There is a demon, known as the deluder, who visits the brethren especially at dawn, and leads the intellect about from city to city, from village to village, from house to house, pretending that no passions are aroused through such visits; but then the intellect goes on to meet and talk with old acquaintances at greater length, and so allows its own state to be corrupted by those it encounters. Little by little it falls away from the knowledge of God and holiness, and forgets its calling. Therefore the solitary must watch this demon, noting where he comes from and where he ends up; for this demon does not make this long circuit without purpose and at random, but because he wishes to corrupt the state of the solitary, so that his intellect, over-excited by all this wandering, and intoxicated by its many meetings, may immediately fall prey to the demons of unchastity, anger or dejection—the demons that above all others destroy its inherent brightness.
~ Evagrios the Solitary, Texts on Discrimination in Respect of Passions and Thoughts 8
This passage is a bit long, but the insight is a remarkable one. I remember when I first read this thinking to myself, “Now, how does Evagrios know what goes through my head every morning?” Metaphysical questions regarding the nature of demons aside, in my case at least this ailment of the soul (and its cure) have proved to be quite true. Indeed, I never cease to be astounded by the insights of fourth century hermits in a “pre-scientific” age about the wonders of human psychology.
For as long as I can remember, every morning I get up and my mind starts wandering. I shower, brush my teeth, and so on, but all the while I’m not really there, not really present. I see old friends, new acquaintances, converse with celebrities or teachers, teach others, preach homilies, and on and on to no end. That is, that was the case until I read Evagrios.
Thankfully, a man who lived as a hermit in the Egyptian desert in the fourth century, and owned nothing and likely never bathed and rarely ate or slept, happened to have had the same experience and actually took the time to examine it for the benefit of his own soul and others.
Evagrios does not assign every thought or passion to the demonic, but in this case he claims that the thought pattern here described comes from “a demon, known as the deluder.” The danger here seems to be, first of all, that it leads one into delusions of grandeur.
These imaginary conversations in our mind set us up for disaster in real life—they are idealized and rarely reflect reality. Worse, if coincidentally our real life interactions tend to follow what we have imagined, the delusion is simply reinforced. It is a species of what Evagrios refers to as one of the three “front line demons,” namely, seeking the esteem of others (the other two being avarice and gluttony).
Once we have fallen to this front line soldier of the enemy and become “intoxicated by its many meetings,” we set ourselves up to “fall prey to the demons of unchastity, anger or dejection” that “above all destroy [the] inherent brightness” of our souls.
Thankfully, Evagrios not only offers a diagnosis but a prescription:
But if we really want to understand the cunning of this demon, we should not be hasty in speaking to him, or tell others what is taking place, how he is compelling us to make these visits in our mind and how he is gradually driving the intellect to its death—for then he will flee from us, as he cannot bear to be seen doing this; and so we shall not grasp any of the things we are anxious to learn. But, instead, we should allow him one more day, or even two, to play out his role, so that we can learn about his deceitfulness in detail; then, mentally rebuking him, we put him to flight. But because during temptation the intellect is clouded and does not see exactly what is happening, do as follows after the demon has withdrawn. Sit down and recall in solitude the things that have happened: where you started and where you went, in what place you were seized by the spirit of unchastity, dejection or anger and how it all happened. Examine these things closely and commit them to memory, so that you will then be ready to expose the demon when he next approaches you. Try to become conscious of the weak spot in yourself which he hid from you, and you will not follow him again. If you wish to enrage him, expose him at once when he reappears, and tell him just where you went first, and where next, and so on. For he becomes very angry and cannot bear the disgrace. And the proof that you spoke to him effectively is that the thoughts he suggested leave you. For he cannot remain in action when he is openly exposed. The defeat of this demon is followed by heavy sleepiness and deadness, together with a feeling of great coldness in the eyelids, countless yawnings, and heaviness in the shoulders. But if you pray intensely all this is dispersed by the Holy Spirit.
To Evagios, one ought not to let any temptation go to waste. If you are being tempted by this demon, it is an opportunity to examine yourself and understand better your own weaknesses. Alas, I cannot say that I have been as watchful in this regard as I would like, but even being aware of the problem has helped forestall the negative effects.
Furthermore, Evagrios recommends rehearsing the path that your mind follows to prevent it from doing so again. Knowing the general pattern of our own thoughts can help us make great strides in overcoming the challenge before us.
Yet, while Evagrios’s exercise is certainly a profitable one, I must, nevertheless, say that for someone who does not live as a hermit, it is not always so easy to actively fight these assaults as he describes. As I often must hurry in the morning to get to work, the thoughtful and reflective side is not as practical (though not impossible).
Heeding his admonitions to pure prayer, in this work and others, I have settled on a morning routine of reciting the following:
- Psalm 50 (51 MT—“Have mercy on me, O God, [etc.]”)
- Psalm 1
- The Beatitudes
This usually gets me through my morning routine to my morning prayers. It is always a fight against being led down the same road of delusion in my mind, but incorporating this rule has been a significant improvement, helping to ward of “the deluder” and preserve the “inherent brightness” of my soul.