Why Does Spiritual Darkness Linger Where It Does?
The Library of Congress classifies Otis's book as follows: "1. Demonology. 2. Spiritual warfare. 3. Mythology -- Comparative studies. 4. Occultism -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 5. Occultism -- Controversial literature." On the off chance that that doesn't sum it up for you, I would describe it as an exploration, from an evangelical Christian perspective, of the presence of persistent, localized evil: an analysis of why certain places are just bad places, that badness taking either more or less spiritual forms, from hauntings to high crime rates. There is, according to Otis, a rational explanation -- and moreover, a solution.
Humbly offered, here's my take, from an Orthodox perspective.
I have to say, I really liked the book, and with a few exceptions, our
worldviews are extremely similar. In general, the world he describes -- in which demons, dark forces, and
corrupt places and objects are matter-of-fact reality -- is the same
world we would recognize as the world in which our spiritual battles
take place, with the analogs on the divine side being angels, the grace
of God, and holy places (Mt. Athos, churches, altars/sanctuaries) and
holy objects (icons, crosses, relics, liturgical items). But Otis seems to shy away
from such things. Admittedly, the rituals by which an icon is
(properly) prepared seem somewhat parallel to the rituals by which
pagan artifacts are prepared; i.e., with prayers, chants, and a
liturgical service of dedication, culminating with the sprinkling of
sanctified water. (Obviously there is no Christian analog to demonic
possession of people, since obedience in Christ actually sets you free,
rather than enslaves you.) These parallels would almost certainly give Otis the heebie-jeebies. But if
he believes in the real badness of the one 'toolkit', I have trouble understanding his
objection to embracing the real goodness of the other. Not every holy thing represents the syncretistic re-branding of a still quite unholy thing. More on this below.
Second, while the bibliography is chock full of reference works (I
looked through all of them), there's not a single ancient Christian
authority cited, no Orthodox (or perish the thought, Roman Catholic)
saint or theologian, no spiritual texts from the first, say, 1,800
years of Christian spiritual warefare. How can this be? Monks and
nuns, martyrs, clerics, and lay Christians, have fought these same
forces for two thousand years, in many cases quite successfully. The
lives of the saints are full of stories and examples of pagan temples
falling at the prayers of holy men and women, idols smashing to dust,
demons being defeated by the sign of the cross and the prayers of the
One of the best examples comes from the lives of the Bishop-martyr
Cyprian, Virgin Martyr Justina and Martyr Theoctistus of Nicomedia, who
perished in the year 304, and are commemorated on October 2:
St. Cyprian was a pagan and a native of Antioch. In early
was given over by his misguided parents for service to the pagan gods.
From age seven until thirty, Cyprian studied at the most outstanding
centers of paganism: on Mount Olympus, in the cities of Argos and
Tauropolis, in the Egyptian city of Memphis, and at Babylon. Once he
attained eminent wisdom in pagan philosophy and the sorcerer's craft,
he was consecrated into the pagan priesthood on Mount Olympus. Having
discovered great power by summoning unclean spirits, he beheld the
Prince of Darkness himself, and spoke with him and received from him a
host of demons in attendance.
After returning to Antioch, Cyprian was revered by the pagans
as an eminent pagan priest, amazing people by his ability to cast
spells, to summon pestilence and plagues, and to conjure up the dead.
The mighty pagan priest brought many people to ruin, teaching them
magic spells and service to demons.
In Antioch there lived a Christian, the virgin Justina. After
turning her own father and mother away from pagan error and leading
them to the true faith in Christ, she dedicated herself to the Heavenly
Bridegroom and spent her time in fasting and prayer, remaining a
virgin. When the youth Aglaides proposed marriage to her, the saint
refused. Agalides turned to Cyprian and sought his help for a magic
spell to charm Justina into marriage. But no matter what Cyprian tried,
he could accomplish nothing, since the saint by her prayers and fasting
overcame all the wiles of the devil.
By his spells Cyrian set loose demons upon the holy virgin, trying to
arouse fleshly passions in her, but she dispelled them by the power of
the Sign of the Cross and by fervent prayer to the Lord. Even one of
the demonic princes and Cyprian himself, assuming various guises by the
power of sorcery, were not able to sway St. Justina, who was guarded by
her firm faith in Christ. All the spells dissipated, and the demons
fled at the mere look or even name of the saint. Cyprian, in a rage,
sent down pestilence and plague upon the family of Justina and upon all
the city, but this was thwarted by her prayer. Cyprian's soul,
corrupted by its domination over people and by its incantations, was
shown in all the depth of its downfall, and also the abyss of
nothingness of the evil that he served.
"If you take fright at even the mere shadow of the Cross and the Name
of Christ makes you tremble," said Cyprian to Satan, "then what will
you do when Christ Himself stands before you?" The devil then flung
himself upon the pagan priest who was in the process of repudiating
him, and began to beat and strangle him. St. Cyrian then first tested
for himself the power of the Sign of the Cross and the Name of Christ,
guarding himself from the fury of the enemy. Afterwards, with deep
repentance he went to the local Bishop Anthimus and threw all of his
books into the flames. The very next day, having gone into the church,
he did not want to emerge from it, though he had not yet accepted Holy
By his efforts to follow a righteous manner of life, St.
Cyprian discerned the great power of fervent faith in Christ, and
redeemed his more than thirty years of service to Satan. Seven days
after Baptism he was ordained reader, on the twelfth day, sub-deacon,
on the thirtieth, deacon. After a year, he was ordained priest. In a
short time St. Cyprian was elevated to the rank of bishop.
The Hieromartyr Cyprian converted so many pagans to Christ
that in his diocese there was no one left to offer sacrifice to idols,
and the pagan temples fell into disuse. St. Justina withdrew to a
monastery and there was chosen Abbess. During the persecution against
Christians under the emperor Diocletian, Bishop Cyprian and Abbess
Justina were arrested and brought to Nicomedia, where after fierce
tortures they were beheaded with the sword. The soldier Theoctistus,
looking upon the guiltless sufferings of the saints, declared himself a
Christian and was executed with them.
Knowing of the miraculous conversion to Christ of a former servant of
the Prince of Darkness, and how he shattered his grip by faith,
Christians often resort to the prayerful intercession of the
Hieromartyr Cyprian in their struggle with unclean spirits.
What I don't understand is why their story, and the tremendous, 2,000
year old literature on the spiritual battle which is readily available
today, is completely absent from Otis's book? I fear for him the fate
of the seven sons of Sceva...
difference is that Otis doesn't seem to have any concept of the Church,
the ekklesia. Individual believers, or groups of believers
gathered for a particular task or on a long-term mission, sure -- but
the Church as the Body of Christ, doesn't appear to be on his radar.
Much less a priestly ministry, sacraments, etc. These things, I think,
would actually complement and complete his mission, not contradict it.
I think part of the issue stems from an oversuspicion of churchly
things (like festivals, icons, incense, etc.) as being syncretistic.
Certainly religions like Santeria represent a total corruption of
elements of Roman Catholicism, and the result is anything but
Christian. At the same time, it is truly possible to baptise a culture
-- which is quite different from applying a thin veneer over pagan
realities. Not everyone who reverences the Virgin Mary is, in
delusion, praying to the goddess; not everyone who reverences an icon
is worshipping a demon's idol. Sure, you have elements of old pagan
entities edging their way into the life of St. George, for example ---
but there really was a St. George, and he was a great martyr and hero
of the Church. Same for St. Nicholas. Strip away the pagan elements,
and you still have the Bishop of Myra in Lycia, who was the image of
Christian charity, and also a warrior of the true faith: legend has it
that he hauled off and slugged Arius at the First Ecumenical Council in
Nicea when the latter would not not stop his blasphemy against Jesus.
And you have thousands of saints who are simply themselves, with no
pagan elements burnishing (unnecessarily) their legends. The life of St. Antony
the Great of Egypt could easily be a chapter in Otis's book, given
his famous struggles with demons in the graveyard and the tomb:
In this [early] period of his life St. Anthony
endured terrible temptations
from the devil. The Enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic
with thoughts of his former life, doubts about his chosen path, concern
for his sister, and he tempted Anthony with lewd thoughts and carnal
feelings. But the saint extinguished that fire by meditating on Christ
and by thinking of eternal punishment, thereby overcoming the devil.
Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another
manner, St. Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed
that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted
a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a
prayer, and then began to work. This was an angel, which the Lord had
sent to instruct His chosen one.
St. Anthony tried to accustom himself to a stricter way of life. He
partook of food only after sunset, he spent all night praying until
dawn. Soon he slept only every third day. But the devil would not cease
his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise
of monstrous phantoms. The saint however protected himself with the
Life-Creating Cross. Finally the Enemy appeared to him in the guise of
a frightful looking black child, and hypocritically declaring himself
beaten, he thought he could tempt the saint into vanity and pride. The
saint, however, vanquished the Enemy with prayer.
For even greater solitude, St. Anthony moved farther away from the
village, into a graveyard. He asked a friend to bring him a little
bread on designated days, then shut himself in a tomb. Then the devils
pounced upon the saint intending to kill him, and inflicted terrible
wounds upon him. By the providence of the Lord, Anthony's friend
arrived the next day to bring him his food. Seeing him lying on the
ground as if dead, he took him back to the village. They thought the
saint was dead and prepared for his burial. At midnight, St. Anthony
regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the
St. Anthony's staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy.
Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the
saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the
Lord. Looking up, the saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray
of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried
out, "Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn't You appear from
the very beginning to end my pain?"
The Lord replied, "I was here, Anthony, but wanted to see your
struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and
make your name known throughout all the world." After this vision St.
Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before. He was
then thirty-five years of age.
In other words, I think that Otis has, with no bad intent, thrown out
the baby with the bath water, and his efforts are surely hindered
because of it.
One interesting nit:: In a footnote at the bottom of page 371, he writes
Reckless claims and dubious practices are not unique
to the present generation. In the third century, for example, the
Catholic Church [i.e., the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church --
the split between east and west was still many centuries in the future]
routinely conducted pre-Easter masses, or "scrutinies," in which
catechumens seeking admission to the Church were exorcised. The
scrutinies included a rite known as "exsufflation," in which the priest
blew into the candidate's face to express contempt for the demons and
drive them away.
In fact, we still have a baptismal liturgy on the eve of Pascha (you
could accurately call it a pre-Easter mass). In our parish, we start
at 10 AM Holy Saturday morning, but really it's prescribed to begin
later in the afternoon -- even with the morning start, it begins with
vespers and morphs into the Liturgy after a long series of reading from
the Old Testament that take place while catechumens were/are being baptized. I
was received into the Church at this liturgy in 1981. And the first
part of the service
of baptism, the enrollment of the catechumen, begins with a series
of exorcisms in which the priest breathes cross-wise into the
The Renunciation and
the Acceptance -- the
child will be held by Godparent or Godparents (Nuno and Nuna in Greek)
as he stands in the narthex of the church facing east (towards the
altar). The priest, standing in front of them, blows three times into
the child's face in the form of the cross to drive away any evil
spirits and adverse power and blesses him each time saying "In the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen". He then
places his hands on the child's head, which symbolized the taking of
possession of the candidate in the name of the Holy Trinity and recites
a prayer addressed to the Triune God: "In your name, O God of truth... I
lay my hand on your servant who has been found worthy to seek salvation
in your Holy Name and protection under the shelter of your wings.
Banish from him the old error, fill him with faith and hope in you... so
that he might know that you are the only true God... Grant him the
ability to live in accordance with your commandments."
The Exorcisms -- The prayer is followed by three exorcisms and yet another prayer, the
prayer of acceptance, at the end of which the priest, in summary of all
that was said before, asks God to drive out and banish from the child
any and every evil and impure spirit which may be hiding and lurking in
his heart and make him a reason-endowed sheep in the holy flock of
Christ, an honorable member of the Church, child and heir of the
kingdom. The child and Godparent will then be asked to face west and
renounce Satan and all his works, and all his worship and all his
angels, and all his pride in a question and answer form three times and
then asked to breath (instead of the old tradition of spitting) down on
Satan. Facing west signifies the west, a place of natural darkness,
where the Devil, who is darkness himself, makes his abode.
I'm not sure why he'd call this reckless! In fact, if you read it,
you'd think Otis had written out the prescription. Explicit
renunciations of old pacts, explicit rejection of the devil --- hard to
get more in your (his) face than this! And yet it's entirely different
from sitting on some mountaintop overlooking a corrupt city and yelling
to the enemy that you're gonna kick his butt, which is what he seems to
be criticizing. (And rightly so. :)
Anyway, when you net it all out, I believe Otis is not nearly as far from the
Orthodox Christian faith as it might appear at first blush.
We just have a very different vocabulary to describe what appears to be, in large part, a common worldview, common objectives, common tactics -- and above all, a common enemy.