“You don’t believe in demons? You’re being a fool! I know that demons are real. I was out at Robert’s house one day. I knew it was time to go, so I got on my bike and started to ride home. After a little while, I felt something that was just wrong. I felt this really intense cold behind me, and I looked around and saw a ball of…just blackness coming after me. I knew it was evil, I could feel it, and I knew I had to get away. I rode as fast as I could, all the way home, knowing that this thing was chasing me. I finally got home, and when I looked, it was gone. THAT is how I know that demons are real!”
Commentary: This is probably one of the first “personal account” stories that I collected, back when I was in high school. I listened as one of the other students in my electronics class told this story to another student who had begun to be open about his skepticism of supernatural claims. At the time, I dismissed the story as nonsense, but I see it somewhat differently now.
Was this kid making the story up, or did he have an experience that he couldn’t understand or explain (whether or not someone else might be able to understand or explain it)? I don’t know, but that’s not what interests me about this story. What interests me is how this story was used as a social tool.
In order to understand what interests me about this story, I have to give you a bit of background information. This kid, we’ll call him Joseph, was a member of an Evangelical Christian church that firmly believed in the reality of “spiritual warfare” – the idea that heavenly and diabolic forces were locked in combat and that humans were playing a rule in a real and bloody war through their choices and politics.
I heard Joseph tell this story under two circumstances – when he was trying to sway someone over to Christianity, or when he was talking to other members of his church. In the first case, the use of the tool was clear- it was intended to persuade someone that they were in danger and only Joseph’s group could save them from that danger. Joseph’s target on that day didn’t buy it, but nonetheless, it was pretty clear what Joseph was trying to do.
The other time that I heard this and similar stories was when Joseph and other members of his church had gathered together. They would trade “spiritual warfare” stories – most of which were much milder, those sorts of things that could easily be chalked up to an overactive imagination (“I was in my room reading a book that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be reading, when I felt a cold presence, and it frightened me, so I prayed….”). Joseph’s, however, was not alone in its more explicit nature – actually seeing the demon, having to escape, etc. These stories seemed to serve both for social bonding, they were stories that everyone told to frighten or excite each other and bring the group closer together. These stories were also as a sort of one-upsmanship, this particular group (and similar ones that I have encountered since then) viewed encounters with demons as a badge of honor – something that demonstrates how the teller encountered and defeated a demon, a religious variation on “big fish” stories.
SOURCES: Personal Account