In my spare moments this summer, I returned to Pratt’s Autobiography just to see what would strike me. Probably because of my continuing work on Mormon theodicy, my interest in the changing Mormon conceptions of evil and the accompanying shift in apotropaic ritual, I was most interested in several passages dealing with Pratt’s view of evil in the world. I did not find lengthy ramblings about the devil or demons, but I did find a few short asides which were no less important and insightful for their brevity. Pratt clearly beleives that the world is not only a fallen place, but a place that is still falling. He employs the common tropes of darkness and light with some regularity to depict the difference between those with the Truth and those without it. More interesting to me, however, is Pratt’s accounts of the physicality and materiality of evil. The first instance bearing examination here is a case of demonic possession and exorcism that Pratt encountered in the early summer of 1836 while serving a mission in Toronto, Canada. The excerpt is lengthy, but worth quoting in full.
Now there was living in that neighborhood a young man and his wife, named Whitney; he was a blacksmith by trade; their residence was perhaps a mile or more from this Lamphere’s, where I held my semi- monthly meetings. His wife was taken down very suddenly about that time with a strange affliction. She would be prostrated by some power invisible to those about her, and, in an agony of distress indescribable, she would be drawn and twisted in every limb and joint, and would almost, in fact, be pulled out of joint. Sometimes, when thrown on to the bed, and while four or five stout men were endeavoring to hold her, she would be so drawn out of all shape as to only touch the bed with her heels and the back part of her head. She would be bruised, cramped and pinched, while she would groan, scream, froth at the mouth, etc. She often cried out that she could see two devils in human form, who were thus operating upon her, and that she could hear them talk; but, as the bystanders could not see them, but only see the effects, they did not know what to think or how to understand.
She would have one of these spells once in about twenty-four hours, and when a period of these spells were over she would lie in bed so lame, and bruised, and sore, and helpless that she could not rise alone, or even sit up, for some weeks. All this time she had to have watchers both night and day, and sometimes four and five at a time, insomuch that the neighbors were worn out and weary with watching. Mr. Whitney sent for me two or three times, or left word for me to call next time I visited the neighborhood. This, however, I had neglected to do, owing to the extreme pressure of labors upon me in so large a circuit of meetings–indeed, I had not a moment to spare. At last, as I came round on the circuit again, the woman, who had often requested to see the man of God, that he might minister to her relief, declared she would see him anyhow, for she knew she could be healed if she could but get sight of him. In her agony she sprang from her bed, cleared herself from her frightened husband and others, who were trying to hold her, and ran for Mr. Lamphere’s, where I was then holding meeting. At first, to use her own words, she felt very weak, and nearly fainted, but her strength came to her, and increased at every step till she reached the meeting. Her friends were all astonished, and in alarm, lest she should die in the attempt, tried to pursue her, and they several times laid hold of her and tried to force or persuade her back. “No,” said she, “let me see the man of God; I can but die, and I cannot endure such affliction any longer.” On she came, until at last they gave up and said, “Let her go, perhaps it will be according to her faith.” So she came, and when the thing was explained the eyes of the whole multitude were upon her. I ceased to preach, and, stepping to her in the presence of the whole meeting, I laid my hands upon her and said, “Sister, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven, thy faith hath made thee whole; and, in the name of Jesus Christ, I rebuke the devils and unclean spirits, and command them to trouble thee no more.” She returned home well, went about her housekeeping, and remained well from that time forth.
Exorcisms, of course, have found homes within the ritual complexes of most religious cultures from the beginning of time. Exorcisms directed specifically at human demoniac subjects occur in the New Testament and became codified into the ritual structure of proto-Roman Catholicism in the third century CE. Pratt’s account certainly supports historian Jeffrey Burton Russell’s observation that “underlying exorcism is the assumption that Satan retains some power over the fallen world as well as over the souls of fallen humans.” It is tempting to move glancingly over this story in the Autobiography, categorizing it as one of many miracle stories that Pratt includes as evidence of the restored power of Christ’s Priesthood to the earth. Certainly the story was designed to do that. A close reading of the text, however, suggests yet other themes. Evident just below the surface of the account is Pratt’s emphasis of the enervating effect of the power of evil on human beings. Pratt, unlike most others offering accounts of possession from the early modern period until the present, does not mention ventriloquism as part of the manifested behavior of the victim, but instead focuses entirely on the painful physical contortions visited upon the woman. She fears at one point that she might be destroyed physically by these horrors. She reports feeling physically weak and near the point of collapse. But the physical draining does not stop with the victim. Pratt reports that the woman’s neighbors, dozens of them apparently, were literally “worn out” by the process. The entire scene is one of bodily exhaustion and physical pain. It is perhaps significant that the exorcism leaves the woman free and energetic enough to “return to her housekeeping.”
In two other places in the book, Pratt uses nearly identical language to describe the oppressive feeling that evil exerted on him. In April of 1852, Pratt wrote
Oh, when will the time come? When shall the veil be rent and the full powers of the apostleship be permitted to be exercised on the earth? It must be before long or no flesh be saved–for the powers of darkness prevail abroad to that degree that it can even be felt physically. 
Describing a scene that occurred five years later in New York City, Pratt commented “the darkness which broods over this country can be felt–it is no place for me.”  As with the account of the exorcism, these two brief snippets raise issues and questions that may yet be important to fully understanding Pratt’s thought. What, for example, is the limit of evil when it comes to inflicting physical suffering on human beings? Is Pratt’s view of evil influenced by his opinions of divine embodiment? By what mechanism(s) did Pratt believe evil could manifest itself as a physical drain on a person, and was it related to his views on the Holy Ghost? I don’t have the answers, but for the moment, I’m happy with the questions.
 Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography, 153-154.
 Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), 125.
 Pratt, Autobiography, 403.
 Ibid., 444.