The devil, also referred to as Satan, is featured several times in the Great Litany of the Church, which is sometimes spoken or chanted during Lent. Are these references to Satan pertinent to us in our time? If so, in what way? Is the devil a real being with potential to do great harm or a leftover remnant of archaic religion?
Lent is a good time to take a look at the statements about the devil in the Great Litany. The devil and beings who can be considered “evil” might well be worth examining for us as individuals and as a community; this examination need not be abstract – I maintain, based on the research I conducted for my book Paranormal, that we can learn much from the paranormal evidence.
In the Great Litany, we pray:
“From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation, Good Lord, deliver us.”
“From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us.”
“That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.”
Each of us in our own lives feels at certain times that we are being confronted by some of the ills cited in this prayer: evil, sin, and deceits of the world and the flesh. If we do believe in a beneficent God or Divine Being, we might find ourselves praying fervently to “deliver us” from the tragic things that are done to us or that happen to us, from people who hurt us, from financial stresses, from a resurgence of bigotry, discrimination and anti-Semitism, and from the perceived chaos on the daily news. It is not a pretty scene, and in earlier times, these ills and challenges would have been understood to have come from the Devil or Satan.
The paranormal evidence is varied about demons, evil beings and evil itself. Evil entities are often encountered by investigators from the Paranormal Research Society, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, and other researchers; the work of Ed and Lorraine Warren and their nephew John Zaffis pointedly attests to the existence of evil (Cooke, Book of the Beyond, 125). Electronic voice phenomena (EVPs), further, record hateful words and phrases from the “other side;” evil beings truly menace both places and people. Many unhappy beings – “evil,” at some level, whether truly “the devil” or not – still appear to reside, as ghosts, in homes, theaters, prisons, and hospitals and on battlefields over 200 years after their death.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, through his medium after his death in 1930, asserted that “. . . unprincipled spirits can manipulate astral thought-forces to suit their own mischievous purposes” (Cooke, Book of the Beyond, 125). Doyle also provides us with descriptions of evil and the places where these unprincipled spirits go, at least temporarily, when they pass over:
“[W]hat of those [places] of a slower, of a lower vibration; perhaps even lower than this earth? These are not pleasant places, for they are peopled by humans whose lives have attuned them to such planes. They are grey, misty, dark-November-fog places, good to get out of. That is why they exist; to spur their folk to get away, by their own spiritual efforts (Cooke, Book of the Beyond, 110).”
“The lowest astral plane consists of a land of desire, burning and persistent desire, the which the man has fostered during his life on earth. Those who migrate thither are such as hold neither affection nor love for any creature save self. . . . In the greyness are seen stunted trees and vegetation, while forms of men live and dwell in mists damp and thick, being themselves clothed in grey; being in fact so wrapped up in themselves, in self-centredness as to create about themselves environments unpleasantly cold and repellent (Cooke, Book of the Beyond, 165).”
Robert Monroe also gleaned evidence about demons, evil and “hell” through his out-of-body experiences (OOBEs). “It is easy to conclude that a momentary penetration of this nearby layer would bring ‘demons’ and ‘devils’ to mind as the chief inhabitants. They seem subhuman, yet have an evident ability to act and think independently. . . ¶ In these worlds where thoughts are not only things, but are everything, including you, your poison or perfection is of your own making. If you are remorseless killer, you may end up in that part of Locale II where all are of the same design. This truly would be hell for such people, for there would be no innocent, defenseless victims. ¶ Project this outward, and you can begin to perceive the myriad variations. Your destination in the heaven or hell of Locale II seems to be grounded completely within the framework of your deepest constant (and perhaps non-conscious) motivations, emotions, and personality drives. The most consistent and strongest of these act as your ‘homing’ device when you enter this realm” (Monroe, Journeys, 121, italics in original).
For some psychics and paranormal investigators such as medium Chip Coffey, a demon is a fallen angel, an angel’s evil counterpart (Coffey, Growing Up Psychic, 105). Other researchers acknowledge that demonic possession is a real possibility in some cases but that “the demonic lives in the deep psyche of our minds. The attack is more psychological than physical” (Buell and Petrucha. Paranormal State, 149). There is also the theory that “[s]mall particles of evil [are] scattered throughout the universe” and are far outnumbered by the good particles (Alexander, Proof of Heaven, 83). My research has not found firm evidence for an identifiable Devil or Satan per se, but it is apparent that evil beings of some kind, in some fashion, do exist and exert their influence on us in the physical world.
In many cases, it is clear that evil spirits are “stuck” in the “gray areas” of the afterlife as Doyle noted. This gives rise to the question of the relationship between good and evil in the overall “agenda” of the universe. Here the paranormal evidence is quite clear: it points in the direction of the vast preponderance of good in this world and the next and of the fact that evil needs to exist in order for us to see and to know the good.
While this may be hard to hear, especially when we are hurting terribly, we can take comfort from postmortem Doyle again:
“[T]hese conditions of intelligence – or, if you will, ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ – work and evolve side by side, and are the actual complement one of the other. ¶ . . . Always men have conceived that good must oppose evil. Again, nothing is farther from the truth. ‘Evil’ stands always as the complement to the condition you call ‘good’, so without evil good could not be. . . .” Further, “that which you call ‘evil’ is also of God; the universal Intelligence which man calls God contains both good and evil!”. . . ¶ We must live and strain and strive, all and each of us, for a perfect balance, so that darkness shall never overcome the light; but rather that good and evil together shall, not as masters but as our servants, work out in us the perfect law with perfect precision” (Cooke, Book of the Beyond, 194-95, italics in original).
Good and evil “are not so opposed as appearance warrants. . . ¶ Might we not then describe the angels of darkness as the individualized powers of evil, as great destructive forces which consume that which is unwanted. . .? . . . Appearing to destroy, actually they do not destroy; though we have said they consume, rather they transmute” (Cooke, Book of the Beyond, 198, italics in original).
When we pray the Great Litany and ask to be delivered from the devil’s “crafts and assaults” and its “deceits,” and when we ask to “beat down Satan under our feet,” we can now have a more nuanced idea, from the paranormal evidence, of how this might look in everyday life. This is at base a matter of ethics – how we live our lives, especially in relationship with others.
- There is a profound truth – though hard to hear – that what we perceive as evil is necessary and works ultimately for the good. When yoked with the concepts of reincarnation, karma and pre-birth decisions (discussed in Paranormal and other sources), the wrenching challenges that befall us are essential to our spiritual growth, chosen by us in consultation with our guardian spirits before we are born.
- Demons, evil spirits and the like that we encounter in our lives can be combated with positive behavior. Since we have free will and make choices constantly about the path we follow in our lives, choosing the good not only puts our own souls in good stead but also helps brings about balance in the universe.
- Prayer, rituals and beneficial practices serve not only to assist our own souls but can also help “stuck” souls – those in the gray areas – to move on toward the light. Viewers of the paranormal television shows can see episodes in which exorcisms or cleansings are performed in haunted locations. Many of these rituals, which often include prayer and imploring to God, Jesus, saints or other positive spiritual beings, do successfully reduce disturbing occurrences.
- The ethical ramifications are especially apparent when we pray, in conjunction with “beating down Satan,” that we beseech the Lord “to comfort and help the weak-hearted [and] to raise up those who fall.” The vulnerable, in other words, have the last word: Satan will not be the ultimate victor.
Best wishes for a blessed Lent.
Abrahamsen, Valerie A. Paranormal: A New Testament Scholar Looks at the Afterlife. Manchester Center, Vermont: Shires Press, 2015.
Alexander, Eben. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2012.
Buell, Ryan and Stefan Petrucha. Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.
Coffey, Chip. Growing Up Psychic: My Story of Not Just Surviving but Thriving – and How Others Like Me Can, Too. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2012.
Cooke, Ivan. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Book of the Beyond. New Lands, England: The White Eagle Publishing Trust, 2006.
Monroe, Robert A. Journeys Out of the Body. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1973.