The Protestant Exorcism: a true story

Having spent most of the year lying on my side, I’ve spent a lot of time “in my head” lately. This along with my impending 39th birthday heralding the literal end of my 30s has resulted in a cascade of neural polaroids spilling out of a dusty box in the back of my mind I apparently haven’t gone near in ages.

One of these is one of those “life experiences” of which I’ve been a collector for so long. There are so many things I’ve done, if only for a day or a few weeks or months just to have been able to say I’ve done them. I’ve been a roofer, a landscaper, (almost) a timeshare salesman, a ghostwriter, written ad copy for old folks homes, kids’ toys and booze worked the night shift at a rural Waffle House on a highway, waited tables, bungee jumped, been tear gassed. Not all of these life experiences are ones I’d recommend trying, though some were fun and they were all certainly an experience.

One of the many strange things I’ve been party to in my life was a surreal experiment during a troubled time in my life. I’d had some major loss in my life I was dealing with and was engaging in some risky life choices. Around this time I ended up getting my arm branded with the band Psychic TV’s Temple of the Pyschic Youth symbol. This was shortly after I had had a chance to interview Genesis P-Orridge for Ghettoblaster magazine.

I’d been warned by my editor and his publicist that Gen could be very difficult, but after the interview we ended up just chatting about some of my creative ideas at the time. I remember being called “charming” and a “darling” which really bowled me over considering that an article from Alternative Guitar magazine when I was 12 or 13 about the history of Industrial Music led me to an interest in Psychic TV and William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique as well. So the idea of literally branding my arm with a third degree burn to commemorate the event seemed like a fairly natural progression for events.

I spent my last weekend in McMinnville, Tennessee with a friend’s sister and her girlfriend. We ended up just doing a bunch of drugs for three days straight leading up to the branding and also did me up in some french braids and goth makeup. I felt pretty badass, I have to say but that could have been also related to the mixture of drugs, primarily cannabis and various pharmaceuticals, I was using that weekend.

I ended up having to catch a ride to Athens, where I’d be moving into an antebellum boarding house run by a crazy, Pentecostal lady, with my grandparents. And yes, in addition to being my namesake, Philip Dougan was a Southern Baptist preacher. It was a long and awkward ride up into the mountains.

Once we got there though, the crazy Pentecostal lady whose name escapes me, seemed somewhat chill at first. She said she believed that God had sent me to her place which maybe should have been a red flag, but hey I had one of the few rooms with a bathroom and shower inside the room meaning I could pretty much disappear in my spot even though with the thin walls it seemed possible to hear a different neighbor through each paper-thin wall.

This lady, I want to make it clear, I believe she meant well. But what’s that they say about the road to hell? It’s paved over with good intentions. I would go to church with her on occasion and it was pretty appealing considering that 3/4 of the Sunday night service was just music worship and the house band sounded like a jam band, the preacher’s son a long-haired guitar player natch.

It really did have the feel of jamband festival when they’d turn the lights low and really slap one out. I’ve always been a bit uptight about expressions of religion like public prayer. If asked, I’ll step up to the task but it’s not the kind of thing I’d volunteer for, but at that church I’d find myself catching the contagion of the place. I’d find myself vocalizing and lifting my arms along with the rest of what some folks in Tennessee would refer to as “the holy rollers.”

So having had some decent experiences with the church, proper, I guess it felt safe enough to be worth any potential danger when I was offered the opportunity to be “exorcised” of the demonic influences that had led me to that sad little 19th century boarding home. I wasn’t convinced on the idea that I was possessed by any demons, or even that if I was this woman and the other couple of people from her church who partook in the rite would be able to banish them if there were any hangers-on, stowaaways of the soul variety.

It was around this time that I received some of the most quaint racism, I’d ever experience. I’ve not experienced tons of overt racism, but have a handful of experiences that span from innocuous to horrendous, humorous to horrific. This particular definitely sat towards the humorous/innocuous quadrant, though definitely further on the humorous axis than innocuous side, because it was f’ing hilarious.

I was informed, quite matter-of-factly and with no hint of intentional malice or racial prejudice, that by nature of my birth to an Arab man who practiced Islam, I have six demons about me at all times. I never stopped to ask if this goes for anyone who is the child of a Muslim. Is it the same for Malaysian Muslims for instance? Is this a one-off situation that is unique to me? Sadly, the world may never know.

Also during this whole process the three, two men and the crazy boarding house lady, would speak in tongues as they anointed my body with holy‚Ķ Bertolli olive oil that they didn’t even bother to put in something other than the Bertolli bottle it sat on at the Piggly-Wiggly. Needless to say, the fact that I managed this whole affair without ruining the whole thing and offending the folks putting the whole show on for my benefit by laughing.

I did however wonder why God would confer the gift of speaking in untranslateable angelic languages without also conferring the gift of discerning what the others speaking said angelic languages are also saying. I remember one of them would say they were anointing this area of my life, and another would pipe up with either, I already anointed that area of his life, or I’m anointing that area in prayer and olive oil right now. Once I had been reasonably seasoned, I must admit there was a strange, electric feeling but that’s probably just overstimulation. I had also recently been prescribed benzodiazepines for some panic attacks I’d been having at the time. This comes to play later, by the way. (Bad foreshadowing).

Now things were less fun later on. As mentioned, I was taking clonazepam at the time. Was prescribed three per day though I’d generally just take one or two when I felt an anxiety or panic attack coming on rather than keeping them in my system for fear of tolerance and dependence. The landlady did not approve of these however, considered them just “drugs” like any other drugs and technically I had to sneak alcohol into my place and make sure any evidence wasn’t found. It was only once and I ended up lectured for it.

Once ended up having an anxiety attack during one of the church sessions. As a result, they thought the best way to deal with it would be by crowding around me and all speaking in tongues at once and they laid on agitating hands. This of course had the opposite of the intended effect and what was an anxiety attack became a panic attack and my insistence that I needed to get back home and take a clonazepam was met with explanations of how psychotropic drugs were really evil and any mental illness was just a manifestation of demonic oppression. Once again, not super helpful at the time.

I managed to find a way out of the old boarding house, for a few weeks at least. Ended up living with a couple who I had met in town and scored weed from a couple of times. I split rent with them a couple months and things got increasingly tense until I ended up being kicked out shortly after paying for the upcoming month’s rent. Not the first time that trick has been pulled on me.

At this point, I found myself at the mercy of the crazy Pentecostal landlady again. Unfortunately, my private room with the rare private bathroom had been rented in my absence and I was now being offered a couch in a commons area that the Pentecostal lady referred to as “the whale’s belly.” Long story slightly shorter, I ended up finding it time to leave Athens, Tennessee not long after. But the exorcism and that old boarding home are never too far from my memory.

Now initially I had planned to have an ending here somewhere, but after starting this a couple weeks ago i forgot to get back to it and still wanted to have it released before Midnight on Halloween, so hopefully this little slice of my life didn’t disappoint too much however anticlimactic and rushed at the end it may be.