Thursday, July 28, 2016

Beat the devil

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) was a Victorian painter best-known for his famous Light of the World. To my knowledge, he was the most pious member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He made four trips to the Holy Land, which he used to lend verisimilitude to his paintings. For instance, his painting of The Scapegoat was set on the shores of the Dead Sea. The unforgiving landscape is authentic.

His Christian paintings harmonize realism with religious symbolism by evoking traditional typology. He encountered technical barriers in attempting to paint The Triumph of the Innocents. This painting blends elements of the Flight into Egypt with the Massacre of the Innocents. In this painting, the souls of the martyred children accompany the Holy Family into Egypt. There's an interplay between natural lighting (moonlight) with supernatural lightning (the nimbic aura of the sainted children). 

In a letter, Hunt recounts an uncanny experience he had, when he felt he suddenly achieved a psychological and technical breakthrough. His experience reminds me of how Daniel's prayer was impeded by demonic opposition (Dan 10). 

The story about the unaccountable noise, you will remember, I gave as an illustration of the degree to which the difficulty with my picture has distressed me. For four years this torment has been going on, wasting my life, and health, and powers, just when I believe they should be at the best, all through a stupid bit of temper on the part of a good friend. I don't like to hold him responsible, although his agency caused the beginning of my difficulties, but I have got into the way of thinking that it is one of many troubles during these seven years (balanced by much joy of my last four years) which the Father of Mischief himself only could contrive. What I told you is only a good story, as my impressions give the experience. It is not evidence, remember, one way or the other, although I give the exact truth. I was on Christmas Day induced to go and work at the studio because I had prepared a new plan of curing the twisted surface, and, till I could find it to be a practicable one, it was useless to turn to work which I had engagements to take up on the following days. When I arrived it was so dark that it was possible to do nothing, except with a candle held in my hand along with the palette. I laboured thus from about eleven. On getting to work I noticed the unusual quietness of the whole establishment, and I accounted for it by the fact that all other artists were with their families and friends. I alone was there at the group of studios because of this terrible and doubtful struggle with the devil, which, one year before, had brought me to the very portals of death ; indeed, almost, I may say, beyond these, during my delirium. Many days and nights too, till past midnight, at times in my large, dark studio in Jerusalem, had I stood with a candle, hoping to surmount the evil each hour, and the next day I had found all had fallen into disorder again, as though I had been vainly striving against destiny. The plan I was trying this Christmas morning I had never thought of before the current week, but it might be that even this also would fail. As I groaned over the thoughts of my pains, which were interwoven with my calculations of the result of the coming work over my fresh preparation of the ground, I gradually saw reason to think that it promised better, and I bent all my energies to advance my work to see what the later crucial touches would do. I hung back to look at my picture. I felt assured that I should succeed. I said to myself half aloud, "I think I have beaten the devil!" and stepped down, when the whole building shook with a convulsion, seemingly immediately behind my easel, as if a great creature were shaking itself and running between me and the door, I called out, "What is it?" but there was no answer, and the noise ceased. I then looked about ; it was between half-past one and two, and perfectly like night, only darker ; for ordinarily the lamps in the square show themselves after sunset, and on this occasion the fog hid everything. I went to the door, which was locked as I had left it, and I noticed that there was no sign of human or other creature being about. I went back to my work really rather cheered by the grotesque suggestion that came into my mind that the commotion was the evil one departing, and it was for this I told you the circumstance on the day of your visit. I do not pretend that this experience could be taken as evidence to support the doctrine of supernatural dealings with man. There might have been some disturbance of the building at that moment that caused the noise which I could not trace ; indeed, I did not take pains to do this. Half an hour afterwards I heard an artist, who works two studios past mine, come up the stair, and before he arrived by my door he said to some one with him, " It is no use going in, it is as dark as pitch," and they went down again. This was the only being that came to my floor during my whole stay, which was till 3.30. I perhaps should have taken more pains to explain the riddle, but while I quite accept the theory of gradual development in creation, I believe that there is a " divinity that shapes our ends " every day and every hour. So the question to me is not whether there was a devil or not, but whether that noise was opportune, for I still hope that the wicked one was defeated on Christmas morning about half-past one. Thus, you see what a child I am ! — Yours truly, W. Holman Hunt. William Minto, ed., Autobiographical notes of the life of William Bell Scott : and notices of his artistic and poetic circle of friends, 1830 to 1882 (New York: Harper Brothers, 1892), 2:229-31.


  1. Speaking of the demonic, there's a recently published book that has gained some notice in the paranormal market. The book by a guy named Bob Cranmer is titled The Demon of Brownsville Road (Amazon link).

    According to the Amazon author biography Cranmer entered the US Army as a second lieutenant and served with the 101st Airborne Division and in Washington, D.C. and eventually entered politics and was elected Allegheny County Commissioner in 1995. In his book he details his alleged 2 year encounter with a demonic haunting in his house. He was (raised?) Catholic then turned Evangelical as an adult. Then later turned Catholic when only Catholics were willing and able to help him get rid of the demon.

    There are a few interviews of him on Youtube. Some more extensive than others. The promotional website for the book is

  2. Last Saturday during a live webinar Mike Licona described the paranormal activities that occurred in his parents house when his father would speak out against Freemasonry.