Being told your demon possessed isn’t exactly flattering. In a way, it was very much like being told by my mother in my teen years and my husband during my pregnancy, “You’re just hormonal.” It’s saying your perceptions are invalid and your complaints unimportant. There is something wrong with you and that’s why god's promises don't seem to manifest in your life.
My grandmother was a great believer in demonic activity and possession and, unlike hormones, having a demon was often your fault. All kinds of things could let demons in – having insufficient faith in God, listening to secular music, watching certain TV shows, engaging in hedonism, reading about witchcraft or other religions, or soul ties. A soul tie is an evil spiritual connection with another person, and it was impossible not to acquire these.
You got them through the bloodlines in the form of generational curses, from every person you’d had sex with and every person they’d had sex with (sort of like an STD), from any doctor who touched you, and from anyone you’d ever “broken bread” with. I met a girl on the farm who took this last example to such extremes that she believed that if you ate popcorn in a movie theater you had formed a soul tie with – and acquired the demons of – every other person in the theater. She refused to eat in restaurants or at picnics, concerned that with each bite of food, she risked becoming more and more possessed.
Once a demon had you, it could ride along inside your head, tempting you to all manner of wickedness, and it could case you illness or injury. The only way to rid yourself of these demons was through “deliverance.” Abiding Life was a deliverance ministry and for each of the three consecutive weekends I was on the farm, I attended deliverance sermons at the church.
These would begin on Friday evenings with a sermon on the dangers of demon possession and the absolute certainty that every one of us in the pews was infested with these spiritual vermin. We each received a packet listing all the ways we could become possessed. Then for each item on the list we were supposed to detail each example we could think of. These crazy, scary strangers wanted me to write down for them the name of each boy I’d kissed, blown, or screwed; every person at any party I’d attended where drugs or alcohol was present; every secular song I’d ever listened to; and any non-Christian book I’d ever read.
At the time I thought it was ridiculous. Surely God didn’t need this level of detail. If I just said, “Lord, please break all the soul ties from any boy I’ve been with, and rid me of demons from any books, TV, or music,” he’d know what that meant. And what if I forgot something? Would God leave behind a demon if, despite my best efforts and intentions, I neglected one song or one kiss?
Now I know the true purpose of these lists was to shame us. Look how long my list is. See how wicked and secular I’ve been? Surely, I am covered in filth, and unworthy to be in God’s presence. What a miserable wretch of a sinner I am! You have to first convince people they have a problem, before you can peddle your snake oil cure.
Saturday morning we returned to the clapboard country church for hymns and prayer warfare. We sinners held our folded lists of sins in the air as Geri prayed out against the influence of demonic forces. She prayed in painstaking detail, “against sexual immorality, lust, erotic literature, filthy and unclean thoughts, impurity, unchastity, prostitution, petting, kissing, incest, oral sex, sodomy, and abominations of the flesh.”
She prayed each such list, out loud, multiple times. If she’d gone by simple categories and named each thing only once, it might have taken an hour. As it was, we were there – praying, moaning, crying, and begging for forgiveness – all weekend long. As she prayed, her deputies would roam the aisles looking for someone “in struggle,” either crying too much or not enough, and bring them to the front of the sanctuary for the laying of hands.
I was brought to the front as Geri’s voice carried on in the background, her litany of our transgressions. An overweight, illiterate former prostitute, her son, a “cured” lesbian, and three farmhands touched me. They babbled incoherently, speaking “in tongues,” and began to gently push me around, bouncing me from one person to the next, trying to rouse the demons inside of me. For an hour they did this, as I cried and begged God to make me clean, make me not a disappointment to my family, make me acceptable in His sight.
But the demons wouldn’t come. I began to doubt, in the quiet corners of my mind, that these people had any idea what they were doing. None of them had any great theological experience, and with the exception of Geri, none even seemed to possess either knowledge of the Scriptures, or a charismatic weight of authority. Tired of standing on my feet, I realized they would not stop and let me go until I gave them some sign that their efforts had worked.
So I began to fake a seizure. I quivered and quaked and shook and babbled as if I too was speaking in tongues. I fell down upon the church floor, writhing and wriggling, and their prayers got louder and faster in response. Finally, after several minutes of this, exhausted, I lay still. They clapped and cheered. They had cast the demons out of me, or so they thought.
It was emotionally manipulative, physically invasive, and a complete waste of time. But at the end of three weeks of this, I was allowed to return to my mother’s house.
Image credit to the artist Dale GrimshawY for his piece "Exorcism 2"