'Exorcism A Gift From God'

Nation News (Barbados, W.I.)/December 17, 2004
By Amanda Lynch-Foster

There was a time when young Christopher Atherley dreamed of achieving fame and fortune with his musical talent.

In pursuit of his ambitions, the young man joined the Royal Barbados Police Force Band in 1963, which would become the platform to his calling - or so he thought.

Forty-one years later, he is the force's highly-degreed Director of Music - Senior Superintendent, Reverend Dr Christopher Atherley, SCM, DD, PhD, MMus BFA., FTCL, LTCL, LRSM, A Mus LCM.

The dizzying array of titles before and behind his name, paying testament to his many musical degrees and fellowships, can make one breathless, but ironically, it is his work as an exorcist which he now considers his "highest calling."

Clad in his priestly collar, with a regular dress shirt over it, Atherley sits back behind the desk in his office at the police band headquarters at District "A".

The smell of incense lingers in the air and his bookshelves and desk are cramped with books and papers on music and theology.

"A lot of people are cynical. Some people react as if this is strange or maybe you're not altogether there," admits Atherley with a small smile crossing his broad, dark face, noting that many people seem to think he practises "obeah".

While the doubters doubt, Atherley, the archbishop of the African Orthodox Catholic Church, drives out demons from the afflicted who come to him from many different countries and walks of life. He has even come across children who are "oppressed".

It was after returning to Barbados in 1981, after studies at Concordia University in Canada, that he became more devoutly religious, due to "certain experiences" in his life which prompted him to pray more in a search for peace.

He is vague on these life-changing experiences, saying only:

"I was going after fame and fortune and so on and I decided I needed to put God in my life."

His journey took him to the Glorious Church of the Christ in River Road, St Michael, where he was ordained as a minister.

It was as a minister in this church that he first started his work - a frightening, dangerous job that most people only witness in movies - especially the horror classic, The Exorcist.

It is not neccessarily a calling that most would leap to take up and as Atherley explains it, he did not know that this would become his calling.

"Life as an exorcist began really, not intentionally," he explains.

Along with other ministers, he was called on from time to time by various people who "found themselves having some strange experiences".

Sometimes they did not even know that these people were possessed by demons until they started to pray with them. It is as he calls it "the spirit of discernment" that allows him to see when someone is "oppressed".

"The spirit of discernment is one that comes from God and you always have to be able to tell. I think I always had it with me, but when I became more religious it became stronger," says Atherley. He says that from the time he was young, he had this ability to sense things others could not.

As he sits forward, the large golden cross hanging on a chain around his neck glints in the afternoon sunlight peeking through his half-shuttered window.

"It can be a little bit frightening," he says with understatement as he relates some of the cases he has dealt with.

In 1996, there was a woman who came to Barbados from Grenada to seek medical help for the undiagnosed problem which had been tormenting her for the past six years.

"She came with $3 000 to get a CAT scan, blood tests and X-rays," recalls Atherley, shaking his head.

For years, she had felt lethargic and weak - unable to work or even concentrate on anything.

Her hair had started to fall out, her feet were swollen and she said she "felt a jumping" in her belly.

A friend brought her to Atherley and some other ministers for them to pray with her and soon it became clear that she was not just physically afflicted.

"When we started to pray, her eyes turned red like fire, and she started coughing like she wanted to throw up. Next thing, she was thrown to the floor and she was just kicking and jumping.

Then all of a sudden, she sat up on the floor and accosted someone, saying: 'You! You look like the person who did this to me!'" says Atherley.

"We realised there was a demon inside and then this strange voice said: 'I come to destroy this body'" he recalls.

"Where are you right now?" he recalls they asked, and the peculiar voice replied that it was in the woman's stomach.

When they told the spirit that they were going to cast it out, it challenged them, mocking:

"Cast me out? I wicked boy!"

As he recalls it, they anointed the woman's stomach, but then the spirit seemed to move to her leg, which started trembling and when they anointed her leg, her arm started shaking.

"And then she just bawled out: 'I feel something leave my body'," he remembers, with a look of amazement on his face.

Later, she told him that as it left, she could hear the spirit saying to her:

"Let me go back where I come from."

Experiences like these serve to highlight the dangerous nature of his work and it is not every case that he takes up. He relates the story of another priest he knew who was not sufficiently experienced to do exorcism and in driving out demons from someone, ended up being possessed himself.

"He died in The Mental. It is very, very dangerous," says Atherley sombrely.

Despite this, he is undeterred, and states firmly:

"You get strong after a while. Once you have authority through Christ, the forces have no power over you - once you're not afraid and grounded in God."

In his work as an exorcist, people often confide in him their deepest and most desperate thoughts.

"People tell me some things and then say they cannot tell anyone because they would think they're crazy. I've had people call me and say they are going to kill themselves or someone else," says Atherley seriously.

Still he is grateful to possess the spirit of discernment.

"I see it as a gift, even though it means you have to live a certain way. You can't overextend yourself or over-indulge. Just as Peter says: 'You have to be sober, you have to be vigilant.'"

He says his family has supported him in his calling all along, even referring people to him. It is because they see that in exorcism, he has found work which is significant and has meaning to him.

"All I was pursuing in music, I had no idea this is something I would find as the highest calling," he muses.

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