“The Devil you say…!”

We human beings are a credulous lot. We will turn a bush at night, into a lurking monster, the creak of a floorboard into a ghost and some coincidental meeting or act into evidence of Fate. We have invented the history of God, a fairly full life for Christ and sit and shiver in fear as we imagine the Grim Reaper or the horned beast. Close to my home in France, people are gathering for December 21st 2012 when the world will end. In a broad sense this will mean we will all go happily together rather than individually in the ragged, patternless way that leaves us bereft when family and friends die or we go before them.In philosophical terms all of the preceding are the consequence of what is called ‘false consciousness’, that is that if enough people believe, they make it happen or they insist it is true. Human beings set up conspiracies of belief, from Santa Claus for the under fives to creationism or reincarnation. There are many who believe in vampires and werewolves, in spells and potions, in the power of distance healing through prayer and in the Second Coming or the Antichrist. It is possible because we are born into a mysterious flow of life forms and events for which we have no explanation but it is so richly varied that we can impose whatever we like upon it and any hypothesis seems to fit the facts. “If men believe a thing to be true it is true in its consequences,” said W. I. Thomas, or words to that effect. Magicians the world over play upon our capacity to believe what is not and cannot be true whether it is sawing a lady in half or climbing a rope hanging from thin air. Groups of people will convince themselves that someone should be lynched for crimes despite having no evidence. Politicians and generals will wage war, stating that their strikes against targets are forensically exact and do not have a child or woman’s face on the end of their missiles. Propaganda is what human beings do best to vindicate their actions or assuage their fears.

And now a tale. A few decades ago I came across a friend who was undergoing an episode. He believed he had been chosen to throw Lucifer down the bottomless pit for a further millennium. This man had suddenly developed a hypnotic power and with it he had collected a handful of women (married, in their thirties and forties) whom were necessary to help him in his fight against evil. His wife, alarmed by this turn of events phoned me and explained that her husband was naked, standing on a special carpet with a Persian motif, he on the central abstract shape and the women on smaller, peripheral shapes. She felt he was possessed. I got in my Morris Minor, put a crucifix around my neck and phoned a friend to ready himself. When I picked him up he was in his priest’s habit, a bible in his hand and a book on exorcism. We arrived and were shown into the house of devilment. While my friend went round the place waving his burning censer, I entered the room and stood before the man. He put his hands on my shoulders and began to intone that I had come as he had directed and would now fulfill the destiny that had been prescribed. The hypnosis was very powerful but did not lull me into credulity. My priest friend arrived and between us we talked him into lying down and sleeping, there on the carpet. As if a curse had been lifted, the women hurried off to dress. The next day he was in psychiatric hospital. Whether this was the right place for him is a moot point.

Looking back I am not sure how much is true in my current telling. Everything, actually, I believe is the truth, except for the naked women. I think this could have been relayed to me by the wife before I arrived. She was certain that part of the relations he was having with his female acolytes was sexual.

What intrigues me in this set of events is that the man was able to convince the women of his and their place in biblical history, that he was ‘talked down’ by an old fashioned exorcism and that I felt sufficiently alarmed as to wear a silver cross, though my religious beliefs are non existent. I do remember feeling very anxious as I drove towards the house.

I’d like to believe in reincarnation. I’d like to think that when I return to this earth I will find a sane civilisation of rational, humane, loving human beings who get on with life, knowing that this is their one chance and are making the most of it!

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