Gods and Monsters
Previously, we discussed the unhappy lot of angels in the modern world. Now, we turn our attention to their opposite: the demons.
Like their heavenly counterparts, anti-supernaturalists have turned the denizens of hell into an absurd laughingstock. Once a terrifying and formidable foe, the name of Satan now calls to mind a man in a red suit with a tail and horns.
So what ought we to picture?
Demons, like angels, do not possess bodies. They are, however, capable of assuming a body — of taking on a material form, much as a writer may clothe himself in words in order to become a character in one of his own books.
When a confidence man comes knocking at the door, he usually dresses to appear trustworthy. Many of the Church Fathers believed that demons did the same, taking on the mythic forms that their Greek and Roman victims expected to see. Apparitions of griffins and manticores were thus explicable as demonic activity.
There is every reason to assume that the same is true in the modern world. My own experience with the demonic involved an incubus-type spirit, clothed in Byronic garb, who perfectly conformed to my Gothic-Romantic sense of aesthetics.
A friend of mine who involved himself deeply in druidic occultism had a terrifying encounter with a spirit that resembled Kernunnos, an ancient Celtic God of the Wild Hunt.
Neither of us at the time would have described these experiences as demonic. They were terrifying and entrancing; they wreaked tremendous upheaval in our lives and yet were oddly captivating. Unfortunately, neither of us was well enough catechized in the area of demonology to properly understand what we were dealing with.
Experiences of this sort are not as uncommon as one might expect. Few people today would say that they had encountered a demon, but a considerable number believe they have had contact with an alien, or the spirits of the dead, or an “ascended master.”
In the case of alien “contactees,” one is, in most cases, immediately left with the impression of demonic activity. Many alleged contact stories involve creatures that are classically demonic — winged harpy-like creatures accompanied by scents of sulphur or pagan gods lifted directly from Egyptian mythology.
Feelings of disorientation, intense supernatural fear, the feeling that bizarre or perverse “experiments” have been performed on the subject, and after-effects of continuing disturbance, nose-bleeds and so forth are quite common. In some cases, the aliens take on a benign didactic role, and lead the contactee into a new spiritual awareness in which he is taught the age-old lie that men can be as gods.
Unfortunately, because little is said about the genuine possibility of demonic contact, people don’t know what to make of such experiences, much less what to do about them.
Dismissing such people as hucksters, crackpots and cranks — particularly as, in many cases, there is no other evidence to support such accusations — is uncharitable. It may also serve to push the person away from respectable religious institutions and motivate them to seek out others who will believe and accept them, but who will not help them to critically evaluate their experience.
Uncritical acceptance of spiritual forces can have disastrous consequences.
In my own case, the spirit that I was in contact with consistently tried to make the ordinary world seem dismal and meaningless and to present an image of death as a beautiful awakening of the fettered soul. I nearly committed suicide for its sake. I was going to do so, and sincerely believe that I would have if my guardian angel had not intervened.
An education in anti-supernaturalism leaves one easy prey for evil spirits.
Undefended by the armor of God, unwarned against the existence of demonic intelligences, and starving for the wondrous and spiritual, modern man is about as well defended as a pack of shepherdless sheep in a wolf’s den.
The Church cannot combat this if she denies or demythologizes spiritual forces or if she fails to fulfill man’s need for the mysterious and miraculous. Someone captivated by the possibility of occult magic will not find his way back into the fold if all he finds there is worldly wisdom and prosaic ritual. He must find, in the teachings and liturgy of the Church, a vision of the spiritual world that puts all others to shame.
Such a vision already exists.
It exists in the works of the theologians, where all the complexities of the angelic orders are laid out. It exists in the Scriptures, where the hosts of heaven descend in power to scatter the proud in their conceits.
It exists, above all, in the Mass, where the angels carry the offering up to the heavenly altar that it may become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
Catholicism abounds with supernatural realities, but if these realities are to call souls to God they must be placed on the lampstand where everyone can see them, and not shuffled, with embarrassment, under the nearest bushel basket.
Melinda Selmys is a staff writer
- November 11-17, 2007