1678, May 5: Demonic Possession of a Young Maid

In 1679, a pamphlet was released in London, England entitled Strange Newes, out of Hartford-Shire, and Kent. The news from Hartfordshire concerned oats being cut by the devil himself (follow the 'See Also' link below), but here we are now concerned with the strange news from the town of Arpington, in the county of Kent, England.

        The story itself was told to the publishers of the pamphlet by one Mrs. Hopper who, having heard of a maid possessed by "the Devil or Evil Spirits" in Kent from friends and associates in that area, had decided to investigate the matter some herself, "partly to satisfie her own incredulity, and partly that she might credibly inform others of what she had been so often told her self." The publishers assured their readers that they could ask Mrs. Hopper for the details themselves by going to the "Bell and Dragon" in White's Alley, Chancery Lane, London.

        The young maid had been inhabited by multiple evil spirits for quite some time before Mrs. Hopper became interested, so Hopper learned many details of the case just by inquiring around Kent. The spirits were not always active and troublesome, and the young maid was sometimes quite normal in appearance and behavior. At other times she was struck by 'violent fits' during which the evil spirits would be heard to "talk and shriek within her." Hopper also found out that the maid was being treated by Doctor Boreman, an acquaintance of Hopper's, and that between his physical skills and his great spiritual devotion to the church, he had been the most effective treatment of the maid's fits that had been found yet... so Hopper arranged to visit the young maid at the same time she knew the good Doctor would be there to treat said maid, so she could see the maid's fits but also be reasonably safe.

        The date of this visit was May 5, 1678, a Monday. When Hopper entered the room where Boreman was already praying over the young maid, she found the young woman in a state of contortion that had "almost drawn her out of human shape." Her eyes were deeply sunk into her head, her teeth set "as at the approach of Death," and she could hardly have been recognized by her family due to facial distortion. Hopper joined several other spectators in the room, standing silently and watching as Boreman prayed. Despite the young maid's jaw being clenched shut, and her face pulled tightly enough to prevent her lips closing, sounds and voices were heard coming from her, at first as if from her belly region... then a distinct voice was heard over this to state "weaker and weaker, weaker and weaker," which was repeated four times. This occurrence caused general horror throughout the spectators, and many ran from the room. Some time after this, another distinct sound was said to have been heard from the young maid... that of a small dog barking, twice, which was the last remarkable phenomena of that particular day.

        On another day after the above occurrences, Hopper witnessed a more startling demonstration of the strange effect possessing the young maid. She was in another fit, with Boreman kneeling next to her and praying, "a live and seeming substance forc'd its way out of her mouth in likeness of a large serpent." This serpent immediately coiled around Boreman's neck. Boreman apparently did not react to this occurrence, likely continuing to pray; and, after a time, some of the spectators raised enough courage to step towards Boreman with the intent of prying the snake away, when the serpent vanished. Hopper took this event to mean that one of the many evil spirits within the girl had been driven away.

        Hopper, who doesn't seem to have attended more of the exorcisms (perhaps put off by that last one), went on to describe how one of the spirits within the young maid would sometimes answer questions put to it while she was in the midst of one of her fits. Other times it would "make a hideous murmuring, as if it disliked its present habitation." It was stated by the publishers that they hoped to hear more on the matter in the future from Mrs. Hopper, and that the young maid would eventually be well.

Hidden Motivations

        This narrative, unfortunately, comes with evidence that it needs to be taken with a good amount of skepticism. First off, the fact that the publishers felt they needed to state early on exactly where Mrs. Hopper could be found by readers who wished to hear the story from the woman herself sounds suspiciously like an advertisement for Hopper's place of business.

        Secondly, there is a clear statement made halfway through the narrative that to believe in the existence of demons and witches is to also believe in the existence of the Biblical God, and that those who don't have the sense to believe will be shown the truth when they die. So, just like the story of the Devil mown fields that accompanied this story in its pamphlet presentation (follow the 'See Also' link below), there must be a suspicion that the account's real purpose is to scare people into going to church, using a spectacular story to sell this idea... and bringing back into question the validity of the report itself. Think twice before giving this account much weight as evidence of the paranormal.

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