Ok, this one is a little long, but I think it's worth reading. In putting this together, I came across a fair amount of interesting information about the Witnesses and their belief in demons. There's a lot that I'll be interested to put to the next Witness I come acoss (if any of them still quite dare to talk to me after last time. Ketchup and rubber bands may have been involved)
The TL;DR version - The WTBTS routinely publishes many lurid, graphic descriptions of demons, claiming that they are legitimate warnings to the faithful. An examination of these shows that not only are they almost unanimously coming from underdeveloped countries already steeped in superstition, the stories function as the stick to Jehovah's carrot. Further, demons are an example of Witnesses hypocrisy, as they claim to offer "freedom from superstition" on one hand, while on the other hand recommending ritual burning of objects and invocation of God's name as remedies. Nowhere is the two-faced nature of the WTBTS more evident, however, than the fact that they publish these stories of demonic harassment while directly instructing their followers that they should not do the same.
When I was a kid I was scared of the dark. Yes, I know, most kids are at some time or another, but what I was scared of wasn't what might be hiding under my bed or in the closet. I was afraid of something much more defined. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was surrounded by evil - countless invisible, supernaturally powerful, malevolent creatures that had already started hurting me. I had started to get regular headaches by that point, and if that was proof enough for my Mom that the demons had targeted me, then that was enough to make me believe too. We had already found and burned several books and games that served to let the demons into our home, but my headaches continued. So, every night, I prayed to Jehovah and asked him to banish the demons and make them stop hurting me.
I was eight at the time.
Years later, with a decade of hindsight since I last picked up a Watchtower with any acceptance (and glasses that have long since fixed my eyestrain related headaches), I understand far better why I was convinced that I was under supernatural assault. Even with that said, before beginning the research behind this article, I believed that, as a child, I must have exaggerated the idea of Demons that was being taught by the Watchtower. Surely it couldn't have been as bad as I remembered. As it turns out, there's a lot of things I'm thankful I never read or heard about.
For the Witnesses, if the Jehovah and His promise of Everlasting Life in Paradise Earth © is the carrot, Satan and his Demons are the stick. Demons, hate-filled fallen angels, are a constant theme in Witness theology - they fill the world around us, able to influence thoughts, manipulate things, even cause illness and death. Their only goal is to kill you, and any misstep could put you at risk of falling into their snares. Any object could bring their influence into your home, even without your knowledge. While the Witnesses claim to offer freedom from superstition and fear, the sheer volume of lurid first-person accounts of demonic attack, coupled with the repeated admonition to ritually burn "contact" items and make vocal prayers to Jehovah (essentially a magical "invocation" of Divine power) show a different story. Far from trying to free someone from superstition, the Witnesses instead substitute their own - one designed to keep followers in dependence to the apparent safety provided by the organization.
Make the Monsters
Some history (according to the Witnesses) - Demons are angels that have sided with Satan the Devil (the original demon). In the time of Noah, these angels materialized in human form in order to have sex with human women. The children resulting from these angel/human relations went on to become the Nephilim, violent giants that terrorized the world. When God visited the Flood on the world, it didn't kill the angels, only destroying their material bodies and returning them to the spirit realm. Since that time, although they have been prevented from taking material form, these demons have maintained a continued presence in the world.
The Witness view of demons is largely based on biblical accounts, such as demonic possession of man and animals (Matt. 8:31, 32), physical impairment (Matt 9:33) and superhuman strength (Mark 5:3-4). The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) however, has regularly reported first-hand accounts of demonic possession and harassment that go far beyond the accounts related in the bible. Among the many items attributed to demonic activity are
- Selective physical maladies such as deafness when attempting to attend Witness meetings 1
- Physical illness, night harassment, sleep deprivation, terrible dreams, sexual abuse by spirits, as well as the potential to be driven to murder or suicide 2
- Providing power with "spiritists and demon-controlled persons" making such people "able to 'bind others with a spell,' sometimes by means of their eyes." 3
- Insanity and mental illness - "Often the wild and uncontrolled conduct of mentally unbalanced persons is due to possession by these invisible minions of Satan." 4
- Visions and hallucinations 5
- Physical attacks such as being shoved, pinned to the ground, paralysis and convulsions. 6 More violent actions, such as strangulation 7 , and breaking the neck by twisting the head 8 are also attributed.
- Manipulation of the body, such as significant swelling 6 and phantom pain 9
Going hand in hand with the powers attributed to demons are the strong language and warnings that the WTBTS uses when discussing them. Phrases such as "debased demons that force people to worship them" 10 , "as murderous as ever" 2 , and "life-threatening" 13 are repeated time and time again, framing longer descriptions that are even more lurid:
"[Demons] are sex perverts who are the behind-the-scenes manipulators of this sex-mad world. Although they have been barred from again materializing as humans, they derive pleasure from the sexual perversions of those they can corrupt on earth" 11
While the forceful language and frightening descriptions are ostensibly to convey the great danger of these creatures who, though unseen, work "not only attract people but also attack them" 12 it serves a deeper, much more fundamental purpose. It fans the natural human fear of the unknown, and instills in Witnesses a firm belief that they are, in fact, in mortal danger. As we will see shortly, by creating this sense of fear, and fanning it with every disturbing image that they can provide, the Watchtower Society can then step in and claim that they, as God's chosen Earthly Organization, are the only group that can provide protection.
Reinforce the Fear
That sense of fear is escalated by terrifying 'first person accounts' of demon attacks. In one example 6 ,a woman in Suiname, Lintina van Geenen, describes in vivid detail how 16 members of her family, including her mother, were killed by a demon. The article describes how
- "Later the demon stepped up his attacks. Several times I felt as if he were strangling me. Though I tried to run away, I could not because a heavy weight seemed to press on my body. I wanted to scream but could not produce a sound."
- "One day I heard the foreboding voice of the demon say, "I will make your belly swell like a ball." Some time later, there was a hard lump in my belly that grew bigger until I looked pregnant"
- "Next, the demon threatened: "I'm finished with you. This is your end." "But you are not God, you are not Jesus," I cried. "Even God cannot stop me," the demon answered. "Your days are numbered.""
- "But that very night the demon possessed me. In a trance, I seemed to see the koenoe followed by a crowd of people. He ridiculed: "She thinks she is going to get a resurrection." Then the crowd laughed and laughed."
Other accounts are similar in their graphic content:
"The spirits that spoke through me were kind to those who sought their help," she says, "but at the same time they made my life miserable. After each sitting, I felt beaten up and could hardly move. When night fell, I hoped for some rest, but the spirits did not leave me alone. They kept disturbing me, talking to me and keeping me awake. And the things they said! They loved to talk about sex and insisted on having relations with me. It was shocking. I was married. I did not want to be unfaithful and told them so. It did not help. Once an invisible force overpowered me, touched and squeezed my body, and even bit me. I felt wretched." 8
"One night we were called to help a sick woman troubled by a spirit. The leader of the group-the medium of a stronger spirit-tried to chase the spirit away. For a whole day we pleaded for his spirit's help. We danced and played the drums, and gradually the woman improved. He ordered her spirit out, and this worked. 'We gained the victory,' beamed the leader. Then we sat down and relaxed. For a while all looked well, but then a scream broke the silence. We rushed to the house where it came from and saw the leader's wife. She was crying hysterically. Inside the house, we found her little daughter-her head facing backward! Some force had wrung and broken her neck, killing her like a chicken-apparently, the revenge of that ousted spirit"" 8
"One night while I was asleep in bed with my husband, I heard a voice call my name three times. Then I saw the ceiling split apart, and a fiery, ball-like object dropped onto my stomach. Of course, my husband could see none of these things. Nevertheless, I felt a terrible heat that lasted for several months. Six months later, the voice called me again. Immediately, the whole house seemed to be in deep water. A large python came out of the water and crawled around my hand. I tried in vain to shake it off. I was terrified. Then the water and the snake vanished, and I was violently thrown to the ground. I was unconscious for several hours. The voice then told me to return to a spiritistic healing temple in the village. When I asked the spirit his name, he gave a name meaning "possessor of wealth but no child." He promised to make me rich through healing powers." "Money and gifts were pouring in because of the effectiveness of the cures. I became a "possessor of wealth," but I also learned the meaning of "no child." Each time I bore a child, his immediate senior would die. This was very distressing. During the 12 years that I served this spirit, six of my children died." 9
Offer Protection to the Terrified
Responding to a readers question regarding the distressing content of these and the many similar accounts, the Watchtower society stated that the nature of the content has a very specific intent - to instill fear of these invisible being into the reader -
"We feel the need to take up serious problems facing people today and to show how these will be resolved. Further, there are many dangers in the world, such as occultism, and we believe that it is positive to warn our readers about these dangers and show how they can gain protection from them" 14
Keeping in mind that the "protection" mentioned is, of course, joining with and following the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the function of demons, and the graphic events attributed to them, starts to become clear. They are the lion at the gate, the evil awaiting the unwary, the progenitor of every imaginable horror that could be inflicted on a person. Jehovah (and the Watchtower Society as the only legitimate avenue of worship) is, as could be expected, held as the carrot to that stick. Regularly following accounts of demonic attack are reminders that "Jehovah is able to protect his servants from Satan's attacks" 18 , and that "with the help of Jehovah and his Witnesses on earth, [a victim of demons] broke free of demon influence and now lives a rich, wholesome life" 19 .
Looking further, demons also function to help create the insular, "us-against-them" mentality that adds to the social isolation imposed on followers. Notice how each of these quotes reinforces that:
- "Those wicked spirits are the prime instigators of persecution of Jehovah's servants." 15
- "Exploring spiritism, therefore, amounts to loving what Jehovah God hates. It is like rejecting Jehovah, being in Satan's camp, and siding with God's archenemy " 8
- "The demons are God's enemies and yours too" 16
- "dabbling in spiritism is gross treachery against Jehovah", "if a Christian turned to spiritism, he would willingly and knowingly desert Jehovah and place himself directly under Satan's command. Imagine what pleasure it would give Satan to parade that deserter as a trophy of war! Would any of us want to hand the Devil such a victory? Absolutely not! We are not traitors." 17
Superstition and Hypocrisy
Science and understanding continues to shed light on the mysteries of the universe, providing rational explanations for things previously attributed to "spirits". Illness, once inflicted by demons or dark magic, is now the result of bacteria. Those who may have once been "demon possessed" and subject to exorcism now receive treatment for schizophrenia and other mental illness. There is a growing trend, even within mainstream Christianity, to view demons with the same level of skepticism.
While on the one hand steeping pages with supernatural occurrences and attributing vast maladies to demons, even the WTBTS is careful to remind readers that there are secular causes to various illnesses.
"This does not mean that everyone who hears "voices" is being spoken to by demons. At times the hearing of voices can be traced to certain physical or mental illnesses." 20
"Therefore, it would be wrong to attribute all sickness or all setbacks to the workings of wicked spirits." 21
Even then, the mixed message is easily identified. A clear example of this can be found in the contract between the following quotes:
"While not all persons afflicted with madness or insanity are possessed by the demons, logically persons possessed by the demons may be expected to manifest an unbalanced mental state" 22
"Often the wild and uncontrolled conduct of mentally unbalanced persons is due to possession by these invisible minions of Satan." 23
It must be questioned, then, how much of this belief in demons is rooted in superstition and reinforced by religious fervor. Examining the accounts of reported demonic activity shows an interesting trend. If demonic activity is as prevalent and insinuated into the world as the Witnesses put forth, it could be expected that accounts would be spread around the world with relative equality. Instead, the majority of accounts originate in less-developed nations already steeped in demonic belief. Of 25 examined accounts:
- Asia (primarily Thailand) - 9
- South America (primarily Suriname and Brazil) - 9
- Africa - 5
- Europe - 2
This uneven spread goes a great distance in showing these accounts for what they are - tales born of superstition and given credence by religious fervor. The evidence for the Witnesses being mired in superstition goes beyond the origins of the stories, however.
A pair of common threads run through the Witness dogma and accounts regarding demons. First, that material items can be linked to spiritism, and used as demonic "contact points". These should be destroyed, preferably by fire. 20 The repetition of this advice raises it from a simple recommendation to a ritual action being performed to break the link to the demon world. Second is the advice for those suffering from demonic attack - "call on Jehovah aloud in prayer, using his name. He will help you" 9 . This prayer, too, serves the essential purpose of ritual - the invocation of the name of a deity in order to provide protection from the enemies of God.
It is here that the hypocrisy of the WTBTS begins to be most evident - reinforcing a superstitious fear of demons on one hand while belittling superstition on the other. One publication notes:
"There are countless superstitious practices, and all of them have something in common-the lack of a logical explanation. Superstitions can, among other things, lead people into blaming their misfortunes on bad luck rather than accepting responsibility for their deeds." 24
While another puts it quite succinctly
"WHEN you were a child, were you afraid of the dark? Perhaps you imagined a monster lurking outside your window, waiting to snatch you from your parents. Now as an adult, able to read factual information and think more rationally, your childhood fears seem absurd. " 25
This standpoint is difficult to balance against the tales of demonic harassment that occur throughout Witness literature. The WTBTS rationalizes it by claiming to show evidence only to help educate their followers. The underlying hypocrisy becomes self-evident, however, when the same group publishing lurid stories of demons molesting women and twisting the heads off children had the following to say about the exact same type of stories:
"The sheer abundance of such stories [regarding the power of witches and sorcerers], along with the widespread belief in them, may tend to influence some in the Christian congregation also to believe that they are true." "[Satan] is a master at making people believe things that are not true. Because of this, even the testimony and confessions of those who have been involved in spiritism and witchcraft are often far from reliable. Such people may sincerely believe that they have seen, heard, or experienced certain things; yet, in fact, they have not." "In view of the Devil's history of deception, the truthfulness of supernatural tales is highly suspect at best. Most are the inventions of superstitious imaginations, exaggerated by constant retelling. Circulating such fables promotes the interests of the father of the lie, Satan the Devil." "What, though, if the stories appear to be truthful? Sometimes experiences are related of spirits or spiritists acknowledging the supremacy of Jehovah and the truthfulness of his Witnesses. Should Christians repeat such stories? No, they should not" 26
This examination has covered a number of points, but put together they paint a clear portrait of how the idea of demons is used by the WTBTS. They are a method of control - frightening believers as to what awaits the unfaithful. They are superstition - supposed "true" accounts being culled from cultures already seeing demons in everyday life. Finally, they are evidence of the Witness hypocrisy, as they publish account after account of these stories while instructing their followers that they should do no such thing.
Sources (Watchtower Library CD notation used):
1) *** yb07 pp. 234-235 Réunion ***
2) *** sp p. 12 The Demons Are Killers! ***
3) *** g89 1/8 pp. 22-23 Should You Fear the Evil Eye? ***
4) *** it-1 p. 614 Demon Possession ***
5) *** g98 4/8 pp. 18-19 Are Demons Real? ***
6) *** w87 9/1 pp. 7-10 Shaking Off the Yoke of Spiritism ***
7) *** w87 11/1 pp. 6-7 True Religion Dispels Fear-How? ***
8) *** w87 9/1 pp. 4-6 Spiritism-How Viewed by God? ***
9) *** ol part 8 p. 28 Reject False Religion; Practice True Religion ***
10) *** w87 9/1 pp. 7-10 Shaking Off the Yoke of Spiritism ***
11) *** w94 5/15 pp. 15-20 Youths-Whose Teaching Do You Heed? ***
12) *** kl chap. 12 pp. 113-114 pars. 12-13 Resist Wicked Spirit Forces ***
13) *** w87 9/1 pp. 4-6 Spiritism-How Viewed by God? ***
14) *** g86 12/22 p. 28 From Our Readers ***
15) *** w90 4/15 pp. 14-15 pars. 18-20 Deliverance Near for People of Godly Devotion! ***
16) *** g 2/11 p. 6 Who Is Really Behind the Occult? ***
17) *** lv chap. 16 pp. 187-188 par. 11 Oppose the Devil and His Crafty Acts ***
18) *** sp p. 12 The Demons Are Killers! ***
19) *** sp p. 22 The Demons Encourage Rebellion Against God ***
20) *** pe chap. 10 pp. 96-98 pars. 16-18 Wicked Spirits Are Powerful ***
21) *** w02 8/1 p. 7 Do Superstitions Control Your Life? ***
22) *** it-2 p. 291 Madness ***
23) *** it-1 p. 614 Demon Possession ***
24) *** g 3/08 p. 10 Is Superstition Compatible With Bible Teaching? ***
25) *** g90 1/8 p. 12 Is There Really a Devil? ***
26) *** w94 4/1 "Turn Down the False Stories" ***