My Mama Is a Demon


Demon possession has come a long way since the days of Linda Blair and The Exorcist. Back then, possession was a messy, visceral business rife with fluids and ejaculations of one sort or another. For average folks confronting a demon, sturdy raingear came in just as handy as a Bible and Holy Water. These days, demons do a better job of blending in. For example, on the TV show Supernatural, the demons who take over the bodies of hapless humans appear to bathe regularly between bouts of evil. Nevertheless, one constant remains for demons: They do evil. Perhaps they slit the throats of schoolchildren, or take a machine gun to a crowd of fair-goers. Whatever the specifics, they are action-oriented, full-throttle evil-doers.

Consequently, I was surprised to learn that my mother is possessed by demons. She has twice been informed of this fact by fellow church members. (She’s lost count of how many times she’s been accused of not being a Christian.) Mama first experienced the sacred when she was seven years old. No one in her family had ever taken her to church or Sunday school, but one summer day, she was lying on her back under a tree in her front yard when she looked up through the canopy of green leaves and saw glimpses of the blue sky. At that moment, she knew that God was there with her. So she hied herself off to Sunday school with a neighbor family to, as she describes it, “find out what the sacred was about.”

Now in her 70s, my mother has a personal angel named Stephen, who is a distant relative on her father’s side. She first met him several years ago, riding in the car to the Atlanta airport so she and my father could put my older brother Arthur on an airplane to Oregon. She was worrying about the flight when she felt a kiss on the back of her neck. It was Stephen, and he told her not to worry. Mama has since learned that Stephen served in Vietnam, although he must have survived that, because he shows up to bring her comfort with short white hair and a trim white beard—kind of an otherworldly GI Joe for the AARP crowd. I consider Stephen to be spooky or awe-inspiring, depending on my mood.

Is Mama special? Does she deserve an angel? No more than anyone else. But she does open herself up to it. She prays, she meditates, she reads Scripture, and she is alive to possibility and the exploration of new ideas. This openness is what led her into conflict with her fellow church members.

The first time she was accused of being possessed was when she admitted, in Sunday school, that she didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ. A female classmate wrote Mama a letter saying that she must be possessed; this woman would pray for her soul. The second time, she expressed the opinion, also in Sunday school, that the miracles in the Bible were metaphors. A man yelled out that she was possessed. He stood up, shaking his finger and walking toward her, before my father suggested he sit back down. The man subsequently sent her an e-mail, written in all-capital letters, explaining that the Bible is scientifically and historically accurate, and contains no contradictions. He saw no other option for the Word of God.

These events occurred while the church was under the leadership of a minister who felt the Devil was actively at work implementing a kind of evil payback against Christians and others who didn’t follow the Word of God according to a specific, prescribed path. He had no compunction about traumatizing the vulnerable in order to spread this message. For example, when my father fell and injured his leg, the preacher told him he must have done something to invite the Devil to harm him. Mind you, this was the same minister who, in the Christmas season, had told the young worshipers gathered around his feet at children’s church that the red stripe on their candy canes was the literal blood of Christ.

My parents raised all three of their children on the picture book, If Jesus Came to My House, by Joan Gale Thomas. It’s about how you would treat Jesus if he came for a visit. Here’s an excerpt:

And then we’d play with all my toys,
my nicest toys of course,
and He should have the longest ride
upon my rocking horse.

The story continues in that vein, developing the premise that you should be as kind to anyone as you would be to Jesus. In the drawings that accompany the story, Jesus wears a halo, depicted as a clear, bubble-like orb that encircles his entire head. My brother Arthur and I, avid watchers of Star Trek, became convinced that the halo was in fact a space helmet, and that Jesus was a space alien. We drilled Jesus’ alien status into our toddler brother Ben, who was eight years younger than me and a full decade behind Arthur.

Mama didn’t share this belief of ours. However, she didn’t put an exorcist on speed dial.

“I’m sure he’s not a space alien,” she told us. “But Jesus doesn’t care. He just wants you to be kind.”

The easy path is to demonize people who don’t have the same beliefs and values that you do. The better path is to be kind, no matter how wrong-headed they seem. Don’t let religious rules and regulations overshadow the spiritual truths of love and kindness. That’s the lesson my demon Mama taught me.

Caralyn Davis lives in Asheville, N.C. She works as a freelance writer/editor and is a student in the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Superstition Review. Her fiction has appeared in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Monkeybicycle, Relief Journal, Deep South, The Drum, and other publications.