Review, Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know, Charles Fraune, 2nd edition, Slaying Dragons Press, 2019, 172 pp, plus additional material
Note: I discussed the contents of this review, in a general way, with my bishop, His Grace Archbishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, and several other priests. I have incorporated the insights which His Grace and the priest kindly offered, but any remaining errors are purely my own.
The most important thing in the world is the search for holiness, that is, to know, love and serve God. As Catholics we believe that salvation is possible, and that the salvation of mankind is the reason for Our Lord’s incarnation. This is set out in the Nicene Creed. To that end, it is important that we seek God and that we avoid the snares of the devil, who strives to alienate us from God: the last line of the “Our Father” can just as accurately be translated “but save us from the Evil One,” as “but save us from Evil.” Personally, I think that the more concrete translation “the Evil One” is likelier in the ancient Semitic world. I am fortified in that supposition by the remarkable fact that the Gospel includes a fuller teaching about the devil and his fallen hosts than had previously been revealed. Nothing in the biblical record indicates that there was ever as much diabolic activity in Palestine as there was during the time of Our Lord: the devil sent out his minions in their greatest numbers to battle his greatest foe.
This being so, it is good to see a book like Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know, by Charles Fraune. Arranged in eleven chapters with an introduction and a conclusion, it provides a very direct warning of the power and influence of evil in this world, and gives good advice on how to avoid it. The cover is excellent, a painting by Tissot featuring the Lord and the scene from Mark 9 and parallel passages. The book is well written. I have no doubt at all that Mr Fraune’s intentions are the best (hereafter, I refer for convenience to the author as “Fraune.”)
The author’s note on p. v very fairly notes that Fraune is relying to a significant extent on the reports of exorcists. However, in my opinion, this is problematic when the exorcists are relying on what they say they have been told by demons during exorcisms. As Fr Peter Joseph notes: “… the Church’s classic rules for exorcism issued in 1614 specifically say that the exorcist “should not believe the demon if he pretends to be the soul of a deceased person” (Rule 14).” This is because the word of the devil cannot be trusted. [see “Healing the Family Tree,” at https://www.amicidilazzaro.it/index.php/healing-the-family-tree-new-age-under-the-guise-of-religion/]
Next, the preface is almost disarmingly candid, touching on matters personal to the author, but included to edify the reader by vindicating the mercy and grace of God, and the value of the Church for those struggling in today’s world. The introduction points out that while there is evidence for growing interest in the satanic, and an increase of diabolic activity, many Catholics barely acknowledge, if at all, the existence of the Evil One and so do not know their enemy. This book aims to enlighten us.
The Introduction quite correctly states that there are three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil (p. 2). This is important: many people have come to think that any and all temptations must be from the Enemy, and hence that they are necessarily under infernal attack. This is not true. If we think that all our temptations come from the devil, and that he is only foe, we may fail to take responsibility for our own indulgences and excusing ourselves, our own little allowings and indulgences. One may come to think that all one needs is an exorcism: but the path to holiness is made up of many smaller steps, made possible our cooperating with the grace of God, and fear of the Dark One can distract us from what we can do.
Chapter 1 deals with “The Motivation and Tactics of Demons.” Most of the chapter is quite fine, but Fraune cites exorcists for the sorts of details one does not find in Scripture or in pre-20th century tradition (e.g. that “demons are extraordinarily sensitive to how they are perceived by other demons,” p. 11). It may be so, it may not be so. But what is worrying is the idea that there are exorcists out there who can furnish us with otherwise unknown details about what goes on in the underworld: the claiming of an authority to speak on these matters is problematic – where does it end? On p. 12 this leads to the idea of so-called “generational spirits,” which I have disputed in an earlier article: http://www.fryuhanna.com/2021/06/10/review-slaying-dragons-by-charles-d-fraune/
Then, on p. 16 these authorities lead Fraune to speak of a witch who cast a spell in a house, causing the house to become infested (sic), and a demon to live there who killed two dogs. I cannot believe that. There is no principle of contagion in spiritual matters (and Fraune actually cites one of the more restrained exorcists to this effect on p. 43). Neither do I believe that an act of blasphemy can give a demon “a certain power over the air in that place” (p. 16). What is the extent of this “certain” power? What are its limits? And is associated with the air or the latitude and longitude? Does it blow away in the wind? Is it ingested by breathing? I do not think we should be so suggestible as to blithely accept these novel notions.
One problem with this sort of idea is that it makes one imagine that the entire world is a battle-field charged with land-mines (and, in this case, air-mines). This is a completely unnecessary addition to the true teaching that the devil can tempt us without barrier of space (a priest whom I know told me of an exorcism in a church in Lebanon where the light fittings started shaking fit to fall out, for no physical cause they could ever uncover). Neither is the teaching that we should bless items such as cars and homes based on the idea that they may otherwise be “infested” (p. 17). It is founded, rather, on the hope that God will grant us His supernatural grace where otherwise we would only have natural resources. With one qualification, the compendium on p. 28 is entirely correct: I doubt the authority of exorcists, which Fraune admits here, by saying that what they see is in harmony with the true teaching – can this be so in each and every case?
Chapter 2 is “The Angelic Nature,” is good, even if some of it is rather speculative. Chapter 3, “Stages of Diabolical Influence,” is typified by the Latin tendency to categorisation. It is also controversial: some experienced priests of my acquaintance, exceedingly learned Thomists, tell me that “vexation” and “oppression” belong to the same order as “temptation.” If I read Fraune correctly, he shares this opinion (p. 36), but he could be clearer. The question becomes even more controversial when we come to “obsession.” If this is not understood here to mean “temptation,” then I very much doubt that “about twenty-five percent of the people in this country [the USA] are diabolically obsessed” (p. 40), and I do not believe that the exorcist he quotes can possibly be certain of that. I know that things are very bad in the USA, with their decaying social fabric, but if the figure were that high, I would expect it to be far worse than it is now. As a question of logic, praying the old exorcism over someone with bipolar disorder, and finding their condition improves, does not establish that their sickness had any diabolical component (p. 41): such matters are beyond that sort of post hoc ergo propter hoc proof.
In this chapter comes one of the less defensible errors: the statement that John Lennon made a pact with the devil almost twenty years to the day before he was assassinated (p. 46). To be precise, Yoko Ono believed she could work magic, and sought out many occultists and a South American witch. But the evidence is that John Lennon mocked Satanists and witches, and was speaking figuratively when he told Tony Sheridan he had sold himself to the devil (meaning the music business). Further, there is absolutely nothing to connect his death with something done twenty years before: in fact, the author of that theory takes the “twenty years” from Paul McCartney’s lyrics to “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I mention this is if one overstates the case that there is diabolic activity in the world, people are more likely to dismiss the genuine evidence: and that would be tragic.
(to be continued)