Still afraid of the dark

DemonsJehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah. Six-year-old Naomi squeezed her eyes shut hard, sealing out the darkness, whispering God’s name over and over like a verbal amulet to ward away Satan’s soldiers. She paused her chant, straining to hear anything at all. Was that a rustle? A creak? Maybe the swish of a demon floating by, taunting her. Her eyes snapped open, taking in the blackness. She could just picture it. Demons looked just like men, she was told, but they were pure evil. She imagined if she ever saw one in real life, she’d be able to see the foulness radiating from its dead eyes.

The boys told her to stay put in the family room. “Keep your eyes closed and count to 100.” They scurried away, and with a rising level of panic, she rapidly fired off the numbers in her head. They made a game out of her extreme fear of the dark and everything she imagined haunted it. Brothers. She had to make it to the other end of the house in the pitch black, and they’d turn the lights back on.

Jehovah’s Witness rules for demons were simple: they’ll appear if you invited ungodly things into your house: yoga, Ouija boards, smurfs, troll dolls, unicorns, any Disney movie that had magic in it, the list was lengthy. If you said Satan’s name out loud (the original Voldemort), if you had a bad thought or did something against the rules, they’d sense you on their demonic radar and slither their way into your presence. What would the demons would actually do when they got to you? They were able to influence thoughts, manipulate things, even cause death. Their only goal is to sway you to Satan’s side, and any misstep could throw you into one of their snares. Your only method of defense was to repeat God’s name over and over again: Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah. You could fortify that repellent by opening your bible to a page that had his name written in it. It would send the demons into a painful, screaming fit, and they’d be banished to wherever they came from – like a vampire reacting to a rescinded invite.

Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah, she whispered again, eyes darting around in the darkness, trying to gauge the ideal time to sprint through the room toward the hallway. The house wasn’t huge, but the path through the laundry room, down the stairs, and into the living room seemed agonizingly endless. She crept forward slowly, heartbeat speeding up with every inch. She waved her arms out around, like she could scare them off. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was surrounded by evil. Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah, she whispered through terrified tears as she clung to the wall, inching her way through the hallway.  She made it through the laundry room and ran face first into it, one of Satan’s horrible monsters! It leapt out and wrapped it’s creepy, wiry arms around her, shoving her against the wall. “JEHOVAH, JEHOVAH, JEHOVAH…” she yelled, she screamed, she wrestled out of it’s grasp and ran full speed to the end of the house. Her eyes were flooded with light and there was one of her brothers, hand over his mouth, doubled over with laughter. The other brother walked in from behind her. HE was the demon. Anger, and then relief, flooded her tiny little body, and she pummeled her older brothers with her fists, crying as they begged her not to tell Mom and Dad.

She carried that demonic burden for the next 21 years, well into adulthood. The lights would go out, and she’d have this automatic, overwhelming fear that something was out there trying to get her. Something dark, ungodly, and evil. For years, she slept with the lights and TV on. Even at 27 years old, she’d still whisper “Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah,” over and over, not really believing that it would work, but unable to control the impulse. From the moment she stepped foot inside the church as a four-year-old, any time she wanted something against the rules, she was warned about demons. It was repeated in the church’s monthly publications, in the children’s books, in the weekly Elder’s talks. She had it pounded into her head that they were all engaged in spiritual warfare with an actual army of wicked spirits. It was a real, living thing for her, this fear.

It was the basis of everything she was taught. She was raised with a deep-seated fear of demons; of displeasing Jehovah, or even more terrifying, displeasing the Elders; of being disfellowshipped; of Armageddon. Armageddon, the day of fireballs and destruction, when all of the evil, people and demons alike, would be burned and destroyed, but the smiling, happy, obedient Jehovah’s Witnesses would walk through unscathed, with no regard to the burning flesh around them, ready to live in a perfect paradise earth. As kids, they even made it a game of picking out which unbeliever’s house they would live in come Paradise, when the godless buildings were all up for grabs.

The fears that had been so deeply embedded in her soul gradually weakened, as she left the religion and saw not one demon; had not one eerie, unexplained experience. She had her palm read once, and her heart was pounding in her ears the entire time, but she walked away safe and sound. She warily practiced yoga for the first time, and to her surprise, no demons invaded her opened mind. She even has a Stephen King book in her house, along with a Buddha statue and movies chock-full of magic.

Things that used to send her into a deep, tearful panic, begging for Jehovah to save her, were now just regular, normal things. They don’t want you, unless you hold on to that fear. She let go of the fear, and they let go of her.

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10 thoughts on “Still afraid of the dark

  1. Kyra April 7, 2016 / 10:57 pm

    I always want and not want to read these. I love them and hate them at the same time and it makes me hurt for you.

  2. zirrusv April 8, 2016 / 2:15 am

    Religious Trauma Syndrome is a real thing. You are s SURVIVOR, beautiful being! Wahooo

  3. Gale C. April 8, 2016 / 3:43 am

    Omg Naomi,I wish I had known your fears,maybe I could have helped. so glad and proud of the women you have become and you are a talented writer. you make it so real (((hugs))

  4. Ken Gitter April 8, 2016 / 5:57 am

    All of my fears and apprehensions as a father of daughters threaten to overwhelm me when I read these. I shake with anger, yet stand in amazement and awe at the incredible young women you have become, because of and in spite of these experiences.

  5. Kim August 24, 2016 / 1:35 am

    Me too

  6. poppyreid July 7, 2017 / 3:23 am

    I grew up as a JW too and it sounds like you were on the more extreme end of it. My mum liked Harry Potter, Disney, and Pokemon, and let us watch them. She was strict about birthdays and Christmas and such, but compared to some of the other kids it wasn’t as bad at all. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was well written and really reflects how scary it is for kids who grow up to fear God and demons.

  7. poppyreid July 7, 2017 / 3:24 am

    According to JWs, though, they can’t take on human form anymore. (Ephesians 6:11, 12.)

    • Naomi Hagelund July 7, 2017 / 3:58 pm

      For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

      I’ve never heard it interpreted like that (that they can’t take on human form) but it makes sense. That wasn’t the case when I was growing up. Thanks for the feedback!

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