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Megan Rossman, Associate Editor
Photo by JOHN JERNIGAN
Pazuzu Made Me Do It
By Megan Rossman
January 17, 2013
I love words. They’re a clunky and imperfect means of expression, so I feel satisfaction and joy when I see or hear them used well. Flannery O’Connor, typically a great user of them, demonstrates the power of the written and spoken word in this deft description of a charismatic preacher from her novel Wise Blood:
A preacher’s power is in his neck and his tongue and his arm…Every fourth Saturday he had driven into Eastrod as if he were just in time to save them all from Hell, and he was shouting before he had the car door open. People gathered around his Ford because he seemed to dare them to. He would climb up on the nose of it and preach from there and sometimes he would climb onto the top of it and shout down at them.
I speak from experience when I say nothing captivates an audience like a healthy fear of hell.
When I was young, I went to sleep the same way every night: Thinking about demons. I didn’t want to; they terrified me, but it was a compulsion. It all started when I sat up late one night watching The Exorcist II on TV with my mom.
While we were watching it, one of the characters said, “Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!”
I looked at my mom and shouted, “Take me to Kokumo!”
She looked at me strangely from the other side of the couch.
“Don't say that,” she said. “You don’t know what it means. You could call up some demon.”
Never before had I considered that any words I uttered might have the power to invoke the wrath of hell. She was probably joking, but it was a chilling idea, and when I went to bed that night, my thoughts dwelled on Kokumo. I was afraid that if I even repeated the dialogue in my head, I might be possessed like the character Regan, whose name rhymed unsettlingly with Megan. I had no idea what, who, or where Kokumo was, but the word reverberated through my mind like an unholy gong. I laid there for what seemed like hours, trying to quell my thoughts until I exhausted myself to sleep. It became an unwanted nightly ritual. Eventually, I started to doubt the power of the words, and once that happened, they lost their hold. Musical numbers sung by Jamaican crabs and other Disney creatures I encountered by day replaced demonic incantations that haunted me at night. I slept easier.
There are two things I took from this experience. The first one is that you probably shouldn’t let little kids watch Exorcist films. The second is that words—spoken and written—have more power than we sometimes realize. As an adult, I don’t believe they are going to conjure up the otherworldly, but they can summon any earthly emotion if their audience puts faith in them. With a little imagination, the boogeyman that formerly lurked in a fictitious realm suddenly has a pulse. By the same token, words also inspire hope, love, confusion, wonder, and all those other emotions firing off in our brains. It can be hard to predict their effect.
In this age of Internet, I see a lot of words flung out there, and I do a lot of flinging myself. The disproportionate levels of rage and hate expressed by so many people in online comment sections and on social media about relatively benign topics are troubling (to say nothing of the spelling and grammar). I can’t count how many news stories I’ve seen about kids committing suicide because of cyber bullying and other acts of predation. People are so mean on the Internet.
Earlier today, my sister posted a photo on Facebook from the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure with the words: Be Excellent to Each Other. That call to civility has been ringing in my head all day today. Those words sound pretty good to me.