July 2, 2019

Name Your Demon

I have always been a fan of horror, I just didn’t fully realize it until age twenty-eight (when I started watching horror films). I had been completely indifferent to them up until that point, having never actually viewed one save a scene or two seen on accident. I was disinterested because it had been indirectly impressed upon me that horror movies were a gateway to evil of some kind—an unspoken forbidding by a fundamentally Christian mother. Plus, I was afraid. But I was able to circumvent this by getting my fix through evangelical terror. As a pre-teen I was drawn to the bible’s mysterious bits: demonology, prophecy, spiritual warfare, Jesus’ exorcisms, the book of revelations, etc. While other kids were doing kid things, like having fun, I was reading books by authors like Grant R. Jeffrey and Hal Lindsey on topics such as armageddon, the rapture, and the new world order. I pored over Chick Tracts—satanic panic era-inspired comics proselytizing conspiracy theories about the occult and other religions (I mean, look at this). And sometimes I’d work up enough courage to stay up late and watch episodes of Bob Larson, the Jerry Springer version of televangelist meets exorcist.

Despite the fear and paranoia these topics engendered, there was always an underlying sense of curiosity and fascination. A need to squarely look at what I was supposed to be terrified of.

A friend and I once discussed why we were so fond of horror films. For me, I supposed it was because I saw them as an innocuous way to process and confront fear or the unknown. We spend so much time and energy resisting what we’re afraid of, that it’s a bit exciting to let that guard down once and awhile.
Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981)

As a result of all that has been aforementioned, my favorite horror movies tend to be spiritually-themed, and I am particularly a lover of possession films. I think it’s because of this: it’s much easier to externalize evil, but there’s something less obvious about the evil that could potentially lie within us. Possession films tend to feature those (mostly women) who are disempowered and overtaken by evil. I can’t help but see the correlation between these Hollywood depictions of demonic possession and the erroneous idea of female hysteria where women are possessed by great, uncontrollable emotions of some kind that must be manhandled. Really, it is this idea of being possessed by feeling (and our disdain for it), that intrigues me, because like the devil, we tend to think of emotions, especially those labeled negative, as bad and something to constantly fight. But emotion isn’t the real enemy in our daily battles—our fear of it is.

Fear and other strong emotions—anger, sadness, regret—are an inescapable side effect of living in a human body. Dealing with these and other “negative” emotions can be tough. In fact, so difficult, many of us refuse to deal with them at all—having been taught that these manner of emotions are absurd, not valid, and absolutely not alright. So it’s easier to ignore or dismiss them, or to throw yourself into some form of busyness, to infinitely scroll through someone else’s timeline until you’re never really aware of how you actually feel.

Why do we do this? Because we’re afraid. Of what? It varies with the psyche, but it could be of anything from the prospect of losing control, to not wanting to take responsibility for something. Contrary to popular belief, feeling our feelings is essential. Whatever it is you don’t want to feel will get your attention in one way or another, usually to the detriment of your well-being. By turning a blind eye to your emotions, you are inadvertently giving them a heck of a lot of power over you.

The good news is, a very basic technique found in ancient exorcism rites could help you reclaim your power.

If you’ve never seen a possession film, or know nothing about the fine art of exorcising demons, what I speak of is the moment during an exorcism when an exorcist demands the demon to reveal its name (to which the demon usually refuses, and with good reason). César Truqui, an exorcist of the Diocese of Chur in Switzerland can tell you why: “Naming something, or knowing its name, means having power over that thing…At the instant that the demon reveals his name, it shows that he has been weakened; if he doesn’t say it, he is still strong.”

In kind, a study conducted by UCLA professor of psychology Matthew D. Lieberman found that putting feelings into words makes sadness, anger and pain less intense. You see, naming your emotions will lessen their strength and the burden they create. It’s also true that we can’t take action or change something when we don’t know exactly what it is we’re dealing with. Denying, avoiding, or being completely oblivious to feelings doesn’t make them go away, nor does it lessen their affect on you, even if it’s mostly on a subconscious level. Noticing, and more importantly, naming emotions gives you the opportunity to figure out what to do with them.

Excuse my boldness, but it is with great confidence that I'd say you yourself are probably possessed.

Drawing by me, Karissa.

No, not by a devil, though it’s possible, but more likely by a rogue emotion or two left unchecked.

Whatever this emotion is, whether you realize it or not, you’re probably working very hard to avoid it, because if you confront it, you’ll have to do something about it (and who wants to do that?). More than likely you’ve labeled it bad and you want nothing to do with it, preferring to keep it in the margins of your world – in the shadows, in the dark – and yet you feed it contstantly. This emotion is hidden deep within your subconscious, and it controls what you think, how you respond, and the choices you make—and these behaviors, an innocent attempt at survival and self-preservation, usually aren’t for your good or anyone else’s. This emotion is tied to the memory of an experience that you did not like—maybe one where you felt shamed, hurt, angry or sad—and it has gained so much strength because you have ignored it, allowed it to stagnate, feed, and get fat – and now it has overpowered you without you even noticing.

In demonic possession, there’s usually a chief demon of higher intelligence that uses less intelligent demons to do its bidding, so that it can hide behind them and continue to wreak havoc without ever being detected. In the realm of emotions, in my experience, there is usually a core emotion or emotional wound hiding behind a bunch of other thoughts and feelings and stuff. Because of this, emotional exorcism is hardly a quick-fix. It takes more than naming, but that’s a damn good start. It’s a process of unraveling and untangling that you have to commit to until you get down to the truth of the matter.

Acting happy or thinking positively is not a real solution. It’s likened to putting a cross in a demon’s face and watching them snap it in two, or dowsing them in holy water to which there is no effect. You must be empowered to overpower your inner demons, and you can only do that if you are operating from a place of truth and honesty, because there is no higher power than that. When you realize that your behavior and your responses to life are colored by grief, rage, or hopelessness, or some other unsavory feeling, and when you can separate who you are from what you feel, then you can begin calling difficult emotions out by name, taking back a little bit of your power each time.

Exorcism is shedding light on that which seeks to stay hidden, and in a psychological context, shedding light on your emotions is first embracing them, then giving them some sort of expression. Feeling your feelings completely, not fighting them, is how you finally free yourself in the end.