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 ?