By Raymond Castile

The Rev. Ronald E. Beery specializes in showing ghosts the door.

Beery, 40, helps people rid themselves of unwanted spirits, negative energy and curses.

"Some people believe that someone has cast a spell or curse upon them, and I help them with that," he said. "I talk them through it, ask why do they believe this might be going on, and then try to get it removed."

Beery, of St. Charles, is a nondenominational minister through the Universal Life Church in California. He considers himself a "monotheistic, metaphysical" person who believes in one creative force, but not one "right" religion.

"I think there is truth in everything," he said.

Beery tries to find the truth when he investigates hauntings and other psychic phenomena. He uses his intuition and empathic abilities to detect the presence of spirits.

"Thoughts and emotions are forms of energy. I think that's what ghosts are," he said. "People pass on and their work is not finished, so they leave something behind. Ghosts are leftover residue, a nonphysical artifact. If the person spent their life being mean and evil, when they die, it is possible that evil can take a psychic form of a ghost or entity."

An evil ghost can become an unwelcome house guest. Homeowners call on Beery to perform a "house exorcism" and banish the spirit from the premises, as he did four years ago for a young couple who had just moved into an old house in Soulard.

"There were a lot of strange happenings, like ghostly apparitions going through the house, pictures falling off the wall. To this day I can't figure out what was going on," he said. "There was a ghost living in that house."

Beery fashioned a smudge stick by bundling sage and sweet grass and burning the end. He used the charred stick to mark each room of the house, cleansing it of evil and impurity.

"We worked our way up to the front door and chased the spirit out," Beery said. "Actually, we asked it to leave and go to its other realm. They didn't have trouble after that."

The problem is not always supernatural, Beery said. Six years ago he investigated a case in St. Charles where a husband, wife and 3-year-old daughter reported strange phenomena.

"The husband had scratch marks on his body, and things were turning up missing," Beery said. "The little girl kept seeing a ghost she called the Baron. She said he was wearing a uniform. I brought some pictures over for her to look at. She pointed to a picture of a German Kaiser."

Beery said natural forces were causing the family great emotional strain. The man was a drug addict and the woman had two of her children removed from her custody by state authorities, Beery said. The little girl was constantly nervous, he said.

"The husband was terrified of the child. He thought she was some kind of little demon," Beery said. "She was one of those kids who never smile. When I diagnosed the case, I wrote it off as a lot of family tension. It was psychosomatic."

Evil does not have to be a sentient entity in order to exist as a real force, Beery said.

"I do believe there are evil forces at work out there, but I believe they are created by human beings and not a devil or a god," he said. "I only believe in the evil that humans create. They can manifest themselves on a spiritual level. They can take the form of a ghost or entity."

Beery's self-styled beliefs about the spiritual manifestation of evil do not sound far removed from those of Bishop Robert Hermann of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

"We don't have a so-called exorcist in the St. Louis diocese, but for the past 25 years, I and other priests have dealt with a lot of people who felt they were dealing with evil spirits," Hermann said.

"So often when people say they are possessed by a demon, what they really mean is they have serious problems that need to be dealt with."

Hermann said the first step in helping these people is a process of "prayerful discernment to determine what kind of spirit is operating here. Is it an evil spirit, the Holy Spirit, or a natural wounded human spirit?"

People who hold on to anger and resentment can become influenced by a "spirit of resentment" or a "spirit of bitterness," Hermann said. These are not mere emotional states, but actual entities.

"They can be evil spirits," he said. "Is there such a thing as evil spirits that come with the occult? The answer is yes."

Hermann said individuals beset by these spirits are set free through prayer and inner healing.

"I have found again and again, when we lead people to forgive everyone who has hurt them, they experience an incredible joy and freedom. They are set free," he said. "We get them to renounce the evil spirits and then pray with them to find the healing love of Jesus Christ."

Hermann stressed that he does not do exorcisms. He said the last official exorcism in the St. Louis area that he is aware of took place in 1949. That famous case later became the basis for William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel, The Exorcist.

The incident involved a 13-year-old boy from Maryland who became the focal point of apparent poltergeist activity, such as furniture and objects moving by themselves. The family visited a cousin in St. Louis who was studying at St. Louis University. At the cousin's behest, two priest professors and a Jesuit investigated the case. A church-sanctioned exorcism was performed in the psychiatric ward of Alexian Brothers Hospital.

The Rev. Francis X. Cleary, a Jesuit priest, was an undergraduate at St. Louis University in 1949. He later became an associate professor in the school's department of theological studies.

Cleary, now retired, said he was aware of the exorcism but did not become involved.

"I did not meet the young man. The people involved in the exorcism did not want to talk about it," Cleary said.

But Cleary became interested in the case and eventually became an authority on the subject. He spent his life studying, writing, and teaching about the role the supernatural plays in the physical world.

"There are no bonafide cases of demonic possession," Cleary said. "I worked through to this view by consulting experts on the whole matter. You don't need to bring the devil in to solve these problems. God is not involved in the world, and neither is the Devil involved in the world. That is not the way the world is made. The world is independent of the divine or the demonic. It functions autonomously by itself."

Cleary said cases like the 1949 incident can be explained through psychology and natural phenomena.

"The evidence is lacking for the presence of demonic activity and invasion in our world," he said. "Everything that is presumed to be demonic can be explained in a natural way. Possession is more of a behavioral disorder."

Cleary said he realizes his theories do not correspond with official Catholic doctrines.

"There are some priests who make a hobby of investigating the occult. They become experts on this sort of thing," Cleary said. "They have their position and I have mine."

Pictures are digitally altered versions of images originally scanned by Liam Quin. Top image depicts magician Edward Kelly invoking the spirit of a deceased person. Symbols are "magical circles, seals and characters." All images taken from "The Everyday Book and Table Book," William Hone, 1826, London.

This story was originally published in the Suburban Journals of St. Charles County, Oct. 29, 2003. Used with permission.