I'm sitting here listening to Tift Merritt...surfer girl out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the US of A and one of the best in Country Alternative...voice like Dusty Springfield one review of her work commented. Her "Good Hearted Man" is an anthem for every woman who is tired of dating bad boys and losers and is ready to grow up. If you don't know her work, look it up. I think you'll like her unless you're one of these people who is prejudiced against country music. In that case, to quote Kris Kristofferson: "If you don't like Hank Williams, you can kiss my ass."
What's this got to do with exorcism? Not a damn thing. Another quote, this time Andy Warhol to Lou Reed from his Songs For Drella album: "You think too much because there's work you don't want to do."
I'm reading "Religion and its monsters" by Timothy K. Beal right now. Great book. Shows the origin of the Hebrew mythology in the Chaos Monsters of Babylon. Just read the chapter on Dracula showing the Antisemitism and Patriarchal thinking at the heart of Stoker's novel.
Watched Cabin In the Woods last night. Good movie, interesting take on the Stupid Teenagers Must Die genre in horror with a heavy dose of Lovecraft thrown in. Lionsgate production. Two of the coming attractions on the DVD were for Possession and The Last Exorcism.
The first time I heard of Carl Sagan's "The Demon haunted world" I wondered if he knew what he was talking about. I have since come to realize that most atheists have no idea what is out there, the reality of the demonic world as believed in and practiced by Christians today.
It's the only way I can comprehend their lack of fierce anger at what Dawkins rightly describes as child abuse by teaching children to believe in the Christian mythology of demons and angels and curses and blessings. I was raised in such a world and, when I turned from Christianity, I continued to believe in this world as the reality surrounding me.
The evil that is perpetuated by Christian and 'spiritual' believers is worse than anyone has ever described it. All super-naturalism...whether Christian or Pagan or Oprah Winfreyism...is evil. I don't know any other word to describe it. Can any good come from lying to ourselves and our children? Is there any comfort to be gained by turning your back on the truth?
When I came out of the Charismatic world in 1979 a curse was placed on me and my children...a curse placed by a Christian, not a Satan worshiper. A curse that said one of our children would die if we left the church. Make no mistake about it, this was a Christian curse upon my family. Within a year following our leaving, my daughter was born and went into congestive heart failure when she was three days old. By the time I got her to the hospital she was clinically dead. Science through modern medicine revived her and has kept her alive...often against her own wishes...to this day.
Do I believe in curses...Christian or pagan? No. I believe in laws of probability. But at the time I knew nothing of such things. I still was living in Sagan's 'Demon haunted world.' And, as I result, I sent back my own curse to counteract the Christian curse. For many years I was a practicing witch...for want of a better term. I grew quite adept at spell casting and the "arcane arts."
This is coming out in a jumble. Usually happens when I try to talk or write about it. After over thirty years, the pain and the horror still haunts my dreams and reaches out to me from the shadows when I'm awake.
Let me start at the beginning.
When I was eight years old I jerked awake with a sensation of a hideous electrical current coursing through my body. There was a palpable Evil presence like a thick and noxious cloud in my bedroom. I struggled against this Evil, trying to turn on the goose-necked lamp on my bedside table but it wouldn't come on. I had to have light. The desperate need for light was so...adult. It was like all the desires and lusts and greed and ambition of a grown man were crammed into my child's body. I was coming apart even as I was held to gather by a crushing gravity. I lurched out of bed and walked on tottering, drunken legs to the switch for the overhead light on the wall next to my bedroom door. I reached with palsied fingers for the switch...
...and my hand passed through the wall like it was made of smoke and I was thrown across the room and back into my bed.
This went on and on...for hours? Forever? Time had ceased and I was caught in an everlasting loop of horror and evil.
It must have ended but all I knew was with the sunrise I was back. The memory of the night before didn't fade as much as it was absorbed into my spongy brain...dark water down deep inside waiting to rise again in a terrifying tide.
And rise it did. Night after night, at first. Then, as I grew older, the times between grew but the tide grew stronger each time it came. I learned the feeling that came before...like when the ocean drew back exposing the sea floor before the tsunami roared in. The feeling became more intense, the struggling more frantic. I would find myself out in the street trying to run from my house only to be snatched back like a dog on a leash.
I couldn't talk to anybody. My brother, asleep in the twin bed next to me, never knew what I was going through. My mother was quite insane. My father was a minister in the Church of Christ and believed the Age of Miracles theology that said, when the Scriptures were written and canonized, the need for miraculous verification of the Good News ended and the Holy Spirit today only worked through the scripture. He was, in a way, a very rational man when it came to claims of the supernatural and miraculous. Not to mention he never talked to me when I was growing up except for two occasions where he took me to his office in the church building and lectured and shamed me on the evils of masturbation.
I grew up alone. Just me and the monsters. I came to two conclusions. One, the spirit could exist apart from the flesh. Two, I was possessed.
I read Dracula when I was 12 and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and saw the Vincent Price movie the Last Man On Earth and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist...the single book and movie that set the popular image of exorcism in stone. These books and movies were supposed to scare you. With me I was living the reality and, instead of scaring me, they taught me how to fight back. I remember the first time I killed a zombie attacking me in the night like other boys remember standing up to the bully on the playground at school.
I became a Pentecostal/Charismatic in the Seventies. I wasn't looking for personal salvation after my death or to rule with Herr Christ in his Thousand Year Reich. With me it was personal and intimate and immediate.
I was looking for an exorcism.
They called it the Deliverance Ministry. They taught through books and cassette tapes of Derek Prince and others supplied by the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International and other lesser known sources. Along with the crass antisemitism of the Underground Right and Messianic Judaism. That's a story for another time.
We were taught that demons were everywhere. That when we walked about in the world, we had to 'plead the Blood of Jesus' and shake them off since they would attach themselves to us like burrs after a walk in the woods. Women were taught to cut their hair because demons of lust would entangle themselves in their hair and seduce men. We were taught not to read or watch anything that wasn't cleared by our Controllers. We were taught not to go to the library, especially, since it was the "Lie-Berry" the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. We were taught that the caring image of Jesus the Good Shepherd holding the Lost Lamb in his arms was because when the Lamb strayed Jesus would break his legs to teach him to stay with the flock and had to carry him until he regained the strength to stumble along with the others. We were taught that children especially were susceptible to the enticements of Satan, that their "imaginary playmates" were demons. We were taught that God made babies small because if they were full grown they would surely murder us. This was so we could use our superior physical strength to beat them into submission to our will and the Will of God. We were taught to beat our children...children as young as 18 months old and barely able to talk at all...if they refused to say "Jesus is Lord" since any Spirit that would not make this confession was Satanic.
It was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the late Seventies I found my exorcist. She was a former mental patient by the name of Sister Grey and her ministry was called Sister Grey's Travelling Soul Saving Mission and House of Deliverance (Jesus is the Deliverer!) and could barely fit on the side of the elongated van we traveled in from Milwaukee down the Mississippi to New Orleans one long hot summer. She was Pentecostal Holiness. The Pentecostal movement began in the early years of the 20th Century with the Asuza Street Revival in Los Angeles, California. It was an offshoot of the Nazerene churches...James Dobson of Focus on the Family is one of their ilk...and of 19th Century revivalism who believed there were two levels of being Christian. The first step was salvation from your sins but this only prepared you for the second step...Holiness...in which you became incapable of sinning through the power of the Holy Spirit. At that point, anything you did was approved by God and people who thought you were sinning lacked the understanding of the Holy Spirit to show them that your actions, no matter how absurd or out and out immoral, were all part of God's Plan.
The problem, of course, was how to tell someone who was filled with the Holy Spirit and had achieved this perfect Holiness from just another conman out to fleece his flock of all he can get and sleep with any woman of his congregation he wanted to in the process.
Pardon me if I get my history mixed up on some points. One of the truths about Christians is they talk long and hard about Jesus but give you no information about the particular history and doctrine of the group you are being asked to join. They're kind of like Libertarians on that score.
I do remember the lady's name was Agnes Ozman...she was a convert trying to achieve Holiness...who first began Speaking In Tongues. She was part of a religious school in Kansas City. Glossolalia and other manifestations of ecstatic religious practices had a long history in 19th Century revivalism what was new was associating Speaking In Tongues as proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the moment one passed from normative Christianity into the state of Holiness where one could no longer sin even if they tried.
Sister Grey's home church, when she wasn't travelling and saving souls and exorcising demons, was in a basement of a house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You came in through the side door and down steps. Upon arrival, you were given a portion of the Sunday newspaper...there were several copies stacked on a table...by one of her deacons. The service was...well, it was Black Pentecostal Holiness church. The singing was repetitive and came in waves. Various women of the congregation and a few of the men would do their 'filled with the Spirit routines.' For those of you who have not had the experience...and I say this not as a racial comment, but rather a cultural one...of black churches it is far different from any white church...even those who are Charismatic and practice 'praise worship.' It is a much more physical and psychological draining type of worship. But the essential element of praise is the same black or white. That is to say, what you see going into such a service the first times seems genuine, but as a member who attends such services consistently...even though you may not admit it till you leave the church and Christianity behind altogether...you begin to see that each person has their own 'act' just as you are creating yours. Dancing in the Spirit is often prominent, with the fluttering of a fan and the long flowing dresses and hats that are towering and ornate and vibrantly colored it is quite a spectacle. Some of the more athletic men in churches of a more traditional design practice 'running the pews.' That is a sight to behold. The men, filled with the Holy Spirit, of course, will actually run from the back of the auditorium to the front bounding from the back of one pew to the next. Bear in mind, this is all performance art and each person has their own particular act. It looks like an ecstatic expression of deep spiritually driven emotions but, like speak in tongues, it is learned behavior. Many teachers, myself included, can teach you how to speak in tongues in a half an hour.
After setting the mood and whipping up the crowd, the minister delivers a 'sermon' usually based on a literally translated passage of scripture or about sin and hell-fire and the coming Tribulation. My favorite, in a more sedate white Church of God, was a sermon based on a passage of scripture...I think from Revelation, I gave up 'proof-texting' in favor of actual historical and biblical scholarship a long time ago...where the Saved are given a 'white rock' by the Lord. The minister went on and on about how one day "I'm going to get my White Rock from Jesus!" The church was swept up into the ecstasy of getting their White Rocks. Nobody thought: "This White Rock has to be a symbol for something else." Nope. The Bible said Jesus would give us a White Rock and that's what we were going to get.
At the end of the sermon there was the traditional 'altar call.' Only in the Deliverance Ministry of Sister Grey, everyone in the congregation lined up, speaking in tongues, doing their dances, everyone with their hands over their heads no matter how long it took or how tired your arms got and chanting a line from a song...my favorite was "I'm not no-ways tired!" I think it had something to do with your arms killing you after a while. Not sure what the rest of the song was about, didn't matter. We just kept repeating that single line.
When you got to the front of the room there was Sister Grey flanked by her deaconesses all dressed like novitiate nuns and blankets. You were exhausted by this time, out of balance with your arms over your head, dizzy from the heat and driven senseless by tongue speaking and chanting. Sister Grey would pour olive oil in her hand and anoint you on the forehead...given you quite a smack and pushing you backwards in the process. At this point you were 'Slain in the Spirit' meaning you were knocked off your feet. The deaconesses would help you as you fell and cover the upturned skirts of the women with the blankets.
Then you took your section of the newspaper...thought I'd forgotten about that, didn't you?...and went back to your folding chair, got on your knees on the hard concrete floor, and prayed and groveled and spoke in tongues weeping and begging for your 'deliverance.' After the last person had been anointed, Sister Grey would come around and minister to individuals as the spirit led her. Her hands would flutter around you like blackbirds, then she'd order the demon to come out of you pleading the blood of Jesus with such ferocity and spittle you could almost feel his blood on your face and forehead. If that didn't work, she would press her hands into your stomach as the ecstasy grew inside of you from the abdomen up. And, finally, when all else failed, she would 'anoint the demon' directly by forcing your head back and pouring olive oil down your throat. Pompeian Olive Oil was her brand. The taste still makes me gag to this day just as it did back then. The exorcism ended when you vomited...or hacked up some spit and stomach fluid just to get it over with...into the newspaper you were given on your way in the door. This was called getting rid of the demon's 'nest' since they would drag all sorts of things into you...glass, nails, balls of hair, twigs, leaves...just like a bird making a nest. Sister Grey would slip these items she had carefully palmed while you were blinded with tears and snot as proof of your exorcism.
In order to keep things from getting too stinky and messy in the confines of that basement part of your preparation for Sunday morning service was to fast from the end of the Wednesday night meeting and not eat anything till after church on Sunday.
For those of you who were deemed in need of special treatment Sister Grey had a special hut set up in the bare attic of her house. There were planks laid out across the unfurnished rafters to a small square island on which set the hut. It was so small you had to bend over to get in. Once inside there were religious icons on all the walls and a small prayer bench lit by a single un-shaded light bulb hanging from a wire and just room enough for you and her as the deaconesses, who had led you up the narrow stairs to the attic front and behind holding flickering candles against the gloom stood around the hut and chanted and sang.
OK, I'm worn out now and in need of a drink. I'm afraid I've set myself up for another night terror tonight by writing all of this.
One last point needs to be made. I was involved in all forms of Christianity for forty years of my life. The entire gamut of the religious experience offered in the USA in the last half of the 20th Century. I was involved in Neo-Paganism for ten years as well.
Not once in all of that time have I ever seen or experienced anything supernatural.
Not one damn time.
I must say that your story is riveting and compelling. I perceive you to be a highly intelligent man, and very literary I might add. Your writing sounds positively Lovecraftian. Every member of atheist nexus (except for the occasional theist who sneaks in under the radar) whose blogs, comments, and discussions I have read are so impressively intelligent, and you, sir, are no exception. You impress me greatly. I'm glad you're here.
I apprecate your kind coment. Bearing in mind that I am half in the bag ...Barrons sipping whisky...before I have the courage to write about thse things...the lucidity I manage is quite an effort. I Woudn't want you to think that these things I write about come as easily as the final product would imply. I am a sad and sick man. I am under medication... both prescibed and self medicated.
You have no idea what this cost me.
More and more I feel like Poe. The final days. When only absinthe could unlock the demons inside of him.
I am a man, burdened by the knowledge of his own mortality, striving to say his last words...his last living words...to a world that has chosen long past to ignore me.
To me death would be welcome. I have no fear of it since I don't believe in God or hell. But the reason why death to me is welcome is because in 1995 my sister was murdered by her boyfriend, and it ultimately caused my mother to die of a broken heart in 2006. I think of them both often, and I imagine the horror and suffering my sister must have went through in her final moments, and it destroys me.
But that's not why I'm an atheist. I've been an atheist for most of my life since childhood. I'll play the hand that has befallen me, but when my time comes it will be a welcome release from this misery and sorrow.
I am so sorry, Anthony. That is a heavy burden to carry. Not even a death sentence for the murderer will bring your family back. Peace seems like such a crass word at a time like this. I do wish you relief before your death.
Thank you Joan.
You are a brave person and a clear thinker. I join Joan in her entire expression of good wishes to you.
Thank you Madhukar.
I hope the passage of time softens the rough edges for you.
You have had tremendous evil experiences in life. Most people would become fatalists and faithful because of them. It is to your credit that you became wiser and a non-believer, but the burden of the experiences is still lingering on you. It is natural. My best wishes to you and your daughter for your future life.