My grandparents had a poster I used to look at when I visited them. I believe it was a reproduction of a Renaissance painting, but I’m not really sure. There was a scene from the Garden of Eden at the bottom of the poster. After, what looked like a depiction of the fall of man, you could see two paths split. One path, on the left, led to Heaven, the other path, on the right, lead to Hell. Both paths winded up towards the top of the poster. On each path there were various people, who I assumed were Catholic Saints. Well, at least the ones on the left would have been the saints. I don’t know who the ones on the right were. At the top of the poster, on the left, were angels welcoming people into Heaven. The right side depicted demons throwing people into the fires of Hell. The glimpse of Hell that you could see showed people being tormented with hideous creatures all around them that seemed to be enjoying watching the people being tortured.
For years, this poster was my concept of Heaven and Hell. It was the only graphic depiction, I’d ever seen. And, it was burned into my memory. When I was ten, I developed an overwhelming fear of the dark. For months, I had to go to sleep with the lights on. When the lights were out, I remember imagining demons reaching out trying to grab me, just like in the poster.
It took months, but I eventually got over my fear of the dark. Nobody asked me why I was afraid, and I never told them. What I had to do was to convince myself that there really was no difference whether the lights were on or off. It wasn't easy. I first would dare myself to go into the bathroom with the lights off. Then I would creep around the house at night, without turning on any lights. A few months of this and I went back to sleeping with the lights out. The fear of the dark has never come back.
With all these images running around my head, there’s no wonder why all the Hellfire and brimstone sermons affected me like they did. I now wonder how much of my thinking was controlled by unjustified fear.