The following is one of my fave papers I wrote while in graduate school. The following musings are an epistemological narrative inquiry into my 30 plus years of dreaming about the main character, Regan, from the film The Exorcist. Written in letter format specifically addressing Regan, the goal of this paper was to begin a journey into my own possessions and fears, and ultimately a search for expulsion, or perhaps more boldly, exorcism.
It appears as if the time has come, the time for you and I to be more acquainted with one another. After all, it’s been approximately 30 years since we’ve been seeing each other in passing. Perhaps it is all this talk of psychodynamics, but I feel as if I’ve gotten to know you a bit better recently. Through that process, I feel as if I’ve gotten to know myself a bit better too.
It seems passé to ask how you’ve been, when I already know the answer, but perhaps I’m wrong. I would assume that you’ve been your old haunting and brooding self. I assume that you’re still searching for a way to take over my soul. I assume you’re still lurking behind every corner of my dreams, waiting to make your triumphant return. Yet, there is a chance that I could be completely wrong. Perchance what’s really going on with you is a deeper longing for understanding and a hope to finally be set free.
To be honest with you, sometimes I find myself missing our nuanced interactions. I miss seeing the pretty blue flowers of your nightgown. I miss the color of your hair camouflaged against the trees. I even miss the way your gaze would hold me captive. All of this made me feel needed, and even loved in a bizarre sense.
Sorry about the whole head chopping off business, it’s just that I wasn’t sure what to do. It had been two years since we had last seen each other and your presence didn’t feel right in the moment. I didn’t need you then, but I need you now. What I’m really trying to say is I’m ready now. I’m ready to go deeper than I ever have before. I’m ready to discover the root of our connection, and my obsession. I’m ready to search within my own demons to understand the demon that terrorizes my dreams. I hope you can be patient with me during this process. I cannot guarantee it’s going to be an easy ride; in fact I’m confident that it won’t be. However, I can promise you that we will be closer than we’ve ever been before, and I hope you can at least find some sense of comfort in that.
From a Freudian perspective, it can be argued that you and I have several things in common. Were you aware that Freud believed that a person with demonic possession was “a personification of the repressed unconscious instinctual life symbolizing the subject’s libidinal wishes towards (his/her) father” (Miller, 2009, p. 1). When you consider that Freud also identified the Holy Father (God) with both the devil and the biological father (Williams, 2011, p. 229), it might begin to make sense why both you and I feel possessed with father issues. Have you ever considered how your Regan-as-demon personality could be (mis)interpreted as an Oedipal hysteria narrative because of the way you express “both a sexual desire for the absent father and a violent rejection of the mother” (Williams, p. 219)? I’ve wondered myself if I suffer from some form of Oedipal hysteria. Freud may have called your disorder “a conversion form of hysteria that grows from unconscious guilt and the need to be punished” (Williams, p. 220). Plus, the struggle you endured because of your parents divorce may be have led to the somatisizing of your “libidinal outrage and conversion of the unconscious trauma of paternal loss into a demon which occupies [your] body and compels its deterioration” (Williams, p. 221). What are your thoughts on those matters?
Like you, I too have issues with my father, and my parent’s divorce. The conflict that I have, at times, felt about my homosexuality may be analyzed as a crossed Oedipal conflict of sorts involving my father (although I’m not sure that I believe in such a thing). I have wondered in the past (nature vs. nurture), if my sexual desire for men had something to do with the lack of my father’s presence in my life. Recently, I found myself pondering the dream we shared a few years back, the one where you revealed your true self to be that of my father. Were you truly a manifestation of the fear I felt towards my father? Did my father’s physical and verbal abuse (caused by his own possession of alcoholism) lead me to characterize both him and his behaviors as representations of the most evil thing I could imagine, demonic possession? Perhaps the fear and anxiety I felt towards my father was day residue that would slip into my dream world and manifest as you, Regan, since one must suppose “latent dream thoughts…were present in the unconscious” because it is imperative to “distinguish the manifest content of the dream” (Freud, 1909, pg. 35). Subsequently, “the manifest dreams…can therefore only be described as a disguised fulfillment of repressed wishes (and) the manifest content of the dream is the distorted substitute for the unconscious dream-thoughts and this distortion is the work of the egos force of defense and of resistances” (Freud, p. 36). In my childhood daydreams I would wish my father dead, and sometimes thought of ways he would die. In my childhood and adult dreams it was you I wished would die. Now my father is dead and I see your light dimming as well. I can already feel your loss, just as I feel the loss of my father.
Over the past 30 years I have come to both love and despise your presence in my dreams. When I was a child, and you would appear in my dreams crawling out of my toy box to sit at the foot at my bed and stare at me, it was the most terrifying dream experience I can remember. According to Carl Jung, dreams are “a direct expression of the unconscious and give us insight into our subjective states and conscious knowledge (because they) speak in images, and give expression to interests that are derived from the most primitive level of nature” (Weitz, 1976, p. 292). Jung believed that our dreams were an aid to our future. He believed that Freud created sublimation as a way to save the “unconscious and its identity with primitive instincts from the ‘claws of a wild beast’, because man’s conscious mind is even more devilish and perverse than the unconscious” (Weitz, p. 291).
You might be surprised to find out (or perhaps you already know), that I’ve never shared my relationship with you to my therapist. I’m sure he would be very interested, from a Jungian perspective, the archetypal role that you have played in my life over the past 30 years. I’m sure he would wonder about my process through which my ego has been progressively pervaded by the truth and power of the self or supreme archetype (Bidwell, 2000, p. 15). How has the archetype of possession shaped my life? How has the archetype of you, a character from a film/book shaped my life? How has the archetype of a demon of Mediterranean origins shaped my life? Is my striving for success and desire to be seen as the ‘good soon/good husband/good student’ the possession that wracks my body? Is my love of horror films and books a way to channel the energy of fear that surrounds my body? Is my love of the wind a reflection of the dance with Pazuzu  that I have taken because of you? Are you the manifestation of my father, the fear I feel inside because of him, and the demon that possesses me, even though he is dead? Am I your archetype and that is why you possess me the way you do?
From here we may begin to ask ourselves how this troubled relationships with our father’s has shaped us into the beings we are today. Perhaps by examining the role that object relations theory plays into the psychodynamics of our worlds will grant us a deeper understanding of this inquiry. Object relations theories are concerned with “the unconscious mental representations of others that form in the earliest parts of mental life and the internal relationship to those representations (and) the internal relationships to these mental representations then guide interactions with others” (Salande and Perkins, 2001, p. 385). Further, “exchanges with others leave their mark; they are internalized and so come to shape subsequent attitudes, reactions, perceptions, and so on” (Salande and Perkins, p. 385). In his book Object Relations Theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis (1976), Otto Kernberg proposed the existence of two separate levels of ego organization, with each level centered on the defensive pattern of splitting or repression. These “differing levels of personality organization are indicated by differing patterns of defensive operations, with pathological ego/superego development leading to the display of primitive patterns of defensive operations, while healthy ego/superego development leading to the utilization of higher order defensive operations” (Salande and Perkins, p. 385). Thus our own ego regression activated in our early attachment needs with our fathers, served as a “primitive level of object relationships and object representations, and corresponding engagements in (our) primitive defensive operations” (Salande and Perkins, p. 384).
I’m hoping that last paragraph made sense to you. Maybe it would make more sense if I broke down this narrative into a less complicated explanation. In both of our lives the “scared sphere of the home is at risk” (Cull, 2000, p. 48), because there is a breakdown of the nuclear family structure. Perhaps, in our own ways, we have both felt the anxieties regarding our parent’s behaviors and decisions and the moral forces that were at play in our lives. When people fall in love and get married they are suppose to stay married forever, at least that is what we are taught in our Catholic churches. Our parents chose to disobey the word of God and do, as they desired. Perhaps our possessions were really a way of “restoring order through the triumph of good over evil” (Williams, p. 222). Maybe we’re both suffering from good enough parenting syndrome, or rather the lack of. I was breast fed, what about you?
At this point you’re probably spinning your head around 360 degrees trying to figure out what this letter even means. To be honest with you, I’m not certain myself. I do know that it feels good to write to you this way. To have some basis of understanding on why we are the way we are. Ultimately, I believe that you could continue to line up theories by Freud, Jung, Winnicott, and Klein and you still may not get to bottom of our relationship. We encompass parts of all of these theories, but so many more. We are the id/ego/superego. We are the archetypes. We are the good breast and the bad breast. Is any of this making any sense to you at all? I’d really appreciate an opportunity to talk to you about this in greater depth. Perhaps we can figure out a time to meet up in our dreams very soon.
I hope you are well Regan, I really do. I want you to know that I wouldn’t be the person I am today had you not come into my life so many moons ago. I’m going to continue doing research into our connection. Any new information I find out, I will be sure to share with you. Take care of yourself Regan, I’ll be thinking of you.
P.S. I hope that we can be friends.
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Williams, S. (2011). The power of Christ compels you: Holy water,
hysteria and the oedipal psychodrama in the exorcist. LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, 22(3), 218-238.
 In Mediterranean mythology, Pazuzu is the king of the demons of the wind. He is depicted as having the body of a man, the head of a lion, eagle-like taloned feet, two pairs of wings, a scorpion’s tail, and a serpentine penis. Pazuzu is the demon that possesses Regan in the book The Exorcist.