God saved me from the occult - now I fight evil as an exorcist; A TV programme tonight reveals every diocese in Britain has a vicar who gets called out to banish evil spirits. RACHAEL TINNISWOOD meets Merseyside's exorcist.
THIS is the man officially in charge of exorcising the evil spirits from Merseyside.
And like those featured in The Exorcist - Everyman, on BBC2 tonight, Rev David Gait believes the legacy of past evils really can haunt your present.
Rev Gait has every reason to believe it - for the past 25 years the advisor in deliverance ministry has sat on a panel set up by Bishop David Shepherd to help those who believe they are being targeted by spirits from 'the dark side.' At least once a week, Rev Gait is now called on by the Church to visit those who believe that they or their house are possessed by evil spirits.
Taking with him members of his parish for support, he then takes the hand of person involved and recites the Lord's Prayer and a deliverance prayer.
And, after the prayers have been made, Rev Gait sits down and laughs.
He says: "Laughing is an important part of the process because the spirit hates to feel it is being laughed at. When we laugh it helps to send the spirit away."
Since he was invited to sit on the Bishop's Panel for the Ministry of Healing, Rev Gait has tackled ghosts, evil spirits, and cases of satanic ritual abuse - and still believes good conquers over evil.
The father-of-four was asked to join professional doctors, surgeons and clergy on the panel in 1974 following a case in Wakefield when a man who had supposedly been exorcised by two well-intentioned clergy murdered his wife not long after.
And having experienced the powerful effects of the occult himself, Rev Gait was perfectly placed to help those who were plagued by it.
Originally from Norris Green, Rev Gait, 53, refuses to talk about his past experiences when, as a student, he dabbled in the occult, but does admit he was a representative of the atheist society at Oxford University, where he was studying science.
Says David: "Although I didn't feel entirely comfortable with it, I messed about with the occult from the age of 18 until one day, towards the end of my time at Oxford, when I was sitting in my research lab in October, 1971.
"I was eating my butties and thinking about what I was going to do about a job I had been offered lecturing in Boston, America, when I heard a voice saying, 'I want you to be a vicar.'
"I had some friends who were real jokers, so I started looking under the desks and in all the cupboards, expecting to find one of them hiding there.
"I couldn't find anyone and started to get a bit worried so I went to a Christian that I knew and told him what had happened.
He advised me to talk to God."
After discussing the matter further with the college chaplain - with whom David had argued only months before regarding his views on christianity, David decided to become a vicar - and went from Oxford straight to Ridley Hall in Cambridge where he was ordained three years later.
After being ordained, David moved back to Liverpool in order to work as curate for St Paul's Church in Litherland.
Three years later he moved to St John's Church in Widnes, where he was asked to join the panel and later became a vicar.
Now his daily duties can involve anything from helping those who are worried about strange happenings in their homes to exorcising others who claim to be possessed.
"None of them make me feel scared, " says Rev Gait. "I have only come up against someone who was possessed at the time that I saw them three times.
"For many of the others, a visit from an evil spirit has a similar effect to a piano which has been placed on a carpet - long after the piano has been moved, the imprint is still there - leaving the person believing the spirit is still there when it has moved on.
"If people do something they shouldn't do, like mess with an ouija board, an evil spirit will come and trouble them but it won't stay."
Rev Gait says there are two ways of telling if people are possessed.
"The two things that are pointed out in the Bible are that they are more strong than is usual and having special knowledge.
"When I want a spirit to go, I use the Lord's Prayer and one of the old prayers translated into English and command it to go.
"When I go to get rid of a spirit, I always take people with me - people from the panel or from my parish.
"I have never had any problems because I listen seriously to anyone I see - so even if they have psychological problems they realise I am taking them seriously."
According to Rev Gait, those who claim their house is possessed are often wrong - and he says: "I find it is often the people who have the problems, not the house.
He may have seen it all before, but Rev Gait will be sure to watch tonight's show. "I have to watch it, " he says. "People who want to get a new council house will often tell the council the property is possessed.
"I often find this happens just after these sort of things have been on television - so I have to be prepared for whatever stories they will come up with - most of which will have come straight off the television."
BATTLING THE DARK SIDE All sorts of methods have been used to remove evil spirits from those possessed over the years.
Before the birth of Christianity, chants and tools were used - as was the method of cutting a hole in the person's skull.
The first-known mention of an official church exorcist is in a letter of Pope Cornelius in 253AD.
The first Christian exorcists are thought to have lived around 200AD when three kinds of rituals were common.
Those thought to be possessed by demons were all forced to undergo exorcism. Although these involved renouncing the Devil, in many parts of Europe the rites were also used to dispel preChristian deities.
Demand for exorcism declined under the impact of the Enlightenment during the 18th century.