Catholic Stand

Demons

It’s a staple of horror movies– there is some invisible thing that will get you, destroy your life, take over your loved ones and drag you to hell.  A demon haunts this house!

First, we should probably back up a little– demon and devil are frequently used interchangeably with devil more frequently used for specifically religious or silly uses, and demon for “scary and kind of hopeless to resist.” Religiously, the devil is the chief of the demons, (Diabolus enim et alii daemones, kept popping up while I was trying to find any decent information on this topic) and it’s usually capitalized to indicate the Devil. Originally, demon was more like “supernatural being”– think kami, for those who are into anime and manga, or various location-gods and demigods for those who know their classic mythology. If you’d like to see how you get from δαίμων to “demon,” Dictionary.com is your friend, especially in special uses for various spellings. I’m going to save any further “other powers” geekery for a later article– on to demons!

So, when we talk about a demon, what are we talking about? Besides being the Devil’s henchmen, demons are fallen angels; this means that they are definitely not metaphors, symbols, impulses, or any other way of saying “there are not really demons.” They also are not a synonym for mental illness– any good exorcist is going to check for mental illness as a first step; it doesn’t do anyone any good to avoid treatment in hopes that a ritual will help someone, rather than trying to accurately identify the problem. (I have no idea how frequently mentally ill people are also afflicted by demons–especially when there are so many ways to qualify demonic involvement.) Here’s a longish quote from the Catechism to explain how that works:

II. THE FALL OF THE ANGELS

391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies”.

393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”

So, demons are definitionally evil, having chosen to throw in against God, and they cannot change now. That throws out a pretty good chunk of the more dramatic “can the fallen angel un-fall” type movies– now for the horror.  I am going to draw heavily from this interview with Fr. Gary Thomas.

 What can demons do?

Infestation:

Think like Paranormal Activity or any other “house has a demon” story. No, you don’t try to fix it by putting a video camera in your bedroom and taunting it, nor do you call “Ghost Hunters,” you see about getting your house blessed; talk to your local parish. Get some holy water. See about getting your hands on a book of prayers, linked below. My mind keeps giving me the image of demonic fleas, but it’s not really funny–here is a quote of signs, from  The Rite:

The various kinds of phenomena that can occur in this situation are vast and include unexplained sounds or noises like mysterious footsteps, loud bangs, laughter, screams; the temperature of a room dropping or the feelings of a cold wind with no discernible source; objects disappearing suddenly and materializing in other parts of the house; strange presences felt’ the presence of offensive odors’ interruption of the electric current or the malfunction of electronic devices; pictures that mysteriously bang or fall off the wall; doors and windows that open and close on their own; dishes or other objects levitating and flying about the room.

This cursed activity can be caused by something horrible having happened on the site– crimes, suicides, satanic rituals (yes, including wicca-of-the-month, and probably turn-of-last-century seances, too– it’s a bad idea to invite in unGodly powers, go figure)– or because an infested object is there, or because the demon is there with a human.

Oppression or Obsession:

Two sides of a coin, the former pushed down and the latter wound up; your thoughts are warped in a bad direction; this is when an individual is being attacked by a demon. You can imagine why an exorcist would need to know a lot about psychology– it would be hard to tell mental or emotional attacks by an being with no physical form from a mental disorder. You might think of this as the demon version of a monkey on your back, or maybe being stalked.  Instead of a house being “haunted,” it’s you. I don’t want to belittle this– having a demon attack you is obviously bad, even if it’s not as cinematically iconic as the final type of demonic assault, possession.

Possession:

When a demon can move the victim’s body against their will. (Willingly accepting a demonic possession is integration.) Their soul isn’t controlled by the demon, but everything else…. This is when the exorcist goes to work, although this is incredibly rare and unlikely to involve green pea soup. Some exorcists have reported physical changes that are not scientifically possible. (A note on the limit of science– you’ve got to be there and set up to get really good data, and somehow I don’t think demons would be willing to cooperate.)

So, should we all go hide?  Nah.  Don’t invite demons in, either actively or by sin, and try to soak your life in spiritually suited everything because that’s a general good idea, but don’t forget that our Boss is massively more powerful.  They’re scary but they will not win.

For Halloween, I’m cross-posting slightly edited versions of my C&C monster series from Catholic Stand, one a week. Hope that you folks enjoy them.

Vampires

Through mere glimpses of him, however, demonic accuracy is achieved: Dracula is an Antichrist. He cannot attack unless willingly engaged. He baptizes his victims in his blood even as he drinks theirs in a sacrifice that gives eternal “life” in animated death. He unites captive souls to his existence, thriving on the unhallowed. He twists scripture to his purpose, lusts for worship … and fears Christ. Crisis Magazine, Oct 2013

Over at Father Z’s blog, he made a (joking) post about how sad he was that he didn’t get a vampire hunting kit for Christmas. One comment pointed out that we can’t sell blessed objects. (Technically false; blessed objects can be sold for their intrinsic value, without added price for the blessing, but accurate enough in terms of buying a Vampire hunting kit which would be pretty worthless without blessing.) This got me thinking about the various legends related to vampires, and Catholicism, especially how often they are portrayed wrongly.

The most famous example of bad (horrifying, really) Catholic theology that involves vampires and popular culture is probably the Dracula story. At one point, Van Helsing makes a putty out of consecrated Hosts, and uses it to vampire-proof a room. It’s supposed to be alright, because he has a dispensation. (No, they don’t work that way.)

Needless to say, this isn’t respectful of the Body of Christ, and if the vampire is reacting to the Body of Christ then it isn’t effective, either.

With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians hold that, although the host externally remains intact for several days, the real presence ceases as soon as the host is fully soaked with water as from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

That aside, Dracula is rather well researched in regards to the folklore of vampires. For example, the crucifix has power in and of itself, since it has a representation of Christ on it, while crosses depend more on the person holding the cross invoking God directly. In various times and places, the formally-blessed cross (or other objects, such as holy medals) was thought to be enough to invoke God. Those objects are called sacramentals, things that recall the sacraments. (Dracula’s mistaken abuse of the Host is indicative of someone who didn’t recognize Transubstantiation, but viewed it as a sort of super-strong symbol.) The most obvious sacramental, which is also used in popular pieties and commonly available for the asking, is holy water– many parishes even have dispensers. It should be kept in mind that the people who really believed in vampires weren’t trying to use holy water or any other sacramental for some kind of a magical effect, but to invoke God’s protection from forces of evil.

Some of the things vampires fear are symbolic, instead of sacramental. Running water calls to mind baptism and the washing away of sins, silver is “white” metal and thus pure, garlic and various plants were believed to be medicines against corruption. Even salt, because of its powers of preservation, was thought in some places to ward off evil, including vampires.

Vampires lack of reflection probably grew out of the folklore of the soulless not having a shadow, and the way that mirrors were once backed with silver. Some more folklore savvy stories had digital cameras work to record vampires, but not silver-based movie cameras, and at least one used silver nitrate in the blood to kill a vampire.

Speaking of souls, this is probably the biggest problem with vampire stories: all too often, authors write “vampires” that by all evidence possess rational souls. To shamelessly steal–er, borrow– from Jimmy Akin’s highly enjoyable Theology of the Living Dead, there are four basic options for any flavor of living dead:

  1. Animal soul – this is the most traditional, but has more in common with modern zombies as far as behavior goes; modern vampires are generally more intelligent than the average human.
  2. Non-human rational soulBuffy the Vampire Slayer’s vampires– they are evil, but the “demons” animating vampires aren’t Satanic, and a lot of the “demons” are just multidimensional travelers. The theology of that television show makes my head hurt….
  3. Human souls – the ‘vampire’ subculture would be an example of this, or if a story had vampirism as a sort of disease.
  4. No soul – the body is remote-controlled, either by technology (nanobot vampires) or perhaps demonic possession. (As I understand it, demons are spirits, rather than souls, and couldn’t inhabit a body the way a human soul would. I’d highly advise a lot of mythology research before anybody tried to write this!)

Most vampire stories these days are either humans with a disease or non-human souls animating a body; some of them aren’t even “allergic” to blessed objects. Obviously, if they have rational souls, we have to treat them as people rather than monsters, but then it doesn’t make any sense why holy objects would harm them.

On a practical level, I’d say that anything that smokes on contact with a holy object is to be avoided.

For Halloween, I’m cross-posting slightly edited versions of my C&C monster series from Catholic Stand, one a week. Hope that you folks enjoy them.

New Blog, Ron Paul & Other Things

Hello TAC. I haven’t been posting here as often as I once was since a) I wanted to get a new blog up and running and b) I am also going to be writing for Catholic Stand, and my first piece is appearing tomorrow.

My new blog is called “Liberty & Dignity.” It is not an explicitly Catholic blog, but it is devoted to a natural law/rights version of libertarianism called “paleo-libertarianism.” I distinguish paleo-libertarianism from other kinds of libertarianism in the following way: the paleo brand explicitly recognizes that liberty is a historical and cultural product as much as it is an abstract ideal, that it requires certain institutional prerequisites and supports, and that taken out of its proper context – like anything else – it can self-destruct. It is close to but not identical with paleo-conservatism.

My first article for Catholic Stand will explain how I believe all of this as a Catholic.

Now, onto the Ron Paul business. Obviously I don’t agree with many of the comments left on Paul Zummo’s post about Ron Paul being an inherently malicious person. At the same time, I found his comments to be wildly inappropriate and politically destructive, much like Todd Akin’s rape comments. His subsequent statements on his Facebook page really didn’t improve the situation either.

I am not too happy with his son either, for much different reasons, but you can read my blog to learn more about that.

Here at TAC and Catholic Stand I am going to continue focusing on the two issues that pose the greatest threat to religious liberty in our time: the HHS mandate and the “marriage equality” movement. I expect it will also be necessary to continue defending free markets and private property as our social democratic government continues its assault on both. Many Catholics still believe that they have a religious obligation to support a welfare state and open borders. These beliefs are toxic even if well-intended.

Well, that’s all for now. Let the comments roll.

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