We’ve all seen the movies. The determined priest approaches the bed of a young man or woman presumably possessed by a demonic entity. As the victim thrashes about and screams insults at the priest(s) the exorcism begins in earnest. It is a battle to the end and the stakes have never been higher.
It’s an age old formula and one that never ceases to draw in crowds. From films like The Exorcist and its new television spin off to the brutally tragic The Exorcism of Emily Rose, audiences show up in droves to witness from the safety of their theater seats and couches what has actually been a terrifying part of real people’s lives.
The truth is that rituals for exorcism are real and they are not just limited to the Catholic church. From the earliest times in our planet’s history, men and women have been thought to be possessed by spirits and the holy men and women of their faith have been called upon to perform rituals to save the victims’ lives.
Take a few minutes to read the stories below. Some are more terrifying than anything we’ve ever seen in theaters. Others have actually inspired the movies we watch again and again.
The Strange Case of the Dybbuk Box
In 2012, movie audiences were treated to a brand new take on possession films in The Possession starring Kyra Sedgewick and Jefferey Dean Morgan. While most films of its kind had centered around the catholic church and demons of the Christian faith, The Possession centered around the dybbuk, a demon from Jewish lore. What a lot of people did not realize at the time was that the story had a basis in fact.
In the early 2000s, an ad went up on eBay that was more than a little strange. The item for a sale was a simple wooden wine box, but the items inside would give almost anyone pause. The box was said to contain locks of hair, old pennies, a dried flower, and old engraved granite blocks. The starting bid was $1 and fifty or so bids later, the box was sold.
What the buyer did not know was that the seller, Kevin Mannis, did not just want to sell the box. He needed it gone from his life and he was willing to do whatever it took to be rid of it. Mannis had reportedly bought the box from the estate of a 103 year old Holocaust survivor.
In the short time that he’d had it, Mannis had suffered a string of tragedies. His antique shop had been vandalized by an unseen force. He tried to give the box to his mother as a gift, and she suffered a massive stroke within minutes of touching the box. He was plagued by nightmares in which a spirit inside the box would emerge and brutally attack him during the night after which Mannis would often wake with bruises all over his body.
Rather than destroy the box, which Mannis believed would set free the demon to do more harm. Ownership had to be transferred in order to save his life and so he sold it on eBay for $140.
The college student who purchased the box soon began to experience the same nightmares and torments that Mannis had reported. At 20 years old, his hair began to fall out; he suffered broken fingers, repeated bouts of bronchitis, and insomnia. He, too, would soon sell the box.
So far as we know, the box now resides with a museum curator in Missouri. Jason Haxton was interested in the box due to its carvings and religious background. He firmly believes that the box houses a malevolent dybbuk.
David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam
In the late 1970s, David Berkowitz terrified the citizens of New York. The serial killer claimed six victims and injured seven more with is .44 caliber Bulldog revolver. At one crime scene, he left a note to police proclaiming that a demonic force known as Papa Sam commanded the killings. Papa Sam, he claimed, was a drunk who consumed human blood.
The story took an interesting turn when Berkowitz was arrested and confessed that his neighbor’s dog, Harvey, was possessed by the demonic Papa Sam and gave Berkowitz his murderous instructions. Berkowitz’s story changed slightly in the 1990s, when he admitted to being a part of a Satanic cult, yet he maintained that the murders were designed as ritual sacrifice and that demonic entities were behind his actions.
Some continue to question whether or not Berkowitz was actually under the influence of a demonic entity during his murder spree.
Born in 1952 in West Berlin, Anneliese Michel had a history of mental health issues as well as epilepsy, but it was in her twentieth year that her life became the stuff of nightmares. Her behavior and moods became erratic. She spoke fluently in languages she had never studied, and she would find herself paralyzed with no known medical cause.
Fearing their daughter was possessed, Anneliese’s parents consulted the church but were turned away because the priests felt that their daughter did not qualify for the rites of exorcism. They were counseled to continue her medications and to pray for their daughter’s healing. Still, Anneliese’s symptoms continued to manifest and became worse by the week. She began to refuse food claiming the demons would not allow her to eat except for spiders and flies. Her body would contort into unimaginable positions, and her parents repeatedly discovered her drinking her own urine.
Still, the Church would not approve exorcism, instead admonishing Anneliese to live a more holy life with more structure. By this time, Anneliese had become more violent toward her family. She would repeatedly strike out at them and on more than one occasion bit them when they approached her.
Finally, in 1975, Bishop Josef Stangl approved the rite of exorcism and assigned two priests to perform the ritual. Over the course of ten months, Anneliese was taken through the rites of exorcism over 70 times. Her knees had ruptured from repeated genuflection. Her body wasted away as she still refused food and water. Sadly, her torments never ended and she died. The death certificate sited malnutrition and dehydration as the cause of death.
After her death, the priests and Anneliese’s parents were put on trial for manslaughter. They were convicted and served six months in jail. It was one of the most infamous cases of its kind and would eventually inspire the courtroom horror film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
You can listen to some of the recording from the exorcism below. A warning from a die hard horror fan: This may be some of the most terrifying audio I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure who took the time to underscore it, but they did a masterful job.
In 1974, Michael and Christine Taylor joined a prayer group led by a woman named Marie Robinson in a small town called Ossett in Great Britain. After a time in the group, Christine became jealous and accused her husband of having an affair with Robinson. Robinson denied the charges and so did Michael, but his reaction took on a much more violent tone.
His behavior became erratic and he repeatedly lashed out at Christine for her accusations. Eventually, a group of Anglican priests became convinced that Michael was indeed possessed. They convinced him to submit to an exorcism. The rite lasted all night and the priests maintained they had exorcised more than 40 demons from Michael’s body, but they warned that a few remained.
Michael left the church and returned home where he murdered his wife, strangled their dog, and was later found wandering the streets naked and covered in blood. The priests felt that one of the demons they had been unable to dispossess had been a demon of murder.
Taylor was arrested and put on trial but was not convicted by reason of insanity.
Pope Francis Performs a Spontaneous Exorcism
The Pope holds the highest office and is literally considered the voice of God on Earth by millions of Catholics around the world. According to their belief, he is imbued with an immense amount of spiritual power.
In 2013, Pope Francis was greeting and blessing a group of disabled mena nd women in Rome when something very unusual happened. As he stopped in front of a young wheelchair bound man, he seems to stop for a moment and then presses his hands to the young man’s head. Immediately, the disabled man gasps and cries out. His body tenses and he falls back into the chair.
Though the Church has not confirmed that this was an act of exorcism, the video is both compelling and harrowing to watch.