Forty Years of Exorcisms at a Miami Hospital

In 1974, an article appeared titled, "Exorcism Daily Occurrence at Miami Jackson Hospital". Your first thought is this was due to the notorious film, "The Exorcist".

However, according to Dr. Sukhdeo, the director of the Crisis Intervention Center at Miami Jackson Hospital at that time, the influx of patients as many as 900 in one month, had nothing to do with the film.  He described how patients came in asking for evil spirits to be driven from their body, apparently believing that their symptoms, whether mental or physical, were demonic in their origin. 

He described where many of these patients such as Haitians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and other West Islanders had a strong, cultural belief in the influence of evil spirits.  Bahamians complained of “jumbees” or ghosts inside of them that were causing them to hear voices.  Other patients believed they had been hexed, even to the point of thinking they would die at a specific time.  

​Dr Sukhdeo claimed their symptoms were based in hysteria, but learned not to contradict the patients, and just treated them based on their belief.  He didn’t detail exactly what his treatment methods were only that it didn’t involve any type of exorcism rituals.

In 2013, Dr. Benson Daitz wrote an article titled A Modern Exorcism, in which he describes his own experiences as a young doctor completing his residency at the same hospital, which served as the teaching hospital for the University Of Miami School Of Medicine.  Part of his training involved caring for sick inmates who were transported to Ward-D for their medical care.

He retells his experience with a young Cuban inmate named Jose, a recent arrestee, who appeared to be in some type of catatonic trance. Needles marks tracked his arm, testimony to his use of heroin.  He initially thought that Jose was schizophrenic; all he did was to sit in a lotus position without interacting with anyone around him.

Ron an ex-military, physician’s assistant who worked at Ward D at that time, explained to Dr. Daitz that years earlier an obispo or bishop from the santeria religion had taught him ceremonies to help the patient. According to Ron, a clue on Jose’s fingernails led him to believe what Jose needed was an exorcism, instead of a trip to the psych ward.  He said the invading spirit was elegua, a santeria god who put a spell on Jose. 

Dr Joan Halifax an anthropology PhD student, who recently gave talks about the belief in curses to the medical residents, was enlisted for help by Dr. Daitz.  They procured a list of items detailed by Ron, and assisted him in carrying out the exorcism in a laundry room where Jose was being housed. 

Jose’s reaction to the exorcism was favorable, and Dr. Daitz could never confirm if it was belief in the power of the ceremony, or just the soothing effects of “grooming” due to close contact with Ron, who accompanied Jose throughout the night before the exorcism. 

Many months after the ritual, Dr. Daitz learned from Ron that Jose had entered a drug rehab program, but he never heard anything further as to whether Jose was able to overcome his addiction and what became of Ron.  

Ward-D as described in the story was demolished in 1995.

As you read these articles, you might initially think that all these people suffered from some type of mental illness or were in the throes of an addiction. This mixed with their cultural backgrounds made them likely to believe they suffered from some type of supernatural attack.  When you total the numbers, hundreds per month (back in 1974), it begs the question, were all these patients just imagining they were victims of negative entities or curses, or were they truly engaged in a spiritual war for their souls?

Before you think all these cases are tied to superstition fostered by foreign lands, in 2013 a Wyoming woman claimed she suffered a heart attack after being sprayed with holy water during an exorcism ritual as reported by The Washington Times.  Wyoming 2013, is years and hundreds of miles removed from 1970s Miami.

How true to Hollywood’s version are negative influence from spiritual or demonic attachments? Possibly their presence is not identified by all the theatrics that sensational movies presented to the public as “signs” that a person is possessed.  

The indicators can be more subtle, insidious and perverse.  For example, Jose that catatonic patient from Dr. Daitz’s story, more than likely his addiction was a product of trauma combined with negative spiritual influence.  This addiction possibly separated him from his family and made him into a thief, a much more destructive effect than sitting still in a lotus position. Surely among all those patients that visited the halls of the hospital were those that became aware that something else dwelt close to their souls and mind, much like the “dark traveler” the psychopathic character Dexter Morgan refers to in the popular TV series Dexter, as the source for his horrific urges.

The effects of spiritual attachments can range from mostly benign symptoms, such as bodily aches and pains with no organic origin or justification, to an inability to overcome addictions, and finally to cases of violent and sociopathic behavior.  It is this dark thread that weaves in and out of these implausible stories, that allows this phenomenon to exist as it has for hundred of years.


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Sources
March 1, 1974, Sarasota Herald-Tribune / AP, page 3-B, Exorcism Daily Occurrence at Miami’s Jackson Hospital,

Chasmar, J. (2013, June 20). Exorcism-gone-awry lands Wyoming woman in hospital. Washington Times. Retrieved from www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/20/exorcism-gone-awry-lands-wyoming-woman-hospital

Daitz, B. (2013, Sept 25). A modern exorcism. The Atlantic. Retrieved from www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/09/a-modern-exorcism/279958