The trees and rolling hills lend a warm, suburban vibe to Marion and Larry Pollard’s West Arlington neighborhood. Shouts of children from a nearby elementary school waft in on waves of heat as you step inside the foyer of their comfortable ranch home, where you’re surrounded by portraits of the grandkids—eight of them, ranging in age from 5 to 22.
To the right is the Pollards’ office, looking like any pastor’s study, with a desk, a trio of chairs, and bookshelves lined with Bible commentaries. A box of tissues sits discreetly beside one chair. A football-sized terrier named Bella bounces in and nestles behind you when you take a seat.
You won’t hear bland Bible homilies in this place, however. The Pollards are exorcists, practitioners of an ancient specialty mostly lost since the early days of the church, and their job is to cast out demons. The demons come out through gagging and coughing and shaking and yawning, with minimal histrionics, because Larry “binds” the theatrical antics of demons, such as flinging bodies across a room. They call it gentle deliverance.
Pastors and Christian mental-health professionals from all over the country quietly refer clients they just can’t help to the Pollards, after trying everything. In the 15 years or so since the Pollards started their ministry, there has been no shortage of tortured souls.
For the next four hours, I will witness an exorcism—or, as they prefer to call it, “deliverance session”—and it will blow my mind. Not because I haven’t seen a deliverance before. I have, but it was while on Christian church missions in Nigeria and Botswana. I’ve never seen this: the juxtaposition of these plainspoken, ordinary West Texans and the Dantean drama that plays out in front of us, via the soft frame of a 38-year-old suburban mom we’ll call Ruth.
Ruth bounds in with a smile and a designer bag, hugging the Pollards, winking at her own jokes, and getting comfortable in a cushioned chair next to the tissues. She pulls out a zebra print-encased iPhone and reads her notes of a recent dream in which a big, angry boss man appeared, telling her she had no right to take over his place.
Larry, 68, who looks like a giant garden gnome with his white hair, beard, and boxy physique, jots notes on a yellow legal pad, then calls on the Holy Spirit to protect everyone present. Then he homes in on the culprit. “Get up and face me,” he commands, in a Texas drawl. “I want the one that is trying to intimidate, to act like the big boss. Get up here and face me right now. I call you to judgment.”
The Pollards say they never employ hypnosis. Neither do they make suggestions. “We don’t lead them in any way,” Larry says. “Because that would be us and not the Lord.”
Genial, wisecracking Ruth vanishes. A metamorphosis takes place, with subtle changes in voice, movement, and expression. Her head begins to shake and bob. Her arms tense up and straighten. Her fingers stiffen and arch upward. Her head jerks to the left, avoiding Larry’s steady, unsmiling gaze.
Marion, 65, looks on beside them, praying quietly.
“Turn the head right now and look at me,” Larry demands. “Who are you?”
The head snaps forward and drops. The mouth lets out a long sigh—ahhhhh. A robotic, vaguely masculine voice responds: “What do you want?”
“What is your function?” Larry asks.
“I have no function except to torment,” the voice answers. The eyes are fixed in a way that is glaring yet vacant.
“Do you have a right to her? Yes or no?” Larry asks.
“Yes, I have,” the voice says, in a clipped, mocking tone.
“What is your right?”
“Her sexuality,” the voice groans, drawing out the consonants with a hiss. “I take all of their reproductive organs. Everyone gives to me.”
“How long have you tormented her?” Larry asks.
“Foreverrrr,” the voice says, breaking into a growl. “As long as I want to.”
“That ain’t the answer,” Larry interjects. “Do you want me to punish you?”
“No,” the voice says, growling again. “Noooooo.”
As he does many times on this April day, Larry calls on the angels of God to torment the demons with flaming swords until the spirits speak truthfully or depart altogether. After considerable interrogation, and after Larry repents on Ruth’s behalf for the sins that allowed this demon to take residence in her, the thing apparently leaves. Ruth bobs her head and exhales.
She plucks a tissue from the box and dabs a tear.
“I felt it leave,” Marion says, speaking for the first time. “Thank you, Jesus.”
Let’s just say that Hollywood got a few things right. The demon voice, the jerky head movements, that quavering growl. The empty look.
Through multiple grueling hours, stopping between demons for Ruth to compose herself and take a swig from a 44-ounce McDonald’s iced tea, I learn that Ruth and her siblings were physically abused by their father. Protecting herself, their mother thrust Ruth on the old man, using her child to absorb his Jekyll-and-Hyde ragings. “Go make Daddy happy,” she’d say.
Ruth is paying for it today. She estimates she has spent “20 to 25 grand, minimum” on counseling, with little to show for it. She struggles with anger, emotional coldness, the need to control. She watched her daughter and niece develop severe panic attacks. Although she has been successful in business, Ruth describes her old self as a “witch.” She knew it was time to take on the family demons.
Her sister directed her to the Pollards’ Comfort My People Ministries. After five sessions with Larry and Marion, she’s a happy customer. They accomplished in one session what years couldn’t do in counseling, she says. The first appointment weirded her out, she admits, but she felt good afterward, so she came back.
“It’s awesome,” she says. “I told my husband he’s next.”
Dozens of what appear to be demons manifest and depart during this day’s session. Larry coaxes out their names and functions, a veritable pantheon of entities known and obscure: Maranthia, who cuts wicked deals; Horus, Egypt’s falcon-headed god; Molech, who the Bible describes as “the detestable god of the Ammonites.”
Ruth morphs into another person altogether when Larry commands these spirits to manifest. Either she is an Academy Award-winning horror-film actress, with Ferrari-smooth shifts of body and voice, or she is encountering something in a subconscious realm. At one point, she speaks the name of a demon in a distinctly foreign voice: “Ba-al.” Later, in casual conversation, the pronunciation comes out differently: “Bail,” with a bit of a twang—the name of a Canaanite god mentioned numerous times in the Bible.
She describes the experience as sitting in a passenger seat, watching things unfold beside her as though another part of her brain controls them. “It becomes our little scavenger hunt,” Ruth says cheerily. “What’s the crazy little person inside me going to say next?”
The climax of the day is wrought with emotion. Ruth sees herself transported to an ancient mountain, where she observes blood and people screaming. “They’re trying to sacrifice up there,” she says in a raised voice. She puts her face in her hands and rocks side to side. “Please forgive us,” she says. “Oh, God, forgive us. Oh, God, forgive us!” She breaks into racking sobs. “Have mercy on my family!” she cries out.
When Larry casts out the last demon, Ruth crumples in tears, with Marion cradling her head and singing softly in her ear.
• • •
The early Christian church had its hands full with converts from paganism. Consider believers in the ancient city of Corinth, with its Wild West atmosphere and famed temple of Aphrodite. In this Greek crossroads city, a reported 1,000 male and female sacred prostitutes did their thing beneath the glowering eyes of idols. Along with the ritualized lust and occult practices came demons—so exorcists played a prominent role in such churches. Exorcisms were “possibly the most highly rated activity of the early Christian church” in the eyes of outsiders, writes Yale University professor Ramsay MacMullen, one of the world’s foremost scholars of ancient Roman history, in his book Christianizing the Roman Empire.
Church fathers Tertullian and Justin noted that pretty much any old Christian was able to cast out demons in the name of Jesus Christ, and Saint Irenaeus observed that successful exorcisms were the impetus for many conversions. Miracles, healings, and exorcisms characterized church life at least through the mid-third century, MacMullen writes—then something happened.
That something was Constantine—the Roman emperor who declared Christianity the state religion in the fourth century, says Steve Woodward, a board member of Comfort My People with a Ph.D. in New Testament from King’s College of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. No longer subject to waves of deadly persecution, Christianity “lost its edge,” Woodward says. Exorcists receded to the margins of the faith, where they have generally stayed ever since.
Scott Horrell, a professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, explains why you’ll seldom hear mention of the demonic in American churches today. “Because we are rationalists, we are of the Enlightenment,” he says. One well-known Christian authority went so far as to tell Horrell, “I’ve never seen a demon possession that a pill could not cure.” But Horrell observed otherwise during 18 years of ministry and teaching in Brazil, where a syncretic religion called Umbanda—a mix of African tribal religions, indigenous Indian religions, elements of Roman Catholicism, and Kardecian Spiritism from Europe—is widely practiced among all strata of society. Demonic oppression “is reality in other parts of the world,” Horrell says, “and I’m quite convinced it’s reality here. And there are probably many in our psych hospitals who are medicated to suppress what appear to be the outcroppings of possession, and the spiritual dimension is never addressed. It’s just never even looked at.”
Through travels with church groups to Nigeria and Botswana, I’ve also seen phenomena I cannot attribute to natural means. I watched a boy of 10 or so who fell to the floor and began speaking in a guttural, grown man’s voice. Although I was among ordinary Nigerians who converse in broken, heavily accented English, the boy orated with precise British diction. At another time in the same place, a woman rolled and flailed with such force that she sent plastic chairs scattering.
At a small urban church in Gaborone, Botswana, I was plunged into a Boschian tableau in which several young women jerked and flopped on the floor, rolling their eyes, kicking up dust. One smacked me in the face so hard that my glasses went flying several feet away.
Perhaps they were all faking it and were pitiably suggestible, or perhaps as a Christian myself, I am biased (and not a little naive). Or perhaps there’s a pseudo-intellectualism that causes us to consign things we don’t understand to the rabid imaginings of benighted people in faraway lands.
Which isn’t to say it’s all real. There are kooks out there, screaming at imagined demons and drawing attention only to themselves. And there are the guys in Gaborone, who called themselves ministers and took the opportunity to manhandle young women in supposed ministrations of prayer. The demons manifested, but they never seemed to leave. The men appeared to get a kick out of the chaos.
So if I have a bias, it’s this: I’ve seen enough to convince me that personal forces of darkness are at work in an unseen spiritual realm. When a friend told me the Pollards were the real deal, deliverance ministers who get verifiable results, I resolved to check them out.
• • •
Growing up in Lubbock in the super-conservative Church of Christ, Larry and Marion heard little about the supernatural. “Golly, there was none of that,” Larry says. “With my background, Baptists would seem liberal.” Sure, Jesus cast out demons—in fact, demons take up a surprisingly large part of the four gospel narratives—but no one expected to find any of them in West Texas, and certainly not in the Church of Christ. Here, the Pollards married young and eventually moved to the Dallas area, where they lived the best they knew how, working hard, going to church, and raising four kids. Larry earned master licenses in plumbing and HVAC, Marion sold real estate, and together they pulled in a six-figure income.
At the churches they attended over the years, Larry always gravitated to some kind of leadership role. He is a strong, no-nonsense guy; he exudes stability. Their spiritual path led them to a Messianic Jewish synagogue. Larry says he got a revelation from God that he is a Jew by heritage, so he identified with the relatively small number of Jews who believe the Messiah has already come in the form of Jesus. And so it was that he ended up mentoring a 21-year-old Fort Worth man, a landscaper whom he’d met while keeping the grounds at this North Dallas synagogue.
The man came from a rough background—drugs, abuse, witchcraft—but he welcomed Larry’s fatherly influence and decided to make a commitment to Jesus. Over the next year or so, he broke away from the streets, married his girlfriend, and fathered a child. By everyone’s account, he was doing great. Larry, who still worked full time, concluded his mentorship and turned him over to an assistant pastor.
In a scant three months, the young man’s life unraveled. He returned to drugs. His wife divorced him.
Larry was in disbelief. He found one of the young man’s journals in his truck. “Page after page, you could just feel his tears, his emotion as he’s going through this,” Larry says. “There is no question he was doing everything he could to stay with the Lord. And he still failed.”
The contractor marched in to the assistant pastor’s office one day. He had a question: “Did we do everything we could for this young man?”
The assistant pastor seemed nonchalant. “That’s a hard question.”
“I reject that answer,” Larry said. And he walked out.
Days of soul searching ensued. Within a few months, Larry concluded that deliverance was the answer—the expulsion of oppressive spiritual forces through commanding prayer. Demons, after all, were agents of Satan tasked with doing his dirty work until Jesus returned. If God had a good plan for that young man’s life, didn’t it stand to reason that the devil had an evil scheme to counter it?
After perusing the meager offerings on deliverance in a Christian bookstore, Larry dug into the Scriptures for guidance, particularly the deep recesses of the Old Testament. What he found upended his tidy theology: numerous curses for sinful acts, including a 10-generation curse when a child is conceived out of wedlock. Certain sins, Larry found, gave demons the right to oppress their victim, whether that sin was committed by the individual or his or her ancestors.
These discoveries gradually opened up a new way of looking at the gospels. Jesus became a curse for us when he died on the cross, Christianity teaches. Then what happened? Larry’s conclusion was simple: like every benefit of the cross offered to believers in Jesus Christ—salvation, healing, joy, and peace—the breaking of curses had to be accessed and appropriated through faith, repentance, and prayer. A different kind of prayer.
“These prayers we pray have authority,” Larry explains. “Did Jesus pray about deliverance? No, he commanded. Most Christian prayers are asking God to do something he’s given us to do.”
Larry began trying out his newfound theory. One of his early subjects showed up at the Messianic synagogue one day fresh out of the psych ward of a Louisiana prison. He claimed he’d killed three men with his bare hands. (Supernatural strength is a manifestation of demonic powers, Larry notes.) He couldn’t stop the voices. They tormented him day and night.
“Do you want me to shut them up?” Larry asked.
He then prayed—or, more accurately, commanded—and the voices stopped. “His eyes got as big as they could get,” Larry recalls, “and for the first time, this young man had hope his life could change.” Hours of prayer that day transformed even the young man’s hard-set, angry face. Turns out, Larry says, the man’s great-great-grandmother was Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ famed voodoo priestess. He had been bred into demons. For the next 24 hours, the man couldn’t sleep as spirits left him. He’d yawn and feel a release. In other instances, with other people, eyes water, ears pop, hands tingle. A burp might signal an exiting spirit.
Demons need to get out, Larry explains. They’re not floating around; they inhabit bodies. When you give a part of your body for sin, the demon has a “legal right” to occupy that territory.
Although Larry lost touch with the man a few months later, he knew he was on to something. In every church he’d find buckets of believers with persistent problems for which the usual pious prescriptions of humble prayer and Bible-reading brought little relief. These were the people Larry and Marion felt they were called to help. Within a few years, Larry had stepped away from his contracting business and gone into deliverance ministry full time. Setting aside their retirement plans, Marion would join him in a support role. They say they’ve ministered to well over 1,000 people to date. Clients give a suggested donation based on a sliding scale. A four-hour session could run from $225 to $350, though many clients receive full or partial “scholarships.”
“Can’t you just be like normal grandparents?” their kids sometimes protest. But then they’d have to walk away from the “miracles we see daily.”
• • •
In a recent deliverance session at their Arlington home, Larry and Marion prayed for a 68-year-old man who’d been a Christian all of his life but couldn’t kick a pornography habit. Delving into his past, the Pollards found he’d been sexually abused by his mother. “His upbringing was really bad,” Larry says. “She had sex with him and a lot more stuff.”
Larry knew he had to dig deeper: when did demons intrude into the ancestral line, bringing “severe judgment” on this man’s family? Larry asked the Holy Spirit to show the man anything they needed to know. “Try to keep your conscious mind out of it,” Larry tells his clients, “and just try to be a good reporter. Speak out what God shows you.”
The Holy Spirit searches the fractured areas of soul and spirit, Larry says, revealing places that require repentance or a healing touch from God. Suddenly, the man broke out bawling. In his mind’s eye were horrifying images: apparent family members tied up three black women, stripped them naked, and raped them. “But that wasn’t the worst thing,” Larry says. “They tied the men up, and kind of rolled them over a log, and then castrated the husbands in front of their wives and killed them.”
At this point, the Pollards’ teachings mess with anything you ever learned in Sunday school or catechism. Like Ruth, the man had no knowledge of these events. The Pollards’ best guess is they occurred in the Civil War era. But what he’d seen was so real, so devastating, that he didn’t question its veracity.
Larry led him through repentance for his forefathers’ deeds. Why? Because this man in Dallas, in the year 2014, was present in his fathers’ loins when this evil took place, Larry says. Check out the concept in the New Testament book of Hebrews, in one of those passages that never made any sense to you.
While he tells me this story, I observe that it isn’t fair. How can you be held accountable for something you didn’t even know about?
“Sorry,” Larry says.
The man confessed these sins, erasing the bloodguilt that dogged his family line, and eliminating the demons’ right to torment him. And away they went. He is doing well today, Larry says, experiencing light and peace and all of the stuff that’s supposed to go along with Jesus.
Sensing my discomfort with the whole episode—so I’m on the hook not only for my sins but also the sins of generations of untold ancestors as well, potentially all the way back to an apple in Eden?—Larry explains further. If there is murder or rape in the family line, he says, you never find just one case. “It’s no different from the doctor looking at you and asking, ‘Did your father have cancer? Did your mother have cancer?’ ”
Because these generational curses are so common, the Pollards ask clients to fill out detailed questionnaires that resemble a medical history—based on spiritual, emotional, and physical afflictions evident in the family line. They are grouped together in categories: fear and rejection, for example. Beneath that heading, one can check abandonment, loneliness, withdrawal, competitiveness, possessiveness, and many others; checking numerous boxes indicates a spiritual “stronghold” of fear and rejection. Other categories include lust/sex/idolatry, unforgiveness, and occult/divination. Larry scores the different categories, and a road map emerges for demonic intrusions in that individual and his family.
“So that stuff is carried on down the line,” Larry says, “and now it’s your turn to get born, and you’re handed this welcome package.”
Many of the Pollards’ clients are Christians who got “stuck” in their faith. That “welcome package” has come back to bite them, and the energy and optimism of youth no longer outweigh the pile of spiritual and emotional crud they’ve acquired over the years.
Noella Rowe, 44, a native of France, had experienced demonic attacks when she was a little girl growing up in a turbulent, alcoholic family. Now they were back. A cold, creepy presence would appear at her left side while she was in bed. “My skin would crawl, I would shake—I would be terrorized,” says Rowe, who lives in North Dallas with her husband. She met the Pollards at the Messianic synagogue and began seeing them for prayer every week. The demonic attacks stopped completely, she says.
Larry’s expertise has even been exported to Nepal through Gary Shepherd, 72, a retired missionary with the highly respected Wycliffe Bible Translators. Shepherd had served in Nepal for more than four decades and tells of an environment rife with demons and generations of witches, the most powerful of whom practice human sacrifice. Shepherd says Larry’s teachings on deliverance forever changed these communities.
The Nepalese pastors were accustomed to deliverance prayer; demonization was practically a given in this group of first-generation Christians. Exorcisms could take up to 10 hours, and departing spirits were frequently replaced by a new, more vicious batch. One day in 2011, Larry found himself seated on the floor, crammed into a makeshift church with local villagers. They set before him a scrawny 12-year-old boy.
As soon as the meeting began, the boy got riled up and started jumping around—common demonic manifestations, Larry says. Then, Shepherd turned his head for a moment and missed what Larry and others saw: unseen forces flung the boy some dozen feet over the heads of seated villagers. He landed on his belly. “I thought maybe Larry had met his match,” Shepherd says.
The boy was brought back, and Larry held him in place while he continued praying. Within 30 minutes, the demons came up in spasms of retching.
Shepherd tells many such stories of Larry’s visits to Nepal, including his own. Although he didn’t experience anything dramatic when he received prayer back in the states, he noticed a change. “You feel better—lighter,” Shepherd says. “It’s like you were carrying around a 15-pound backpack. It doesn’t debilitate you, but it’s always there.”
And then it isn’t.
• • •
At the end of my first interview with the Pollards, I switched off my recorder and told Marion about a personal situation that had caused me much anguish. It had to do with two broken friendships, both very different, and I can’t say much more than that. I don’t want to defame or embarrass anyone (not least of all myself). My confession was wholly unplanned, tacked on at the end of a long conversation.
“Oh,” Marion concluded, “we need to break those soul ties.”
Now, I’d heard this term tossed around in Christian circles, but no one had ever defined it. Marion explained the concept: we form righteous soul ties in certain relationships, such as the bond between a husband and wife, or a parent and child, or dear friends. Yet sometimes, because of the broken spaces in our souls, we form ties that veer into the demonic—say, in a sinful sexual relationship, or in a friendship that becomes controlling.
Marion offered to pray right then and there; I accepted. She prayed to break those bonds that weren’t right, at one point brandishing a Bible and tapping me on the wrists and upper chest, symbolizing the hands and heart. At the end of her prayer, she began singing in a high-pitched voice. I heard no discernible words; she called it “singing in the Spirit.”
I didn’t fly across a room, though I might have shed a tear or two. I went on home. Honestly, I’d had enough of demon talk for that day. Each time I interviewed the Pollards, I’d find myself thinking afterward, Can I just go home and be happy now?
The next morning, I gingerly stepped out of bed. I have plantar fasciitis in one foot, and for six months I’d walked with a pronounced limp and considerable pain. I noticed something. It didn’t hurt anymore. Okay, there was a little tenderness if I hit just the right place, but the pain was about 80 percent gone.
I waited to see if this would hold, and three weeks later, it has. I think I get it. I’m not limping anymore. The severing of those soul ties eliminated a sort of spiritual stagger. I told Larry and Marion, and they weren’t the least bit surprised. Healings happen as unintended consequences of deliverance all the time, they say. They claim to have seen instances in which epilepsy and cancer have disappeared, among other conditions of body and soul.
Like so many of the Pollards’ clients, I’m just glad it’s gone.