Yesterday I started reading Glimpses of the Devil by M. Scott Peck. I picked this up at the library because Peck is a psychiatrist, so I thought he might have something interesting to say about evil.
After reading about three quarters of it, I can say that it’s relatively entertaining but not very convincing. Some of it is laughable. He picked up some idea (from Malachi Martin) that possessed people have remarkably smooth skin and unwrinkled faces. Oh give me a break. Demons as botox—everyone will want one.
It didn’t help that he laid the blame for his second patient’s possession on an “evil” book, Gods’ Man. From the way he talked about it, you’d think it was some arcane book of the occult. I looked it up and it turns out that it’s by Lynd Ward, one of our premier illustrators, and it does not have a history of destroying the lives of those who viewed it (and given that it sold very well, it got quite a viewing). The story, a parable of an artist selling his soul to the devil (which is the most pedestrian story ever—Faust, anyone?) is told entirely through woodcuts—no text. Looking at a few of the woodcuts from the book, I can’t see anything particularly malevolent. Goya’s “Disasters of War” collection was more viscerally disturbing. I felt like jumping under a bus after going though an exhibit of those drawings. And those weren’t parables at all. They were about real events.
Anyway, his credibility went kerplunk for me, because he obviously didn’t know anything about the history of the book or its creator. And he also got a lot of his info on exorcism from Malachi Martin, who seems to have been either a complete charlatan or just a manipulative bastard. Peck admits that he was himself manipulated, but he felt loved. Isn’t that sweet?
Despite the fact that I think the book is shaky in its conclusions, I still found it pretty creepy. Both these women had been abused and had pushed that information way way back. That in itself is disquieting. I was also disturbed by Scott’s premise that a victim’s need to believe a lie (everything’s fine, nothing happened) lays her open to evil. That seems possible indeed.
The reason I’m interested in the topic of possession at all is because my mother went through a period of obsession with it. When The Exorcist came out, she was keen to take me to see it with her. I was six.
Think about that, how we strive to protect our children from seeing unsavory things, yet my mother wanted to take her six-year-old daughter to see a movie about the possession of a young girl.
Even at six I knew something was wrong with this arrangement and flat-out refused to go. The movie was re-released when I was thirteen, and this time I did go with my mom.
That movie terrified me. I cried. I put my hands over my eyes and cried. I wanted to leave, buy my mother was fascinated. She was weird fascinated. For a very very long time I was seriously frightened that I could become possessed. I was worried that I would become possessed and chop up my parents with axes.
There was a period of time when there was something seriously wrong with my mom. Beyond the schizophrenia or bipolar or whatever she had, which was bad enough. When I was quite young I had a dream that I walked into the bedroom and saw my mother, but then I also saw her in the bathroom. I had two mothers, and one was fake. The fake one had two snaps at the base of her neck. I was scared of her. That seems like a classic dream about having a mentally ill mom—there’s nice mom and there’s hallucinating paranoid mom.
But then there was this possession obsession. She bought a few books on the subject. She tried to talk with me about it. I suppose, since she heard voices, that she wondered if she was possessed. She seemed to imply that maybe I was. Or could be.
She went through a spell of buying True Detective magazines. If you’ve never encountered one of these, they are all about violence--describing violent acts in gloating, graphic detail. I picked one up once to see what she was reading and felt physically ill, and pretty freaked out that my mom devoured this trash.
She bought a Oija Board. This was something I stayed faaaaar away from. I had no interest in talking to dead people. I wanted dead people to stay faaaar away.
She bought me a collection of ghost stories. This was no innocent collection of folklore—these were horrible, lurid stories. Of course, my mom did once choose to read as a bedtime story “The Tale-Tell Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe. Pleasant dreams, little one.
So I spent a good bit of childhood and adolescence scared out of my wits. After I left home for college my mom lost her weird obsessions and started reading Aquinas and William James. Even her bipolar schizophrenia whatever seemed to go into remission for long stretches, so that by the time I was a mother she was just a sweet, intelligent woman who could have been happy studying in a seminary.
To this day I do not like the dark, and I will not look in mirrors in dark rooms. I will never watch The Exorcist again—I can’t even bear to hear any of the sound. I’m still uneasy about what might be under the bed. Seriously. Sometimes the memory of one of my biggest childhood fears—a hand coming out from under the bed to grab me—flashes through my mind and I experience the same irrational terror, despite logic and years of experience.