Updated: Jun 17
Should the paranormal pay you an unexpected visit – and it will always be unexpected – try to see it as an opportunity. Frightening though it may be at the time, demons are exploiting you, so you might as well exploit them in your writing.
The great Mediaeval scholar Thomas Aquinas wrote that only God is supernatural. Everything else, including demons, are part of the natural world like men, women, plants and animals. Likewise, the evangelist Derek Prince said that demons are ‘persons without bodies’.
They’re on the lookout for one, so watch out.
I think George Lucas understood this. When Darth Vader ‘turned to evil’ it was an expression of what many of us feel, that evil is present in this world beside the good. My question here is: how can I incorporate into my novels my awareness of the dark side of the force?
Here is one of my dreams. I was not a participant, but watching myself.
It was the end of twilight. In the background I saw eucalypts silhouetted by an amber blackness in whose fading colours I sensed that menace so typical of the Australian bush at night. In the foreground was water and, leading into it, a boat ramp. I saw myself strapped onto the ramp with my feet up and my head down so that I was unable to move, and I became aware that the water was rising, as if it were approaching high tide. Overshadowing this picture was the distinct feeling that somebody wanted me dead. Indeed, the impression of a second person in the picture was very strong.
Who was this second person? Why would they want me dead? I’m a Christian engaged in spiritual warfare and, if I were dead, it would be one less soldier in the army. (Alternatively, the dream could have been sent merely to frighten me – and it worked.)
Forty years ago, I became involved in a church revival in the Anglican parish of Forbes 400 kilometres west of Sydney. Forbes was a ‘high Anglican’ church – bells and smells – but the revival was a straight forward Holy Spirit affair and very Biblically based. It made me realize then, and ever afterwards, that Christianity is often seen as a nice religion attended by nice people who proceed to a nice heaven when they die.
Yet, such a view is very far from the truth.
Twice, when I lived in Forbes, I woke up in my darkened flat acutely aware of something evil in my bedroom to the left of the bed. I didn’t imagine it, it was real and, for a young woman alone at night, it was very frightening. It is at times like this that the most sceptical of us remember the prayers of their childhood. ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you,’ wrote the apostle James. How? To quote Derek Prince again, ‘praise imposes silence on the enemy.’
The leader of this revival, Doug Peters, wrote that ‘demons are not to be treated lightly, because they are highly organized and extremely evil.’ They have faces that you can sometimes see if you’re in a distressed state, but they’re not very nice faces and they can melt and disperse as you watch, which makes them look worse. Demons have weird eyes. Jesus said, ‘The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is evil, your whole body will be in darkness.’
They are unscrupulous in their choice of victims. I work in Special Schools and one day a child I had not met before came to class late. Immediately, he went to the computer and drew a horrible face on the drawing app. It looked like the movie, the Grudge, which at that time I hadn’t seen. Its eyes were frightening and, seeing that I looked shocked, the Teacher’s Aide turned to me and explained, ‘That’s his alter ego. He’s got a dark side.’
These ghosts or demons, or whatever they are, wait until I turn up, then let me know that they’re there, and this was not the first time that something of this nature had happened. The night my husband and I returned home after our honeymoon, I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a man-sized figure in luminous green standing behind my husband’s head. I heard his name. Jack Carne or Vain – it was a one syllabled word with an ‘a’ – and I understood that he was dead. From that night until we left eight months later, Jack would turn electrical things on from time to time.
I used to pray for him, poor fellow.
When my daughter was nearly three and we were installed in our new house, one evening I saw her little eyes watching something coming down the stairs. She said, ‘Do you see him? There’s the man.’ In that same place we had trouble with the dog. She would get to a point and couldn’t move, then stand there barking. Yet sometimes she would run past without trouble. Eventually we got the rector in. A previous owner had nailed a lucky horse shoe to the lintel. The rector said, ‘I’ll get rid of that’.
I have a science degree. I was brought up to be rational. I like submarines and aeroplanes. My father taught me how to change a fan belt and a tyre because my brother and sisters weren’t interested. However, skirting around the fringes of this very suburban rationality are things that I can’t account for.
For example, one day I was sorting the drawers in my bedroom and saw a black dog beside me with one side of its face all bloody.
I have no idea what that was.
But other things I do. On a particularly anxious day at the end of an anxious month, I decided to take the short cut home by driving through the Lane Cove Tunnel, a 4.3 kilometre motorway to the north of Sydney that I had often driven through before. As I entered the tunnel, I felt something descend on me and knew that I had to leave. Right now.
Claustrophobia is an urgent thing. There is no time to rationalize. You just have to get out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. Anyone who’s ever driven in Sydney will know that the traffic moves fast – 80 kilometres per hour in this tunnel – and if you get in the wrong lane, you can end up on the other side of the harbour. I know. I have. So, here I was, all alone, in a flat panic with a weight over my head like an entity. I turned the radio off, focussed on the road in front of me, and said the rosary. (Any sort of repetitive prayer will do.) After four dreadful kilometres, I saw the exit and the sun, and the weight left me. An explainable experience, not a demonic one, but the loss of control was disturbing.
For five years after this I wouldn’t drive through the Lane Cove Tunnel alone, until one afternoon I was heading home and there it was looming in front of me crowned with a big sign: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
‘This is ridiculous,’ I thought suddenly. ‘Am I a Christian, or aren’t I?’
So, I said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ and just drove through. I’ve been fine ever since.
Here is how I used these experiences in His Most Italian City.
But worse, far worse than the stink, the machinery and his deteriorating self-perception was the need to leave this enclosure immediately: to escape the lowering ceiling and forge his way up to the sky. With the claustrophobia arose the conviction that there were not two people squashed into this iron cupboard but three. The third, an intangible menace, had arisen as he’d sloughed off his unconsciousness. Down the brief passage it had accompanied him, through the bulkhead and into the control room, and now it settled above his head, threatening and malevolent. By devious means it attacked his heart which began to thud wildly within his chest. Then it strangled his breathing. The weak tungsten globe fading in the clutch of its wire cage seemed like the last sliver of twilight and, as night closed in, the presence focused itself upon him. He felt as if he were travelling along a tunnel searching for daylight, with this awful phantom clinging to his back, and, at each moment, he anticipated the approach of the sunshine that would subdue it. But he saw no end to the tunnel. And no sun. And so the fear and the panic proliferated. It was distressing to think that he, a product of a comfortable home and a good education, had been reduced so rapidly to this desperation. The presence hovered just beyond his recognition so that he was unable to name it, but when he closed his eyes he saw its face melting like ice in a flame.
Then there those times when I am acutely aware of the presence of God, and these can be put in as well. In 2018 I spent two hours climbing the mountain behind Kotor in Montenegro and, upon reaching the top, had an experience that I used in Through Forests and Mountains. Mountain tops are incredible places. They seem to hover between the world of the flesh and that of the spirit. You feel you can just step over and be in heaven, and it’s easy to understand why so many peaks are considered holy.
Twilight had faded now over the bay, blue to gold to rose, to grey to black. Why was the water black? It seemed to Anton that it should be alive and brilliantly blue, that this beautiful bay so fiercely fought-over through the centuries ought to welcome him home, even as he left it. For he was slipping away, and he had doubts that the dawn would break in the east. They said that the world was temporary, like the fall of the leaves, but the leaves would return in the spring. It was he who would leave the world. He staggered on because putting one foot in front of the other was easier than stopping to explain to himself this overwhelming sense of his own mortality…
… At last, more than two hundred and fifty metres above sea level, he reached the Castle of Saint John and searched for the hole in its wall that he knew was there. He searched and searched but couldn’t find it and, while he stood perplexed gazing up at the high peaks wreathed in cloud, he was overcome by such a sense of peace, such a vivid comprehension of the unfolding of time, that he ceased striving. It was perhaps the divine that had touched him, and he began to argue with it to stop distracting him, for he was not giving up, not even at the door of eternity.
Lastly, there have been loving revenants in my life, Dad, Mum, and a friend of mine who came to her own funeral to ask for my forgiveness. In all three cases I was relieved of a variety of burdens, and I am thankful for that. I used these in His Most Italian City when Stefan receives a visit from his dead wife that lifts the bitterness from his soul and brings him peace.
He felt the roll of the boat, heard the night wind picking up – and then he’s waiting for her again, the girl in the apricot chemise, wondering how to begin. She’s suddenly shy – she’s never seen him without his shirt before – and they still have confetti in their hair.
And in a heartbeat behind him on the bridge, that certainty.
‘Tukaj si, Nataša.’
And then she was gone – and in her place, peace.
Peace in this world, yes, but I would also like to challenge the popular notion that death is about going to one’s ‘rest’. When you’re in that wonderful world for just half a wonderful second, the feeling is in fact ‘freedom’. Freedom from anxiety, freedom from depression, freedom to be the you that you truly are.