In dark December, when everyone was harking to angels and the return of the Light, the Atlantic Monthlypublished a story about demonic possession. (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/arcive/2018/23/catholic-exorcisms-on-the-rise/573943.) An acquaintance made sure I saw it: “I know you write about angels,” he wrote. “What do you think of demons?”
Well, I seen the demonic, and I guess I have to tell at least one story. So now I will walk with you into the darkness that I don’t like even to think about, for you cannot believe in the Light without recognizing the shadows that it casts. But first, some background:
The AtlanticMonthlyarticle is long and well researched. I recommend it. It tells of the ancient Babylonian priests who cast wax figurines of demons into a fire, of the Hindu Vedas, that date to 1500 BCE, and speak of supernatural beings that try to spread evil and malice in our lives. It describes one exorcism of 1831, in which the poor girl froths at the mouth and takes on a different screaming personality—until delivered. The article describes through the years the inspirations for Willliam Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel, the Exorcism, the 1973, film of which is considered one of the most frightening movies ever made.
Gallup Polls conducted in recent decades suggest that roughly half of Americans believe in demonic possession. Those who believe in the Devil, or Satan, rose from 55% in 1990 to 70% in 2007.
We like to talk of angels, and goodness, of the Light and mysterious and inexplicable spiritual interventions that work invisibly on our behalf, and we like to be reminded that angels are drawn to us by prayer—by prayer and by deliberately turning our will and lives over to a loving God. (“I am not mine but thine,” we say to this Mystery, to the Beloved that we don’t pretend to understand. “Into Your hands I give myself, and that which is for my highest good shall come to me.”)
It would be a lie, however, to say that I have not met the demonic, and the most important thing that I can do is to place myself alwaysin the care of a loving and majestic, all-powerful God, to surround myself with angels, and with all my heart to remember that whatever uninvited influences might try to turn me toward to the Dark Side— I have resources. Love prevails.
I admit that having had a religious upbringing as a child has helped me in my life. It helps to have memorized as a child the most beautiful prayers that the most brilliant men and women who ever lived on this planet ever wrote. “Almighty God, unto whom all thoughts are known and no desires are hid, cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your holy spirit, that I may truly love you and worthily magnify your holy name.”
Could anyone ever devise a finer or more poetic prayer? “Cleanse the thoughts of my heart.” Return me to loving more fully. Help me to be more of a lover. And forgive my wrong moves and mistakes. And keep me from temptation.
I guess it’s time to tell at least one story. It is not something I want to dwell on, but it is well to remember that no one is to blame for seeing the demonic; it’s not that you have done anything wrong. It comes in through the cracks of trauma, disappointment, pain. The Dark Side visits even (and sometimes especially) the most spiritual beings, as well ordinary hurt and battered individuals. Padre Pio, the Catholic monk, now sainted, is reported to have come out of his monastic cell in the mornings bruised and bloodied from fighting off demonic attacks.
Once I was reading on my bed, thinking of nothing except the story in the novel— when suddenly I felt—whap!— a weight landed on my chest with a thump. It was black as pitch (to use a cliche’), black as a telephone, and its little claws at the end of its thin black arms dug into me. It was the epitome of loneliness and of fear. It wasLoneliness. It wasFear. Its grin was malicious, its eyes a burning glow. It was not a demon, but only a minor imp, perhaps, seated on my chest. And yet I could not move. I could no more throw it off than I could toss a Sumi wrestler. With my right forefinger I made an infinitesimal Cross, no more than a fraction of an inch, and possibly no more than a thought. With that signal I meant that I belonged to God. Instantly, it was gone.
I was back in my body, alone.
Was it my imagination? But with that departure I felt, recoiling, the mixture of horror and relief, and the impression of blackness, those little claws; its terror and loneliness was unmistakable. I had to walk around and pray with thanks to Christ and God and angels and the Madonna, to Avoleketeshvara and all the Buddhas and Boddhisatvas, in thanks for being relieved of such utter Loneliness, such absolute horrific Fear. And then, as I surrounded myself with the protection of light, pulling my aura around myself, weeping and frightened, and praying to God, I began to feel such compassion for that little imp that I could not help but pray also for IT: That it might find a pathway into the Light.
I can’t believe that the God of my understanding, the God of love and caring, of mathematical Order and Majesty, the God of Goodness, would ever want anything to feel such pain as had trapped that little demon. I want to believe that I zapped it into the Light. I want to believe the Dark Side, too, has a chance at Redemption, for who am I to be so arrogant? Who am I to want even a demon to be so hurt?
We ask: Are there Uninvited Influences inside our auras? I could never prove it, but I can’t deny the possibility. And would they make us do things against our very best wishes, against our own wellbeing? I’m forced to answer yes. Don’t we see it all the time? The alcoholic who cannot stop drinking; the successful businessman who puts a gun to his mouth to end his pain.
Oh, let us pray for all those suffering. If thoughts are prayers, and if thoughts have power to move the hills and throw up skyscrapers in their place, if prayers can bring us back from existential anguish to the memory again of connection with the Divine—then surely we must constantly pray, without ceasing.
In one of my books, The Path of Prayer, I wrote of the importance of praying on your knees. I think there are acupuncture points on the kneecaps that take our prayers into the Divine. I think there is something about the physical act of humbling ourselves by dropping to our knees that carries the thoughts of our heart to a Higher Source. Oh, let us pray for all the demons who need to go into the Light.