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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

History of Demons, Possessions, Exorcisms, and the Films They Inspire

History of Possession and the Church

On the topic of possessions, it is widely believed that a person’s mind and soul can be possessed by spirits, whether by man, demon, or god. Prior to the biblical explanation of possession, in ancient Greece, the pagans put an emphasis on the belief that the gods would interfere with their daily lives. Their idea of possession was when a God would cause them to act in a certain manner, or simply inhabit their body to achieve an end of their own. Buddhist and Hindu beliefs considered possessive interference by gods and demons to be everyday occurrences; African tribal religions and their respective offshoots consider possession the way that their gods and secondary deities show favor and proof of their power. Christianity over the centuries has been very vocal in regards to possession, declaring that true possession was only ever the work of, “unclean spirits,” either a minion of hell or the Devil himself. There are rare references to possessions by the divine spirit, just as Jesus Christ’s disciples were reportedly overcome with the Holy Spirit after his crucifixion. Alternative theories of this suggest, however, that possession by the divine spirit is actually just the Devil in disguise, in an attempt to fool the vulnerable. Early theologians denied there was ever an instance of possession being anything but the Devil’s handiwork.

St. Francis of Borgia Exorcising a Demon
St. Francis of Borgia – Exorcism by Goya

The Christian culture continues to dominate when it comes to popular theories of demons—any average person is going to associate demons with the Devil and his origin in Christianity—this can be troublesome to those deeply immersed in the religion, as it is still an incredibly popular topic in possession movies. Popular demon culture is the driving force for how we continue to see them in books and films and is what is most concerning to people with respect to horror culture. After all, there’s nothing more terrifying than the thought that a malicious spirit or demon has complete control of your body and mind—that you are what goes bump in the night—and showing signs of unusual behavior or expressing radically different ideals that what was common for the day would essentially damn an individual to being accused of possession. Luckily in the modern era, individuals are given more leeway to change up their perspectives, and essentially change the way their lives are going without being considered to be under demonic possession. Surprisingly, an aspect of possession theory that is not fully explored is exactly how the Devil or his minions claim their victims in the first place. There are two popular explanations within possession lore, that the spirit can pass directly into a person’s mind and soul or by using a witch to curse the victim. Of course, the Church’s position on the method of possession was that the Devil preferred to enlist the help of the evil individuals to do his dirty work—so witches would transmit the demons to the vulnerable through charm, potion, amulet, and most frequently food. The food of choice is the infamous apple—not just the symbol of the fall of man, when Eve took a bite of the apple of Eden, but also a popular symbol elsewhere in folklore, such as the original Germanic tale of Snow White. The only formal rite of exorcism is practiced by the Catholic church, which to this day recognizes clairvoyance, abnormal physical strength, blasphemy, and levitation as proof of demonic possession—the only salvation from possession is a formal exorcism.

The Spiritualist Movement

Many practices began gaining momentum with the spiritualist movements, including the act of psychic mediums inviting possession in order to speak to the dead—the belief is that the possession is temporary and controlled by the medium and their spirit guides. These possessions typically would take place within a séance, in conjunction with other practices such as the use of Ouija boards, or automatic writing.

The Exorcism of Roland Doe

Horror culture classic The Exorcist (1973) was actually inspired by a true story; a thirteen-year-old grief-stricken boy, under the pseudonym of Roland Doe, had recently lost his spiritualist Aunt Harriet a woman who had taught Roland how to use Ouija Boards, as well as many other taboo practices.  Directly following his Aunt’s death, in January of 1949, Roland began to experience troubling things—scratching and other inexplicable sounds echoed from the floors and walls of his room, and his bed would jerk around suddenly. Psychiatrists and their local church were of no help to Roland’s family, but they still sought the help of a local Catholic priest who received permission to perform an exorcism which ended in the priest being slashed by the boy. Roland was still in trouble, scratches appeared on his skin, at night after going to sleep for the night, the boy would scream out, trash about his bed wildly, and speak in tongues. After many failed exorcism attempts, he was finally moved to a hospital where the boy underwent one final attempt, during which he screamed that Satan was with him until the priests called upon St. Michael to rid the boy of his demons. From that day forward, Roland no longer experienced any strange happenings and went on to live a normal life.

Exorcism Movies and TV Shows that you need to see!

Do you have any movies or tv shows about demonic possession and exorcisms you’d like to see on our list? Let us know about them in the comments!

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

History of the Ouija Board: From the Civil War to The Exorcist

Ouija board
Photo by Josh Olalde

Horror Culture

Terrifying hands coming over a hill
Photo by Daniel Jensen

Most of popular horror culture will convince the easily misled that talking boards, specifically Ouija boards, are tools of evil. Movies like The Exorcist (1973) and Witchboard (1986) have painted a fairly devious portrait of talking boards, which previously held a sociable reputation. Prior to its debut in such classic horror movies, it was regarded as a game that could be played whilst on a date with a lady companion as an excuse to touch hands, in an era where it was otherwise forbidden for courting couples to touch. With much of the history of the Ouija board still unknown, due to a he-said-she-said origin of who the creator of the official board really was, what is known is quite a bit more vanilla that what might be expected.

Horrifying History of the Ouija Board

There are so many different theories of when they came to be such a popular object, one of the most well-regarded of which is that the Ouija board made a huge splash in the market directly following the Civil War. There was a large movement of spiritualism, with so many lives having been lost there were a lot of unmarked graves and soldiers who merely never returned home. Their loved ones wanted a way to get the answers they so desperately desired, even if it was just to know once and for all that their soldier was not coming home to them.

There really is no tangible proof of when the first talking board was created or for what purpose it was ultimately created, so it continues to be a tool that is shrouded in mystery. Still, with all of the information that is available today about the innocent origins of the Ouija board, there are more convinced of its sordid nature than those who believe it to be a neutral tool. Those involved in occult practices, who either consider themselves mediums or spiritual readers enjoy using talking boards to either communicate with spirits of passed loved ones or to channel their own, often regarded as supernatural, gifts. When things are misunderstood, there is typically a sense of mistrust that follows along, skepticism is a normal reaction to things that defy logic and avoidance is an understandable reaction to things that create a sense of dread.

So—with all of that in mind, what is it about Ouija boards that continues to scare the uninformed into rebuking those who use them? Likely it’s the images that are conjured from the horror movies we enjoy so much; the idea of demonic possession and evil spirits can scare even the most skeptical mind into uncertainty when all of the lights are out.

Horror movies that have inspired our fear of Ouija boards:

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Spirits Within Voodoo: Ancestors, and the Loa

Practitioners standing in Voodoo Alley
Artwork by Wesness

Voodoo in New Orleans is quite distinguishable from the practice in other parts of the world, it grew to be more inclusive of the spiritualism that sprang up within the nineteenth century. Within the voodoo religion, powerful spirits called loa—also called mystères, or the invisibles—unlike saints and angels that are housed within the Judeo-Christian religions, they are not prayed to, they are served. Contrary to popular belief, the loa are not deities. They are considered spiritual guides, who communicate with the one supreme creator, Bondye, in order to manifest the petitions for family, love, money, happiness, wealth, and of course revenge.  The loa preside over daily life, since Bondye doesn’t interfere with personal matters, and depending upon way in which they are called upon, the spirits can be sympathetic or impish.

The Role of Deceased Ancestors

Within the voodoo religion, it’s a common belief that those who have passed away remain on the earthly plane—this is because it is the responsibility of the living to care for their passed loved ones to help them shed the baggage of their life and get them closer to Bondye. In order to care for ancestors, vodouisants light a candle and leave offerings of food and drink—as thanks, ancestors bless their loved ones with health, wealth, and fortune.

The Loa: Contacting the Spirits

Voodoo Altar in New Orleans
Photography by Greg Willis

Conducting voodoo rituals don’t always require a practitioner to petition the loa, but it’s more frequent for them to be a part of the ritual than not. Contacting the spirits can be achieved through dance, music, singing, and the use of snakes—a symbol of Papa Legba, who is the conduit to contacting the rest. In organized practice, there are houngans (priests) and mambos (priestesses), as well as bokors (sorcerers) and caplatas (witches) who lead the rituals, take requests, and receive offerings. These ritualists act as hosts to the possessing loa, which can be quite a violent sight, where the participant thrash and shake, then fall to the ground. Being a host to a loa requires those around to know how to sufficiently provide for the spirit, as they can become stubborn and demand more.

Vèvè: Symbolic Representations of the Loa

A vèvè is a religious symbol which serves to represent a loa during ritualistic practice, whereupon sacrifices and offerings are placed. Every loa has their own individual vèvè, which is typically drawn on the floor using a powder—the type of powder used depended on the type of ritual being performed.

Main Loa of the Voodoo Religion

The loa are a diverse group of spirits, too many to name without going too in depth, but these are a couple of the most well-known of the bunch.

Papa Legba: The Spirit of the Crossroads

Among one of the most important spirits within voodoo, in order for there to be any ritual regarding any other loa, Papa Legba must be contacted first. As the spirit of the crossroads, he is the origin of life, the old man who guards the crossroads, the contact between the realms of life and death—Legba must give his permission in order to communicate any other loa.

Veve, symbolic representations of Voodoo Spirits, the Loa

The poor soul who happens to offend Papa Legba will be virtually deprived of the protection of the spirit world. Guardian of voodoo temples, courtyards, plantations, and crossroads, he also protects the home—if a practitioner is planning on going traveling, they pray to Legba for protection and petition him to safely return them home. A small, crooked old man with a broken body covered in sores, he insists on walking barefoot so he has continuous contact with the earth below him—Legba is a polite and caring spirit, one that all practitioners consider to be lovable.

Papa Ghede and Baron Samedi

Papa Ghede, despite being the spirit of death, is not as forbidding as he may appear in popular imagery—he is dressed in black, with a top hat, with a cigar in his mouth, and controls the souls of those who have passed on. Although the other loa fear and avoid him, he is the one people petition when children are poor of health, as he very much loves children.

Veve, Symbolic representation of Voodoo Spirits, the Loa

There is conflicting information about the relationship between Papa Ghede and Baron Samedi—where some sources claim they are one in the same, where Papa Ghede is the lighter aspect concerning life and Baron Samedi is the dark aspect concerning death. Other sources speak of them being separate entities, where Papa Ghede does the bidding of Baron Samedi. When it comes to magic that deals with death, you can be sure whose power is actually behind it, especially since he has a special interest in those who meet their death as a result of magic.

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Telling the Difference Between Demonic Entities

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.

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Reviews Scary Movies and Series

The 10 Most Underrated John Carpenter Horror Films

These ten movies directed by horror-master John Carpenter sadly live on as underrated additions to the horror film genre—in fact, many of these you won’t ever hear mentioned in daily horror culture, but that’s a shame because all of these are worthy of at least a little attention.

Someone's Watching Me (1978) Movie Poster

Someone’s Watching Me (1978)

While this horror movie isn’t truly a paranormal horror tale, it is a classic horror tale that many women can relate to in their real lives—being stalked. True to form of successful movies that continue to live on from the 70s, Someone’s Watching Me (1978) is a traditional, “less is more,” type of piece. It relies upon the situations that would if one were to experience them in own life, would cause incredible anxiety and lasting fear. This is possibly Carpenter’s most underrated movie, perhaps simply due to the years that have passed since it was released. In truth, it’s the kind of movie that might constantly be giving loud advice to the main character while she gets increasingly sticky situations.

Someone’s Watching Me IMDB listing

The Fog (1980) Movie Poster

The Fog (1980)

As the title suggests, this film brings its scare from the fog—it’s a horror movie that focuses on the creeping and inevitable, there is no stopping the fog from rolling in, especially when it moves against the wind. What can you do when there is something deadly in the fog—something that moves with it, that kills without provocation? All you really can do when it comes is bolt your doors, lock your windows, and stay inside your house. This story of Captain Drake and his ill-fated crew is definitely a classic worth watching or re-watching if it has been a while.

Enjoy seafaring horror? Check out our article on hauntings at sea as well

The Fog IMDB listing

Creepshow (1982) Movie Poster

Creepshow (1982)

Honestly, this is one of those classic movies that you just have to watch, anthologies this entertaining are few and far between and while it’s not nail-bitingly scary, each of the stories are interesting and unique. This movie scared the pants off of me as a child, because it never went over-the-top with any attempts to use technology that was out of its reach but just believable enough to allow you to be in the story with the characters.

Creepshow IMDB listing

Christine (1983) Movie Poster

Christine (1983)

The classic tale about a boy and his first car—his possessed car that is. Have you ever felt that someone you know is overwhelmingly obsessed with one of their belongings, to the point that their life and well-being becomes intertwined with the well-being of their belonging? This film is among the first of its kind to really put an emphasis on the possession of an inanimate object in a meaningful way.

Christine IMDB listing

Prince of Darkness (1987) Movie Poster

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Although there are many movies based on the emergence of Satan, this was possibly one of the most imaginative takes on how the Prince of Darkness might escape from hell into the world. After a priest finds a huge vial filled with some unidentifiable slime, he requests that a scientist and his students to help him figure out what it really is; finding out what it is, is only a small part of the problem, once they find out they’ll realize it’s already too late. The end is already beginning, will they be able to stop it in time?

Prince of Darkness IMDB listing

They Live (1988)

They Live (1988)

This is one alien horror flick that stands out among the rest, They Live (1988) is a movie that is classic from the time that it was made and is definitely worthy of a shout out or three. If you’ve ever wondered where the line, “I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass—and I’m all out of bubble gum,” comes from, you’re in luck. Aside from the wrestler to actor shenanigans with Rowdy Roddy Piper, the acting is what you might expect from a movie made in the late eighties. Forget action movie alien invasions, this kind of invasion is creepier than any other witnessed in cinema history.

They Live IMDB listing

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Movie Poster

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

This movie shows how society might devolve if violent books, movies, and video games were truly to blame for the erratic behavior of human beings—can an author really have the sway over the way people act, well if you were to read a Sutter Cane book, you might not be able to control yourself at all. It might sound far-fetched, but the easily persuaded might be just a short read away from storming the streets with axes in hand. This is not a predecessor of The Purge (2013), it’s another Carpenter movie that stands on its own within the horror genre, as a horror ride of the imagination—or at least the imagination of an author who wants to cause people to go mad.

In The Mouth of Madness IMDB listing

Village of the Damned (1995) Movie Poster

Village of the Damned (1995)

This is one of those movies where the terror develops over time, but if you’re one of those people who finds small children disturbing, this is definitely one that you might enjoy. What I like most about this movie is the creep factor—it’s not scary in the traditional sense, no real startling moments, nothing is going to pop out and scare you. The focus of the fear factor here is how it would feel to have a malevolent, creepy child in control of your actions. It reminds me of The Bad Seed (1956) if Rhoda were able to force you to kill yourself with her eyes.

Village of the Damned IMDB listing

Vampires (1998) Movie Poster

Vampires (1998)

Along with zombies, vampires have been creatures that have been overworked to death in books, films, and television shows, everyone has a new take on it to show why their vampires are somehow better, scarier, or more realistic than everyone else’s. Originally creatures that would incite fear, now they’re more and more often portrayed as objects of romance, love interests, so overdone that they went from truly evil, to rebellious bad boys. Fear not, Vampires (1998) is still in the genre of horror, where vampires truly are evil creatures suited only for hunting.

Vampires IMDB listing

The Ward Movie Poster

The Ward (2010)

Not conceived to be a true horror movie, this paranormal thriller offers more in the way of jump scares than much of anything else—while it doesn’t boast a well-known cast, the cast does a convincing job of selling their fear. The plot is enjoyable and decently executed, nevermind some of the plot holes, but the climax of fear is typically punctuated by a complete loss of the moment, followed directly by a cheap startle. The only thing that makes this movie less enjoyable is the ghost itself; we get a clear view of her from the beginning and there is no room left for that character and plot device to grow. It has its own share of twists and turns though, so the important thing about this movie is to watch until the very end—it doesn’t end exactly how you think it would.

The Ward IMDB listing