Demons – need I be wary of them?

Lilith – painting 1892 by John Collier in Southport Atkinson Art Gallery

Lilith is an attractive figure. She is also a fictional entity in the American drama and horror television series Supernatural. The show features two brothers Sam and Dean who travel across the country in a black 1967 Chevrolet to hunt demons, supernatural creatures, and other paranormal entities, many of them based on folklore, myths, and American urban legends.

In the TV script, Lilith engages in demonic possession, is invulnerable, has occult knowledge and superhuman strength, and is capable of telekinesis & teleportation. She reminds us of a legendary succubus, who, as one of the female demons, was thought historically to appear in dreams, taking the form of a woman in order to seduce men, usually through sexual activity; the male counterpart being an incubus.

Other demons on television

Despite the growing secular rejection these days of anything supernatural, there is a remarkable trend in Western popular culture to present paranormal figures of good and evil. Demons are also featured in the comedy TV series Reaper. This focuses on a character called Sam, who works for the ‘Devil’ by retrieving souls that have escaped from Hell. In the series, demons, residing within the mortal realm, exhibit the ability to assume near-human forms, that enable them to live along with real humans. The only thing distinguishing them from actual mortals is two small horns protruding from their foreheads, which can be sanded down to create the complete illusion that they are human: they are also capable of morphing into their true demonic forms.

Many people scoff at such ideas but seem to be drawn to them as objects of entertainment and horror. Most of us are probably attracted and wary of them in equal measure. There are some individuals who actually fear demons seeing them as the personification of evil and may even attempt to exorcise them. Others willfully attempt to summon them for knowledge, assistance, or power.

Demons and psychiatric disorder

Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, wrote two books on the subject of demons, People of the Lie and Glimpses of the Devil. He describes in some detail several cases involving his patients. He provides description of an evil person, whom he classified as having a character disorder and goes into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the myth of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering what he assessed as cases of possession. He concluded that this was a rare phenomenon related to evil, and that possessed people are not actually evil; rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil. Other psychiatrists usually do not support the idea of possession and instead use the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder for such cases. This is one of the most controversial psychiatric disorders with no clear consensus regarding its cause and treatment.

Are demons real?

The contemporary Roman Catholic Church thinks demons are real. It officially sanctions a nucleus of trained personnel which perform many exorcisms each year. The official teaching is that demons attack humans continually but that afflicted individuals can be effectively healed and protected either by the formal rite of exorcism, or by prayers of deliverance, which any Christian can offer for themselves or others.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg is famous for his reports of what he claimed to hear and see of spirits during altered states of consciousness.

From his extraordinary experiences of them, he concluded that demons, like angels, are all people who had once lived in earth. Living as they do in an afterlife of spirit, he maintains they are not physically real, yet nevertheless have a life of their own and are not merely figments of our imagination.

Why are demons malevolent?

Swedenborg says that every person after death has the character that they had formed in the world: consequently, we will all have the same desires and intentions that had come to rule our life in the material body. Accordingly, during life on earth, the character of those who became demons had been centered on themselves, prioritising their own self-interest and pleasure in material things regardless of the needs of others. Hence such people tended to dislike, settle scores with, and be unkind towards anyone who thwarted their own selfish desires.

What have demons got to do with us?

Demons, according to this view are the source of our bad impulses. The reason Swedenborg gives is to do with his view of human consciousness. Part of our mind is said to be in contact with what he calls the spiritual world – a hidden realm of good and bad human spirits. The demons are the bad ones.

Without being conscious of them, we are attracted to demons like those represented by sexy Lilith. This happens when we do things primarily out of self-interest, perhaps to be well thought of, get rich, or have sexual pleasure, even when this hurts a loved one. Demons want us to act out their desires and if we surrender ourselves to their illusory persuasions and urgings, we would fall into their evil ways.

Need one be scared of demons?

If all this is true, demons want to worm their way into your heart and mind to infect your conscience and corrupt what is good within you. Fortunately, you need not worry about this. As long as you do not surrender to their allure, I believe there is a divine force that protects you so demons cannot do you any harm.

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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Afterlife – Is there one?

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