While I may be a believer in God and the spiritual realm, I also tend to hold an equal amount of skepticism. For most who are religious, it’s easy to connect anything that happens in the physical world with the spiritual realm. But sometimes that heightened awareness of the metaphysical can come without realizing that the unknown does not always mean diabolical. For example, as an adolescent I remember being frightened by my parent’s housecoats that were hung up behind the bathroom door as though they were ghoulish entities ready to terrorize me if I came too close. I eventually grew out of that fear after being accustomed to the fact that they were just housecoats — only to realize those housecoats would be the least of my worries.
I remember how my mind used to conjure up other very strange sights when I was young. Sometimes I could visualize ghastly faces in the wood-grain paneling of my bedroom in the dark of night. Once in a while in between dreaming and waking up, I swore I could see terrifying skeleton-like apparitions with enlongated craniums lingering in the doorway of my room, casting their dead smiles while I lay helplessly. There was something about lying in bed at night that made me feel extremely vulnerable as though these hellish creatures would sweep me off into the night. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis, but these visions could easily be dismissed as hallucinations from lucid dreaming. But if anyone were to turn the light on, any trace of such a sight would disappear immediately.
My first real scare was when I was roughly 8 years old. I remember playing with my cousin in my aunt’s basement while we chased each other around to try and scare each other for fun. I hid around the corner at the bottom of the stairs after chasing her around the rooms. I peered around the corner for a split second when I suddenly caught the vision of a tall, scrawny, ghoulish figure passing directly in front of me. I remember the image of a lanky arm with long, bony fingers directly in front of my face. I was so terrified by this horrifying sight that I immediately pulled back around the corner and cried in a panic. As I froze in hyperventilation, my cousin asked what was the matter from across the basement. I slowly peered around the corner again, but the ghastly figure was nowhere to be seen. My cousin ran towards me to see where I was at. I asked if she saw anything and she said she did not. In retrospect, I’m almost certain what I saw was a figment of my imagination running wild in the midst of playing. But what strikes me is the sheer detail I remember of the grisly hand as well as the seemingly graceful movement of whatever I saw. Although very brief and obscure, this vision haunts me to this very day.
I remember the adults in my life would dismiss these experiences and say things like, “There’s no such thing as ghosts!” or, “It’s all in your head!” Though I could never reconcile how some Christians could believe in an unseen, omnipresent spirit-God while simultaneously telling children that ghosts don’t exist. If God is Spirit, then He is literally a ghost! Perhaps this was just a way of allowing kids to focus more on the ‘good’ spirits like Jesus — or to lessen the trauma of religious upbringing so kids didn’t grow up paranoid of the possible existence of evil spirits?
In my late teens I worked for an Evangelical Christian contractor who used to flip old houses into rental properties. In the midst of renovating what was once a rampant drug house, one of my co-workers claimed to have seen the plastic covering over the doorways part on its own as though someone invisible had been walking through it. There were no fans on or wind gusts blasting through open vents or windows at the time. On another day, we smelt what we thought was a freshly lit cigarette even though nobody in our 4-man crew smoked at the time. That same month, we showed up for work one morning only to discover that a pipe had burst and flooded the basement with nearly a foot of water. My boss, who was an elder at the church I was attending that year, believed there was some kind of spiritual entity that lingered in the house we were working in. After draining the basement and ripping out water-damaged material, he invited the lead pastor from the church to perform an exorcism through praying and invoking the name of Jesus in the middle of the house on the main floor. Since then, there had been no peculiar sightings, smells or freak accidents.
As I transitioned from rural farm life to living in the city, I knew that I would experience things that were not commonly seen or done where I came from. Moving to the city to attend post-secondary trades school was an experience that stretched my sheltered self out of my comfort zone. I used to frequent the transit system on my daily commute to school in order to save money on fuel and parking. I can honestly say that after a few years of riding the transit system, you get to see and experience a lot of personalities manifest themselves in the strangest ways.
Back in 2014, an incident on an LRT train in Edmonton made the news. A woman was displaying unusually bizarre behavior before she randomly attacked a fellow passenger without provocation. This is the same LRT that I’ve traveled many times on my way to concerts and sporting events in order to avoid crowded parking lots — which is sort of why this video hits home for me. What strikes me from the video is that it is very different from the abnormal behavior I’ve seen even among the high-risk individuals I’ve encountered while volunteering at a homeless shelter who suffered mental instability.
With the amount of videos that litter the internet, there is a significant chance that this incident could have been staged. Even the person who apparently shot the video jumping to conclusions that she might have been possessed seems rather suspicious. The sudden shifts in the girl’s demeanor is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, even for someone who may or may not have been under the influence of drugs or possibly suffering mental health issues. But even after repetitively observing the details of the video and reading the local news article that reported on the incident, I still hesitate to conclude that what had occurred was a real demonic possession.
In my own personal experiences with intimidating personalities, I remember filling up at a gas station near my house when I was 23. A guy pulled up in a beat up pickup truck and started filling up while muttering some unintelligible sounds to himself. He was shirtless and covered with tattoos, might have been stoned out of his mind maybe. He then looked my way and called out to me, “Hey! You got this?!” I ignored him since something about him felt threatening. He then walked inside the store and walked out with a slush not even a minute later and took off. I walked inside just as this happened to pay for my fuel and the Filipino cashiers watched him drive off trembling with fear. They asked me, “Did you offer to pay for his gas and drink?” I told them no. I’m almost certain the guy was tripping on something, but the vibe I had from him was enough to make me consider buying a gun. I’ve encountered many folks who were stoned and drunk at many concerts and bars, but very few who have creeped me the hell out like that.
I often wonder, if ghosts and demons do exist, if they’re not what we think they are. I often think the visual influence of Greek mythology like the satyr is more symbolic imagery in order to give us a representation of what an evil spirit is. It’s difficult to give a visual description of a non-physical entity. If they’re the embodiment of evil manifested through erratic or high-risk behavior, addictive tendencies, disease or natural causes, then maybe metaphysical influences are worth considering.
A phrase I’ve often heard over the years generally says, “Everyone has their personal demons, but everyone deals with them differently.” When it comes to demonic possession, it usually implies that the victim’s free will is suppressed or revoked. Some would consider certain addictions, tendencies or habits to be a form of suppressant to a person’s self-control — whether it be abnormally frequent alcohol or drug use, sexual activity, anger, anxiety, depression or (dare I say it) learned and adopted worldviews that cause us to view others with contempt. Though I would argue that these things are not demonic in and of themselves, and could more or less be linked to personal trauma. These could also be the results of human nature and what most orthodox-minded Christians would argue is due to Original Sin (which is a topic worthy of its own discussion).
Throughout history, people have suffered at the hands of others who believed they were fighting against the demonic. Many of those who suffered mental illness (especially during medieval times) were locked up and treated as though they were possessed by demons — a stigma easily solved through advancements in science and medical treatment paired with social awareness. For this reason, I habitually try to rationalize what I see before drawing a conclusion. Similarly, when it comes to a religious worldview, I try not to succumb to the mindset that everything that intimidates me is of the Devil.
I think there is reason to believe there are metaphysical forces that can influence people in a positive or a negative way. But regardless of whether demons exist or not, I think it all boils down to what we are willing to leave ourselves open and vulnerable to. And if this implies the existence of evil, then it doesn’t come without the possibility of an ultimate source of good in this universe to counteract it.