Seagulls as an Image of the Evil Spirit

seagulls and boatI like to watch seagulls as they glide across the sky, but as with many of God’s creatures, we can have negative interactions with them as well.

This past summer on retreat, I spent much of my time praying near the ocean. One day I watched as seagulls chased down a fishing boat. A flock of seagulls repeatedly dove in, attempting to steal some of the haul from the boat as it sailed forward in the water. The scene reminded me of how it feels when evil spirits go after us.

St. Ignatius thought that a variety of interior movements of the soul are caused by good or evil spirits, and that it is important to be able to discern their origin so that we can respond appropriately. The good spirit gives “true spiritual gladness and joy” and leads us to greater generosity, hope, and love (First Rule of Discernment). God is the ultimate origin of such consolation. The evil spirit, on the other hand, leads the soul gradually away from such spiritual joy and peace and “disquiets or disturbs the soul,” attempting to lead a person away from good and salvation (Fifth Rule).

As the seagulls attacked the boat with the haul of fish, I thought of many of my experiences of spiritual disturbances from the evil spirit: for example, times when I was discouraged with some aspect of myself or I thought that a problem was insurmountable. Our sense of tranquility can indeed feel like it’s under attack, where try as we might to run away from them, the spirits just keep following us.

The image of the boat also reminded me of Ignatius’s advice to us in times of desolation. First, the boat kept sailing forward, ignoring the gulls. Ignatius counseled that in a time of desolation, we should never change a decision made in a time of consolation but rather ought to stay the course of our previously well-discerned decisions.

Second, the best way to deal with evil spirits is to ignore their efforts to push us off-course, and even to reject them decisively through additional prayer and penance. Beachgoers know: never feed the seagulls! Not even the last potato chip from the bottom of the bag, or the gulls will never stop with their harassment. Likewise, don’t feed the evil spirits!A final insight is that although the evil spirit tries to take us off-course, it is because there is always some underlying good that deserves protection. The gulls would never have bothered with the fishing boat if there were not fish on board to eat. Likewise, the evil spirit goes after something in us precisely because there is a good within. For example, a former confessor of mine helpfully commented that one way that the evil spirit goes after a person leading a basically good life is to discourage, by suggesting that the contributions are not enough. At a metaphysical level, good is more foundational than evil. All that evil can ever do is to try to mess with what is already good in what God has created and continues to create. When we experience desolation caused by an evil spirit, we can find courage in recalling that there is some underlying good that this spirit is after, and undertake renewed prayer and penance to protect that good. We can then rely on God to bring us back to a time of peace and tranquility again, so that we can bring to shore nets full of “good fish” to be shared with others.

Previous articleTry Story
Next articleThe Dark Night of Seeds
Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.


  1. Thank you so much for your article on seagulls/temptation. during a Spiritual Direction session God was trying to get through to me to help the woman realize that her struggle right now was with a temptation. I know she did see part of this but your article on seagulls helped it all become so very clear! She lives next to a body of water where she will see the gulls often so God will use them to help the story continue.

  2. Thank you Marina, this is very hood meditation and very helpful to me especially now that everyday I am fishing in the ocean of different personality apart from my own community. And please pray for me to be ready as to a soldier in a battle to protect myself and the fishes that I gathered now in my boat. God bless.

  3. Marina, Thank you for the metaphor the image of seagulls after fish on the boat shows me how the evil one works to get you off tract. I will keep that image with me so that when I feel his presence I can do the opposite and pray. Thanks again.

  4. Marina,
    I’m a bit like Paul. The metaphor is thought-provoking and invites many interpretations-which makes it so meaningful – thank you!
    I have many photos of our children happily “feeding” the Seagulls at the beach. The joy my young children derived from throwing bread in the air to be snatched up by a diving seabird connected my children in a new way to the wonders of the sea and the world around them.
    These sea birds have welcomed me to my destination in a sailing adventure across the Gulf of Mexico. They were the welcoming committee to the opposite shore after a turbulent 600 mile crossing in a 24 foot boat.
    When I look at the photo that accompanies your thoughtful reflection, I am reminded of the bountiful sea and the modern way humanity has overfished the oceans – fishing fleets with 3,000 miles of continuous netting across the pacific! It makes me wonder about the collective nature of evil. Perhaps these birds are saying to us – leave a little for us!
    And yet, in the havoc of the group of wild diving birds – we can imagine the unintended evil that the relentless aggression and resulting distraction can have on the sea captain as he pursues his livelihood.
    Thanks again.

    • Rob, I hear you! You make good points about the place of care for the gulls in all of this. That is the limit of metaphors-they only take one part of a much bigger picture to make a point. Thanks for reminding us of the rest of the picture!

  5. Great article. Seagull analogy for the working of the evil spirit works really well and is helpful. Many thanks. Only problem – for me – is that seagulls are my favorite bird. Oh dear! Any chance you could pen another article that finds a way to use seagulls as an image of the Holy Spirit too?

    • Paul—thank you for the comment. Seagulls can indeed be beautiful. How about this? “Seagulls can be an image of the Spirit, insofar as they glide on air, working with rather than against the currents. So, too, are we asked to cooperate with God’s grace. God’s gift of the Spirit gives lift to our wings, but we have to make an effort as well.” Blessings!

  6. I love this writing, I think of the way that I pray and stuff keep getting into my mind, and as I look at the seagulls I think of the evil one doing the same thing. Thank You.

  7. Thank you Marina, this is extremely helpful and very timely for me. I am going to print your reflection out so I can refer back to it whenever I need. It is a very vivid image too which will help me to hold onto the wisdom that you have shared.

  8. Thank you for the clarity of your thoughts and instructional seagull imagery. On ‘vacation’ from my volunteer position as the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) retreat coordinator in Boston, I found both comfort and some sorely needed direction from your Ignatian-inspired words. May you and your loved ones be richly nourished this final month of summer.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here