When spirits are around us or in us, the spirits may be visible to mortals regardless of whether or not the mortals have the gift of discerning of spirits. However, in my experience most spirits are not visible; their presence must be discerned through the gift of discerning of spirits (see Chapter 10). Even when I discern their presence, the spirits usually are not physically visible. Perhaps others have the gift to actually see spirits. I do not. I once considered asking for the gift to see spirits, but then I decided that I would be immensely distracted all the time if I could see the billions of spirits around us on the Earth. Such a constant distraction to my busy life was not desirable.
When spirits do show in a mortal’s countenance, the presence is usually quite subtle and easily overlooked. Forget the dramatic
Hollywood images of demonic possession; such images run against Satan’s key strategy of using subtlety in his efforts against us. Instead, the presence of spirits may appear as a hardness in the mortal’s countenance where the light of Christ no longer shines. Or the presence may be brief, like a flash of rage or hatred. As another example of subtle recognition, I once helped a man who had female unclean spirits with him. Before I began helping the man, I noticed that his face had a distinct feminine quality. After we finished helping the female unclean spirits, I looked at the man’s face and was struck by the fact that the feminine quality was completely gone. This man’s face had returned to its natural appearance once the female spirits were no longer acting upon him.
Every properly constituted person can feel the influence of the various spirits that are in the world and that seek to bring us in subjection to them. To some it is given to see these influences, but all can feel them . . . . You will see a man all at once seized with a spirit of anger; another time you will see a person seized with a spirit of jealousy or some other evil influence infuriated sometimes, so much so that he or she is transformed. You have seen people’s faces completely changed by the spirit that takes possession of them. They cannot see that power; but it is undoubtedly a spiritual entity. We may not be conscious of it, but it takes possession of us if we yield to it.
George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 16.
A person on looking another in the eye, who is possessed of an evil [or unclean] spirit, may feel a shock, a nervous feeling, which will, as it were, make his hair stand on end.
Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology [
: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1891, 5th edition], 121. Salt Lake City
If you could see yourselves, you would find that there is not one of you but what carry a spirit and influence with you—a spirit and influence, whether good or evil, which can be sensibly felt by all who come in contact with you, especially if they have the gift of discernment. Did you ever feel, when you were in the presence of people who possessed a bad spirit, uncomfortable and an unwillingness to associate with such?
George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 329.
So long as evil spirits can obtain possession of living, human beings and influence them according to their wishes, so long has evil a tangible existence upon the earth. If there were no tabernacles for them to operate through—no men and women who would allow them to use their bodies (the great object of their desire, because of their own great lack of earthly attributes)—evil and sin would have no existence upon the earth. . . .
If those who allow such spirits to possess and influence and speak and act through them were to behold them, with their eyes enlightened by the Spirit of God, in all their repulsiveness, they would be shocked at the character of the visitors they had entertained. But the first approaches of such influences are so insidious and insinuating that those to whom they introduce themselves are not aware of their character and the hideous train that they will call to their assistance and encourage to follow them, when once they have obtained an entrance into the human heart.
George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 500.