Demon Dialogues

When my Pentecostal mother brings up her belief in demons, I usually change the subject. Sometimes I remind her that I don’t believe in “that,” weirdly unable to say the word “demons,” which make me think of a Dan Brown novel. What my mother thinks of—well, I don’t really know. I wanted to find out. Michelle Syba

Michelle: How did you start believing that there might be spirits and demons in the world?

Hana: Before I found Christ I believed that what you see is what you get. But when I started TM [Transcendental Meditation], right after I went to Sidha [a form of higher training], I realized that there was another world. One time during meditation one guy started to speak in some unintelligible language. He also started to laugh. There was nothing I could pinpoint exactly, but I began to realize there was another world.

TM was very secretive: we got a mantra, and some tapes for chanting, and also a book called the Veda. When I came home I listened to the tapes and started reading the book. The book was something like water is flowing, the wind is blowing, there are clouds—it didn’t really give me any wisdom. Same with the tapes. I was still not satisfied, but I saw that there must be another part of life that has some spiritual meaning. At that time I got—not frightened—but I thought that if I am approaching this spirit world, then I have to be with the most powerful spirit that controls the universe.

My concern was that I might be led astray, for the reason that whatever Maharishi said was like law. Maharishi said, “It’s good to eat cauliflower”; so everybody ate cauliflower. He wanted his picture to be put on our bedside table so that we would see him. He said, “It’s nice to eat some cake”; so everybody ate some cake. And I thought: I want to chew my own food. I can decide what I like and don’t like, and I don’t like to look at this ugly man first thing in the morning.

Michelle: So it was at the training workshop when you began to find the idea of a spirit world credible?

Hana: I had a sense that there’s something unknown. These things evolved slowly. It’s not like I had some revelation. I was curious, and I thought I needed to look into it, but I did not want to get involved with destructive spirits and regret it later.

So I watched this TV show called 100 Huntley St [the Canadian equivalent of The 700 Club], and I thought: these people look really phony. They all look happy. I just wondered what it is. So I phoned them, and they invited me to be part of the audience. I went to the broadcast, and after the broadcast they asked who would like to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So I guess my hand went up—

Michelle: You don’t remember your hand going up?

Hana: I don’t recall the initial contact. We also had lunch there. I don’t remember if it was before or after lunch when David Mainse [Canada’s version of Pat Robertson, except much gentler and cuter] prayed for me. They asked for my phone number and address and they said they would find a church that is close for me. A few days later they called and sent me to a local church.

Michelle: What was it like being prayed for by David Mainse?

Hana: It was uneventful. He asked me if I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I said yes. There was no fanfare, no angels, but I was happy. I was in peace.

Michelle: No angels . . . yet! Once you came to believe in the spirit world, how did you navigate it? For instance, how do you know if you’re under the influence of a spirit, good or evil?

Hana: My desire is to be under God’s spirit all the time, and once I tasted that spirit, which for me means contentment and peace, I want to be under this influence all the time. And whenever it is disturbed I am going back to regain it any way I possibly can.

If I am filled with the Holy Spirit, I cannot also be filled with an evil spirit. As they say, you cannot blow and suck at the same time. If you are overflowing with something, you cannot receive something else. It’s just a simple law of physics. I can be oppressed, I can feel that I am being oppressed by evil spirits. I may feel that there is some chaos or restlessness, or that someone is trying to frighten me.

Michelle: Can you describe a time when you thought that you were in the presence of evil spirits or demons, even if you were not directly oppressed by them?

Hana: Well, back in the 1980s a friend of mine was very interested in deliverance [i.e., exorcism] and told me that was a church somewhere in Ajax where she was going for a meeting. I was free that evening so I asked if I could come with her and she said yes. So we went to the church and after the service there was some prayer going on, and at some point it seemed to me a bit tedious. So I went to look at the rest of the church. I heard some people talking and I stuck my head in, and there was a room like a gym, with this woman lying on some couch, and there were two young men in their twenties, even teenagers, and one was holding her arms up and the other was holding her feet, and they were forcing her to repeat “I love my husband.” She was struggling with them and didn’t want to do it. She said, “Leave me alone!” Basically they were torturing her. I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t have any experience with deliverance. But I was thinking, “If this is deliverance I don’t want to have any part of it.”

I mentioned this to my friend that evening and she said, “Sometimes things get out of control.” Not anybody can do deliverance, and the person [who receives deliverance] has to want it. Otherwise there can be more damage done than just leaving everything as it is.

Michelle: So you felt like these two guys were amateurs?

Hana: I thought so. They seemed inexperienced, and there was some kind of sexual innuendo, she was under thirty. God does not force anybody. He’s a gentleman. We have to want it, desire it, if it’s from Him. Because He gave us free will.

Michelle: Did you feel like you were in the presence of demons at that deliverance, but that it was the men and not the woman who were under demonic influence?

Hana: I really do not know. I did not have enough experience in deliverance and did not get involved. I believe we can practice a form of deliverance ourselves when the Holy Spirit or conscience convicts us, when we are doing wrong. We have a choice—that free will—to stop and correct it.

I don’t know if you remember, we used to go for walks in ravines.

Michelle: I remember [laughs].

Hana: One time we met this guy, he had on a black top and black pants, and I think he even had long sleeves, even though it was warm. It was a beautiful day, a Sunday afternoon, and on one side going up onto the hill there was a forest because this was almost a country road, and on the left side were bushes, shrubs, and high grass. I started going to the shrubs, thinking maybe we can sit there, but all of a sudden I saw a sleeping bag. I didn’t want to look closely but there was a body there, but I didn’t see any tracks or steps, and I was thinking hmm, this is strange, maybe someone should be notified, and this guy in black appeared. I said to him, “Could you go down there and check on [the person in the grass],” and he didn’t say anything. You and I continued on the road and all of a sudden out of nowhere in front of us, the man in black was exposing himself. I really got angry. I started yelling, “Get away from us!” and with my fist I beat his arm.

He went away, and I thought oh we got rid of him, and then all of sudden I saw him again, and he was coming towards us, then disappearing and appearing again.

Michelle: That’s freaky.

Hana: It really frightened me. I shouted at him. Then a police car came and I told them about the man. So I guess the police knew that there was some shady activity going on. They didn’t catch him though.

Michelle: When the police car appeared, did you interpret that as God’s provision for you?

Hana: No, I interpreted it as that the police knew there was bad activity going on.

Michelle: And so he was under the influence of evil spirits?

Hana: Or even was an evil spirit himself.

Evil spirits are often hung up on kinky sex, including pornography. My friend [name withheld] mentioned to me that she was into S & M with a boyfriend (who ended up taking all her money). She told me that she had sex with the devil. It was great sex.

Michelle: Do you think she was being literal when she said that she had sex with the devil?

Hana: Yes. She said that she heard him walking up the stairs.

Michelle: And she doesn’t have any official religious belief. She doesn’t go to church.

Hana: No, I don’t believe so.

Back to demons: people may not necessarily be possessed, but they can be oppressed. There is so much stress today, and because of it the body doesn’t function well. If the body is oppressed by evil spirits for a long time, then the function of the body is weakened even more. And then there are some other weaknesses in the body. Really the Bible says that this is part of some sin in the family line, and it influences us to the fourth generation [see Numbers 14:18]. And you can detect it through medical science, but they don’t recognize this because our society runs on evolution, not on creation, so God is pushed out of our existence, or only used to swear by.

Michelle: So it seems that demons are a way to pinpoint the cause [of the stress or oppression] in a very clear way.

Hana: And also in a very subtle way.

Michelle: What do you mean by “subtle”?

Hana: Disguised.

Michelle: So the cause is disguised. It seems like part of what you’re saying is that demons are a way of describing an interaction between the body and history. And at the same time those two things aren’t enough to describe the problem.

Hana: I remember someone saying that the spirit world is as real as the natural world, and it rules the natural world. That God is still in control of the natural world. And the devil is trying to destroy what God created.

Michelle: What would a world without supernatural agents be like for you? Scary, or boring, or something else?

Hana: I believe the world is as beautiful to a nonbeliever as to a believer. But the believer thanks God for the beauty. When I look at puffins, I say, Lord you have such a sense of humor and color coordination. Nonbelievers also enjoy it, but in a different way.

Michelle: So the believer has more opportunities for gratitude of a certain kind.

Hana: The real believer is the biggest kind of environmentalist there is. Sometimes when I see an earthworm on the sidewalk I just have to pick it up and put it into the soil. For some people that might be crazy.

Michelle: What do you think of people who don’t believe in a spirit world, including demons?

Hana: I respect their right not to believe. I believe they are better off than people who believe but are so hung up on evil spirits that they see evil spirits behind every bush. They don’t understand they can be protected by the power of God.

The best protection against demons is to worship God, thank him for His protection, for His goodness, which the devil hates.

Michelle: Did I ever do or say anything to make you believe (or wonder if) I was under the influence of evil spirits?

Hana: I don’t think you were ever possessed.

Michelle: We can agree on that!

Hana: But I’m sure you were oppressed, as I was, or anybody on earth is.

Michelle: Any examples?

Hana: I only remember once we were supposed to go to Centre Island, and you were miserable, you criticized every move I made, and I felt so uncomfortable. I didn’t want to look at you.

Michelle: I don’t remember it very well, but I imagine that every parent has a moment when they feel their child is under the influence of an evil spirit.

I’ll say that one thing I remember is being told by you that the reason I was doing something bad—I don’t remember what—was because of “a spirit of rebellion.” I was a teenager, and I resented the idea that my rebellion wasn’t really mine. I wanted to be the rebel!

One thing I wonder is how you differentiate your own thoughts from God’s or a demon’s. Because it’s all in your own head. So how do you do it?

Hana: It’s either an idea that comes with great clarity, or that gives you a different understanding. You get to know your thinking process, and then all of a sudden something jumps in, and you are surprised.

When I first came to Jesus I was full of the Spirit, so I told your father about Jesus, and his response was “Don’t talk to me about it. I know all about God.” Well what can you say? So I shut up.

Then I came home and I complained to God. I said, “How can he say that he knows you?” And the thought came to my mind, “Do you know Trudeau?” At the time Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister. And I thought, “Of course I know Trudeau, everybody knows Trudeau.” And then the next question was: “Did you have lunch with him today?” And I thought “Of course not!” The conclusion of the whole conversation was: “The way you know Trudeau, Michelle’s father knows me.” And I had to start laughing.

Michelle: God sounds pretty witty. Any questions you want to ask me?

Hana: Why are you interested in faith phenomena?

Michelle: Well, I think that in our culture now—and others have said this too—there’s a real chasm between believers and nonbelievers. The two sides have trouble talking to each other respectfully and, more to the point, simply being curious about each other. It seems to me that genuine curiosity is the starting point of respect. My hope for this conversation is that it can be part of more public conversations between believers and nonbelievers.

Plus, I wanted to get past the reaction I recounted in “Pentecost in Mexico,” where I am basically choked up with contempt at the thought that you believe in demons.

Hana: I don’t dislike nonbelievers. I basically admire them, that they are so strong in themselves that they don’t need anything, that they are able to function without any crutch, which is what belief is. I do need the crutch of God, because I do need guidance. I see that human beings are very fragile. Life is fragile. I do believe that everybody has a need of some belief or hope (in their status, in their brain ability, in whatever), but belief in something is very important.

Michelle: One thing I’m struck by is how openly you acknowledge human neediness. That we are not self-sufficient. And I think that is a crucial insight about humans, despite American discourses of individualism and self-reliance. People who pretend they don’t participate in human neediness are deluding themselves. It’s a question of where you find that support I guess.

Hana: I am humbled that you want to publish my thoughts on belief. This is only my understanding. So I would add the disclaimer that this is exclusively my experience, and that as many people as are on planet earth would have different experiences. Because God is unlimited.




Michelle Syba teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program. Hana Syba is retired and lives in Vancouver.