Stella Immanuel’s theories about the relationship between demons, illness and sex have a long history

Matfre Ermengaud’s ‘Temptation by Lechery’ from a 14th-century manuscript. The British Library

President Donald Trump has a new favorite doctor

On July 27, the president and his son Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted a viral video featuring Dr. Stella Immanuel, in which the Houston pediatrician rejected the effectiveness of wearing face masks for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and promoted hydroxychloroquine to treat the disease.

Journalists quickly dug into Immanuel’s background and found that she’s also claimed that having sex with demons can cause illnesses like cysts and endometriosis.

These beliefs don’t come out of thin air, and she’s far from the only person who holds them.

As a scholar of biblical and apocryphal literature, I’ve researched and taught how these beliefs have deep roots in early Jewish and Christian stories – one reason they continue to persist today. 

Hints of demons in the Bible

As in many religions, demons in Judaism and Christianity are often evil supernatural beings that torment people.

Although it’s difficult to find a lot of clarity about demons in the Hebrew Bible, many later interpreters have understood demons to be the explanation for the “evil spirit” that haunts King Saul in the first book of Samuel.

Another example appears in the book of Tobit. This work was composed between about 225 and 175 BCE and isn’t included in the Hebrew Bible or accepted by all Christians. But it is considered part of the Bible by religious groups like Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Beta Israel and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Tobit includes a narrative about a young woman named Sarah. Although Sarah doesn’t suffer any physical affliction, Asmodeus, the demon of lust, kills every man betrothed to her because of his desire for her.

The Christian gospels are full of stories linking demons and illness, with Jesus and several of his early followers casting out demons who afflict their victims. In one of the most prominent stories told in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus encounters a man possessed by a group of demons who call themselves “Legion” and sends them into a nearby herd of pigs who stampede off a cliff.

Demon lore spreads far and wide

Demons pervade biblical apocrypha, which are stories about biblical subjects that were never included in the canonical Bible and include various associations between demons, illness and sex. 

The early Christian text “Acts of Thomas” was likely composed in the third century and became hugely popular, as it was eventually translated into Greek, Arabic and Syriac. It tells the story of the apostle Thomas’ travels to India as an early Christian missionary. Along the way, he encounters a number of obstacles, including people who have been possessed by demons.

In the fifth act, a woman comes to him and pleads for help. She tells the apostle how, one day at the baths, she encountered an old man and talked to him out of pity. But when he propositioned her for sex, she refused and left. Later that night, the demon in the guise of an old man attacked her in her sleep and raped her. Although the woman attempted to escape the demon the next day, he continued to find her and rape her every night, tormenting the woman for five years. Thomas then exorcises the demon.

Astaroth rides a winged beast and clutches a snake.
A 19th-century drawing of Astaroth. Louis Breton

Another demon story is found in the “Martyrdom of Bartholomew,” which probably dates back to the sixth century. Bartholomew also travels to India, where he finds that the inhabitants of a city worship an idol named Astaroth who has promised to heal all of their illnesses. But Astaroth is actually a demon who causes afflictions that he then pretends to cure in order to gain more followers. Bartholomew reveals the farce and performs several miracles to prove his own spiritual prowess. After forcing the demon to confess to his deceit, Bartholomew drives him into the wilderness.

Apocrypha like the “Acts of Thomas” and “Acts of Bartholomew” were popular in the medieval period, and even those who couldn’t read or write knew these stories. They also helped fuel the “witch craze” of the 16th and 17th centuries, in which zealous Christian leaders persecuted and killed thousands of people – mainly women – for their beliefs, often concocting claims that they consorted with demons.

Beliefs that persist today

It’s clear that Immanuel has profited from her beliefs in the supernatural, especially in right-wing and religious circles. She has over 9,000 followers on Facebook and over 94,000 on Twitter, with a dedicated platform as a pastor. In fact, she casts herself as a prophet and destroyer of demons.

It isn’t difficult to find other modern Christians who connect demons, sex and health issues. The conservative Christian magazine Charisma published a story claiming that sex with demons causes homosexuality. And researchers recently were able to show that belief in supernatural evilcould predict negative attitudes toward abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, extramarital sex and pornography. 

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Meanwhile, many evangelical Americans believe that Trump is God’s chosen one, who has been tasked with fighting actual demons. Trump’s personal minister, Paula White, is just one conservative figure known to espouse these views.

If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has shown how many on the religious right continue to rely on faith over scienceStudies have already emerged showing how the tension between faith and science has influenced many conservative Christians to resist the use of masks and other public health responses to the pandemic.

With many conservative Christians sharing some of the same views about demons as Immanuel – and conservative Christians forming a core base of support for the president – Trump’s promotion of the doctor’s beliefs makes perfect sense. 

He’s preaching to the choir.

Transgender woman gets new vagina made from fish skin

fish-skin-trans2

A trans woman had a vagina constructed using the skin of a tilapia fish after her genitals began to shrink and close up following botched surgery.

According to surgeons, Maju, 35, has been the chance of a “proper sex life” and a boost of confidence thanks to the sea creature’s skin.

The highly complex procedure, called neovaginoplasty, used a tubular-shaped acrylic mold wrapped with the skin of the freshwater fish in the form of a biological prosthesis to rebuild and extend the vaginal canal in a three-hour operation on April 23.

The process involved inserting two separate molds to create the new vagina. The first device, mounted with the marine membrane, was incorporated inside the vagina over a period of six days.

In contact with the patient’s body, the sterilized and odor free fish skin displays stimulatory cell growth properties. It is rich in type 1 collagen a substance that promotes healing and has a firmness and elasticity which is as strong and resilient as human skin.

The tilapia membrane attached to and recoated the walls of the vaginal canal acting like stem cells. These were absorbed into the body, transforming into cellular tissue similar to that of an actual vagina.

The second device made from silicone and described as a very ‘big tampon’ is designed to remain inside the vagina for up to six months to prevent the walls from closing.

Professor Leonardo Bezerra said to FocusOn News: “We were able create a vagina of physiological length, both in thickness and by enlarging it and the patient has recovered extremely well. She is walking around with ease, has no pain and is urinating normally. In a couple months we believe she will be able to have sexual intercourse.”

The device can be removed after this period as and when desired.

The process is being hailed as yet another breakthrough in gynecological surgery which is tackling sensitive predicaments using the aquatic animal skin, normally thrown away as waste, as a substitute for human regenerative tissue.

Speaking to FocusOn News the transsexual patient revealed she decided to transition 20 years ago, with the support of her family, after realizing in her early teens that she was a woman living in a man’s body.

Maju said: “I was the fourth person in Brazil in 1999 to have, what was then, experimental surgery. But ten years ago I developed vaginal stenosis. The opening of my vagina started to get narrower and shorter and the canal collapsed.”

Three-hour operation

She suffered constant discomfort which prevented sex with her partner of 12 years, from whom she is now divorced.

Since developing the technique three years ago, Bezzera has successfully treated 10 women and corrected the condition that causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent.

According to Bezerra, vaginal tract closure is common in trans women who have undergone a sex change.

He explained: “This is because, in the traditional procedure, most of the inside parts of the penis are removed and the penile skin is folded into the space between the urethra and the rectum. The outside skin of the penis then becomes the inside of the vagina.”

“But because the patient has had hormonal treatment to develop female characteristics, there is penile and testicle atrophy resulting in shrinkage in the size of the penis caused from the loss of tissue. This means the vagina can also be small.”

To complicate matters, before surgery could begin, the medical team discovered that apparent levels of incompetence during the original surgery had left more than one narrow vaginal canal. There were remnants of cavernous bodies, erectile tissue structures, still in the vaginal space.

“The presence of these leftovers of the penis aggravated the closure of the vaginal tract, worsening the symptoms,” said Bezerra.

To reverse this problem, the most common method is to do a skin graft taken from other parts of the body, usually from the intestines, to increase the width and length of the canal. This type of surgery is invasive, long and leaves scars.

Bezerra said: “The great benefit of our technique is that it’s minimally invasive and there’s no need to do abdominal incisions.”

 

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