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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Peculiar Case of the Bruner Boys - Dæmonic Possession

In the annals of dæmonic possession, or "diabolepsy" (a term abandoned due to its similarity to epilepsy, which many skeptics think explains away many so-called cases of dæmonic possession), the peculiar case of the Bruner boys, Theobald and Joseph, is pretty tough to beat.

Though the events which plagued the children occurred from 1865 to 1869, it remains one of the most well-known and accepted cases of "modern" dæmonic possession due to the breadth of symptoms the boys showed, and the documentation of their affliction. From levitation to contortions to glossalia (a specific type of "speaking in tongues," whereby the possessed demonstrates a worldly knowledge of languages s/he could not possibly know, often demonstrated by answering questions posed in one foreign language in another) to the vomiting of foul-smelling articles the boys had never eaten -- if the accounts are to be believed, little else explains the Bruner boys' impossible behavior.

The diabolic events began in 1865 when the Bruner boys started drawing "horrible Devil faces" on their bedroom walls and talking playfully to them for hours. Their bedroom was said to be unnaturally hot despite not being heated. The boys would run and hide from clergymen who visited the house and were said to hide under their covers whenever Rosary beads were placed on their bed. True to form, they would begin cursing and writhing in the presence of Holy items, and soon took to their bed.

Joseph, the younger of the two, displayed fewer, and less fervent, signs of possession than his older brother, who began speaking in foreign tongues and dialects unknown to him, including English. Theobald Bruner also showed knowledge of outside events (clairvoyance, clairaudience) and correctly predicted the deaths of others several times (precognition, or maybe prophecy), which he often did by kneeling beside his bed to mimic the ringing of a mourning bell.

In one such event which included all of the above, a local man's daughter was visiting the house when Theobald predicted her father's demise. Shocked and angered, the girl spat, "You liar! My father is not even ill," to which Theobald responded, "That may be, but he just had a fall." No one in the entire village knew this had happened, but Theobald was correct; Gregor Kunegel had fallen from a scaffold at the precise moment Theobald had made the ringing motion.

Things only got worse from there:

The boys would simultaneously bend backward on their heads and legs, their backs arched high, and nothing could right them "until the Devil saw fit to give these objects of his torture some temporary peace." Every few hours, the boys would entangle their legs so impossibly and intricately that no one could untangle them but the children themselves, who would do so "suddenly... with lightning speed." Their little bellies would bloat and distend to the point of bursting before they would vomit "yellow foam, evil-smelling feathers, and seaweed" which inexplicably covered their clothes, no matter how often they were changed and cleaned. The stench was so foul that their clothes had to be burned.

The children's bed levitated, even with their mother on it; furniture flew around their room; doors flew open of their own accord; the entire house shook.

Finally, Theobald was sent to an Orphanage in Schiltigheim, near Strasbourg. Upon arriving, he was forced to remain in front of the altar. It took three men to hold him there. He remained silent for three days, drooling yellow foam, but on the fourth, he said, "I have come and I am in a rage." When one of the nuns asked, "And who are you?" He responded, "I AM THE LORD OF DARKNESS!"

Joseph was eventually sent to join his brother and a prolonged Exorcism of the two boys began. One of the more curious manifestations of the possession was when the brothers' heads were so infested with bright red lice that a team of four people with brushes and combs could not keep pace with them. These were dispelled by sprinkling Holy water on their heads. Theobald had to be restrained by straitjacket, as he ripped at himself and his clothing and tried to break everything in reach. His Exorcism took a full three days, after which he fell into a deep slumber, or possibly coma. Joseph's Exorcism took only three hours, after which he too fell into a deep sleep. When the boys awoke, neither remembered what had happened to them.

Theobald Bruner died two years later at age 16. Joseph lived to the age of 25. The events which plagued the Bruner boys for those four years have never been fully explained by conventional means.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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