Every Thursday one of my nurses and I go out for coffee, it’s part of the social inclusion programme.  He’s a nice man, his name is Pete.  He helped me out practically when I first moved in here.  We talk about a lot of things, including religion.  This week religion came up because I said I hadn’t heard anything about Raif Badawi this week.  Raif is the writer and activist in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for his blog on free speech and liberalism in which he criticised some of the clerics, which was taken as an insult to Islam.  (For a petition by Amnesty International seeking to get this stopped please see here).

Pete said it was terrible what was being done in the name of religion, and said the Church used to do the same thing with its witch trials, for example.  The subject of demon possession came up, and I told him about my experiences of being told either that I was demon possessed or that I was ‘heavily demonised’.

The time I was told I was demon possessed was when I was a 12 year old girl in 1973.  I had lost my frightening father to suicide the year before.  Two of the elders of the church I was going to told me that I was demon possessed because I stared too much.  I suppose I did stare.  I stared particularly at one of them, because he was my father’s age and musical like my father, and I wanted to be a part of their family, informally.  He was a father figure.  The other elder – no, deacon – his wife told me that the man I saw as a father figure just saw me as a silly little girl.  They must have thought I fancied him or something (he was 38, I was 12, he was married with 3 children).  When they first tried to pray for me they decided I didn’t want help and told me I wasn’t to go back until I wanted help.  I think they also told me I couldn’t have communion.  The second time they prayed for me the deacon was bothered that I had practised a prayer instead of just praying on the spot, but the man I saw as a father figure said he felt good about it.  Apparently they saw a mouse which I didn’t see, and they told me the demons had gone into the mouse.  All I knew was that I wasn’t allowed to get close to the people I wanted, and I was hurt and upset, and frightened.  That fear left me briefly about 20 years ago, but it quickly came back when I was disrespected at the church I was going to in London.

At the church I went to in London, St Barnabas, Woodside Park in North Finchley, soon after my first experience in a mental hospital, I was so traumatised I was shouting when I was afraid.  I asked the vicar, who at that time was John Coles, what he would tell God when He asked him why he called the police on me, and John said he would say that he was dealing with someone who was ‘heavily demonised’.

I told Pete about both of these experiences and he said about the first one that I was obviously traumatised and they should have been dealing with trauma, not performing an exorcism.  He said it was child abuse, which I agree with.  David Shearman once told me he had been angry when he found out about it.  Unfortunately his anger did not relieve my pain and fear.  I lived for years worrying about demons, and looking into the mirror and seeing something evil in my eyes.  I can’t remember what Pete said about the second time, in London, that I had this forced on me.  But he said it all sounded medieval.  He also said that he thought people were like a piano, with all the notes available, and you just decide what you are going to play.

My worry is, have I misrepresented the Church?  They meant well, didn’t they?  Although I find that hard to believe, given how much anger was expressed.

I looked up the two people involved when I was 12.  One of them died in 2012 (the man whose family I wanted to be part of), and the other is an elder in a Christian Fellowship somewhere.  I didn’t recognise him but I recognised his wife, easily.

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