Darling Possession
(1596)
   Fake POSSESSION by Thomas Darling, a 13-year-old boy of Burton-on-Trent, England. Darling, who aspired to become a Puritan minister, claimed to become possessed because a witch cursed him for farting. The case involved the Puritan EXORCIST the REVEREND JOHN DARREL in a peripheral way. An account of the case was written by a “man of trade” named Jesse Bee, who was with Darling during most of his affliction.
   Darling began having fits in February 1596. He convulsed, vomited, and had visions of green APPLEs and green ANGELs. He lost the use of his legs, except when he had fits. Whenever Bee started to read the GOSPEL OF JOHN, the boy went into fits, which fell into a pattern around certain verses, including 4, 9, 13, 14, and 17. A doctor examined his urine and pronounced him bewitched. Bee and Darling’s aunt discussed the boy’s situation, and Bee opined that WITCHCRAFT might indeed be the cause, because Darling had fits upon hearing Scripture read. Darling overheard this conversation.
   Soon he thought of a fitting story. He said that the day his fits began, he had been out in the woods and met a “little old woman” with three warts on her face. The woman was 60-year-old Alice Gooderidge, who was already suspected of being a witch, as was her mother. Darling farted, prompting Gooderidge to curse him with a rhyme:
   Gyp with a mischiefe, and fart with a bell: I will go to heaven, and thou shalt go to hell. Gooderidge then stooped to the ground, and Darling went home, possessed.
   Gooderidge was arrested and taken before justices, who had her scratched. Pressured into confessing, the woman acknowledged meeting Darling in the woods on said day but insisted she had mistaken him for another boy, who had once broken a basket of her eggs. She apologized for doing any harm with her words and said she had never said bell. She said that when she stooped, the DEVIL appeared in the form of “a little partie-colored dog, red and white.” She called the dog Minny and dispatched it to torment Darling.
   Darling performed well for a young DEMONIAC. During his fits, he carried on inspired theological debates with the DEVIL modeled on JESUS’ temptations by SATAN in the desert. He moaned about dying young at the hands of the Devil. He had a vision of Gooderidge, whom he called “Mother Redde Cap,” a common name for witches, and said DEMONs beat her brains out and toads gnawed the flesh from her bones.
   The minister at Burton-on-Trent tried unsuccessfully to stop the fits. So did a renowned Puritan minister, Arthur Hildersham, who visited and tried to exorcise the boy with prayer.
   Bee’s written account was sent to Darrel, who believed that Satan, disguised as an angel of light, was speaking through the boy to deliver what seemed to be divinely inspired messages. At the end of May 1596, Darrel said Darling was possessed of an unclean spirit and recommended fasting and prayer. He did not visit in person, on the grounds that he did not want any glory in the case. The following day, Darling’s friends and family successfully exorcized him, eliciting a flamboyant performance. Darling became entranced, and a “demon” speaking through him said he would go to his master, BEELZEBUB. The great demon appeared, along with the witch, and Darling said he forgave Gooderidge and begged the Lord to forgive her too. He ordered Beelzebub to leave. This was followed by a vision of an angel, sent by God for comfort, and more conversations with demons, who decided to depart and torment the witch, who was in jail. Interestingly, she reported having a bad night. Darling came out of trance and lapsed into another one. A voice said, “My son, arise and walke, the evil spirit is gone from thee.” Suddenly Darling could use his legs again, which he credited to Jesus. His troubles were not immediately over, for he had a relapse of temptation. After a vision of a dove, he was permanently cured. Gooderidge was sentenced to a year in jail. Darling confessed to fabricating his possession, then recanted, claiming that his inspired speeches while entranced were indeed from God. In 1599, Darrel was tried on charges of fraud, and both Darling and Bee testified against him. Darling entered Oxford University, where he maintained his ambition to become a Puritan minister. But, in 1602, he was whipped and had his ears cut off for libeling Vice-Chancellor John Howson, who was persecuting Puritans.
   FURTHER READING:
   - Walker, D. P. Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. . 2009.

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