I’ve been thinking a lot about demons and the many forms they can take and the functions they serve. It was reading Survivors’ Club that did it.
I’ve always been fascinated by the occult; one of my favourite books is a battered boot sale copy of The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish that covers the history of witchcraft, alchemy, astrology and of course demons.
A brief detour through a Phantom Tollbooth to Silent Hill
In reading it many years later I realised how much research the developers of Silent Hill had done and how many occult references they managed to sneak past a censor wary of even the word ‘devil’.
What makes the Silent Hill game series so interesting to me (and what the awful films spectacularly misunderstand) is that the demonic enemies are not random or generic zombies. Their design and function are reflective of the psychology and actions of the unlucky souls trapped in that cursed town. They are the murderous manifestations of the guilt, rage and repressed emotions of the characters.
The point of this little detour is that it illustrates how we can make (metaphorical rather than murderous) demons to represent our own worst impulses, flaws and failures. This could range from the relatively minor demon of procrastination The Terrible Trivium (The Phantom Tollbooth) to the terrifying guilt, atonement and punishment personified of Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill series.
As in Fairy Tales there is dual purpose to making these flaws, sins and traits into monsters. They show that monsters are real and we have the potential to become one should we stray by giving into our weaknesses and impluses.
“The devil made me do it”
If we give our demons shape than it becomes a matter of choice. We can surrender ourselves to them (willingly or otherwise) and in doing so abdicate responsibility.
We can choose to fight against our demons with the language of war and battle and seek to defeat that part of ourselves that brings us shame or scares us.
There is another option. We can choose to accept our demons as part of who we are, not succumbing to them but taming them through acceptance or directing their energies to more positive uses.
These are the choices I have battled daily as by turns I have made demons of my own guilt, rage and anxieties. On a good day I can tame the worst of their excesses and channel the rest into something cathartic or productive.
On the bad days it’s so much harder to resist the insidious persuasions as they systematically demolish my carefully constructed defences and turn bricks into straw.
Nightmares at three…
These battles and appeasements become all the more important as I watch my cubs’ imaginations develop with all the wonderful and terrifying possibilities that it brings.
Where there are dreams there are nightmares. We can’t have light without shadow. Where there are princesses there are also dragons…
With time they will be able to articulate their fears and tell me of their own monsters. Maybe they’ll have their own haunted room or a panicked escape down a spiral staircase pursued by an unknown but relentless malevolent presence.
In a way the nightmares are the easiest part. The best thing about demons and monsters is that for such fantastically powerful supernatural beings they are curiously beholden to rituals and rules. When I was a very small boy I learned the powerful mantra “it’s only a dream / it’s not what it seems” from that great occult for beginners show ‘The Real Ghostbusters’.
The same show taught the basics of lucid dreaming and that the first step of changing a dream is realising that it is a dream. It sounds trite but it worked. Make the monster ridiculous, plunge it into a pit or open a door in the wall and escape somewhere more pleasant!
If that fails then turn those monsters and fears into pictures or stories of their own so they can change them in the waking hours.
As they grow older though their fears and demons will change. Pirates, spiders and witches may be replaced by more abstract fears of failure, ridicule or loneliness.
There are a lot of ways I don’t want my children to grow up like me. If I don’t take steps to tackle my demons I risk passing them on to the cubs. With all the best intentions in the world I can’t prevent them from having their own personal demons but if I can guide them so that they can find their own way to handle them both on good days and bad I may sleep a little easier. Maybe with one eye open. Just in case…