go anywhere, so I need to prepare.”

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Enfield poltergeist: one of the most famous and mysterious paranormal phenomena, is still considered a mystery

The Enfield Poltergeist is still considered a mystery, but experts on the unknown do not get tired of trying to solve it.

Fans of horror probably watched the movie “The Conjuring 2”, as well as the series “The Enfield Haunting,” but they hardly know that these on-screen horrors are based on an absolutely real story. A series of paranormal events took place in the city of Anfield in 1977. The poltergeist, who terrorized a single mother and her children, was shot on photo and video equipment, but this did not help to get closer to his solution.

It all started when the children of Peggy Hodgson – 13-year-old Margaret, 11-year-old Janet, 10-year-old Johnny and 7-year-old Billy – began to complain to their mother that the furniture in their rooms moves at night. At first, the mother considered this a childhood fantasy, but when she saw how the heavy chest of drawers moved away from the wall by itself, and then fell into place, she had to believe in the incredible. Neighbors came to them – the first witnesses of inexplicable phenomena.

Experts came to understand the strange events and captured the frightening tricks of the poltergeist.

The mysterious something that lived in the house was rampant more and more – things flew around the rooms, dishes hit the walls, little Janet was thrown into the air.

The cries of children and the fright of those present seemed to amuse the invisible joker. And his tricks became more and more meaner and meaner.

Janet was especially hit. She now and then fell into a trance and spoke in other people’s voices. All this was recorded in the most conscientious manner in the photo and video.

Researchers who first encountered such a clear and aggressive spirit did not know how to help the Hodgson family.

After a year and a half, the poltergeist calmed down, and since then has reminded only in the nightmares of the younger members of the family. But things no longer flew, and the furniture did not move. 

The “favorite” of Poltergeist Janet, even having matured, recalled with trembling that period of her life.

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Vatican chief exorcist describes signs of devil obsession

Image: © Hernán Piñera

The main Catholic exorcist, father Gabriel Amort, who died in 2016, said that he had met the devil 60 thousand times in 30 years. The book of his colleague Marcello Stantsione, “The Devil is Afraid of Me,” describes priestly exorcism sessions and signs of obsession, reports the Daily Mail.

The exorcist claimed that he once encountered Satan in the morning of 1997 – then a young Italian was brought to his office in Rome. Amort noted that the possessed knew only his native language, but the spirit inside him spoke excellent English. The priest began a session of exile and demanded that the devil give his name. “He was shocked when he was told that the spirit is Lucifer himself,” the newspaper writes. When the exorcist ordered Lucifer to leave the Italian, the body of the young man tensed, ascended over the floor for several minutes, and then collapsed into a chair. After this, Satan admitted defeat and named the exact day and time when he left, Amorth said.

Father Amort became a student of the exorcist in 1986, and already in 1990 founded the International Association of Exorcists. First, he conducted sessions in the temple of the Holy Stairs, then moved to the headquarters of his order. According to Stationion, Amorth was famous for his sense of humor. “Amorth’s favorite joke was this:

“ Do you know why the devil runs away when he sees me? Because I’m uglier than him, ”” the memoir says.

The exorcist admitted that many of the people who came to him for sessions had mental problems that the psychologist best coped with. At the same time, he called several “symptoms” of obsession – headaches, stomach cramps, which can easily be confused with a common disease. The priest said that the devil hates Latin and prefers to speak English, even if the obsessed person does not know the language.

According to Amorth, 90 percent of the obsessed are Satanists, or people addicted to witchcraft sessions. In addition, he noted that the devil is often infused in middle-aged women who have a weakness for fortune telling.

Sessions of the expulsion of the devil are in great demand in the Vatican. In February 2018, it was reported that because of this, a special course in exorcism was taught at the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum in Rome.

The Vatican approved exorcism in 2014. Then the Catholic Church officially recognized the existence of the International Association of Exorcists. The organization, led by Amort, who died in 2016, now has about 400 members, 240 of them from Italy.

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