In movies, exorcisms are usually performed by quaking priests. They loom over victims, gnashing under the weight of Satan's power. In Australia, exorcisms are performed by mums in lounge rooms. And Lizzy Rose, working out of her home in the Melbourne suburb of Keilor, is one of the country's busiest.
Welcoming me into her home, Lizzy is warm and chatty, although I'm not really sure what I expected an exorcist to be like. She leads me through to her neat kitchen and we make some small talk by the sink—she apologises for the mess, she's renovating and has had a few people through the house today. If it wasn't for the huge pentagram painted onto the bare concrete floor a few meters away, Lizzy could just be your mum talking about getting new carpet put down.
The rest of Lizzy's space is decorated with crystals and trinkets. The back wall is covered by second large fabric pentagram. Taking a closer look at the ground, I realise the mess she was talking about is actually salt, wine, and other ingredients scattered about during the countless rituals she's performed in here. "Well, you know, it's a living space. It isn't meant to be perfect," I offer, unsure what the polite response is when some apologies for the state of their pentagram.
Lizzy Rose goes by many several titles—exorcist, clairvoyant, witch, psychic—but when asked to sum up what's at the core of her practice, she's clear: "My work is about healing and empowering that other person."
The rhetoric is familiar in the waves of wiccan products and messaging flooding culture at the moment. But while crystals, smudge sticks, and tarot cards have become popular housewarming gifts, the thought of ripping a demon out of someone still makes most people uneasy. And yet, despite the fact exorcisms haven't joined aura readings as birthday party activities, Lizzy has noticed they're becoming more popular. Each week, she receives 20 to 40 calls enquiring about exorcisms. Three people called her, one after the other, just before I arrived.
Last year, the International Association of Exorcists warned of an "extraordinary increase in demonic activity." Lizzy puts the rise in requests down to swelling media coverage of the practice and "society being more accepting and interested in other forms of healing."
The demand might be there, but she's quick to stress that interest doesn't always mean business—she's careful of who she treats. Out of dozens of calls, she estimates she only performs two to three exorcisms every seven to 10 days. Deciding who needs her help is a process: "People can't just ring up and say, 'I need and exorcism.' I hear it all the time, 'I'm possessed, I have a demon, I have a genie, I need you to get rid of it, I just need to book in for an exorcism.'"
So first Lizzy asks prospective clients to undergo a high level psychic reading to "see what is attached" to them. Sometimes it's an entity, but often it's tied to issues such as substance abuse, mental illness, and other trauma. The idea of a vulnerable person with possible physical or psychiatric issues going to a psychic is problematic, no matter how friendly they are. The devil aside, the modern history of exorcism is concerning. Since the William Friedkin's film The Exorcist brought the practice into the mainstream in 1973, tens of people have died during ceremonies that went awry. In addition to physical harm is the reality that many of the people seeking an exorcist's help are using it as a substitute for traditional medical treatment.
Lizzy doesn't deflect the moral complexities of her work, "It's very important to me that a person is accurately diagnoses." Often people will sit in a reading for hours, only for her to decide their problem is emotional, not supernatural. Out of all the people who come to her, Lizzy deems only two or three out of a 100 to be possessed. She can usually tell soon after meeting them that something is up: "you will see and sense if there are other presences that aren't just deceased relatives, spirit guides or their own aura."
In cases she feels are not demonic, she encourages the subject to seek medical health. She has developed a working relationship with a local GP who she often refers people to for additional support. Conveniently a member of her coven is a doctor / druid who works at a large government hospital. He also provides ongoing advice and support. "It is a big duty of care that you have as a psychic, or medium or exorcist. You can change someone's whole life for better or worse. People rely on you and will make extreme life choices based on what you have said. So you have to take it very seriously," she continues.
After doing this for her whole adult life, Lizzy is pretty comfortable with most exorcisms. She begins by speaking to the individual about their own personal beliefs. While she claims worshipers of all religions attract "very similar symptoms of an energy," she curates her ceremonies to speak to the doctrine they engage with.
There are some extreme cases that aren't straight forward, and still leave her shaken though. These may involve a person who can't speak, eat, walk and has become violent. She describes them as "typical horror movies, walking up the wall and spurting blood, contorting and breaking bones. Things you know the person isn't doing it to themselves." These cases are rare, she has seen no more than six in her whole life. But during them she claims to have been hit, held down and dragged by an entity. "You come out looking black and blue. Things fly around and move, very sudden and quick, and that can be very alarming." Those ones she does out of the house.
Although she didn't have the vocabulary for the work, Lizzy has been engaging in these worlds since she was a child. Her Seventh-day Adventists family weren't supportive of her interests, but the owners of a property her mother worked on served as her first introduction to paganism. They taught her about plants, oils, practices and the natural world. She didn't start using words like witchcraft and psychic till she moved to Melbourne as a 19 year old in the late 80s.
While the act for exorcism is deeply rooted in Catholic traditions, Lizzy's own beliefs are a patchwork of faiths, mysticism and fringe science. When asked where these entities come from and return to she describes a chanel or a doorway that lays over our bodies and leads into the "other dimension." She defines that as: "the other dimension is many dimensions, but it's easier to explain from our plane to another plane that a door is opened, and energy or entities are passed through. That goes to either above or below this galaxy. It's good to send it (the entity) back to where it came from."
Obviously this stuff is hard to explain or prove. Sitting across from her the earnestness is obvious, but on a clear Friday afternoon it's tough to picture demons flooding this room in the place of sunlight. Still I do ask if she has any tips for avoiding possession. Just incase.
Most of the time, she assures me, trouble will leave you alone unless you go looking for it. But she does warn off messing with Ouija boards and seances. She sees a disproportionate amount of tweens and teenagers: "I get it all the time, particularly Catholic girls. They'll be having a slumber party and they think it's fun and light hearted and then boom, they're possessed." Basically, don't mess with something you don't understand. "It's like turning on a light and saying, we're open for business, open to being possessed, and if you happen to have something nasty flying by it will see it and enter."
Before we go, as we stand around taking photos and admiring her sleepy labrador puppy. Talk returns to the renovation. She wants to put down floorboards, I enthusiastically tell her they'll look great. She agrees, they'll also serve as the base of her final pentagram which will be built on top of the one we're standing on. That one will be drawn in blood. "Whose blood?" I ask, uneasy for the first time since I arrived. "Oh, mine of course," she replies quickly. It makes sense, she's so nice, I can't imagine her wanting to bother someone by drawing theirs.
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More cults, please:
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.