Living Doll

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”—Mark Twain


A few days ago, another “based on real events” movie that has nothing to do with the actual story was released. That doesn’t bother me too much. If stupid people want to believe that these things really happened, what do I care? Smart people who want to know more can always look it up on their own if they’re so inclined. I have no interest in doing movie reviews, nor do I feel any compulsion to set the record straight. I haven’t even seen the movie in question and have no plans to do so, but I could tell from the previews that it was complete fiction.

I already knew a little about the Annabelle story, and I originally only looked into it further just to satisfy my own curiosity. I certainly had no plans to write an article about it. But what I found was that the whole case was a veritable “how to” guide for screwing up a paranormal investigation via paranoid religious superstitions and preconceived notions leading to predictable conclusions. This made me so damn mad that I’m now going to spout off about it for another eighteen paragraphs.

Ed and LorraineThe case was investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the most famous American ghost busters of the latter half of the 20th century. Almost everything that follows, other than my ranting of course, comes straight from their website, so no one can accuse me of going off over a third party account written by some hack who wasn’t even there. I shrug those things off like the health warnings on a beer can. Also, I did read the movie synopsis on good old Wikipedia just to be thorough. That was a waste of time, but at least not of $8. It’s all about how the doll came to be possessed before the real story began. At least that is something that we can speculate about since no one ever bothered to try to find out about the doll’s actual past.

So here’s what happened…allegedly.

In 1970, a woman bought an “antique,” oversized Raggedy Ann doll to give to her daughter for her birthday. Contrary to what was portrayed in the movie, this was not some creepy looking psycho doll that only a nutcase would want in their home. It was just your standard, cute old Raggedy Ann doll, albeit much larger than the ones we see today. Donna, the birthday girl, and her roommate Angie were both nursing students living in a small apartment somewhere in or around Connecticut. It only took them a few days to realize that there was something peculiar going on with this doll. They began to notice that she seemed to change positions while they were out. At first, these changes were subtle, like finding her with her legs crossed or her hands in her lap when they were certain that this was not how they had left her. Later they would come home to find her in a different room than where she had been left. A few times they found her standing, propped up against a piece of furniture. At least once they found her kneeling on the floor. When they tried to stand her up or place her kneeling themselves, they found that they couldn’t get her to stay that way. She just flopped over like Raggedy Ann dolls are wont to do. They found all of this to be somewhat unusual, but not particularly alarming. The only one who was really bothered by it was their friend Lou, who seems to have been Angie’s boyfriend. He was creeped out by all of this and wanted them to get rid of the doll.

Annabelle and Donna?Before long, they started finding notes written in childlike handwriting, always in pencil and on parchment paper. They said either “Help Us” or “Help Lou.” They were baffled by what these notes could mean. They didn’t know who “us” could be referring to, and Lou was in no imminent danger. Weirder still, they had no parchment paper in the house on which the notes could have been written.

This was all a bit unnerving, but they still didn’t feel at all threatened. However, when Donna came home one day to find what appeared to be blood stains on the back of the doll’s hands and chest, they decided that it was time to try to find some answers. They found a medium who was willing to come to their apartment and conduct a séance. The medium was able to contact the spirit of a girl named Annabelle Higgins who claimed to have been murdered when she was only seven in the field on which the apartment building now stood. Annabelle said that she was happy living with Donna and Angie and asked permission to inhabit the doll so that she could stay with them. Feeling pity for the poor little girl, they both said that this would be fine. Lou still didn’t like any of this and continued to warn them that the doll was evil and that they should get rid of it. As it turns out, maybe Lou should have been nicer.

Shortly thereafter, Lou awoke one night from a bad dream to find himself paralyzed and terrified. Looking around his room, he saw Annabelle lying at his feet. The doll then slid its way up his body, placed its hands on his neck and began to strangle him. He lost consciousness and woke up the next morning convinced that this hadn’t been a dream.

The next day, he was at the girls’ apartment preparing to leave on a trip with Angie when they heard rustling sounds coming from Donna’s room. Lou went in to investigate and found the room empty except for Annabelle, who was lying in a corner. He sensed a presence behind him and turned around. Suddenly, he felt a searing pain in his chest and fell to the floor. When they opened his bloodstained shirt, they found seven scratches, described as claw marks, four horizontal and three vertical. These scratches healed quickly and were gone in two days. The Warrens later identified these as “the symbolic mark of the beast.”

I could use a little clarification on some things here. Unfortunately, I’m not going to get it. In a quote from an apparent interview with the Warrens (but not on their website), Lou says that during the first attack “I saw myself wake up” and “saw myself being strangled,” as if he had been watching this from outside of his body. So was this a dream, an episode of sleep paralysis, an out of body experience, or some combination of the three? The lack of further details makes it impossible to make even an informed guess. The true believers just seem to take it on faith that the demon doll teleported to Lou’s home and strangled him to unconsciousness, though they completely gloss over the question of why she didn’t just finish the job and kill him. And if you can figure out how seven scratches on the chest constitute the mark of the beast, please let me know. I thought it was 666 on your forehead. Besides, I’ve had some mysterious, burning scratches of my own, and I haven’t been possessed yet…that I know of.

I suppose that I should mention at this point that that there is not one credible case of any sort of spirit ever killing anyone directly. People have been reported to have died of heart attacks. People have been said to have died of fright, whatever that means. People have even committed suicide in relation to paranormal phenomena, but there are no reliable reports that I’m aware of in which anyone was strangled or murdered in any other way by any sort of supernatural entity. So maybe Annabelle did want to kill Lou, but she wasn’t allowed to for some reason. Maybe, but I have my doubts that this attack really happened.

So now the girls were scared too. Donna contacted an Episcopal priest named Hegan. He passed the matter on to one of his superiors, Father Cooke, who contacted the Warrens. After speaking with the three participants, the Warrens concluded that the doll was not possessed but was being manipulated by a demon because demons don’t possess inanimate objects. Everything that had happened thus far was preliminary to the demon taking possession of one of the girls or killing them both. They seem to have based this conclusion solely on the fact that no one had seen the ghost of Annabelle. Personally, I think that when you bring in a “certified demonologist” (not a real thing), more often than not, you’re going to get a diagnosis of “demon.”

So Father Cooke performed an exorcism on the apartment and the Warrens took Annabelle. On the drive home, supposedly their car stalled a number of times on the curving roads, causing them to lose power steering and brakes and putting them in real danger. This all stopped when Ed Warren threw holy water on the doll. After all of this, when they got home, they inexplicably just tossed the doll in a chair without taking any precautions to protect themselves. Over the next several weeks, the doll allegedly levitated a few times, a new trick, and moved around the house while no one was home. It was also blamed for causing a serious auto accident involving a priest in which a number of people were badly injured. This is given as just one example of “many such events that occurred over the next few years.”

The next few years? People are being seriously injured – nearly killed – and you don’t do anything for a few years? And what were some of these other events alluded to?

Occult MuseumThey eventually had the case built for Annabelle where she still resides today in their occult museum of cursed objects. It has presumably been sufficiently sealed and blessed to prevent her from doing further damage, although she is blamed for causing one more misfortune. A young man who mocked her in her case was killed in a motorcycle accident after being thrown out of the museum for being a jerk. His girlfriend was badly hurt and was hospitalized for a year. What does that say about how well that case works? And if demons don’t attach themselves to inanimate objects, why is it still hanging around that doll?

So now my critical analysis (or obnoxious nitpickery) begins in earnest. First of all, if any inquiries were made at the shop where the doll was purchased as to its history, this isn’t mentioned. Are you freakin’ kidding me? That’s among the first things that you do in a case like this. God only knows what they might have found out. Next, there’s absolutely nothing that separates this case from other cases deemed to be the work of poltergeists. In fact, this one is a little tame compared to some. In none of these other cases was anyone ever possessed or murdered. They usually only last a few months and then just go away.

We also have no idea if there ever was an Annabelle Higgins. Although the medium was unable to determine a time frame for Annabelle, there have been newspapers in New England for hundreds of years. They could have looked to see if there had been any murders of little girls fitting her description in that area. I have serious doubts myself that there was ever an Annabelle Higgins, but to not even check because you’ve already made up your mind that this is the work of something “inhuman and demonic” is just plain sloppy. I hate to be a prick (even though I’m really good at it), but this whole “investigation” verges on metaphysical malpractice.

It seems to me that Ed Warren thought that he knew a lot of things that he didn’t. That’s what almost inevitably happens when you filter everything through a dogmatic belief system. If your religious beliefs tell you that demons are stalking us and lying in wait to ambush us at every turn, then you start to interpret every paranormal entity as being a demon. There is also evidence to infer that at least some of these beings tend to behave in accordance with our beliefs. Is that why only Lou was attacked, or was Annabelle only being nice to Donna and Angie because it was trying to lure them into her demonic trap, as the Warrens maintained? But wouldn’t an attack on Lou right in front of Angie also scare them off as well, as it ultimately did? Oh my, things certainly get complicated when we just assume an evil intent.

So was Annabelle really evil? None of the notes that she left were threatening, and neither of the women who never minded her being there were ever harmed – only Lou, who was convinced that the doll was evil and wanted to get rid of it. I think that it’s only fair to ask you to consider who threw the first punch in that fight. Some people of a particular mindset might say that the girls were duped and that he alone was the one who figured out the doll’s demonic nature. This is why he was attacked. Perhaps.

Annabelle in her caseThe Warrens would almost certainly agree, but they saw demons everywhere they looked. Had they and others taken a point of view more like Colin Wilson’s and tried to see it from the spirit’s perspective, they might have found, as he did, that these entities usually return hostility with hostility, just like most humans and other animals. Both the priest who had the car accident and the young man who was killed had just challenged Annabelle‘s ability to harm anyone. If she was responsible for what happened to them, it was clearly a colossal overreaction on her part, but you don’t poke the supernatural bear.

Spirits that aren’t treated as evil invaders can be mischievous and even destructive at times, but Wilson found that in many cases things never got really nasty until people started taking measures to rid themselves of their unwanted guests. Exorcisms, he found, were a particularly bad idea in some cases and only made them angry. Some will take this as proof that these spirits were actually demons, but if that’s the case, then why didn’t the exorcisms work? Maybe it was because there was nothing demonic about them and they were offended at the implication.

While I do respect the Warrens’ sincerity and willingness to help, I also suspect that there was something of the showman in them that enjoyed playing the role of the heroes riding in to save the poor, frightened, confused victims of a ruthless demonic attack. I also gather that they sometimes brought along a small entourage of disciples and reporters on their investigations. If that’s true, it was unusual at the time and perhaps a bit revealing. Today, of course, they would have their own TV show, so maybe they were just ahead of their time.

and all the devils are here


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