In the late-1940s, a boy who was living a normal life had his fate turned around when he went through several near death experiences. He then endured a nearly-two-month process of exorcisms from several priests for the small mistake he had made.  The priests that had performed these exorcisms gave this 14-year-old boy the pseudonym “Roland Doe.” What led Roland to this moment? His beloved aunt had given him an Ouija board as a gift and had taught him how to contact spirits with it. However, she had died shortly after teaching him. Roland, heartbroken about his deceased loved one, decided to contact her from the afterlife. However he contacted a demon instead.1

Priest banishing demons from Roland Doe’s body | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Before being possessed, Roland used an Ouija (Wee-gee) Board, which is a board usually made of wood with the alphabet spelled on it, as well as the words “yes” and “no,” and it may have numbers “0-9.” The board comes with a pointer that spirits are able to move onto each letter to make words to talk to you. Although it has been rumored that the Ouija Board had just appeared from nowhere, some say the first one was created in Maryland in the 1890s. After many disputes and law suits over what this board was in the 1920s, it was decided that it was not a religious device, but simply a board game instead. Yet, it was still used by mediums as a professional tool to contact spirits.2 The Ouija Board is also a type of seance, which is a French word for “session,” and this refers to the practice of gathering together as a group to receive messages from ghosts or listen to spirits. However in cases that aren’t led by professionals, they may lead into possession by demons.3

Alexian Brother Hospital where Ronald Doe was held to end his possession | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The teenage boy Roland Doe started getting marks and scratches all over his body while at home, which led his family to realize there was a problem. These scratches ended up turning into words. The first word happened to be “LOUIS,” relating to his worried mother’s hometown of St. Louis. Once there, the family contacted a medium to talk to this demon that was living in her child. However as the medium was conducting a seance, more marks appeared upon his skin. The marks ended up turning into letters again, which bore the words “NO SCHOOL.” Upon seeing this, the medium contacted a Jesuit Priest by the name of Father Raymond Bishop, who happened to be a priest  at St. Louis University, to perform a blessing on the possessed child. However while Bishop was praying to the child, Roland’s bed began to shake and tremble while deep bloody gashes started appearing on Roland Doe’s chest. After witnessing this event, the priest immediately called upon the Archbishop to perform a full exorcism.4

The Catholic Church believes that the devil finds all of the souls he can to torment and bring them to sin. The Church also believes some people will become possessed with demons from hell. A big problem with exorcisms in the eighteenth century to today is that many scientists and skeptics believe that people who become possessed by Satan are faking it and it is just some mental disease. However some cases of exorcisms have shown unbelievable occurrences that have happened while the people are possessed. Therefore, possession, which is a demon taking away your soul and body in order to spread evil and hate, was and still is too difficult and too complex to be equated with any modern physical illness. There is also no space in the Catholic tradition to deny the existence of demons because of the presence of the devil in the Bible and the prayers that expel demons.5 Catholics believe the devil’s existence is rooted in the first story in the Bible, which tells of Adam and Eve disobeying God and giving in to the snake’s (the devil’s) lies and took forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. This temptation to sin is the easiest form that the devil takes in order to make people become less faithful. Catholics also believe in St. Micheal, who is a defender of the church and people and is hated by demons and the devil all over Hell. There are even prayers in the Bible that talk about the Devil and getting rid of him and his temptation. “Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man”(Psalms 71:4) is a scripture in Psalms that is a prayer for those in need of God to come and save them from the wicked hands of the Devil.6

The tantrums that Roland Doe suffered and the exorcisms that followed after Father William Bowdern went horrifically. A crucifix in Roland Doe’s room began to tremble, at the same time his bed shook, and the vial of holy water that was supposed to be protecting the teenage boy shattered into a million different pieces sending glass shards everywhere. All throughout the exorcism there were continuous markings that other priests believed couldn’t have been self-induced. The explicit language that Roland Doe had shouted and babbled at night reeked of sexual abuse as a child. However, the words he was using should not have been known for a child his age. This suggests it couldn’t have just been a mental disease. It became so bad sometimes that the priests believed they needed to baptize the boy. However, while on the way to the church, Roland tried to swerve the car off the road with the intent to crash and kill. The weirdest part about the events that occurred to Roland Doe is that during the morning, he was completely normal, but as soon as night fell, it was almost like he fell into a trance.7

Two crucifixes attached to rosary beads | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ever since creation of the world, in the Catholic view, there has always been the threat of the devil. In fact, Satan even means “opponent,” and it is believed that he is the opponent of God and his children. Many Catholics even believe that if people don’t believe that Satan exists then he has even more power over you. Catholics believe that in order to truly get rid of demons inside of the possessed, they have to acknowledge the demon inside of them and pray to God to get rid of this wicked spirit.8 However for those that are not able to do that by themselves, they need to call upon a priest to undergo an exorcism. The purpose of an exorcism is to dispel or frighten away demons or spirits that were contracted from a seance or another unnatural occurrence. Traditionally, most exorcisms are are carried out by Catholics with the use of holy objects, incense, and loud noises of all kinds (mostly prayer).9 In contrast, Protestants believe that possession is associated with personal guilt so their methods include fasting and many personal prayers. Regardless, whenever a person that is possessed gets to a certain point where they lose control, there is nothing that they can do for themselves any more and they must call upon priests for help.10

Roland Doe was finally cured in 1949 during a lightning storm. He had no memory of what happened over the past months of torture he endured. He did move on past these experiences and had three kids and a successful career. Unfortunately, one of the priests that tried to cure him not only was on the brink of insanity by the end of the exorcisms but had also become possessed as well. On this priest’s death bed it is claimed that he used explicit words against a nurse and tried to choke her to death. Although many researchers of this case believe that this was just a mental illness, it can not be confirmed because of the events that occurred to the young teenager. It is even said that the spot where Roland had the exorcist is permanently cracked into the concrete.11 This case also inspired The Exorcist, which was a novel published in 1971 that was also made into a movie. However instead of a 14-year-old boy, the novel was written with him being a 12-year-old girl. Despite that small change, the events that occurred in the exorcisms were just as gruesome and horrible, including the girl levitating, her head spinning, and projecting vomit at the priests. Nonetheless, the events that occurred on those frightful nights gave many people nightmares for decades, and if Roland hadn’t lost his memory he probably would have lived his life in a mental hospital.12

  1. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  2. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019, s.v. “Ouija Boards,” John L. Crow.
  3. Patrick McNamara, Spirit Possession And Exorcism: History, Psychology, And Neurobiology (Praeger, 2011), 34.
  4.  Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  5. Moshe Sluhovsky, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, no. 1 (2014): 113.
  6. Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version. (American Bible Society, 2010).
  7. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  8. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Satan,” Rebecca Kraft.
  9. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2019, s.v. “Exorcism.”
  10. Moshe Sluhovsky, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, no. 1 (2014): 113.
  11. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  12. Michael Cuneo, American Exorcisms (New York: Broadway Books, 2002), 7-9.

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50 Responses

  1. I never knew that Ouija boards are officially classified as board games, but I guess that makes sense when you consider how Bloody Mary and ghost stories are “fun” pastimes for children and teenagers. Since Roland’s possession was completely exorcised during a lightning storm, I wonder how much the lighting or just blinding light in general played a role in curing him.

  2. What an interesting story! When I read stories like this, I always wonder how much of it is true or real. I know that there are instances of “storytelling” throughout history, and that many of the exorcist stories may be made up. Personally, I feel that it’s very possible that stories like Roland Doe did not occur exactly as described. With that being said though, I’ll still never play around with a Ouija board!

  3. I had always heard that the movies” The Exorcism” had been based off a real story but as I began to read I realized it was Roland Doe’s story. In the catholic religion, when talking about demons the word “faith” comes into play. Just as God has said have faith in me, part of being Catholic is believing in the Devil and Demons. One of non catholic religion, can easily claim that Roland’s story had more science and psychology to back up his story, then religion alone.

  4. Jewish tradition (to which I belong) does not believe in a personified Satan. In Judaism, the angel Satan has a very specific role. He is the Heavenly prosecutor, the tempter, and the Grim Reaper. He is not evil, but plays a very special role in the Heavenly court and is one of the most important of the angels. Hell (at least in the sense we commonly think about it) in Jewish tradition, is also non-existent.

    Nonetheless, I do believe that there are dark forces on the fringes of our world that can be invited into our lives with the use of physical or psychic mediums. I can’t exactly say with certainty where they come from or who created them, however. But I can say with certainty that they exist and should be avoided at all costs.

    It is scary and nerve-racking to think about what can happen if we invite the wrong forces into our minds and bodies. Intriguing article, and equally terrifying.

  5. The article was both intriguing and terrifying to read. Growing up Catholic, I was always told to stay away from the Ouija Board, which naturally made me more curious about it. I thought I knew the story of the Exorcism movie, but I had never heard of the exorcism of Roland Doe before reading the article. The details of his exorcism were horrific and sad because of all the pain he went through. I am glad that he forgot the experience because I cannot imagine the trauma he would have continued to live through because of his experiences. The author wrote an amazing article that depicted the horror and terror experienced by Roland Doe.

  6. this is a great thing to read. my family believes in stuff like this. I have no doubt about the uiji board. even /I make sure to stay away. I feel bad about this little boy but at least his torture ended

  7. This article felt rather creepy to read by the nature of how this kid at the time was possessed by a demon that was so strong by the looks of it, that it took a while to even cure him against the evil that he had within himself. The use of the Ouija board might have play to this and it could also be that the death of his aunt influenced him to be vulnerable to the demon in my opinion and how the kid behaved, and faced during his possession is rather gruesome. I’m glad he is or was alright now till his death depending on his status and it goes to show what stuff may happen despite belief or not

  8. This was a really fascinating article to read as it didn’t just talk about the exorcism of Roland Doe, but also the religious and mental aspects that are involved with an exorcism. It’s really unsettling that it took several exorcisms to free Roland Doe from being possessed, which took months to be exact. It was a nice idea to also talk about the origins of where and how the Ouija board came to be as I was actually curious about the Ouija board. The exorcisms themselves are actually terrifying to hear, but it must be even more awful to be the one that goes through being possessed, but have no memory of it actually happening is just chilling.

  9. Exorcism stories and the use of Ouija boards always give me the chills! I wonder why family would gift an impressionable child such a scary gift. I appreciate the author for mentioning different perspectives regarding exorcisms from the medical and spiritual viewpoints. In cases like these, I am always drawn to the paranormal explanations. Especially the part where his words were clearly above average for his age, leads me to believe that there was in fact a malicious spirit that took the boy over.

  10. This was a very interesting article to read because it talked about the religious and mental aspects of an exorcism. I learned that Satan’s name actually means opponent, which as a Catholic, I was never taught in private school or church. I cannot believe that Roland’s aunt was the one to give him a Ouija board. What kind of relative or adult gives a child a game that is known for contacting spirits? It’s kind of ironic how she passed away shortly after giving him the Ouija board and she was the reason for his possession. This little boy went through a lot and it was sad to realize this specific demon was harming the poor child. I found it kind of freaky that he had no recollection of ever being possessed once the exorcism was completed. How did he not feel the gashes in his body? How was his body not sore? How was he not able to remember any of those months even though the demon only came out to play at night? It was ugly learning that the priest who helped get rid of the spirit ended up getting possessed and eventually dying because of it. Priests do so much for people and don’t receive enough credit. I’m glad to learn that Roland continued to stay possessed-free while having three kids and a great career. Great article!

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