My high school biology teacher was an original. Passionate about his subject, honest and plain-spoken, and invariably good-natured, he was a hero to me at the time. I was terrible at biology but I loved the ideas and I loved him.
He was a park ranger in the summers, and he took us out on field trips in, well, the fields to find out what our local ecosystem had to offer.
His experience stretched beyond life science. He had been a seminary student and on a serious track to the priesthood at one point, and he was also an expert in several Native American spiritual traditions. He wouldn’t eat meat without apologizing to the animal, for example.
One day in class the subject of the occult somehow came up. I’m not sure, but I think it was related to a classmate of mine who scared the pants off herself with a ouija board. Some bit of aleatory coincidence made her think a dead relative was speaking and she flipped. Our teacher looked thoughtful at this and said “I have a story.”
“When I was in the seminary, I had a lot of trouble with the idea of the Devil. I couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea that an individual, some fallen angel, was permitted to exist and to hate us. And I couldn’t wrap my mind around the dogma of evil, especially personified evil. My supervisor told me to fast and meditate about it and I did.
“So I didnt eat much at all, and prayed and meditated for three days. This is difficult and I do not suggest you do it yourself without a good reason and a supervisor. Near the end of the third day, I got up to go into the other room and there was someone sitting in there. He introduced himself as the Devil, and said he’d heard I wanted to know about him. He didn’t look evil or have horns or anything. But it was clear somehow that he was the genuine article, you know. Not some prank.
“So I talked with the Devil for a few hours, and he explained his role to me, and why there was evil in the world. He himself didn’t know why God permitted him, but he was quite serious about evil and his hatred for everyone. Very calm conversation, but obviously very chilling.
“And then he didn’t leave. I hung around wondering what to do, and he just sat there. I realized then that the problem with inviting the Devil in is that he doesn’t have to leave unless he wants to. I gave up on getting rid of him and went for a long walk, because that’s solved so many problems for me. When I came back there was no Devil, and I had breakfast and went to sleep.
“And yes there is a moral to this story, right? Because there always is with me. Yeah, the moral is that you shouldn’t play with things you can’t understand or control. As much as it may look like a good idea, you’re risking everything. And really it doesn’t matter whether the Devil exists or I was hallucinating after all that fasting. In either case I couldn’t get him to leave and it was terrifying.
“So, yeah. If the ouija board does that to you, leave it alone.”
He had a picture on his wall of the Voyager message plaque, you know the one with the planet map and the humans and the symbols. The right-wing super-fundamentalist creationist smbiology teacher down the hall (yes, I know) got in the room one night and painted it over because it had nakeds on it. He also removed and destroyed the part of the anatomical charts that had genitalia on it. They had a little war, or rather the religioso waged war on my teacher. I think you can guess who won.