In dark December, when everyone was talking about harking to angels, and the birth of the Baby and the return of the Light, the Atlantic Monthly published 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?”
So now I will write about what I don’t like even to think about, and for a few moments I will walk with you into the darkness, for you cannot believe in the Light without recognizing the shadows that it casts.
The Atlantic Monthly article is long and well researched, beginning with the ancient Babylonian priests who cast wax figurines of demons into a fire, with 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 inspiration for Willliam Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel, the Exorcist, 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 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 our lives over to a loving God. (“I am not mine but thine,” we say to this Mystery 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 as well as the angelic, and the most important thing that I can do about that is to place myself always in the care of a loving and majestic, all-powerful God, to surround myself with angels, and both by mouth and 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 have had a religious upbringing as a child has helped me in my life. It helps to have memorized in my youth the most beautiful prayers that the most brilliant men and women who ever lived on this planet have devised. “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 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.
On several occasions I seen the demonic, and I have 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; the Dark Side visits even (and sometimes especially) the most spiritual beings, as well to ordinary hurt and battered individuals. Padre Pio, the Catholic saint, is reported to have come out of his monastic cell in the mornings bruised and bloodied from fighting off demonic attacks. They come in through the cracks in our spiritual strength, they come in through pain, abuse, violence, trauma. You feel it. You know when you are infected.
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 was Loneliness. It was Fear. 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 was paralyzed. I could no more throw it off than I could throw a Sumi wrestler. With my right forefinger I made an infinitesimal Cross, no more than a fraction of an inch. With that signal I meant I belonged to God. Instantly, it was gone.
I was back in my body.
Was it my imagination? But with that departure I felt a mixture of horror and relief, and the impression of blackness, those little claws, the terror and loneliness was unmistakable. I had to stand up and walk around and pray with thanks to Christ and God and angels and the Madonna, to Avoleketeshvara and all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, 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 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 such hurt?
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 well being? I’m forced to answer yes. Don’t we see it all the time? The alcoholic who cannot stop drinking; the successful businessman who falling into bleak depression puts a gun to his mouth and ends the 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.
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.
© 2019 Sophy Burnham