Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Possession Is Nine-Tenths of Something

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.

Big mistake

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.


  1. I, too, have found M. Scott Peck less than useful in his ideas. I managed to last as far as his novel, A Bed by the Window, which, like any novel whose primary purpose to sell the author's pet idea, was a very bad novel.

    Logic and experience, in my experience, do not stand up to emotional scarring. I hope you have good, supportive friends on your journey, and many, many, positive experiences.

  2. I think he should have stopped at Road Less Traveled. Different than you, I loved the Exorcist and other stories like that.

    So, do you think I am loopy when I tell you of my demon stories?

  3. “The fake one had two snaps at the base of her neck.” Weird indeed. What were the two snaps like . . . I am having a hard time picturing that (don’t really want to). My mom took me to see some scary stuff too when I was young, like Poltergeist, the Shining, Friday the 13th. I almost bought peck’s exorcism book a few months ago, but decided to read Malachi Martin’s book . . . I just read the first chapter or so. I guess I was looking for some academic or credible validity. I’ve seen weird stuff growing up and being a minister, but I am never quite sure how much of my demented childhood and early viewing of scary movies feed into my imagination on the topic of evil and demonology. Have you thought more about your visions and dreams of severed hands . . . is that connected with your mom’s history?

  4. I think your mom's fascination a little weird also.

    but, any way... I am here to thank you for your prayers and kind words.

    Life gets weird at my end of the world also.

    God bless.

  5. I agree with you about Peck. Some where along the road of his success years ago, he began to read his own press. I don't think he had the character to handle his success.
    I may be missing something but I don't think he takes evil seriously enough and doesn't have the core to spend so much time researching evil, lecturing about it and so on.
    I'm sorry about your Mom scaring you. Scaring kids is the pits. Life scares us without having "extras" pushed on us.
    Good blog entry, thanks for writing it.

  6. Peck died just recently—so he knows for sure if he was right or wrong. A friend was telling me about a time they thought of bringing in Peck as a speaker at their hospital . . . Peck’s agent (or publicist) wanted some insane arrogant amount for the appearance. To that my friend’s supervisor/colleague assured Peck’s agent, “Well this looks like one less road the Dr. Peck will not be traveling . . .” speaking of the road less traveled (I really liked that particular book.)

  7. This really is a good entry. The point about how victims try to order their world is especially interesting.

    Mirrors in the dark are very, very weird.

  8. I can't watch anything that is remotely occult-y. Never seen the Exorcist and proud of it. (Ok, I watched the 6th Sense and loved it but that seems like an exception to the rule, for sure). I remember having to watch a "Christian" movie about possession at some youth group retreat. What the hell? I have enough trouble with garden variety evil, 'man's' inhumanity to 'man' sort of stuff. I don't really need to go looking for a freak-out.

  9. whoa...I was completely protected (over--protected I think) from anything like mom is the exact opposite of your mom... no horror or scary tv, movies, tapes, books, mags...anything in the house...yet I have had a recurring dream that someone is about to stab me in the back...the kind where your back crawls and hurts from the tension you're so freaked, everytime I get into bed, since as early as I can remember, and it wasn't until i mentioned it to two friends who were praying with me that I understood that this was an easy opening for the enemy to work might want to pray about what IS under your bed...(spiritually)...and I pray in agreement that the Lord will shine His light into all corners of your life that there would be no darkness left uncovered

  10. and from the articulate people at Veggie Tales:

    "God is bigger than the boogie man, he's bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV, oh God is bigger than the boogie man and He's watching out for you and me."


  11. This one reminds me of bad dreams I had in which the devil had me frozen in the bed--it was terrible.

    Do you believe in spiritual warfare?

  12. I agree with Hanni. God is bigger than the boogie man. I believe in spiritual warfare. The bible says that all we have to do is speak the powerful name of Jesus and He is there.

  13. BadAlice: I stay as far away from that stuff as possible too.

  14. Ohhh, scary. I hate scary movies. I find myself running upstairs, fearful that something is going to catch me from behind. I refuse to watch them.

  15. Wow--thanks everyone for your comments and questions. I'm sure I'll miss something here.

    Christopher: The snaps were similar to what you would see when you snap a hood onto a child's jacket. They were flesh-colored, so they blended in. As to hands, they are a recurrent motif, but exactly how they relate to my mom I'm not sure.

    Hanni: I like your point about looking under the bed. What am I keeping just below consciousness that I'm afraid will attack?

    EOTR: I don't know what I think about spiritual warfare--I'm not even sure I completely understand what it means, or if people meand different things by it. Like Lorraine says, there's enough garden variety evil to keep me good and scared. I think there is an evil opposed to God, but whether most of the evil we see is simply fallen human nature which just happens to collude with a larger evil through greed, prejudice and just plain meanness or the influence of demonic forces I don't know. When I think of someone like Pol Pot, for example, evil seems to have leapt the fence of simple human greed and ambition and become an infestation.

  16. Bad Alice,
    I am sad to hear of your experiences as a child. Maybe your Mom didn't have any medication back then. If you have any obsessions, it is understandable but, remember, both of you are survivors.

    I hope you will join the special FFMB march today. It is alright if you are late, too.

  17. Hi Alice,
    This is my first visit. I marched in (a day late) to say hello. I'm a member of Carol's FFMB.
    I liked Peck's first book, but could never get into another.
    Aside from that, I think it is smart to see all sides of our existence (all the faces of God), but not at the age of six or even 16. Perhaps your mother wanted this for you but in her mixed up state, she went about it in the wrong fashion. I'm glad her sweet intelligence is the face she's showing now.
    Nice to meet you.

  18. Hi Alice my name is Dwayne I belong to the FFMB to as a drum you came to my site but I'm having trouble with a poster on my site. I got a email from you and I sent you a invite to join my team for now until the person quit making rude comments. I have a 12 year old daughter I won't allow her to watch shows like the Exorcist I don't think it was a good show for a child. I hated to see you mother make you watch it. Thanks for dropping by my site and God bless to you and your Family.

  19. Alice,

    I hate that your mom exposed you to that. I am so scared of scary movies and it's because I already have enough scary stuff in my head without watching more, thanks!

    Scott Peck almost as scary.

  20. Hi, I'm Lazy Daisy for the, you were certainly exposed to alot at a very tender age. I'm glad you like your mom now and she can be the sweet loving person you always wanted her to be.

    I myself, am very impresonable and don't like scary movies or things dealing with the occult. You will be in my prayers. Glad to get to know you better.

  21. That's why I avoid reading those kind of articles. Don't even like watching TV Programs or seeing a movie about these kind of films.
    Hello! I'm an FFMB member from Carol. Just became a member yesterday. Will be joining the march on Friday. Am playing the organ which I love to do. Can play forever untiringly.

  22. Wow. Your discription is scary enough for me. Although, I am always facinated by psychological information.

    Here marching with the FFMB. Have a great weekend!

  23. ((((((Alice)))))) I know a bit of what it is like to have a mother who is-"different." (My own mom also became mostly sweet and reasonable, and now, at age 89, lives with me. It is not easy. But we are managing.) Mine had serious problems, but one thing she never allowed was anything remotely resembling a scary movie. I never saw a film that wasn't made by Disney until I was in my teens.

    I do believe in spiritual warfare, and I could tell some stories. But "The Exorist"...nonono.

    I'm praying for you. Be blessed, encouraged, peaceful and joyful. May the Lord's love enfold you.

  24. I believe in spiritual warfare, but believe the only way to do it is to keep our eyes and hearts fixed firmly on Jesus Christ.

    What your mum did was wrong. When I was about nine my bedroom was being re-decorated and I watched a movie late at night with my mum - no idea what it was - only that I had nightmeres about being buried alive for a long, long time after that.

    jesus vanquished them - but they were part of my growing up. I had to forgive mum for exposing me to that. That was hard too.

    (((Alice))) the beautiful, may God restore your dreams, fill you with visions from Him and dispell any traces of fear or terror left from those deep wounds. Amen.

  25. PS that anon. was me. forgot to sign in. blush!


  26. M scott peck - I liked the road less traveled from the first line.
    I bid you peace and wish you a long life in which to enjoy it.

  27. Hello Bad Alice,

    It must be tough to shake that irrational terror off when you are already "wired" to the scare from young.

    You have reminded me that I should bare in mind not to unknowingly scare my child senseless with such movies and articles.

    I enjoyed watching The Exorcist mainly because of the make-up and camera tricks that intrigue me, more than to be scared silly.

    Although I do admit I felt scared a few days after watching it, but I think that is only a normal feeling that fades away.

    With that in mind you can watch any scary shows that you fancy.

    Whatever it is, God is always the greater and above anything else. I feel safe with The Almightly.

    Happy Friendly Fridays! A visit from FFMB member. Have a great weekened!

  28. Wow. I'm glad your mother was able to get past that stage in time to be a grandmother. It's amazing how moments from our childhood can affect us for the rest of our lives. It makes me look at parenting in a whole new (and sometimes nervewracking) light.