Telling the Difference Between Demonic Entities

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Possession movies, even when they are highly religious in context, bring in huge crowds of fans, starting with The Exorcist (1973) and continuing on throughout the years, we never really get down to the brass tacks of demonic entities, who they are—or might be—and the people they have affected. Demon lore is complex in every religion and affiliated culture, there are elaborate organizational schemes for demons dated back from the 16th and 17th centuries and yet we still have so little understanding of them. For the many ills and misfortunes that plague the human race, there is the possibility of a demonic association that leads to exorcisms in many cultures. Specifically, in Catholicism, exorcisms deal with demonic possession, in which demons are said to battle for control of the soul of the victim they have targeted, these practices date back to 1614.

The Demons that Invade Our Lives

Christian demonologist Johann Weyer estimated that there were nearly 7.5 million demons that served as minions to 72 different princes of hell. Each of these demons belongs to a class of demons; to name a few, there are demons that attack people in their sleep, drain vitality, or possess those who are struggling with their own identity. So, let’s take a look at the different types of demonic entities that go beyond the typical Catholic exorcism expectations.

Attractive demoness
Photography by Alice Alinari

The Succubus

During the Middle Ages, authorities within the Christian religion asserted the existence of sex demons, which they furthered that to insinuating that sex with such demons was a sign of witchcraft. Although it’s a widely accepted possibility in the paranormal community, the stories and theories of such acts are described as horrific to experience. To be clear, while this may sound like an exciting ride for some lonely people out there, it’s not something that anyone in their right mind would purposefully pursue—it’s never consensual.

The Djinn

Collection of Genie Lamps--don't summon a Djinn!
Photography by Louis Hansel

Between 100 and 400 AD, the Testament of Solomon was written, which served as a list for Hebrew, Greek, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian demons. The Djinn are self-propagating, malicious, yet mortal demons. They are an invisible creature by nature but have shape-shifting abilities so they may better stalk their prey. Solomon was able to control these types of demons which he called djinn with his magical ring and he would frequently treat them as his own personal slaves by making them transport him wherever he wished upon their backs.

My Dream, My Bad Dream, Fritz Schwimbeck, 1915. Fritz Schwimbeck
My Dream, My Bad Dream, Fritz Schwimbeck, 1915.

The Nightmare

The story of this nocturnal visitor originated in the ancient world, in which a spirit or demon would come into the room of its sleeping victim, male or female, to incapacitate the individual and feed off of their vitality. In all reported cases, it is said the victim awakens to either a heavy weight on their chest or one that starts at their feet and progresses to their chest, either way, they are unable to move out from under the weight of the night hag. As they’re feeding off of the individual, the victim feels as if they’re suffocating and paralyzed, despite being fully conscious. Victims of the night hag end up reporting feeling groggy, sick, and otherwise exhausted both mentally and physically the next day.

Western-style vampire bears her fangs.
Photography by Rondell Melling

The Vampire

Now just wait, you’re probably conjuring up an image of Dracula hunched in a dark window of his castle in Transylvania, brooding and dangerous. The concept of the vampire in modern culture, especially since Stoker’s rendition, are the undead who return to kill and torture the living, but the actual origin is somewhat different. Older than the Slavic version of Dracula is a supernatural and demonic entity that did not actually take human form and it spans the world with small variations.

Ten Books Based on Real World Hauntings

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

This summer finally sees the release of the latest entry in a surprisingly successful cinematic franchise. 

No, I’m not talking about Loki, or Black Widow, or any part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m talking about The Conjuring universe, which stretches to nine films with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do ItThe Conjuring franchise succeeds where so many other cinematic universes have failed not just because of their strong filmmaking and compelling performances. Many people love the Conjuring films because they tell true ghost stories

Based on the case files of ghost hunters Ed & Lorraine Warren (portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the Conjuring movies are part of Americans’ long history of fascination with real-world hauntings and paranormal experiences. But before they were blockbuster films, these stories were successful books, which captured victims’ encounters with the mystical in the written word. 

If you just can’t get enough of real-world hauntings, here are ten other collections, sure to keep you up at night. 

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The Haunted House – Walter Hubbell

One of the earliest non-fiction haunting novels, The Haunted House set the standard for the genre. Published in 1879 and written by actor/amateur sleuth Walter Hubbell, The Haunted House adapts a diary kept by the author during a summer spent in the Teed House in Nova Scotia, Canada. Hubbell was drawn to the location after learning about teenager Esther Cox, who began undergoing unexplainable phenomena after escaping sexual assault. Even before Hubbell arrived in the town, local witnesses saw the moving furniture and threatening messages left by malevolent forces. The novel captures all these details, which served as the basis of a lecture tour Cox embarked upon after finally escaping the ghosts’ thrall. 

The Amityville Horror Book Cover

The Amityville Horror – Jay Anson

Ghost stories have been around longer than the United States itself. But the modern American version starts with The Amityville Horror. Not only did the story launch one of the longest-running film franchises, but it set the standard for 20th century haunted house stories. The book follows the 28 days in which the Lutz family stayed in their Long Island house on 112 Ocean Drive. A year earlier, young Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family, reportedly driven to act by demonic voices. Combining strong reportage with powerful prose, Anson brings the reader into the horror that the Lutzes endured during their month of dread. 

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The Haunted – Robert Curran

When Jack and Janet Smurl moved into their new Pennsylvania home in the summer of 1986, they expected a few pests. But nothing could have prepared them for the demon occupying the house since 1974. Written by journalist Robert Curran and based on case notes from the Warrens, who were called upon to investigate the house, The Haunted is one of the classics of true American ghost stories, rivaled only by The Amityville Horror. Curran captures in vivid detail the Smurl’s harrowing experiences, from the ghastly smells that filled the house to the inexplicable pounding they had to endure. 

the world of LORE Dreadful places book cover from he LORE podcast

The World of Lore: Dreadful Places – Aaron Mahnke

Started as a mere experiment in marketing, the podcast Lore by Aaron Mahnke quickly grew into a sensation, spawning two television series and several books. In many ways, the show’s success is no surprise, as Mahnke does diligent research to bridge the gap between creepy folklore and true facts, often revealing that actual history is far more terrifying than anyone could make up. The World of Lore collects some of the best stories that Mahnke has uncovered, from hauntings in Colorado’s Stanley Hotel, the same place that inspired the Overlook Hotel in the Stephen King classic The Shining, to specters floating along the streets of New Orleans. 

The Demon of Brownsville Road Book Cover

The Demon of Brownsville Road – Bob Cranmer and Erica Manfred

When Bob and Lesa Cranmer got a deal on their Pittsburgh dreamhouse, they thought it was just a stroke of good luck. The previous owners were ready to sell and accepted Bob’s lowball offer with no more negotiation. But shortly after the Cranmers moved in with their four children, they understood why the previous owners wanted to leave. Paranormal instances of lights turning on themselves developed into full-on mental attacks on members of the family, forcing them to reach out for help from the Catholic Church. Working with editor Erica Manfred, Bob Cranmer talks not only about his family’s ordeal but traces the evil through the years to 18th-century violence. The Demon of Brownsville Road is available at Horror Hub Marketplace.

Ed & Lorraine Warren's Graveyard Book Cover

Graveyard: True Hauntings from an Old New England Cemetery – Ed Warren

“White Ladies” are one of the most popular genres of true ghost stories, tales about mysterious female figures who float along with fringe spaces in shimmering white clothes. In Graveyard, Ed Warren retells his own confrontations with a White Lady ghost who haunted Connecticut’s Union Cemetery. Although we can no longer see that footage that Warren claims to have shot of the Union Cemetery White Lady, we can read his detailed account of the events. 

Horror in the Heartland strange Gothic Tales from the Midwest book cover

Horror in the Heartland – Kevin McQueen

When one thinks of American horror, it’s usually the deep south or New England that leaps to mind. But in this academic book for Indiana University Press, Dr. Keven McQueen uncovers hauntings in the Midwest. Moving through states better known for their football teams and auto factories, McQueen describes spectral sightings in Wisconsin and unexplained phenomena in Ohio. Well-researched and thoroughly enjoyable, Horror in the Heartland reminds us that mysterious spirits can manifest anywhere. 

The Uninvited - True Story of the Union Screaming House

The Uninvited – Steven LaChance

Many of the books on this list come from ghostwriters or reporters who collected accounts of hauntings from the victims. But with The Uninvited, Steven LaChance shares his encounter with the supernatural. Told from a visceral and immediate first-person perspective, The Uninvited traces LaChance’s initial recognition of odd phenomena in his Union, Mississippi home to more horrific attacks, including murdered pets and even sexual assault. Although the story reads like a gripping paperback thriller, LaChance grounds it in his own life events, which only sharpens the terror. 

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Grave’s End – Elaine Mercado

Although undoubtedly intense, most hauntings tend to be fairly short. After all, who would stay in a haunted house for more than a month? But Grave’s End tells a different type of story, one not of escape but of endurance. Mercado relates incidents of spectral interference that happened to her and her two daughters over a thirteen-year period. Grave’s End features all the chilling detail you would expect from a ghost storybook, but it takes a unique approach, explaining how Mercado and her family found the strength to fight through the horror and make peace with the spirits surrounding them. 

House of Darkness real Haunted House book

House of Darkness/House of Light – Andrea Perron

This list could not be complete without Andrea Perron’s House of Darkness/House of Light, published in 2011. Perron’s account served as the inspiration for The Conjuring, describing the trials endured by her family in 1970. When the Perrons moved into a Rhode Island house, they quickly become inundated by attacks from a hateful spirit called Bathsheba, who targets Andrea’s mother Carolyn. Like many of the other books on this list, the story does involve intersession from the Warrens. But the real draw is Andrea’s perspective, who tells in her own words her family’s petrifying encounters.