Our Demons

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          I remember my first contact with "the devil" when I was little —a horrible humanlike figure with two horns and a tail, brandishing a pitchfork, surrounded with fire, defiant and menacing, one of the images that most impressed my childlike mind. . . . As I grew up, and as I was exposed to the catechism and the sermons of the Jesuits under whom I was educated until my adolescence (coinciding with Castro’s seizure of Cuba’s private schools), I began to realize that the devil had a place called hell where he and other demons subjected the souls of "bad people" —those who had sinned against God —to the eternal punishment of fire and brimstone. I learned that there were certain sins called "mortal sins," and that committing just one of them could condemn a person to an eternity of suffering in that horrible place where the demons were kings and lords, and would be the scourges of those sinful souls forever. . . . I recall myself as a child afraid even to think about all that, about the possibility that I might someday merit that eternal damnation. . . . It was much more painful, even agonizing, for me when I learned that because my father had been divorced when he married my mother, they both were living in "mortal sin" because they had not been married by the Church. . . . That truly hurt me. . . them going inevitably to hell when they died. . . . At that early age I decided not to think much about it because it gave me such anguish, and I never had the nerve to ask a priest whether there might not be something that my parents, or perhaps I, might do to avoid that fearsome punishment —I didn’t want the priests to know that they hadn’t been married by the Church. . . It was a secret. . . . And I would keep it a secret until I could find out in one way or another whether that terrible punishment was truly inevitable. . . . I never lost hope that they could somehow avoid going to hell. . . .

          In time, those religious ideas ceased to prey on my mind. I evolved toward a much more magnanimous God, who did not concern Himself about ephemeral things or condemn people for "mortal sins" —although the devil always remained in one corner of my mind, somehow lurking there, in wait for me. . . . The truth is, the devil is a deeply rooted part of our Western culture, and in one way or another symbolizes Evil and it would appear that we humans need many kinds of symbolism in order for our minds to function.... And of course we have the testimony of many sources as to his existence —the devil is so popular that he appears graphically, with one face or another, even in the movies.

          A couple of years ago, in the midst of a family crisis we were going through, a person very close to me seated on her bed began to insult me, saying unpleasant, obscene things. She was terribly agitated, and the expression on her face, combined with the circumstances of the scene, reminded me of the "possessed" girl in the film The Exorcist. At that moment, I perceived that she was possessed by the devil himself. Firmly, with infinite patience and words of love, I managed to calm her; the event might have lasted two hours, but to me it seemed an eternity. . . At the end of it I was exhausted, drained of energy, but I decided to find out whether it was actually the devil that was tormenting her. . . I investigated, trying to find out as much as I could about the reality of what we call "the devil."

          Through a friend, I was given access to a yellowing, antique-looking book that dated back to the early years of the last century. It was on the "White Lodge," and there was a chapter in it that spoke about "demonic beings," as the devil was called in its pages. . . . Here are a few words from the page that I copied from the book, which I had to return in a short time: "It is not enough to fall on one’s knees and pray; one must kick the tramp out when he comes into our house. And this is precisely what we must do with the astral tramps. Those who have experienced their onslaughts may say when they hear this counsel, that I know not the terrible power of the demonic beings that obsess us. But let it be known that their greatest care is to delude their victim, to make him think that they are very powerful. We must not be so foolish as to listen to them. I know them, and I know that they are weak, powerless, contemptible, bullying, lecherous creatures. For months on end they will torment a poor woman, yet flee in cowardly haste as soon as a strong, energetic will turns on them in just indignation." The text goes on to offer advice for facing this situation: "They do not easily resign themselves to expulsion, but if you remain firm, with iron determination, and raise against them your will as an immovable rock, they will flee in great haste. Say to them: I am a spark of the divine fire, and by the power of God that is in me I command you to leave. And do not for one instant fear the possibility of failure or surrender, for God is in you and you cannot fail."

          I have spoken before about the firmness and constancy that have allowed me to succeed in many of the major challenges I faced throughout my life; thus my firmness helped me to confront and overcome that "demon" also in the event I just described. This in some way validated the instructions given in the book for performing an "exorcism." I believe that the help of the professionals who attended that person in trouble and some of the modern medicines that treat mental problems complemented my constancy and firmness making possible for that beloved person of mine to come back to normality . . . . Depending on our perceptions, we can attribute to a cruel, strong, independent outside being the power to incite us to evil, or even the power to enter us and take over our minds and make us act in horrendous ways; or we can think that these behaviors occur when our minds undergo a crisis stemming from the use of outside agents such as hallucinogenic drugs or alcohol, or from profound mental and emotional problems such as those treated by modern psychology and psychiatry. . . . I believe that just as that book’s instructions for casting out the devil were validated by my experience, there was need of my "will as an immovable rock." Equally important, I believe, were the advances in modern medicine. . . .

          I faced that "devil" and defeated him, and I have reflected a great deal about that process, and I have arrived at certain conclusions: Throughout history, our intellectual and spiritual evolution has required many types of symbols, which have formed a bridge between the profound ignorance of antiquity and our current level of knowledge. In some way, humanity’s intelligence found a way, understandable for that time (given the many limitations suffered by humanity), to explain "evil" by its conceptualization in the horrendous creature known as "the devil." This creature arose, like all myths, out of need, and its symbolism managed to "explain," in the absence of the knowledge we have today, the origins of certain ills: Persons suffering under dementia, epilepsy, and compulsive violence were "possessed" by "diabolic astral beings." . . . At the same time, earlier societies managed to a degree to shirk their responsibility; it was easier to say that an outside being was the cause of the evils that afflicted them than to take responsibility for the victimization, cruelty, and lack of aid and compassion shown to those who were the victims of those ills. Thus, certain illnesses whose causes were unknown at the time were able to be "explained."

          It is when we take the easy way, when we act out of avarice, or envy, when our ego possesses us, when individualism is more important than the common good, when we justify our cruelty with false and futile excuses, when we allow banality to enthrone itself in our minds, when we believe physical and emotional violence to be a useful alternative and use it against our neighbors, when we turn our backs on abuse and victimization, that we engender the true "demons" . . . our "demons." And so, we perform a true "exorcism" when we battle against despicable acts and weaknesses both our own and others’ with firmness, when we struggle against social injustice, when with absolute devotion and love we help our loved ones to overcome their crisis regardless of the difficulties there may be, or the time it may take, or the personal sacrifices that success in that mission of love demands. . .

          We have power, much more power than we are sometimes able to realize and understand. We have the power not only to exorcise demons —ourselves’ and others’ but to create them, and that is only one of the many powers we possess, but that ignorance prevents us from identifying, becoming aware of, and employing them as we should. . . . Be glad before this truth; fill yourselves with gladness at this grace that has been bestowed upon us but know, too, that total effort and total commitment to yourselves are needed if you wish to defeat that ignorance that limits us and blinds us and keeps us from enjoying those powers.

          Go forward, friends, filled with courage and confidence in yourselves. God is beside you —in your neighbor, in the wind, in the water, in the earth, in the sun. . . in your hearts. Seek Him and you will find Him. And then nothing will be impossible and there will be no fear; your demons will disappear forever. . . your smile will be forever and every tear that you shed from that time forward, will be shed with joy.


Thank you,

Juan San Emeterio

May, 2004