My Mum, Demons, The Watchtower & MGM
A couple of years ago, on the old H2O, I posted something called “My Demon Story” which told a story, back in the seventies, of a supposed demon attack on a family known to me. The point of the story was in fact that the only demons involved were self-supplied from this particular sister’s hysterical, over-active imagination.
During the course of that story, I said
I don’t think – even at my most faithful and zealous – that I ever took the Demon stories seriously. It always sounded like medieval, witchcraft, mumbo-jumbo nonsense that would embarrass any moderately intelligent modern man. Inside the Borg or out, I have never changed that view.I came across that story in my files and re-read it the other day, and it occurred to me that the above disclaimer was not actually completely true. There indeed WAS a time I totally believed in The Demons, and I must have been six or seven at the time. Musing on that time of my life led me to write this post.
A bit of background. . I was born into a large (loads of kids) Irish-Catholic family, living in London, re-housed out to one of the London-satellite New Towns that had sprung up in the 50’s when they demolished the old run-down tenement slums we had been living in.
Pretty much the moment we were installed in the new house (Inside toilet! A bathroom! A garden! Three whole separate bedrooms!) my mum got doorstepped and led us all into The Truth. I was 4 or 5 year old, and so can’t really much remember a time before we were Witnesses.
So, there I was, growing up on this rich spiritual diet of wholesome and upbuilding Bible truths (there really should be some special type font for irony). Anyway, Demon stories figured just as large in our household as any other JW family, I guess. Perhaps more. My mum (Catholic background, here?) certainly made plenty of reference to them in teaching us kids, that’s for sure. I think now that the whole idea of Satan and the Demons as an ever-active, ever-present threat in one’s everyday life is certainly stronger in the Witness oral tradition than you would ever guess at just by reading the literature.
And looking back now, it seems to me that, whereas I had some notion of Jehovah-and-Jesus being good and kind and so on, they were much less distinct and powerful figures to me than the terrifying, ever-lurking Satan-and-theDemons, who were ready to gobble you up any time you did (or thought about doing!) something wrong or wicked. And, of course, doing and thinking about wrong stuff is pretty much what a six year old boy does best.
We were pretty poor. Mum didn’t work, Dad had a lowest-rung-of-the-ladder manual job, worked overtime, weekends, never saw him. And piles of kids to feed. One of the ways my folks saved money was on lightbulbs. There weren’t any, upstairs, except a single dim bulb on the landing, which was supposed to do for all the bedrooms, too. Pretty dark place, upstairs was. Pretty scary to me. Which is significant because:
One of the things my mum would do to keep order over her unruly and numerous brood (Dad was at work) was, whenever any strife broke out, she would single out the trouble-maker and banish the offending child to his/her bedroom. This tactic just hadn’t been available in the London 2-room flat.
I was at the younger end of the family (second-youngest) and to this day, I must admit I have never discussed this with any of the others, but this business of being sent out from the noisy, well-lit, reassuring crowdedness of the living-room into the dark, quiet, cold isolation of an upstairs bedroom just terrified the shit out of me.
I remember sitting on the top step, too scared to enter the darkness of the bedroom, eyes shut, hands over ears, sitting under the single bulb, just waiting for The Demons to come and get me. I knew they were there. If I kept my eyes shut and didn’t see them, I was safe.
And (now we’re sort of getting to the point of this post) there’s more: I knew exactly what a demon looked like. In my head was a personal vision of a Demon, very specific and detailed:
Short in size, strange clothes, horrible, jerky movements, and a gravely scary voice.
Now, here I am , a safe and secure 47-year old man, happy, grounded and stable. I wish I could reach back in time and do something for that frightened little boy on the top step with his personal vision of hell.
I never told my mum about the Demons at the top of the stairs, or like I said, any of my brothers and sisters. I guess I was frightened they’d laugh or something.
Now here’s the strange thing: Fast forward 20 years. I’m all grown up, out of the Truth, with two young kids of my own. It’s Christmas day and we’re watching The Wizard of Oz on TV. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.
Suddenly, I see on screen a sight which - just for a second - makes my blood run cold. A deep chord touched. And then, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But a ghost has just been laid.
It seems my vision of a Demon which so troubled my active seven-year-old imagination was in fact, nothing other than - - - The Lollipop Kids from Munchkin land. The look, the size, jerky movements, the voice – the whole thing. (Next time you see it, you’ll see what I mean)
I must have seen that film as a VERY young child, too young to remember it consciously, but clearly it left enough of an impression on me and my sub-conscious. I must have been very scared by the Munchkins, and built the whole experience into my personal image of Satan and his Demons.
How many people get the chance, later in life as an adult, to confront and face down their own personal demons from their childhood? I did, that Christmas day.
Well, okay, “confront and face down” is a bit too strong, I admit. But to understand, to remember and then lay it aside, that’s a great thing. Cathartic, is that the word?
Now, my mum’s not a monster. She didn’t know about the Demons in my seven-year-old head. She was just (still is) a product of the Watchtower, she taught us the best she knew how. She’s no more to blame than MGM is for making Oz.
I tell the story just to reflect on the rich mix of things here. The JW upbringing, the demon-obsessed dub mindset, my young imagination, our lack of light bulbs, the Munchkins. What a recipe!
Trying his best to bring up his kids in a happy, demon-free household, but who can ever get inside their heads ?
"Trying his best to bring up his kids in a happy, demon-free household, but who can ever get inside their heads ? "
As long as you keep "you know who" OUT!
The neat thing about "bad guys" (witches, goblins, fairy tale stuff)is that when kids grow up (& even while they are small, if the parents are any good) they are told that it is all make believe. Problem with growing up in the WT is that the concept of "make believe" doesn't exist! It is all scary, true stuff and must be believed, respected and taught to your own kids. Except for Santa Claus of course, that fable is squashed right from the get go.
Hello Duncan Old Chappy,
Thank you for your amusing and customarily well-written tale.
Not only do I remember the family that you mention in the 70's who saw demons everywhere from the bus queue to the bathroom, but I also remember well your parents. Wonderful warm-hearted people.
I also recall the ‘demonised LP’ fiasco, with the same family who created a stir insisting that strange voices were coming from a record that they had just purchased. The reality is that probably one of the kids had smuggled a Pink Floyd album into the house, but it kept the elders scurrying.
Kindest regards -- HS
Good stuff, Duncan.
Hmmm, I recall getting scard of demons, the dark, skeletons, the walking dead, graveyards, anything morbid at all. This all surfaced when I was around 10 years old, a bit later in life than most kids. Weird thing is that whenever I see posts containing pics from 50's WT's, I get the same cold feeling all over again...
And as for that weird old terraced house we used to visit in Putney, well, oooOOOOOAAH!
PS, Just picking up on your locations here, did you ever come across Tug Wilson's family?
Bring on the dancing girls!
This topic reminds me of scare tactic stories I was told as a child to avoid specific things and undoubtedly to rein in any stragglers on the fringe.
One Circuit Overseer in our south Chicagoland region by the name of Br. McGee in the early 1990's even told a few stories of a toddler-age child being strangled by her own pajamas, Bibles being strewn around a room aflame and ceasing when the name of Jehovah was uttered, and of attacks on children by Smurfs to try to demonstrate the seriousness of the times.
I look back on it now and laugh.
Anyone else have stories to relate? This could get very interesting.
The true Kingdom of God is located in your heart, not an organization of hypocrites.
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hey duncan, thank you for the wonderfully atmospheric narrative ...
i suffered from very bad dreams as a kid - mostly due to losing both my brothers in motor accidents ... i wonder how much worse it could have been to have had the cold comfort of the borganisations view of life after death and demons flying around our heads ... luckily for me, my parents were not as easily taken in as i was later in life ...
Tug Wilson is a name that means nothing to me. We had a real character in our Congregation called Fred Wilson - any good? Was he known elsewhere by a nickname?
Thanks for your memories. You are right, of course. Both my folks are warm-hearted wonderful people. Both pretty old and frail now, I'm certain they have no conception of just how cold and heartless the dub worldview ("You're all gonna die!") really is. They're just victims.
Wasn't Tug Wilson the ex CID policeman who became a CO?
Yes, indeed he was that same person. He was our CO in the early 60's, I also knew his family from on board the Arosa Star when we sailed to NY.
I recall he had 2 sons, Anthony and Christopher.
Bring on the dancing girls!