“I don’t like those loud voices”: Children and Demons

“Mommy, I don’t like those loud voices.”

I turned to my daughter, sitting in her car-seat behind me.

“What loud voices?”

“Those loud voices.”

She was pointing behind her, toward the rear windshield. There were no loud voices. I had the radio on quietly, but there is no rear speaker.

“It’s okay honey, we’re almost home,” I told her, and distracted her by talking about something outside of the car, and tree in bloom or a colorful house, I forget what exactly.

But as we finished our drive I was thinking about what I would have thought of this incident had it occurred five or ten years earlier. Small children, I was taught growing up, were often able to see and hear things that we couldn’t. Small children could sense demons, could know when angels were present, and could hear either speaking. If a small child was acting oddly, his or her behavior might be attributed to something he or she could see but we could not.

There were stories, stories of martyrs and the persecution of Christians, when small children saved the day because they could sense something, see something, hear something. And that kind of thing was not to be ignored.

And it wasn’t just small children. I was also taught that animals can see and hear demons or angels when people cannot. This idea may stem from the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22:

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

“No,” he said.

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

Growing up, if one of our dogs was acting strangely, it always made me very nervous. What could that dog see, I would wonder, that I could not? Was the dog picking up on spiritual cues, hearing the warnings of an angel or the threats of a demon? Even to this day if an animal acts strangely I get an adrenaline rush for this reason.

If the incident I described at the beginning of this post had occurred five or ten years ago, I would have attributed it to spiritual forces – I would have concluded that my daughter heard the voices of angels or demons.

I would have prayed over her, prayed over our car (casting out demons in Jesus’ name just to be safe), and prayed over our house. I would have talked to her about how important it is to love Jesus and to do what is right. I would have talked to her of sin and redemption, in hopes of bringing her to say the sinner’s prayer that would result in her being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I would have worried that until she accepted Jesus as her savior she might be for some reason especially susceptible to demonic influence. To counteract this, I would have taken the amount of time I spent reading her Bible stories and praying over her up a notch. I might have asked my pastor or my Bible study group to pray over her as well. And I would have carefully watched everything she said or did for any signs of trouble.

Or maybe, if I’d concluded it was angels she was hearing, I would have hoped I had a spiritual prodigy on my hands, a future child preacher or a prophetess, a child who was especially in tune with the divine. I would have encouraged her to tell me what the voices said, and to tell me if she heard voices again. I would encourage her to tell me if she could see things other people couldn’t, and would have been especially attentive to any spiritual qualities of what she might say or do.

But now is not then, so I’m not worried. Today, I believe that things like this have physical causes, and that there is a logical explanation somewhere. Perhaps, I thought, my daughter was just imagining the voices. Or Perhaps I missed something and there were construction workers yelling outside of the car. Or perhaps she has a psychological issue I should take her in and have her checked for. Actually hearing voices in your head might be a sign of schizophrenia, for instance.

When I got home and repeated the story to my husband, he informed me that there IS a rear radio speaker, and that it’s located behind our daughter’s car-seat. I had had no idea. So there you go, there’s your natural explanation – the radio might not have sounded that loud to me, but to her, coming from right behind her seat, it was “loud voices!”

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Sarah

    mmm-hmmm.
    Modern cars have their speakers “optimized” for the front seats, so the speaker in the back defaults to about twice as loud as the front.

    I hate that “feature” since it basically encourages the driver to blast the back seat and ignore any complaints since he “knows” the radio isn’t that loud.

    You should be able to adjust the sound from back versus sound from front.

  • http://carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    I hate those rear radio speakers. My FIL does this all the time when he gives us rides (he’s awesome and I’m totally not complaining!). He plays music that’s just loud enough for him, but it leaves all of us in the back seat with our ears ringing.

    Another possible explanation, if you hadn’t found one, is that your daughter was just playing. I freaked my mom out on many occasions because I accidentally voiced part of something I was playing/imagining and, without that context, it sounded really weird to her. A lot of it was exactly in the “there’s loud voices!” vein.

  • http://www.arizona-writer.com Kimberly Hosey | Arizona Writer

    “Balaam spake unto his ass” was the first thing that made me laugh out loud about the Bible and its stories (not to mention the following passages: “And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass?”), for which I was sternly rebuked. When I actually read the story about Balaam and his donkey having an actual conversation, it was the first chink in my biblical credulity.

    But I still think “Balaam spake unto his ass” is pretty hilarious. Yep; I’m real mature.

    I actually sort of wrote about this the other day (feel free to ignore the link pimp) — the part about seeing magical and spiritual qualities in kids, at least. I really am intrigued by your story of coming from one worldview to another. How awful it would be to spend time fearing demonic problems for your kid. How awful, even, to spend time focusing on mystical (even if they’re good) origins of your child’s apparent talents, possibly encouraging delusion and/or confusing them in the process. How wonderful and free to focus on the real stuff, the real kid, in front of you. And it turns out to be something simple anyway. Things can seem magical or at least uncanny when we don’t know every facet — but at least keeping in mind that things probably have a simple, logical explanation clears so much up, even when we don’t know exactly what the explanation is.

  • shadowspring

    Dogs alert before you notice anything because they can smell and hear things you can’t. My papillon terrier has satellite dish ears! She can hear everything on our street. Nothing escapes her alert attention. It can be quite annoying.

    I was happy to read at the end that you found the source of the loud talking! Imagination is a wonderful thing, but our imaginations usually don’t come with loud sounds; at least not mine. I would have been curious enough to find out what was what too, though I would’ve been worried about inner ear problems or (yes my mind could go there) brain tumors.

    I have never heard of the phenomenon of claiming children can see or hear demons/angels, but I find it completely believable that your family church included such teachings. My twin sister is terrified to this day of any mention of demons, because the charismatic church we came in up was one of those “Pigs in the Parlor” congregations.

    For a truly terrifying insight into the bizarre world of casting out demons, google that title. I am now in shock that you can buy it from walmart.com for $10!

    • http://www.arizona-writer.com Kimberly Hosey | Arizona Writer

      I read your mention of “Pigs in the Parlor” and thought of this book, which includes the page “Pigs in the pantry.”

      [Goes to check out the actual Pigs in the Parlor.]

      Oh. Whoa. I mean, whoa.

      How is half of that even remotely biblical? To say nothing of reality, just from a Bible-based point of view, I don’t see how the authors justify half of those claims.

      • shadowspring

        I can’t answer that quesiton! S-c-a-r-y as hell, isn’t it?

        I remember talking to a mom whose daughter had just run away. Her husband beat her, it was her teenage daughter’s stepfather so who knows what was going on there, and the teen ran off with a boyfriend to her grandmother’s house, who let her stay. So, something was up.

        The mom cleaned out the girls room after she left and found: a unicorn poster! And a secular music tape! This explained it all to mom: these were the open doors that allowed demons to come into her daughter and push her to run away.

        Seriously. I kid you not. :\

        I think blaming things on the devil in most cases is cut from the same cloth- a way of denying that your actions have real life consequences and that your faith is not a magic shield from the law of entropy and germ therapy. If everything is the devil’s fault, nothing is your fault, and/or nothing happens because of natural forces. Very convenient, though it does make their God appear weak. But no, the failure is always on the faith of the afflicted.

        *shaking head*

  • shadowspring

    Whoa. The Amazon link freaks me out because there are 95 reviews and a 4 star rating!!

    • Contrarian

      The only people who buy it are the people who “buy it”, so to speak!

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    I once got creeped out one day when my toddler son told me that there was a big red eye looking in the car window at him. When I got home, I looked in the window, and there was, on it, a vaguely eye-shaped, big, red bird poop from a bird who had apparently been eating red berries. I informed my son of this and he voiced his concern that the bird “is not supposed to poop on the window! The bird is supposed to use the toilet in his little nest!”

    • Conuly

      Well that’s just adorable.

  • Leni

    Growing up, if one of our dogs was acting strangely, it always made me very nervous. What could that dog see, I would wonder, that I could not? Was the dog picking up on spiritual cues, hearing the warnings of an angel or the threats of a demon? Even to this day if an animal acts strangely I get an adrenaline rush for this reason.

    Yeah that still makes me nervous. It’s always unnerving, but especially when I’m pet-sitting at my stepmom’s place out in the country.

    At my own house in the downtown area of a reasonably sized city, when my cat does this I think “g-d mice again!”

    In the country, in the dark, alone? I pretty much forget about mice, raccoons or possums and go straight to werewolves and psychos. Never demons though. When I was a kid it was poltergeists (Thanks, Mr. Spielberg ><). Now it's just animals and people that scare me the most. And cancer.

  • machintelligence

    This reminds me of the B. Kliban cartoon of a cat staring intently into an empty corner. There is a thought balloon of an empty corner. Here is a link, but it is not the best:
    http://www.google.com/imgres?q=b+kliban+cats&hl=en&sa=X&biw=1215&bih=887&tbm=isch&prmd=imvnso&tbnid=RosQakgp4uP9KM:&imgrefurl=http://matouenpeluc

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot.com JW

    I am curious if the story is being used to show that while we think demons exist this circumstance shows or proves that they probably don’t?

    • machintelligence

      In the immortal words of Tonto (for those of you too young to recognize the reference, he was the Lone Ranger’s Indian companion):” Ugh, paleface, what you mean-um WE?” Most of us rational materialists have no truck with the supernatural. The invisible and the non-existent look a lot alike, and sometimes absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

    • http://www.arizona-writer.com Kimberly Hosey | Arizona Writer

      I pretty much agree with machintelligence. I just took Libby Anne’s story as an illustration that in this case (and in others), our experiences can fool us, especially when filtered through the lens of our preconceptions. Absence of evidence is, at least, absence of a reason to attribute supernatural causes to everyday occurrences. And absent evidence, I withhold belief in or reliance upon an idea.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      JW – “I am curious if the story is being used to show that while we think demons exist this circumstance shows or proves that they probably don’t?” – It would be extremely silly for anyone to think that one anecdote could prove or disprove the existence of demons, so no, that is not what this story is trying to show.

      • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

        Meh, only slightly less silly than an educated adult thinking that demons might actually exist.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    When I got home and repeated the story to my husband, he informed me that there IS a rear radio speaker, and that it’s located behind our daughter’s car-seat. I had had no idea. So there you go, there’s your natural explanation – the radio might not have sounded that loud to me, but to her, coming from right behind her seat, it was “loud voices!”

    Yep. A few months ago, my then-two-year-old volunteered to my wife out of the blue, “Grandpa fell down! Grandpa fell down! Now he’s sleeping…” Since my dad is 80 and neither of my folks are in great health, that was a bit disconcerting. But since my wife and I are both skeptics, we kept a level head. And a little while later my wife remembered that the night before, she had sung the “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring” song to him, only she substituted “Grandpa” for “old man”.

    Funny how many things turn out to have a perfectly rational explanation. :D


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