Ending the Lull Before the Storm in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #142, Ch. 23)

Ending the Lull Before the Storm in ‘This Present Darkness’ (LSP #142, Ch. 23) May 18, 2020

Hi and welcome back! It’s Monday, which means it must be time for us to turn our attention to Frank Peretti’s 1986 fundagelical fanfic novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we finally get some action (sort of) after a long lull in the story. While we’re at it, we’ll also see some Real Live Magyckal Powahs from a Real Live Satanic Witch! Whoa! So today, Lord Snow Presides over evangelicals’ conceptualization of angels and demons.

portrait of lucifer
Fallen Angel, Alexandre Cabanel, 1868. You gotta be so good that they can’t ignore you.

(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book. Quotes come from the book or other noted sources, unless I let you know otherwise.)

Quick Chapter Synopsis.

In Chapter 23, life moves forward at a sluggish pace in Ashton — for most of its residents. Behind the scenes, however, a lot of stuff is happening for some of them.

First, we peek in on Marshall Hogan. He still busies himself these days with tracking down leads on his big OMG ASHTON TAKEOVER story. When he calls Alf Brummel’s office, though, he hits a dead end. The corrupt chief of police simply doesn’t wanna talk to him. Brummels’ secretary Sara immediately spills the tea about Brummel’s plotting and who he’s meeting lately. Marshall promises to keep Sara safe if she gives him information, but he does it in the jerkiest way imaginable. It’s like he’s being all reluctant and cagey about her fears for her safety.

Meanwhile, Alf Brummel freaks out at Juleen Langstrat about Marshall Hogan’s investigation. Juleen reassures him and gloats about the upcoming victory of their group, the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).

The Remnant just goes through their days, with nothing really of note occurring there. The angels mope around while wondering what the demons are up to.

After Juleen deals with Alf Brummel, she meditates, meets with an beautiful spirit-woman she thinks is the messenger of her Cabal’s big master, and performs a magic spell that apparently sets the demons around Ashton in motion.

Ted Harmel, the previous editor of the Ashton newspaper, calls Marshall in a dead panic in the middle of the night and begs him to come help him, because someone omg who could that be is now menacing/attacking him. Marshall takes off to help, though he has no idea what’s got Ted so frightened. Of course, his leaving makes Kate furious.

Evangelical Trope: The Disguises of Demons.

Over the years, evangelicals have evolved their own homebrew brand of demonology (also see this satirical hot take). They tend to imagine demons to be hideously ugly on at least an emotional level — but capable of disguising themselves to seem gloriously beautiful to humans.

With that beautiful seeming, demons can fool humans very easily. Apparently, demons take particular interest in wrecking people’s entire belief systems, or else delight in warping Christians’ understanding of doctrine so they start offending Jesus without even realizing it.

We see something like that process going on in this chapter. After Juleen Langstrat calms her sorta-boyfriend Alf Brummel down and sends him away, she starts meditating so she can cast some sorcery. She sits with her legs crossed in “the lotus position of Eastern meditation,” as all Satanic Wiccans/Wiccan Satanists do, dinchaknow, and lights a candle as the spell apparently requires.

The Messenger.

And OMG! Juleen totally meets in her mind with the Cabal’s roster of Ascended Masters! And then OMG! She totally meets up with someone she refers to only as her “messenger.” Here’s how that goes (p. 217-8):

Deep within her consciousness, far within the depths of her inner being, she spoke with a messenger.

To the eyes of Langstrat’s entranced mind the messenger appeared as a young lady, all dressed in white, with flowing blonde hair that reached nearly to the ground and was constantly in motion, wafted by the breeze.

“Where is my master?” Langstrat asked the messenger.

“He waits above the town, watching over it,” came the girl’s answer. “His armies are ready for your word.”

“All is ready. He may await my signal.”

“Yes, my lady.”

The messenger departed like a beautiful gazelle, leaping gracefully away.

BUT: Here’s what happens immediately afterward, like in the very next paragraph:

The messenger departed, a filthy black nightmare of a creature borne on membranous wings; he departed to take word to Rafar, who still waited.

ZOMG! That messenger was really actually super-ugly!

The Disguises of Demons.

I don’t think Christians have any good explanation for why demons are actually ugly and only seem beautiful thanks to disguises. Demons and angels are both beings of pure spirit (which means they’re completely imaginary to everyone in Reality-Land, but okay, whatever). Spirits should be able to look like pretty much anything they want, especially powerful spirits — or so one would think.

I reckon one of the big perks of having a belief system based on stuff that’s entirely imaginary is that one never needs to explain the mechanics of any part of that system. So angels = beautiful; demons = ugly gross ickie f’tang-f’tang-olé-biscuitbarrel. They all just are, okay?

And won’t those ickie heathens be super-upset to learn they got tricked by ugly gross demons pretending to be beautiful angels or Ascended Masters or whatever?!? Oh yes they sure will! But not TRUE CHRISTIANS™, who always know their master’s voice. Jesus said so and he would never lie! And thus, they alone can always distinguish between real angels and fake ones.

Way back in my MUDding days, I ran into a few male gamers who went to extraordinary lengths to assure that the female PCs they were hitting on were played by actual women. Even if they never intended to take the flirting RL in any way, they got really freaked out by the idea of hitting on a female PC played by another guy.

For some reason, this whole disguised-demon idea reminds me of those guys.

The Fetishization of Beauty.

Here, too, we get another example of Frank Peretti’s idolization of beauty. It’s a tribal thing for evangelicals as well, something that permeates their entire culture. Of course angels are beautiful in Fundie-Land, and of course demons are ickie and ugly and gross.

Evangelicals imagine that beauty equates with purity, holiness, even with godliness.

Ever run into an evangelical who tried to make a case for sunsets and babies’ smiles being PROOF YES PROOF that their god totally exists? That’s what’s going on. These shoddy apologists don’t ever want to consider civilization-altering natural disasters or grotesque parasitic infestations, even though they officially think their god made all of those things. It’s only the beautiful stuff they like to think is PROOF YES PROOF of their supernatural claims’ validity.

Ever noticed how often evangelical leaders boast about their “smokin’ hot wives”? They do it so often that every few years, aggrieved evangelical men and women renew criticisms of the practice. Weirdly, evangelical men tend to avoid marrying women who don’t fit into the tribe’s pre-approved paradigm, and if they end up with one then they sure don’t praise them to the skies in front of other men.

Well, evangelicals also imagine the opposite regarding ugliness that they do about beauty. If beauty equals purity and holiness, then ugliness must mean pollution and sinfulness. Thus, ugliness marks evangelicals’ demonic enemies.

The Agitprop of Evangelicalism.

It’s pure propaganda, of course. All of it is. Evangelicals imagine that their side consists of all the beautiful human-looking beings, while their enemies are, of course, ugly, misshapen non-humans and monsters.

You wouldn’t wanna join those evil, gross, ickie monsters, now would you? Of course not. Stay on the side of the beautiful angels!

That nobody’s ever actually even seen an angel or a demon doesn’t matter. It’s the conceptualization that’s important to them and helps them retain their tribal mentality, that us-vs-them, we’re-number-one, fundies-rule-and-everyone-else-drools mindset that marks them as a group.

And that’s exactly what we see in this scene with Juleen Langstrat and her “messenger.” Juleen thinks her messenger is a beautiful young blonde woman clad in a white gown, but in reality the messenger is a disgusting-sounding demon. ZOMG! If poor Juleen only knew!

Peretti has consistently described his angels and demons using evangelicals’ conceptualization, but this is probably the first time we’ve seen a demon-aligned human’s perceptions of them.

Waiting for the Bat-Signal.

The entire purpose of this scene is to establish that Juleen’s going to send some kind of demonic attack against Ted Harmel. She’s got her mini-altar set up with the guy’s photograph under a magic candle, so the wax drips down on it for extra-demon-y-goodness. (Badness?)

For some reason, the sub-leader of the demons, Rafar, awaits Juleen’s signal to start his hoedown. She provides it by performing a magical spell (p. 218):

Air began to slowly flow into Langstrat’s mouth and nostrils, her lungs began to fill, and then, with one sudden cry from deep within, she brought her hands down like a trap, clapping them on the candle’s wick, snuffing out the flame.

“Go!” shouted Rafar, and hundreds of demons shot into the sky like a thunderous flock of bats, rushing along a straight and level trajectory northward.

By the way, you know as much as I do about exactly why Rafar had to wait for Juleen’s signal. He just did. It makes no sense at all from any standpoint I can imagine. At any rate, the angels decide to protect Marshall Hogan, Hank Busche, and the Remnant, since they have no clue where the demons are going or why.

(In the next scene, Ted Harmel calls Marshall in a panic to beg for help. So I’m assuming the demonic attack has begun in earnest by chapter’s end.)

Demons Get Stuff DONE.

If angels or demons really existed, our world would sure look a lot different!

I’m sure a lot of Wiccans see writing like Frank Peretti’s and just roll their eyes, and for good reason. If any of the stuff Peretti describes actually ever happened, there’d be a heckuva lot more Wiccans, I’ve no doubt. As it is, if you ever run into people talking like anyone in the CSWWSW, count on them being members in good standing of the Cult of Before Stories.

Even in Christian mythology, though, we can see some marked differences in the ways that both entities operate. It’s always tickled me pink that for centuries, Christians who wanted real-world results went to demons and not angels (or Jesus, or saints) for help.

The situation with the Cabal reminds me of that game Conan: Exiles, with its introduction screen informing players that they can belong to Crom’s religion all they want, but he neither listens to prayers nor answers them, and his religion confers no ingame benefits to players. In similar fashion, if Christians want results they need to pray to someone who cares. It’s a weird look for a religion whose usual central tenet is that its god really wants to nurture and care for his followers, isn’t it?

But here we are.

Too bad Ted didn’t pray hard enough to the right beings. (Which are the right ones? Well…)

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the ugly demons, beautiful angels, and backroom deals of This Present Darkness.

NEXT UP: Al Mohler said something dumb again, and it illustrates one of the central shortcomings of modern evangelicalism. Join me tomorrow as we explore what he said — and what it means.

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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my sweet white boycat who died in 2018. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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