When Sister Maria awoke from a supposed demonic possession in 1676, she was covered in ink, and, in her hand, she had a letter. The strange part is that she had no memory of writing the letter, only that she believed that the strange glyphs and symbols were written by Satan. No one could translate the devilish text.
Fast forward years into the future and scientists were finally able to decode the strange language. But with the translation brought new questions. Are possessions and exorcism real? Keep reading, and maybe this gray area will become more clear.
Sister Maria Crocifissa Della Concezione
This story begins with Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, a 31-year-old nun living at the convent of Palma di Montechiaro in Sicily. The Italian island of Sicily is a place deeply-rooted in Christian traditions, with Saint Paul preaching there nearly two millennia ago.
Unfortunately for Sister Maria, where there is God, Satan is typically close behind. The struggle between good and evil is at the very center of the Christian religion. Even though churches and convents are meant to be sanctuaries, there is no telling what type of evil could linger in the walls.
Sister Maria Was 15 When She Joined The Convent
In 1645, Isabella Tomasi was born. She was only 15 years old when she joined the Benedictine convent in Palme di Mantechiaro, Sicily. It was there that she was baptized and reborn with the name Maria Crocifissa della Concezione.
This convent traditionally teaches work, peace, and prayer. Even with all of the support of her fellow Sisters, Sister Maria did not seem at peace with herself. She confessed that her lack of peace and clarity was because she was possessed by the Devil.
Maria Would Shriek And Lose Consciousness
Whether or not the devil actually exists, there was definitely something wrong with Sister Maria. For example, when the Sister would approach the altar, she would start shrieking before falling and losing consciousness.
She was convinced that Satan was trying to turn her away from God, putting her on the path of evil. Sister Maria was lost, frightened that one day the Devil would force her to sin against her own wishes.
Did The Devil Possess Sister Maria?
In 1676, the Devil allegedly took control of Sister Maria’s body and forced her to write a letter. Her worst nightmare came to life: she had been possessed — or so she claimed. The letter was not written in any known language or familiar alphabet. It was purely “demonic” in nature.
The letter contained odd-looking glyphs that seemed to resemble archaic letters and occult symbols. When the Sister awoke, she was covered in ink with no knowledge of who or what had written the letter, nor could she read it.
Someone Broke The Code in 2017
It seems as though evil found itself in Sicily years later, with the supposed possession of Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione. The letter she wrote was so cryptic that no one knew what to make of it.
Her fellow Sisters believed her about the Devil, going as far as to display the ominous letter in public, hoping someone could make sense of the text. Over the centuries, many people have tried to decipher the message, but with no luck. It wasn’t until 2017 that someone made any real progress decoding the “Satanic Language.”
A Team Of Scientists Used Software From The Dark Web
It was in 2017 when a team of computer scientists based out of the LUDUM Science Center in Catania, Italy, was able to partially crack the code. The center was founded in 1969 and is a privately-funded institute that collaborates with multiple educational and research-based organizations.
The group of scientists used intelligence-grade code-breaking software to do a high-tech analysis of the letter. Daniele Abete, leader of the LUDUM team, found the software in the dark corners of the web, where algorithms developed by intelligence agencies have been leaked to a larger audience.
Sister Maria’s Letter Was A Blend Of Ancient Languages
The group of scientists hypothesized that Sister Maria used a blend of ancient Greek, Arabic, Latin, and Runic alphabets to compose the letter. It was a good starting point, considering the nun had spent most of her life reading and studying ancient and modern texts.
Daniele Abate told The Times, “We primed the software with ancient Greek, Arabic, the Runic alphabet and Latin to unscramble some of the letters and show that it really is devilish.” Their strategy worked and they were able to make out a few of the words.
The Team Decoded 15 Lines Of Text
The team was able to decode a portion of the letter, 14 lines to be exact. What they found definitely had a Devilish tone to it, mostly because of the heretical statements and ideas throughout the text. Ironically, the statements would have gotten Sister Maria in a lot of trouble if people believed her to be faking the possession.
The text had very rebellious remarks, as though Sister Maria did not believe in what the Church stands for. That, or a part of her mind, was lost, and she was going about life with a mental illness.
The Letter Denounced God
The Times reported that the portions of the letter that were decoded claimed that “God is an invention of man and that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are dead weights.” Also, that “God thinks he can free mortals. This system works for no one.”
Sister Maria’s letter also references the mythological river Styx that is said to lie on the edge of the underworld. “Perhaps now, Styx is certain.” Is the nun alluding to her own death and damnation because of her “possession?” Curiously, the only phrase not written with symbols was “Ohime,” meaning “Oh, me.”
Storytelling Runs In The Family
Daniele Abate told Live Science, “When working on historical decryption, you cannot ignore the psychological profile of the writer. We needed to know as much as possible about this nun.” This approach allows the team to examine Sister Maria’s personality separately from the actual letter.
What they learned was that the nun had a good command of languages and was actually an ancestor of famous Italian author, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Storytelling and an understanding of ancient languages make for one (perhaps) fictitious letter.
The Devil in Britain and America Has An Authentic Writing Sample
Like the Loudon, France, nun possessions, Sister Maria’s letter is not the only known case of devilish writing. An 1896 book by John Ashton, titled The Devil in Britain and America claims to contain a copy of “the only known specimen of the Devil’s writing.”
The sample itself was sourced from a 16th-century book by Teseo Ambrogio degli Albonesi. The title of the book is Introduction to the Languages of Chaldean, Syrian and Armenian and the Ten Other Languages. Considering the nature of the book, it’s hard to say if the sample is authentic.
An Italian Conjurer Originally Recorded The Text
It’s said that the “authentic handwriting” was originally recorded by Italian conjurer Ludovico Spoletano. Ironically, not much is known about the man, and he remains a mystery to even modern-day historians.
What has been concluded is that Albonesi may have first heard about Spoletano through Guillaume Postel, a French intellectual who also had an interest in languages. Unfortunately, Postel was not the most reliable source, having been sentenced to house arrest for the last 11 years of his life because he was thought to be insane.
Legend Says That Spoletano Summoned Satan
As the story goes, the conjurer Spoletano summoned Satan and asked him some questions. However, instead of possessing Spoletano in order to write the answers, Satan caused the pen to float mid-air. The legend claims he wrote the answers down right then and there.
Ashton believed that the script may have been derived from Amharic. “According to a legend, [Amharic] was the primeval language spoken in Eden,” he claimed. Many contemporary experts now believe that Eden is nothing more than a mythological place. But that doesn’t stop scholars from being intrigued by the writing sample.
The Text Doesn’t Mean Anything…Yet
Modern-day academics and code breakers seem to believe that the sample in Asthon’s book is nothing more than symbols. No one has been able to decipher the text and the notion that it is the “Devil’s handwriting” might be nothing more than an elaborate prank at the expense of Postel and Albonesi’s reputations.
At least the text has some symbols that could potentially be considered devilish. A few of the characters look like pitchforks, after all!
She Might Have Been An Undiagnosed Schizophrenic
Despite the religious content of Sister Maria’s Devil letter, it seems like the science team has other ideas about the force behind the text. Abate claims that it is unlikely that the Devil wrote anything, telling The Times, “I personally believe that the nun had a good command of languages, which allowed her to invent the code. And [Sister Maria] may have suffered from a condition like schizophrenia, which made her imagine dialogues with the Devil.”
The diagnosis, albeit not given by a medical professional, could explain some of Sister Maria’s strange behavior.
Schizophrenia Might Produce Delusions That Reflect Culture
The symptoms of schizophrenia can appear to closely resemble demonic possession. In the case of Sister Maria, the episodes she faced could have been auditory hallucinations and strange fantasies about the Devil. The mental illness causes some people to produce “word salads,” which are jumbles of words without any comprehensive meaning.
Also, it’s been documented that people who suffer from schizophrenia appear to have delusions that reflect their culture. For example, in Christian societies, those with the illness might believe themselves to be a prophet or possessed by the Devil.
Some Academics Believe In Sister Maria’s Possession
It’s also said that religion itself may be a reason for a psychotic breakdown, due to all of the demonic themes and otherworldly imagery. It seems significant that Sister Maria had a breakdown regarding conflict within her faith and spirituality.
Despite seeking refuge at the convent at a young age, she was never able to find peace. Instead, the nun was apparently consumed with the demons that the Bible preaches to people to resist. But not all academics think the nun’s possession was in response to mental illness. Some believe she was actually possessed.
Dr. Richard Gallagher Believes In Exorcism
Dr. Richard Gallagher of Columbia University claims to have seen a few demonic possessions in his day. According to the doctor, demons are real and they speak strange languages. Although it’s unusual that a man of science believes in and has helped exorcise demonic possession, Dr. Gallagher is highly respected in the field.
According to CNN, “[Gallagher has become]: the go-to guy for a sprawling network of exorcists in the United States. He says demonic possession is real. He’s seen the evidence: victims suddenly speaking perfect Latin; sacred objects flying off shelves; people displaying ‘hidden knowledge’ or secrets about people that they could not have possibly have known.”
Dr. Gallagher Says That A Belief In Demons Is Uncomfortable To Many People
In June 2018, Gallagher told The Daily Mail that “[Demons are] fallen angels. They’re extremely bright, much brighter than humans. They’ve been around for millennia, so they speak all languages.” If you believe in heaven and hell, it makes complete sense that demons are intellectual since they’ve been on Earth for so long.
But a belief in demons is not something most people are willing to accept. Aside from Dr. Gallagher, multiple mental health professionals agree that an individual’s spiritual beliefs probably play a role in possession.
Two Psychiatrists Agree With Dr. Gallagher
According to Dr. Mark Albanese, some psychiatrists believe that a person’s spiritual beliefs have a role to play in their mental illness. In August 2017, he told CNN that “there’s a certain openness to experiences that are happening that are beyond what we can explain by MRI scans, neurobiology or even psychological theories.”
Psychologist Dr. Stephen Diamond explains that exorcism may represent an archaic form of psychotherapy. And Jesus Christ was even reported to have cast out demons from sick individuals. The practice of exorcism has a long history and spans many religions.
There Are Similarities Between Psychotherapy And Exorcism
In 2012, Dr. Diamond expressed the distinct similarities between exorcism and psychotherapy in a Psychology Today article. “Psychotherapy, like exorcism, commonly consists of a prolonged, pitched, demanding, soul-wrenching, sometimes tedious bitter battle royale with the patient’s diabolically obdurate emotional ‘demons.’ [This is] at times waged over the course of years or even decades rather than weeks or months – and not necessarily always with consummate success.”
Dr. Diamond goes on to explain the differences between the two forms of therapy, stating that psychotherapy is a treatment for figurative, metaphorical “demons,” whereas exorcism takes the existence of demons literally.
Belief In Demonic Possessions Is Still Common
The concept of demonic possession is still common in some modern societies. For example, in 2018, a passenger on a Mexico City metro was seemingly possessed. An impromptu exorcism then occurred in the middle of the day, in full view of the public. It was videotaped and watched online more than a million times.
The clip shows a well-dressed man saying, “In the name of Jesus, leave…You need to leave in the name of Jesus. You need to go!” The possessed woman proceeds to attack him with an umbrella. According to media sources, sights like these are not all that uncommon.
Some Believe That Reading Harry Potter Can Conjure Evil Spirits
Religious convictions can be so strong in some people that they cause moral panic in themselves and the community. For instance, in September 2019, St. Edward Catholic School in Nashville suddenly banned Harry Potter because the school pastor was advised by exorcists.
In his letter to parents explaining his actions, Reverend Dan Reehil said, “[the] books present magic as both good and evil – which is not true but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells which, when read by a human being, risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”
Kennedy Ife thought There Was A Serpent Inside His Body
Unfortunately, in situations where moral panic outweighs rational thought and action, the consequences can be tragic. While banning Harry Potter doesn’t do much but deny children to a fantastic book series, in London in 2016, a “possession” of 26-year-old Kennedy Ife resulted in his death.
It started with a sore throat and sleeping problems. Ife’s condition worsened from there and he became delusional, claiming to have a serpent inside him. According to one of Ife’s brothers, he started to become very aggressive.
He Was Moaning In Pain
The Christian family went as far as to hide all of the kitchen knives and restrain the 26-year-old with rope and handcuffs. Supposedly, they went on to perform an at-home exorcism but their “cure” didn’t work.
According to reports, Ife’s breathing became labored and he started to moan in pain. The young man eventually passed away, even though his brother tried to perform a ritualistic “resurrection.” Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where those involved should have called some health professionals.
Theatricality Or Truth?
As people are still going as far as banning popular novels from school libraries, it’s safe to say that the belief in demonic possession is still present in society. It’s been reported that the Roman Catholic church is considering training a new generation of exorcists. Even some Protestant churches have begun to “cast out demons.”
This all begs the question of whether or not their efforts are an extremely theatrical version of psychotherapy, or if they’re actually ridding someone of an evil spirit.
The Devil Letter Is A Gray Area
Traveling back to 17th-century Sicily and Sister Maria, could her experience have been anything other than metaphysical? A theatrical display of a mental illness that went undiagnosed? And what about the nuns of Loudon? Was their experience anything other than what has been recorded in history? Who knows, maybe they all had a vendetta against the Father and that was their way of getting even.
Whatever the reality is, Sister Maria’s Devil letter is strange enough to have us guessing its meaning even hundreds of years later. It’s those gray areas between fact and fiction that intrigue humans the most.
Queen Maria I Of Portugal Was Known As The Mad Queen
Ruling over Portugal from 1777 to 1816, the mentally unstable Queen Maria I was married to her uncle, who was also unwell. During her reign, she witnessed two of her children die from smallpox, along with her son-in-law and grandson. It is believed these deaths only drove her further into insanity.
At times, she would throw violent tantrums no for no reason and took to wearing clothes meant for little girls, earning her the nickname the Mad Queen. By 1799, her son was running the country, with Maria being queen only by title. She died in a convent shortly after fleeing to Brazil during the Napoleonic Wars.
Empress Elisabeth Of Austria Suffered From Anorexia And Depression
Referred to as “Sisi,” Empress Elisabeth came from a family with prominent members who were known for their uncommon behavior, such as her cousin King Ludwig II of Bavaria. At 16, she married her cousin, Franz Joseph, establishing her as the Empress of Austria. Although Franz loved Elisabeth, she did not share his affection and particularly despised his mother, Archduchess Sophie.
Known for her beauty in her youth, as she aged, she became increasingly paranoid about her appearance, slipping into a deep depression. It came to a point where she began to starve herself and refused to let anyone paint her portrait. She even spoke openly about taking her own life until the deed was committed by an anarchist in 1898.
King George III Lost His Mind
King George II of England is best known for losing the American Revolution, but also for his insanity. It was believed that he inherited porphyria, a genetic disorder causing bouts of insanity, although it could have been the result of bipolar disorder.
His condition became worse later in his life, leading him to give up on his duties as king with his delusions becoming so severe that at times he was put into straitjackets, his blood was leeched, or he was placed into ice baths in order to calm down. Medical tests show that porphyria was common in the House of Hanover, which King George II was a part of.
Joanna Of Castile Succumbed To Grief
Joanna of Castile was never supposed to inherit the thrones of Castile and Aragon, but after outliving a number of her siblings, she ended up wearing the crown. Unfortunately, she was mentally unprepared for her position as Queen of Spain, especially the standards set by her mother.
However, she ended up marrying and falling deeply in love with her husband, a member of the Habsburg family known as Philip the Handsome. Philip did not return her love and was unfaithful on numerous occasions before his death. The loss of her husband drove Joanna into insanity, leading to her removal from power and imprisonment until her death in 1555.
Ludwig II Of Bavaria Was Slain For His Unpredictability
Cousin of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s family had been inbreeding for generations, which came to a head at the birth of Ludwig II. In his early years, people began to notice that Ludwig was exceedingly paranoid and lived in his own fantastical world. It is believed that he suffered from a schizotypal personality disorder and possibly Pick’s disease later in his life.
He preferred to build extravagant estates and commission massive art projects, which led to unrest with both the public and the Bavarian government, with people annoyed at his wastefulness and inability to lead. In 1886, his body was found by a lake, and it was assumed that he had been slain.
Caligula Was Ruthless And Without A Conscience
Rome had its fair share of cruel emperors, but Caligula tops the list. Known for his sadism and insanity, he often commanded lavish projects to be completed for no reason while Rome suffered. It is even said that he had an entire section of an audience at the gladiatorial games thrown to wild animals because he was bored.
After recovering from a serious illness that was believed to be caused by poison, Caligula descended into madness, banning or executing anyone whom he thought was a threat, as well as participating in horrendous acts of depravity and torture to secure complete power. Eventually, he was assassinated for his tyranny.
King Henry VI Thought He Was Made Of Glass
King Henry VI of England was made king before his first birthday and spent the majority of his life battling mental illness as England was slowly engulfed in the War of the Roses. He suffered his first mental breakdown in 1453, which rendered him completely useless as a ruler.
As time went on, his condition worsened to the point that he thought he was made of glass and would break at even the slightest touch. He was disposed of in 1461 by Yorkish forces, re-took the throne in 1470, although he was imprisoned and possibly murdered in 1471.
Ivan IV Of Russia Earned The Title Of Ivan The Terrible
The first czar of Russia, Ivan IV, is known for transforming Russia from a medieval state into an empire, although at a significant cost to its people and the countries long-term success.
He is remembered for his madness and cruelty, taking pleasure in torturing and executing the nobility as well as slaughtering the entire city of Novgorod. Furthermore, he murdered his eldest son and heir in 1581 in a fit of rage as well as beating his pregnant daughter-in-law for her clothing, most likely resulting in a miscarriage.
Philip V Suffered From Intense Melancholia
Philip V was a grandson of Louis XiV, King of France. As a part of the French royal family, it was easy for him to ascend the Spanish throne after the War of the Spanish Succession. He held the throne from November 1700 to July 1746. He actually abdicated in favor of his son Louis in 1924 but when his son died months later, he reigned again.
Throughout his life and reign, Philip suffered from manic depression and melancholia. Apparently, he eased the pain of his mental illness with music by singer Farinelli.
Eric XIV Was Violent Due To Paranoia
As King of Sweden from 1560-1568, Eric XIV held with an iron fist. He was known for his intelligence, but also his bouts of rage and paranoia. Scholars still debate whether he was mentally ill before or after the start of his reign, but they all agree it affected his rule.
Eric XIV’s paranoia was so harsh that he murdered several members of a rival family. The murders led to his downfall and Eric eventually was poisoned by guards.
Government Struggled Around Christian VII Of Denmark
Even though he was never formally diagnosed with any mental illness at the time, King Christian VII of Denmark was said to have shown severe mental and emotional instability. Christian VII ascended to the throne in 1766 but the government never fully formed around him. Things worsened after his marriage when he was said to have experienced paranoia, hallucinations, and self-harm.
The country was essentially run by whichever political advisor was favorable to Christian VII at the time. In many ways, he was said to be king only in name.
Otto Of Bavaria Never Truly Ruled
Before Ludwig II took the throne, Otto was king. Despite reigning from 1886-1913, he was never an active ruler due to multiple mental illnesses. Otto became depressed and anxious after the Franco-Prussian War and it got to the point when he was under constant supervision.
Later in his life, Otto was effectively held prisoner in his castle. Historians now believe he suffered from schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, which was heightened thanks to physical paralysis from syphilis.
Talal Of Jordan Abdicated The Throne
Talal bin Abdullah became King of Jordan in 1951 but only one year later was forced to abdicate the throne. Parliament forced him off the throne after reports that he suffered from schizophrenia. The reports were enlarged after Queen Zein of Jordan went to the British Embassy in Paris and claimed that Talal has threatened her and her child with a knife.
Shortly after, Talal left the throne and spent the rest of his life in a sanatorium. Despite the short reign, he was known for establishing Jordan’s modern constitution.
Tiberius Couldn’t Stop The Rumors
Tiberius was part of a long line of Roman emperors that commanded respect. In his time he was known as one of the greatest generals Rome had ever seen. Still, he was considered “reclusive” and “sombre” with one historian Pliny the Elder calling him “the gloomiest of men.”
This possible depression coincided with Tiberius’ time in Capri. While there, many rumors swirled about his paranoia and cruelty. Whether he suffered from depression or not, it was clear that Tiberius was a troubled ruler.
Nero Was One Of The Most Tyrannical Rulers
Another Roman emperor thought to suffer from mental illness was the infamous Nero. Nero has gone down in history as the man who may have fiddled while Rome burned, and the one who murdered his own mother. He was known for being tyrannical and cruel.
Due to the over-the-top cruelness, many historians have wondered whether Nero also suffered from an illness that caused him to lack empathy or react to situations in ways outside his character.
Justin II Had Fits Of Insanity
Justin II ruled as the Eastern Roman Emperor as a member of the Justinian Dynasty. While he was known for showing force when necessary, Justin II also said to “take on the attitude of the invincible” and lack realism.
That led many to claim him insane. In 572, John of Ephesus claimed that Justin II suffered insanity and even “behaved like a wild animal, was wheeled about on a mobile throne, and required organ music to be played day and night.”
Nebuchadnezzar II Thought He Was A Bovine
During the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar II reigned as King of Babylon from 506 BC – 562 BC. In Biblical history, he’s known as the king who destroyed Solomon’s Temple.
He’s also described in the Bible as suffered from a mental illness condition now known as boanthropy. The psychological disorder occurs when a human believes they are bovine. In the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar II is described to “eat grass as oxen.” He is the most famous person to have suffered from this disorder.