I went to a Christian college. One of the things that outsiders to evangelical Christian culture probably don’t know is that belief in the existence of spiritual warfare in the present day is very common. A lot of my peers believed that Satan was as much at play in our everyday lives as God was, earth was a battlefield and the winner gets your soul. Like, forever.
Everyone at my college, in particular, talked about it a lot since the biggest academic experts on the subject were professors at the school. My professor, who was on the front page of the New York Times talking politics, was also talking about his experience with demon-possessed people. I left his class no fewer than 20 times and locked myself into my dorm room, terrified in broad daylight.
This was not a good time in my life. I didn’t fit in at school, I was starting to distance myself from my religion as a whole, and I was partying a lot (against school rules and social norms). All of these things were caused and effected by the others. It was a bad cycle.
I was unhappy, I thought I was literally going to hell, and I was very, very isolated from both normal culture (via being at this school) and my own subculture (via being a heathen, agnostic outcast). I had no concept of reality, whatsoever, I was just drowning in existential panic.
A friend told me about seeing a demon. It wasn’t the first account I’d heard, but it is the one I think about most often. He was laying on the floor of a room in his parents basement talking to his girlfriend who lived in another town. They were talking about the power that Satan has on the earth. The basement started to get darker. A door he thought had been shut earlier was now cracked several inches. As they talked, a figure began to take shape and grow in substance. It was humanoid, black and red, and gazing intently at him. He stayed on the phone with his girlfriend until he fell asleep, too afraid to even move to shut the door.
There were talismans we could use to protect ourselves. The bible says that invoking the name of Jesus Christ leaves the spirits powerless. They must leave you alone. I started wearing an Archangel Michael pendant around my neck. If you’re unfamiliar, Archangel Michael is typically depicted stabbing a demon with a spear. I had rosaries in each room of my apartment. We burned sage. My friend told me that her mother always left a bible open to Psalm 93 when she was scared of spiritual warfare, because it mentions their lack of power. I followed suit.
There was a night we were drinking on campus. It was against the rules but no one was ever suspicious. We took some bottles up to the top of this hill and had a fire. The clearing at the top was surrounded by trees. There as a giant wooden cross about 30 feet from us. We were terrible Christians. Of this, we were extremely aware.
I started seeing things at the edge of the clearing. Gray whispy, long limbed things that were staring at me. Demons. They wanted my soul–this I knew for sure. I wasn’t committed enough to my faith, they could see it was up for grabs.
I told my friend what I saw. He said “I see them too.”
The demons, we felt certain, had appeared for us because they knew we were on the cusp of walking away from god. Maybe god had already stopped caring about us, used his protection for his real followers, and now they could find us. Maybe they just had a sensory perception of people whose souls were up for grabs. Maybe it was the alcohol.
They didn’t pursue us, they just sat at the edge of the clearing and waited.
At the time I had no question whether the demons were real, it felt like a natural thing to have happen, a consequence I’d brought on myself by being so flippant about my faith.
You can say it was stress and hysteria, but I know how coercive their presence felt. They were telling me that I was at a fork in the road—and it was a scary world out there without a Protector. They didn’t scare me back to church or change my epistemic direction, though. As much as I believe this was a real event that happened to me, I was already too far gone.