This article uses a queer ecocritical methodology to analyze constructions of the environment and subjectivity in American spiritual warfare demonologies (discourses about the reality and activity of demons) published in 2008–18. There has been a surge in critical research on evangelical climate skepticism, the ecological thought of far-right movements, and the growing influence of Christian nationalism and charismatic evangelicalism on the US political landscape. Spiritual warfare, which constructs reality as a battle between divine and demonic forces, is a key part of this landscape. This article shows how spiritual warfare demonology operates as a tool for the construction of entwined social, political, and environmental ecologies, combining notions of deviant nature and deviant culture. Such ecologies both reinforce and destabilize biopolitical hierarchies that enshrine a normative (white, settler, cisheteropatriarchal) model of the human over both other (racialized, queered) humans and the nonhuman world. Critically rereading spiritual warfare demonologies through queer ecology, the article shows that such texts frame the fights against climate change and for queer and racialized subjects as prongs of a demonic assault on the futurity of white Christian America. Such texts reveal spiritual warfare demonology to rest on an ecological ultimatum: that nature will be normative or it will not be at all.
In his reading of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, philosopher Eugene Thacker discusses how the demonic was imagined as a “perturbation” within the “flow of life,” the spiritus, that both “mediates the natural and the supernatural, earthly and divine,” and manages “the distinction and separation between them.”1 In the hellscape of Inferno, where bodies melt into dead trees, rivers flow with blood, and spirits are swept up by storms, this order of mediation and management is disturbed; the lines between animate and inanimate break down; “demons possess not only human beings and animals, but the very landscape, the very terrain of the underworld. Demonic possession is geological and climatological, as well as teratological.”2 Perhaps in contrast to popular conceptions of demonic possession, which often focus on the individuals possessed or the haunting of a locale, Thacker highlights how the demonic has operated as a category of the intertwined disruption of normative orders of flesh and world, altering bodies with and through the altering of landscape. At the same time, the placement of this breakdown in Hell creates a sense of distance, constructing an alter(ed) space in which demonic disruption occurs as both reassurance and warning: a taster of the totalizing fragmentation demons threaten and tempt us with even as we are assured that the proper order of bodies and environment yet holds on Earth.
Far from being solely limited to the landscape of Inferno, connections between demons, geography, and the environment continue to structure contemporary demonological imaginaries. In contemporary evangelical spiritual warfare discourses, which position Christians as engaged in spiritual, social, and political conflict with demonic forces, authors write extensively of demons having geographic and territorial control. Such demons are disruptive of the proper ecosystem of nature and humanity’s place in and above nature, manifesting through and as animals and oceans at war with divine will.3 The territorial aspects of this contemporary demonology have garnered some analysis.4 However, their relationship to concepts of ecology and the environment remain unexplored, despite growing critical attention to both the broader conceptual universe animating conservative evangelical climate change skepticism and the role of ecological and environmental thinking in contemporary and historic far-right movements.5 This article analyzes recent spiritual warfare texts by conservative American evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic authors to unpack how the demonologies construct entwined social, political, and environmental ecologies.6
To this end, the article reads these texts ecocritically. It attends—apropos David Mazel—to their discursive construction of environment and subjectivity, showing how they deploy the environment “as a powerful site for naturalizing constructs of race, class, nationality, and gender.”7 In doing so, it shows how spiritual warfare demonology’s entwined notions of deviant nature and deviant culture reinforce and destabilize biopolitical hierarchies that enshrine a normative (white, cisheteropatriarchal) concept of man over other (racialized, queered) humans and the nonhuman world. Drawing on queer ecocriticism, the article shows that by framing the fight against climate change and for queered and racialized people as twin prongs of a demonic assault on (white, settler, cisheteropatriarchal, American) normativity and futurity, spiritual warfare texts unsettle dehumanizing associations between queer and racialized others and the unnatural by equating their survival with the planet’s own. In the process, the spiritual warfare texts examined are revealed to rest on an ecological ultimatum: that nature will be normative, or it will not be at all.
The Demon-Haunted Natural
Although the concept of spiritual warfare is far from new in Christianity, modern Protestant paradigms in the United States emerge chiefly from the Pentecostal revivals of the early twentieth century as one part of a wider concept of spiritual gifts (charismata) that includes healing, prophecy, and glossolalia. Critically, however, spiritual warfare has traveled beyond these roots and now exists as one part of a broader mélange of beliefs and practices found in the theological assemblages of contemporary evangelicalism. While it may initially appear fringe, especially within mainline churches, spiritual warfare has proliferated widely in conservative Christian subcultures, Protestant and Catholic, where it forged alliances with the Trump presidency and helped galvanize wider reactionary sociopolitical movements.8 Briefly summarized, spiritual warfare conceptualizes reality as divided on opposing lines—good/evil, light/darkness, God/Devil. The conflict between these forces forms the spiritual base of reality from which all phenomenal events arise, from individual or familial tensions to social problems to national renewal and decline. For conservative Christians, spiritual warfare overlaps with wider declension narratives that prophesy catastrophe for a nation unless changes are made to what they view as its moral fabric, typically through a political, legal, and moral reinforcement of the cisheteropatriarchal family and a return to traditional (white, Christian) norms.9 Spiritual warfare differs from wider declension narratives in that it posits active malevolent spiritual entities (demons) as driving such decline by reinforcing individual actions and systemic structures.10 One aim of spiritual warfare manuals is to promote awareness in readers of these entities and instruct them on how to act accordingly, combatting the influence of demonic forces in their lives and environs.
Spiritual warfare texts run the gamut from self-help manuals that instruct believers on how to battle the demons influencing their personal lives to conspiracist treatises that ostensibly illuminate the operations of demonic forces in national and global politics. The texts discussed here are drawn from a wider survey of three hundred manuals published in the period 2001–20. Comprising texts from larger charismatic evangelical publishing houses such as Zondervan, Chosen Books (Baker), Charisma House, and Destiny Image as well as self-published works and those from more fringe publishers,11 this study outlines the features of twenty-first-century US spiritual warfare discourse, excavating its relationship to broader sociocultural and political projects of American exceptionalism, ethnonationalism, and empire management.12
A core feature of spiritual warfare since the mid-1980s has been the concept of “territorial spirits.” Popularized in the nonfiction works of evangelists such as C. Peter Wagner, George Otis, Cindy Jacobs, and Rebecca Greenwood, and novels like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, the concept posits that spiritual forces—divine and demonic—control and condition specific regions of space, ranging from individual houses to neighborhoods, cities, nations, and even continents.13 The material world, often simply termed “the natural,” is conceptually built atop and influenced by the spiritual world, following the pattern of superstructure and base.14 As such, the alignment of the spirit that rules a specific territory will then influence the ideological systems, institutional structures, and individual lifeworlds of people within the orbit of their rule, creating a bond between people and territory that can be proper (divine) or improper (demonic). Reality in spiritual warfare might here be thought of as transcorporeal, to use Stacy Alaimo’s term, in which “the human is always intermeshed with the more-than-human world,” their substance “ultimately inseparable from ‘the environment.’”15 Yet while Alaimo uses the term to open a narrow anthropocentrism to the queer realities that abound in the more-than-human world, in spiritual warfare this transcorporeality is a cause for moral and social anxiety: a fear that the demonic might infiltrate or invade spaces not even “without consent”—à la Alaimo’s “space of intrusion”—but through an explicit or tacit agreement marked by the presence and intensity of sin. Sin acts as a gateway for demonic influence, disordering the proper structuring of flesh and world. Acknowledgment of transcorporeality here provokes a drive for a policing of territorial borders (bodily, geographic) tied to a recommitment to moral and sexual purity and a reclamation of demonized space.16
The goal of spiritual warriors is primarily to discern the where and why of demonic bonds, overthrow demonic inhabitants, and return the space to God’s rule through a combination of ritual actions (primarily militant prayer) and political activism. In the United States, the normativizing elements of this reclamation, specifically their cultivation of white, cisheteropatriarchal models of social ordering typical of US Christian nationalism, has been noted, as has their relation to structures of settler coloniality, neoliberal capitalism, and US exceptionalism.17 However, how these paradigms of spiritual territoriality and cultivation work ecologically, feeding (on) broader notions of social, political, and environmental ecology, has not yet been sufficiently explored.18
The combination of spiritual warfare, environmental imagery, and the wider conservative politics of declension was made apparent in January 2020, when in a speech exhorting Christians to pray against the first impeachment of President Donald Trump, presidential spiritual adviser Paula White declared that she and other “spirit-filled” Christians would combat a demonic realm cast in distinctly environmental and animalistic terms. “We come against the marine kingdom,” she prayed, “we come against the animal kingdom, . . . we break their power in the name of Jesus and we declare that any strange winds—any strange winds that have been sent to hurt the church, sent against this nation, sent against our president, . . . we break it by the superior blood of Jesus right now.”19 White here joins the language of spiritual warfare to both the neoliberal authoritarian political project of the Trump presidency and wider images of animality and the environment. Christian nationalism formed a central pillar of Trump’s base, and among charismatic supporters the language of “spiritual warfare” buttressed this pillar via its literal demonization of opponents.20 Accompanying its fostering of white racial animus and xenophobic fervor, the Trump presidency was marked by intense environmental deregulation. Within a context of widespread conservative (evangelical) skepticism over anthropogenic climate change and escalating environmental crises and catastrophes,21 it is perhaps natural that “animal” and “marine” environs would become positioned as sites of demonological threat—source of “strange winds” come to blow down the house of order.
Issues of environment and climate change have only recently appeared in spiritual warfare texts, mainly within a subset of those published since 2010, primarily since 2015. This set includes fringe authors (e.g., Zilinsky) as well as “mainstream” writers (e.g., LeClaire, Eckhardt, Vallotton) supported by international speaking circuits, established publishers, or formal network affiliations. By analyzing these texts, this article traces lines of affinity, tension, and continuity in how ecological themes are being increasingly mobilized within contemporary spiritual warfare literature. The texts discussed were selected due to their usage of environmental and ecological themes, images, and tropes, rather than the current influence of the texts’ authors, with an eye toward possible future directions in the literature.
The conceptual prominence within spiritual warfare cosmologies of the reclamation of demonized space points to the centrality of notions of dominion. Dominion—derived from Genesis 1:26–28’s narrative that God gave Adam dominion over the earth—has been central to arguments that Western Christianity has had a profound influence on the environmental crisis. One such claim, articulated in Lynn White’s 1967 “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis,” was that through the introduction of a division between humanity and nature and the injunction to hold dominion, Christianity opened a door through which humanity was encouraged to both see itself as separate from nature and to exploit it for its own ends. White did not posit such exploitation as a given, and his core thesis was and remains controversial. However, it is useful here as a lens into the way dominion operates in the texts discussed. Although groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network have championed ideas of stewardship, positioning caring for the planet as an act of faith,22 several evangelical climate skeptic groups and authors seem committed to bearing out White’s more negative assessments. The prominence of conservative understandings of dominion in evangelical climate skepticism is by now well documented.23 I wish to focus on two elements: how dominion works to reinforce hierarchies not only between humanity and nature but also within humanity, and how it relates to spiritual warfare’s territorial demonologies and ecosystems.
A primary example of this can be found in James Wanliss’s 2010 Resisting the Green Dragon, published by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and endorsed by Focus on the Family. Founded by E. Calvin Beisner, himself financially supported by ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, and other extractive industries, the Cornwall Alliance has spearheaded climate change denial in contemporary US evangelicalism by producing media that reinforce existing skepticism around climate science while framing environmentalism as the opposition in a spiritual war.24
While Green Dragon does not focus on militant prayer or demonological taxonomies, it is explicit about the reality of angels and demons, their interactions with humanity, and the diabolical origins of modern environmentalism.25 Its framing of environmentalism as demonic is literal, with potential for a more symbolic reading. The text thus sits between non-spiritual warfare, evangelical ecocritical views, and more overt and typical spiritual warfare texts. One rationale often presented by evangelicals opposing anthropogenic notions of climate change is that this paradigm “erases God and den[ies] his sovereignty”26—that is, as an act of blasphemy emerging from a framing of climate science as part of a worldview in which humanity is accorded undue influence over the planetary future. Green Dragon is exemplary of this approach, framing the struggle against environmentalism as part of a cosmic war against the titular figure, who is variously the Devil, the Earth personified as Gaia, and environmentalism in toto. For Wanliss, the dragon seeks to place humanity both on an equal level to other animals—effacing human specialness—and above God by centering the human capacity to shape the world and its future. In both cases, the issue is that such (de)centering disrupts cosmic order. “God rules with absolute power,” he writes, and “His dominion serves as the supreme reference” for establishing “human dominion over nature.”27 “Nature” here is sustained by dominion, defined by the presence of Christianity (“the only power that can restore nature”) and also of capitalistic private property, in which the Earth’s capacity to flourish is framed as rooted in the private ownership of space as mirroring in microcosm God’s sovereign ownership of creation.
Another text, which takes the positions of Green Dragon in overtly conspiratorial and overtly spiritual warfare directions, Sheila Zilinsky’s 2015 Green Gospel, also proclaims private property as central to dominion, proceeding to frame climate change as a hoax perpetrated by an “evil Marxist cabal” to destroy the nation state—the United States most of all.28 Zilinsky is more fringe than Wanliss. Host of a nationally syndicated radio show since 2010, she claims to have held positions as a sustainability manager and environmental adviser in Canadian regional government. Like Wanliss, Zilinsky frames climate science as a spiritual movement aimed at “replacing God with Gaia” and an attack on divine sovereignty: “The climate has been changing since God created it” and “Man is trying to play God by changing this scenario.”29 Unlike Wanliss, Zilinsky is explicit about spiritual warfare’s role, placing the onus for restoring society on “Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christians” and identifying “Gaia” as one among several “deceiving spirit[s].”30 Despite her Canadian background, she is also more overt in equating divine sovereignty with that of the United States of America: UN sustainability goals are designed to “make Americans pay for the evisceration of their sovereignty and future prosperity,” while environmentalism is engineering “the destruction of America’s founding principles” (here, the synonymity of property, liberty, and security) through “willful rejection of the Bible” and its authority.31
Green Gospel makes clear the centrality of (white) American Christianity; Green Dragon is similar, noting that the “environmental ecopalypse” is blamed on “Americans in particular.”32 Wanliss also makes clear the “Christianity” key to nature’s restoration is not any Christianity but a specific one. Railing against ecotheologians (whom he calls “sentient slugs”) and Christians who emphasize Creation Care as under the sway of “paganism,” he builds a paradigm in which nature is a mere backdrop to the cosmic drama of Christian salvation—and of a particular type of Christian.33 The subjugation of nature works as part of a salvation history whose fulfilment is dependent upon the exercise of dominion. Nonhuman animals—or “brute creatures” in his terms—“are all instruments” in God’s plan, little more than “stage props” in salvation history, and thus “are without intrinsic value in themselves. When they are valuable, their value is expressed by their utility in effecting the grand plan of man’s redemption.”34 The Earth and all on it exist in a state of fallenness. Zilinsky deploys more directly eschatological terms, turning to ideas of Earth as “cursed” after the fall: “God is not waiting for us to solve the problem of global warming and climate change,” she writes. “We are waiting for Him to solve the problem of the global curse with His return.”35 To attempt to care for the Earth in its current state, “to cultivate, not conquer” it, is nothing more than a diabolic plan to get “men and women bowing down to ‘things,’ to idols.”36
Such valuation extends beyond nonhumans, however. Wanliss’s use of “man” is not simply stylistic. Dominion is here gender oriented as well as species oriented. Human dominion over nature is to be mirrored by the husband’s dominion over his wife, whose rightful rule is settled by “not what he does, but what he is.”37 In keeping with the concept’s historic ties to US settler colonialism, this dominion is also racialized and colonial.38 Wanliss frames Christianization and (as) Westernization as a process of civilizational, economic, and moral uplift, exhorting “Western civilization” for uniquely demonstrating “the power of man as a creator.”39 Although making token gestures toward the evils of colonialism, Wanliss is clear that conversion qua dominion justifies the means, since “all men without Christ are monsters whether dandified in Western clothing or naked and howling at the moon.”40 His distaste for—and ignorance of—Indigenous people is here palpable, explicitly animalizing them, while “dandified” echoes homophobia present elsewhere in the text. In sum, Wanliss constructs a specific type of human as holding dominion as God’s image: not even just Christians—those he disagrees with are animalized—but those who reflect the white, settler, cisheteropatriarchal, procapitalist, anti-environmentalist Christianity of white conservative evangelicals in the US today. The whiteness of his worldview is especially clear when he laments population growth in Europe and America being mainly due to immigration, echoing broader white supremacist narratives of cultural degeneracy and demographic replacement: “the native-born population [is] failing to breed presumably because they are too busy maximizing their pleasure; they are saving the planet for other people’s children.”41
By positioning a distinctly white conservative evangelicalism as the spiritual end to which civilization should progress, Wanliss sheds light on the role of temporality both to his articulation of climate denial and to paradigms of dominion and demonology broadly. Among the key reasons he gives for stripping animals and the Earth (contra “man”) of intrinsic value is their transience: “Yet the Earth, unlike man, will not continue forever,” he writes. “Flames of fire are its destination. The beast rages and refuses this fate, but it is futile to rage against God. No one, no man, creature, or idea, can stand forever in opposition to the will of God. . . . Unconditional surrender to the King of kings is the only reasonable choice. The Green Dragon will die.”42 Only eternal things have intrinsic value, and the only eternal thing is God—and, by proxy, white, settler, cisheteronormative American Christianity. Attempts to give value to or even to sustain transient phenomena, whether lifeways framed as antithetical to Christianity or the Earth itself, are equated with Satanic rebellion and thus fated only for the hellfire of perdition.
The exercise of dominion exists to foreclose on the futurity of a demon-haunted natural and those subjectivities aligned with it—a foreclosure that replicates the spatial and temporal logics of exorcism. Exploring symmetries between Pentecostal exorcism and its early modern precursors, Armando Maggi shows how the exorcist’s power over demons was rooted in Adam’s God-given dominion over the Earth, symbolized in his ability to name and (therefore) command it. Exorcism therefore entailed not only a reclamation of possessed space (bodies, territory) but a restoration of prelapsarian time. Demons “signified the present time dominated by decadence and pain, whereas an exorcist evoked the order of the past.”43 Dominion here works to reshape the environment in response to an originary claim of ownership that serves as both restoration of a prelapsarian past and foundation of a postapocalyptic future: a cultivation of a social, political, and environmental ecology inextricably imbricated within existing racializing, colonial, religious, and gender/sexual hierarchies. Casting alternative ways of being as diabolical, transient, and destined for destruction, Wanliss delivers an ecological ultimatum: that nature will be normative, or it will not be at all.
This formulation of dominion, and the temporal and territorial order it seeks to enshrine, is core to modeling the broader ways in which notions of climate change saturate contemporary spiritual warfare. Since its spread into wider evangelical subcultures during the 1980s, American spiritual warfare has often drawn on geopolitical and ideological realities in shaping its understandings of the demonic. At the height of the Cold War, the paradigm framed the planet as divided into two spiritual superpowers waging war over territory and reshaping that territory in line with specific ideological and political programs. Mobilized in wider frameworks of American exceptionalism and US missionary networks, spiritual warriors implicitly and explicitly aligned America with the divine and the nation’s enemies with the demonic.44 This alignment persisted into the US-led War on Terror, but the understanding of spiritual realities shifted: alongside competition over territorial qua ideological control, demons became refigured as terrorist networks, regional cells waging asymmetric but global war against the totality of divine power and rule.45 As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that as the existential threat of climate change looms larger in the American political imaginary, climatological and environmental language is being increasingly used in spiritual warfare manuals to refigure models of spiritual/territorial combat and control—despite either overt rejection of or silence on its anthropogenic realities.
Much as spiritual warriors might refer to demonic influence manifesting or being reflected in the natural, environmental imagery can be used as a barometer of diabolic control, which becomes framed through atmospheric, environmental, or weather-related terms. For Jennifer LeClaire, senior editor at prominent charismatic evangelical Charisma magazine from 2009 to 2017 and author of over thirty spiritual warfare texts, high-ranking demons settle “over our cities like a dark rain cloud,” and their collective force forms a “metallic-seeming atmosphere” that arises from the wider “spiritual climate” of a region.46 Elsewhere, founder of International Bethel Sozo Ministry Dawna DeSilva relates the development of an “area’s specific spiritual realities” to “what has been seeded into the environment” and relates the influx of the demonic to people “failing to steward their spiritual environments.”47 Terms like environment and climate here come to refer chiefly to spiritual rather than material realities. LeClaire makes this clear in a later work during the text’s sole reference to climate change: “Scientists will tell you that the earth’s seasons have shifted in recent years—and they point to climate change as the foundation for the shift,” she writes, before immediately turning to demonic cultivation of a “climate of fear” over the believer’s life and the need to create a countervailing influence, but noting that these “may take years” until the believer hits a “tipping point” that has them turn “hot or cold.” She ultimately exhorts her readers that “if you want to shift from overwhelming warfare to overwhelming victory, you need to create a climate that sets the stage for God to move in your life.”48 LeClaire here draws on terminology from climate change discourse, yet she is not interested in addressing climate change itself but in appropriating its language to refigure the conceptual landscape of spiritual warfare. She renders “climate change” metaphysical, not material, with the goal of tackling it being to bring one’s self and environment into alignment with the divine through overthrowing the demonic.
LeClaire and DeSilva are not alone in their spiritualization of climate and environment. One influential author in this area is Kris Vallotton, a prominent international speaker on spiritual warfare and author of the best-selling Supernatural Ways of Royalty manual. In his 2010 text Heavy Rain, Vallotton frames spiritual control on the model of “ecosystems”—regulated, nested systems that operate on intimate, societal, and planetary levels in which “what we cultivate dominates” and “good only triumphs over evil if good has a more dominant ecosystem.”49 As with LeClaire, these are not natural ecosystems—which Vallotton decries as merely inactive or reactive—but rather conflicting and cultivated forms of social imaginary that maintain an anthropocentric framing. The chapter titled “Ecosystems,” for example, opens with an epigraph by Dennis Prager, a conservative talk radio host who promotes content by climate skeptics such as Alex Epstein and Patrick Moore. The epigraph sets the tone for what follows, warning about the dangers of returning to a “pagan worldview” where “trees and animals are venerated, while man is simply one more animal in the ecosystem.”50 Indeed, while Heavy Rain raises “the intense heat” of global warming as one of the “great questions of our time”—itself an equivocating framework—it does not address the topic again outside of a hyperbolic reference to Vallotton’s own scorched lawn.51 This is compounded by the recurrent use in the text of the “thermostat” as image for the active individual, encouraging readers to become “thermostats” in working to “create culture” and “change the climate of our city” rather than “thermometers” who are “influenced by the culture around them” and so feel “like powerless victims of their environment.”52 As with LeClaire, Vallotton uses the language of environmentalist embattlement and mobilizes it for the aim of reshaping society and individuals. It is here that the seemingly milder mobilizations of climatological imagery by figures like LeClaire, Vallotton, and DeSilva intersect with the more extreme articulations of dominion forwarded by Wanliss and Zilinsky.
Vallotton’s reframing critically does not accompany total rejection of macrolevel concerns in favor of the individual. It redirects these toward socially normativizing ends. He explicitly situates “the ecosystem in my bedroom”—governed by a literal thermostat—as “working inside of a larger ecosystem called Mother Nature.”53 Yet the epigraphic framing of ecosystems as part of a struggle against a “pagan worldview” that decenters “man” implicitly situate Vallotton’s ecosystems within a wider evangelical narrative of war with secular culture, or “the world.”54 This narrative is one Robin Veldman has pinpointed as critical to the landscape of evangelical climate skepticism, using ideas of embattlement to separate planetary concerns from a more immediate practical environmentalism and privileging care for one’s immediate environment, which trumps macroscale ecological concerns.55 The latter is situated squarely as a matter of divine oversight in which human meddling, including through climate science, is tantamount to sin.
As Susannah Crockford argues, this framing of the environment is at once instrumental and deeply normativizing: “Nature, like a well-ordered home, must be managed”; its value “blooms from its utility to them, for hunting, for fishing, for domesticating problematic wilderness and creating order that primarily benefits humans,” enforcing “the proper order of human bodies.”56 Vallotton’s “thermostat” exists within this context, as part of a wider struggle to domesticate and normativize the world through dominion, and cultivation exists as a path to domination. Artificial management becomes part of a more general right-ordering of creation in line with his visions of divine sovereign will and the dominion it enshrines: like human sexuality and the domestic sphere, the environment must be managed, cultivated, dominated.
Faced with the (in)evitability of apocalyptic foreclosure, demons arise as transcorporeal agents that saturate environments and subjectivities that must not (be allowed to) exist. As architects and avatars of the fallen world, they upset the prelapsarian order of dominion and the hierarchies it attempts to naturalize and (re)instate. As residents and reflections of a decadent present, they contest the (post)apocalyptic teleology that enshrines only one possible end to that world, denying both utopic and dystopic alternatives. This has consequences for examining spiritual warfare’s use of ecological and environmental paradigms, particularly in its (disavowed) climatological contexts.
Figures of diabolic disruption in such texts adopt several interlocking forms, two of which the rest of this article unpacks: the demonic animal (the “animal kingdom”) and the demonic ocean (the “marine kingdom”). In both, demons emerge as unsettling a cosmic order framed in Western supremacist and Christian nationalist terms, symbolic of a world that refuses only to be ruled and used for the ends of “man.” They upset the “proper order of bodies,” human and nonhuman alike, becoming markers of damned ecologies—deviant ecologies of those (human and nonhuman) marked as destined for damnation, but that might also be reread (against themselves) as ecologies of resilience, duration, and survival in the face of normativizing violence.
Demonic oceans and demonic animals are linked to the becomings-otherwise of deviant (racialized, queer) subjectivities and (through them) the disavowed possibility of planetary survival. In this view, they become a ground that reflects Ladelle McWhorter’s queer, green transvaluation of “deviance” as the font of the generative power of evolution itself, a source of biological and political transformation that contains both utopian and dystopian potentialities.57 Recent work in political theology has begun revaluating how the demonic serves as a receptacle for disavowed and dangerous possibilities, one that may be tapped as a generative source for thinking systems of racial and queer oppression, and resistance to them.58 The demon’s rejection of apocalyptic teleologies is core to this revaluation. As I will suggest, by casting demons as the inhabitants of a persistent present, the concepts of the demonic analyzed here emerge as unexpected models for “staying with the trouble”—in Donna Haraway’s phrasing. Such demons may thus assist us in “learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or Edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.”59
If the order of dominion is rooted in Adam’s dominion, figured partially by his naming of the animals in Eden, it is perhaps unsurprising that animals are one place we see dominion start to fracture. Animals are a persistent presence in spiritual warfare demonology, serving as vessels, metaphors, and conduits for demonic spirits. John Eckhardt, a popular international spiritual warfare speaker and author of over twenty manuals whose Prayers That Rout Demons sits at the #13 spot on Amazon for Christian prayer books, typifies this framing. For Eckhardt, the “animal kingdom, when studied with discernment, can give great insight into the demonic realm.”60 As he explains in a passage worth quoting at length from his 2014 Deliverance and Spiritual Warfare Manual:
The diversity in the animal kingdom is a picture of the diversity in the kingdom of darkness. The Bible talks about serpents, scorpions, lions, jackals, bulls, foxes, owls, sea serpents, flies, and dogs. These represent different kinds of evil spirits that operate to destroy mankind. They are invisible to the natural eye, but they are just as real as natural creatures. The idols that men worship are made in the image of men, four-footed beasts, birds, and creeping things. Behind these idols are demons.61
As the link to idolatry illustrates, the demonic animal is seen as upsetting the hierarchical logics of dominion by reversing the “proper” relation between created and creator. Rather than being content to exist as “stage props”—apropos Wanliss—in “man’s” salvation history, the demonic animal qua idol elevates the transient created world above a humanity figured as made in God’s image. It situates sovereignty not in transcendent rule over the environment but as immanent in it, represented by “four-footed beasts, birds, and creeping things” and the works of mortal hands.
Eckhardt’s passage implies that not every animal is equally demonic, equally idolatrous. The lion can be demonic, but the male lion might represent “Christ and believers”—particularly in opposition to the “disgusting” hyena that shirks both cisheteronormative anatomy and patriarchal sociality.62 Gender and sexuality are core to this demono-zoology.63 Eckhardt chastises the mother ostrich’s “cruel” abandonment of her eggs—a claim derived from Job 39:12–17—as “applicable to abortion. The ostrich does not protect her eggs but abandons them.”64 Later, he proclaims not only that “inordinate affection for animals and pets” is rooted in demonic influence but that this leads people to involvement in movements of “false companions and false responsibility” like “animal rights, environmental rights, homosexual rights, and the like.”65 Rather than being ruled over and used by “man” the demonic animal redirects human attention and affection to projects framed as antithetical to the “proper order” of Christianity. It becomes a vector for disrupting social, political, and environmental ecologies rooted in violent patriarchal and anthropocentric world-ordering, upsetting the “natural” subordinate place and utilitarian value of the animal and charting intimate links between projects of queer, reproductive, and environmental justice.
This image of demonic animal as seeking to lure humanity away from specific paradigms of nature and/as normativity exists widely in spiritual warfare texts, overlapping with wider notions of deception and temptation. In her 2018 Spiritual Warrior’s Guide to Defeating Water Spirits, LeClaire processes demonic deception through several animal figures: snakes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, even dragons and mermaids. Her most developed analogy, however, uses cephalopods: their chromatophores and/or iridophores and blackening ink being compared to the predatory and presence-masking powers of the demon.66 Other authors use other animals. In The Truth about Spiritual Warfare, for example, C. Mark Corts builds an extended analogy around the araneophagic Portia fimbriata spider, whose irregular shape allows it to stalk and kill its fellow spiders by appearing as a piece of debris. For Corts, P. fimbriata emerges as both lesson and lacuna: “a spider that exists on the basis of deception. I don’t pretend to know how to sort that out at the level of the animal kingdom, but I do know this: the enemy of God operates in this world on the basis of deception.” Such deception is “a deadly [tool] when overlooked by the Christian,” leading to a “spiritual blindness” in which the believer can no longer discern good from evil. After all, “Isn’t that why so many innocent spiders get eaten by the Portia spider—because they think everything is normal?”67 And Corts later makes explicit the state of affairs he fears becoming “normal”: “When churches sanction homosexuality, abortion, the dissolution of marriages for trivial reasons, and other cultural practices, they are demonstrating their spiritual blindness.”68 The predatory demon-animal echoes and spiritualizes homophobic tropes of predatory gay men and lesbians and of queers as threats to the social fabric, as the predations of perdition manifest in the disruption of the “proper order of bodies” at individual, societal, and cosmic levels.
Yet as a representative of a demonic animality entwined with the “spiritual blindness” of progressive politics, Corts’s usage of P. fimbriata is perhaps unintentionally revealing. Corts doesn’t “pretend to know how to sort that out at the level of the animal kingdom.” Its nature, founded on a “basis of deception,” doesn’t fit within Corts’s model of nature. Accordingly, he reads it as a sign of the demonic. Similar incomprehension is seen in Eckhardt’s disgust at the hyena and projection onto the ostrich, but also can be read into spiritual warriors’ approach to queerness. As queer ecological writing demonstrates, sexual/gender variance exceeding cisheteronormative Western paradigms in human and more-than-human worlds is the planetary norm.69 Yet like Corts’s P. fimbriata, spiritual warfare authors cannot situate queerness in their model of nature. Accordingly, they read it as a sign of the demonic. Both queerness and (in) the natural become reflections of a transient, “cursed” world, tainted by a demonic transcorporeality that must be guarded against. Read thusly, against themselves, spiritual warfare texts can be viewed as gesturing to the refusal at the heart of queer ecology: the refusal, Nicole Seymour writes, “to collapse ‘nature’ qua the threatened natural world into ‘nature’ qua the threats of heteronormativity and homophobia” and to consider “that queerness might be progressively articulated through ‘the natural’ more broadly, or the non-human world more specifically.”70
In conjurations of demonic animality, these two orders of “nature”—of threatened natural world and of heteronormativity—are at odds. Queerness’s alignment with and articulation through the natural threatens the “proper order” of bodies and society, driving involvement in movements for LGBT+ rights and environmental sustainability. Indeed, Eckhardt echoes this alignment when, lamenting the influence of a demonic spirit of “perversion,” he exhorts God’s singular capacity to reconstitute a (sexually) deviant and deviating material world: “In the natural that which is crooked cannot be made straight,” he writes. “However, by the power of God it can.”71 A fantasy of divine intervention buttresses a model of environmental stewardship as conversion therapy, an apocalyptic demand for normativization that encompasses human and more-than-human worlds, “deviant” subjectivities and environments alike. And, articulated in a moment of (disavowed) climatological catastrophe, this demand extends to marine environments perhaps most of all.
Against the Tide
As Astrida Neimanis has explored, for humans “the flow and flush of waters sustains our bodies . . . connect them to other bodies, to other worlds beyond our human selves . . . bodies of water undo the idea that bodies are necessarily or only human.”72 Epitomizing transcorporeality and the threatening impacts of climate change alike—from rising sea levels caused by melting ice to the deaths of oceanic life resulting from rising temperatures to increases in environmental catastrophes like hurricanes—water, and oceans especially, has increasingly become framed in spiritual warfare as a site of intensifying demonic activity and power.
The positioning of the ocean as a site of demonic power is not new. Associations between the ocean and primordial chaos, figured in draconic or serpentine form, which must be defeated to create or restore order, is a hallmark of ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies. It finds Biblical form in the primordial deep (tehom) of Genesis 1 over which God exerts sovereign power as creator, as well as in figures of disruption like Leviathan, Rahab, or Satan as Edenic serpent and Red Dragon. This history is iterated upon in spiritual warfare today, modified for new demonological paradigms. Eckhardt, for example, ties the Genesis creation story to God’s triumph over rebellious “marine spirits.”73 but also situates the ocean as a site of their contemporary power, yet to be overcome: “The sea was created to praise the Lord, not to be ruled by demons,” he writes.74 Framed through spiritual warfare, this deviation from predestined purpose marks the ocean as a site of demonic threat and a territory to be reclaimed, reshaped.75
Authors like Eckhardt echo the appropriations of environmentalist language discussed above, positioning a (spiritually) rising ocean as threat to the futurity of the spiritual warriors, and conservative evangelicalism broadly, even as they deny climate change’s existential threat. Perhaps the fullest expression of this paradigm comes in LeClaire’s Water Spirits.76 Mimicking discussions about the lack of public awareness and action on anthropogenic climate change, LeClaire frames water—specifically oceans—as a neglected arena of spiritual warfare, where demons have proliferated through human ignorance, “polluting the waters” and requiring purification. Such purification is critical, she claims, because marine demons possess an outsized influence on parts of the world today, specifically, “great cities of the world surrounded by water or home to large bodies of water,” which, due to their proximity to “rivers, seas, bays, channels, wetlands, and swamps,” are deeply enthralled to such spirits.77
Although LeClaire gestures to international cities here, her focus is resolutely American. She describes the spiritual hold of the demonic spirit of Python in Florida as having “manifested with an overrun of natural pythons in the Everglades,” tying the spirit to a proliferation of “witchcraft and false religions” that she has elsewhere tied closely to the presence of LGBT+ citizens and Black Atlantic religions like Vodou, Rastafari, and Santeria in the state.78 Later, she hypothesizes that a surge in the population of Humboldt squid off the California coast is a reflection of rising activity by “squid spirits” trying to “brainwash” the population—particularly through the “predictive programming” of media entertainment such as Hollywood and education that teaches the legitimacy of “sexual perversion”—conservative code for homosexuality.79
LeClaire’s association of demons with both water pollutants and queer subjectivities calls to mind longstanding moral panics around chemicals in the environment as causative of “deviant” modes of gender and sexuality—of “perverting pollution,” to adapt a phrase from Malin Ah-King and Eva Hayward.80 Meanwhile her alignment of invasive serpentine species with “witchcraft and false religions,” elsewhere explicitly Black and diasporic in nature, conjures discourses of racial and cultural degeneracy. Such discourses, McWhorter contends, held that queer, dark-skinned, and/or disabled people would “contaminate the bodies and bloodlines of the evolutionary avant-garde,” casting them as “biological enemies of the species, pollutants and pathogens whose very presence posed a physical and possibly mortal threat not only to individuals but to the species as a whole.”81 Framed by narratives of demonology and declension, queer and racialized others are rendered threats to a Christian body politic and the salvation of both individuals and an American nation figured as metonym for humanity—threats that must be excised, exorcized. LeClaire’s focus on education and entertainment here is relevant. It not only is an attack on coded-liberal bastions in US life but draws on the Dominionist idea of the “seven mountains,” which divides society into seven spheres or “mountains” (religion, family, education, government, media, arts, and business) that believers are encouraged to seize control of to effect social change.82 Education and entertainment are not only strongholds of antichristian cephalopodic spirits responsible for deviations in national character but targets for conquest, to be razed and raised in accordance with “proper order.”
Even more than Eckhardt and Corts, LeClaire casts the relation between environmental and cultural deviation in markedly literal terms. Invasive species and population explosions mirror a proliferation of deviant lifeworlds not (simply) through a relation of metaphor but as conjoined materializations of a diabolic transcorporeality that must be circumscribed, constrained, contained. Her narrative of cephalopod spirits is especially revealing here. Unlike the pythons, her associations between Humboldt squid and queerness in California does not rely upon a narrative of invasion. While she frames their increase as a reflection of demonic presence, the squid were already there, already part of nature, merely adapting to shifting climatological circumstance, the queerness they are called on to signify merely a manifestation of that nature, blossoming with tentacular excess.
If the demon is a pollutant in nature, the nature it pollutes is not—to recall Seymour—the “threatened natural world” but rather nature as (threat of) heteronormativity and homophobia; its “pollution”—magnified by the fluidity and porosity of marine kingdoms—is a reminder of the transcorporeality spiritual warfare stives fervently to police. There is a “threatened natural world” here, yet like queer subjectivities it is threatened not by the demon but by the demonologist, as queerness’s threat to LeClaire’s heteronormativity mirrors that of changing environments to her disavowal of climate change itself. The material realities of both spell disaster for her normative conception of nature and the modes of embodiment and eschatology it enshrines. Queer and planetary survivals here intertwine, embodying the generative potential of a deviance biological and political—one manifested in demonized desire to refuse a foreclosure of Earth’s futures wherever they might lead—and of the terrifying transcorporeality of a world that “remain[s] ever open to deviation.”83
In this article, I have explored how demonology operates in ecological and environmental terms in contemporary American spiritual warfare. I have shown how demonology works as a rubric for the conceptualization and policing of transcorporeality, functioning discursively to both reinforce and destabilize models of social, political, and environmental ecology. The texts position the demonic as a looming ecological threat, manifesting in disruptions in the “natural world” that require an urgent response. Such a response is entwined with regimes of violent, often apocalyptic, normativization grounded in ideas of dominion. Articulated, implicitly and explicitly, through a Christian nationalist framework, dominion operates to circumscribe the possibilities latent in the transcorporeal realities of the present, coercing human and more-than-human worlds into rigid hierarchies that seek to naturalize and eternalize a white, settler, and cisheteropatriarchal order. In the process, the spiritual warfare ecologies explored are revealed to rest on a singular ultimatum: dominion or perdition; normativity or death.
The damned ecologies evoked in conservative spiritual warfare texts are not the only ones available. Spiritual warfare articulates the fundamental illegitimacy of the sociopolitical order. Its structural ideas of demonic power and territoriality might in this sense readily be turned to a more sustained (and sustainable) critique of the forces that enforce racial, gendered, and environmental inequalities. There are ways this might be developed: some texts already envision demons on the model of the corporation and tyrannical corporate hierarchy.84 Yet these are roads thus far untaken. The texts discussed enforce hegemonic normativities that forecast only death (spiritual, physical) for deviant flesh and worlds, and faced with this threat another possible path opens: to embrace our demons and their refusal of spiritual warfare’s ecological ultimatum. In recent years analyses of religious demonology and sociopolitical demonization have increasingly noted the potential for those demonized along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality to reclaim the archives of Christian demonology as analytics for their sociocultural demonization and tools for political liberation.85 This commitment to—in the words of Jared Sexton—“work with and through the devil one knows” is both nascent and controversial.86 Yet it presents a potential opening toward rereading damned ecologies in new ways and toward new ends.
Like the “perturbation” Thacker discerned in Inferno, spiritual warfare’s demons shatter the framework that tries to manage and mediate the separation between animate and inanimate, human and animal, environment and subjectivity. Yet unlike Inferno, the demons are not confined to Hell. Their geological, climatological, zoological, and anthropological impact is this-worldly, fracturing normative orderings of flesh and world in a teratological transcorporeality. Figured in demonic oceans and demonic animals that refuse to exist only for the utility of “man,” demons come to represent the myriad ecological and environmental possibilities that exceed and trouble spiritual warfare’s attempts to circumscribe the world, whether through the reality of anthropogenic climate change or the existence and persistence of queer and racialized others. In the process, demons perhaps emerge as unexpected allies in the entwined struggle for environmental and social justice. They refuse and rebel against the demand to choose between normativity and perdition, revealing that a commitment to such normativity—to the dominion of whiteness, settler coloniality, cisheteropatriarchy—is itself the path to destruction, personal and planetary, and thereby open paths toward a legion of alternative futures.
I would like to thank Hannah Boast and Robin G. Veldman for guidance and feedback on early drafts of this manuscript, as well as the peer reviewers and editors for their constructive comments.
The authors discussed identify variably as evangelicals, conservative Christians, spirit-filled Christians, or spiritual or prayer warriors. This article uses spiritual warfare/warriors in discussing its subjects, as this matches the milieu in which texts and authors operate. It uses evangelical to situate them within the contemporary American sociocultural context with which they consciously align. At the same time, it is important to clarify that the authors do not represent the totality of either evangelicalism or spiritual warfare practitioners.
This article focuses primarily on works by white conservative evangelicals. As with other millenarian spiritualities (Skrimshire, “Activism”) spiritual warfare can and has been used to challenge ingrained systemic prejudices and inequalities. However, in the US conservative context explored here spiritual warfare primarily works with and through a Christian nationalist paradigm that enforces cultural norms naturalizing existing sexual, gender, racial, and colonial hierarchies (O’Donnell, Passing Orders).
For discussions of one fringe milieu within spiritual warfare, see O’Donnell, “Secularizing Demons.”
For this study, see O’Donnell, Passing Orders.
Griffiths’s “Wonders” is a partial exception. The article explores how Pentecostalism promotes “spiritual solutions” (repentance, exorcism) for the material consequences of climate change (drought, rising sea levels). The article does not address demonology or territoriality in depth, but its observations cleave more generally to spiritual warfare framings of systemic issues, such as the impacts of neoliberal capitalism (McCloud, American Possessions).
For environmentalist evangelicalism, see Simmons, “Evangelical Environmentalism”; and Kearns, “Noah’s Ark.” For the evangelical shift to anti-environmentalism, see Zaleha and Szasz, “Keep Christianity Brown!”
McCammack, “Hot Damned America”; Veldman, Gospel of Climate Skepticism; Zaleha and Szasz, “Why Conservative Christians Don’t Believe.” This sense of “dominion” reflects what Julie Ingersoll has called “soft Reconstructionism” (Building God’s Kingdom, 39). This current inherits many of the political and philosophical tenets of Christian Reconstructionism, including a commitment to bringing certain spheres of life (notably the domestic) into alignment with divine law, but often lacks absolute commitment to this goal and situates these commitments within a wider range of differing apocalyptic beliefs and politics.
For the structure, ties, and influence of the Cornwall Alliance, see Zaleha and Szasz, “Keep Christianity Brown!”; Hempel, MacIlroy, and Smith, “Framing the Environment”; and Ronan “Religion and the Environment.”
Maggi, “Christian Demonology,” 773.
Haraway, Trouble, 1.
There is often an apocalyptic teleology to this reclaiming; see O’Donnell, Passing Orders, 131–37.
Another book, Marine Kingdom by Jacob Sackey, was released the year after LeClaire’s own, similarly framing the “marine kingdom” as an emerging arena of spiritual/territorial conflict. Previously, most books on marine spirits focused outside the United States, such as D. K. Olukoya’s 1999 Power against Marine Spirits, which concentrates on Nigeria.
LeClaire, Spiritual Warrior’s Guide, 107, 101. This usage parallels deployments of cephalopodic imagery in antisemitic and anti-communist conspiracism. These tropes have been deployed more explicitly in texts like Zilinsky’s Green Gospel.
LeClaire, Spiritual Warrior’s Guide, 101. For details on dominion vs. Dominionism, see footnote 32.