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

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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

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!

The Horror and Occult of Russia’s Anti-Christ, Rasputin

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Featured Lifestyle

Grigori Efimovich Rasputin was born in 1969 into a peasant family who survived by farming and the courier service that his father provided. Since there was less opportunity for education for those living in poverty, it is believed that Grigori was illiterate until he was older. During his youth, he was a petty criminal but had a revelation during his late twenties when he was motivated to go on a spiritual pilgrimage. It was at this point that he spent several months at St. Nicholas Monastery which was several hundred miles from his home. Upon his return, he was apparently a changed man and wandered for years as a Strannik or, “holy wanderer,” with a small group of loyal followers.

His Return as a Holy-Man

Ecstatic Ritual of Khylysts by Radeniye
Ecstatic Ritual of Khylysts by Radeniye

Once he returned home he created a church in the basement of his family’s basement; something that would later be considered the beginning of his religious blasphemy. It is believed that Rasputin had actually created a church in the name of the fringe sect of the Russian Orthodox Church by the name of Khlysty. The root of the word Khlysty, khlyst translates to the Russian, “whip”–the followers of Khlysty didn’t worship God or the Holy Spirit through the conventional means, by attending church or studying scripture, instead they believed they could communicate directly with their higher power.

Sinning to Be Rid of Sin

These ritualistic gatherings entailed Rasputin’s acolytes gathering in his would-be church to sing strange hymns and take part in orgies and various other sexual acts. Practicing self-flagellation and these orgies were designed to help believers attain grace by performing sinful acts, a belief that a willful practice of sin within ritual performance was ridding them of their sin altogether.

It was said that there would be one man and one woman designated to be physical representations of Christ and the Mother of God. Of course, these practices were never endorsed by church officials and his group of Khylysts were oftentimes persecuted by the mainstream Russian Orthodoxy. While this wasn’t an extremely long-lived part of his pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, he would continue the acts later in life, even after being accused by many women of assault and even rape.

Rasputin’s Infamy

This holy man’s charisma and influence are what led to his infamy in the early 1900s and he became one of the most well-known monks within monastic circles as a mystic with enormous power. He gained influence over the royal family in 1905, after having journeyed to St. Petersburg and befriended the Russian aristocracy, then cemented his status as a spiritual guide, healer, and eventually the political advisor to Nicholas II and the Czarina, Alexandra.

Rasputin was officially endeared to Alexandra and immediately caused them to form a significant bond, was his ability to heal her sick son, Alexei. Diagnosed with hemophilia, the inability to clot after an injury that drew blood, which was an incurable disease at the time. Rasputin, having the reputation of a healer was called to help heal Alexei after an internal hemorrhage would have meant his inevitable death. Two days after Rasputin’s faith healing, Alexei somehow made a full recovery which caused Alexandra to place her full trust in this strange, mysterious holy-man.

Being Seen For What He Was

Those who were outside of the immediate royal family could see his malignant hold over the Czar and Czarina and believed he would be the downfall of the Romanov family. These Russian court members referred to him as the Mad Monk and believed he was an immoral man who sought only to meddle in the affairs of royalty. This distrust spurred them to have him surveilled regularly, which revealed to them his true nature; they even created detailed records that took account of the many prostitutes he engaged with, as well as his lust over money and alcohol–they were of course published and circulated in newspapers which caused the people of Russia to oppose him as well.

The naysayers were right though, Rasputin’s hold over the Russian royal family brought the entire country to unrest during World War I. Rasputin even endeavored to make things worse when he told Nicholas II to take control over his military forces because he would otherwise face defeat. Unfortunately, following his advisor’s words proved to be a ruinous move for the Czar. Within the calamity of the First World War, the Czar was away at war, which gave Rasputin full opportunity to seize control over Russia’s government and the rich. This lowered his reputation as well as that of the royal family in such a way that even Alexandra, who was half German, was accused of being a German spy. Rasputin himself was regularly accused of using hypnosis to bend the wills of others and was said to have, “satanic eyes.”

The Many Assassination Attempts

There were so many attempts made against Rasputin’s life, but the final attempts were what proved to make him famous for being the man who would not die. In Moika Palace, Prince Yusupov and politician Purshkevich came together in an effort to take him down; he was given cakes and wine laced with lethal amounts of cyanide, but even two hours after eating the cakes and drinking the wine Rasputin didn’t seem to be affected by the attempted poisoning. It was at this point that Yusupov shot Rasputin several times in the chest, which after an elaborate attempt to cover up the shooting, found that this crazy monk was still alive. He even managed to escape outside, at which point he was shot in the back, then thrown into an icy river. When his body was recovered and an autopsy was performed, it was revealed that Rasputin only succumbed to death after drowning and by any of the other failed attempts.

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Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Hammer Film Productions came out with this largely fictionalized story that features only half-truths about some of the events that led up to Rasputin’s assassination. The film shows us Grigori Rasputin, the Russian peasant who is a self-proclaimed mystic, holy-man, and healer; he had gained a powerful position of influence with the royal family prior to the Russian Revolution and World War I. Interestingly enough, the character of Yusupov within the movie had to be changed for legal reasons, since the real Yusupov was still alive when the film was released.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk IMDB listing

Who Is the Real Rasputin? – Russia’s Own Anti-Christ

The mystery of one of Russia’s most historically notable and powerful men, Rasputin, is often regarded with skepticism yet undeniable uncertainty. Shiver gave us a good in-depth look into Rasputin’s life and the kind of control he really had over the royal family.

https://youtu.be/c1rJZO_c4Go

The Mysterious Life and Death of Rasputin

The experts at TEDEd gave us their best explanation of the life and death of the holy-man Rasputin and how they believe he became the man who wouldn’t die.

Was He Truly an Occultist?

Widely considered to be the anti-Christ by the people of his day, it is speculated that Rasputin was deeply immersed in the occult, consorting with demons and eventually being possessed by them himself. Skeptics have found other theories to explain his inability to die after so many attempts, but it doesn’t account for Rasputin’s prophecy of his own death.

The White House Hauntings

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Featured Haunted Places

Every American knows about the White House and the role that it plays within our country and our government, also known as the Presidential Mansion, it is arguably one of the most iconic buildings in the entire nation. Surprisingly, despite its status within the nation, there are a great many people who are unaware of just how haunted the building and its grounds are. Considering the record of eye-witness accounts and what we would assume is their reliability, we found out just how much paranormal history this monument to American democracy has actually seen.

Spooky Misty White House

A Timeline of the Paranormal

White House History gives us a timeline for the account of lost souls and hauntings that this particular symbol of America and to be quite frank, there has been a lot of action surrounding the White House; after all, politics can divide families and close friends, they can incite rage and violent behavior, and they can even threaten the very security of the nation itself.

The War of 1812: The Unnamed British Soldier

There are still regular reports being made of an unnamed British Soldier who roams the White House grounds while holding a torch–it is said that his soldier perished upon the grounds during the War of 1812.

United States President Abraham Lincoln

United States President Abraham Lincoln

1860-1870’s The Death of Willie Lincoln

Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln had four sons, only one of whom–Robert Todd–survived to see adulthood; their son Edward passed away at the tender age of four and Willie, who fell ill during his father’s first presidential term, died of a fever. While grieving over her son Willie’s death, Mary Todd began to delve into her spiritual interests and started holding spirit circles and seances in the Red Room of the White House. During the height of the Civil War, spiritualistic practices became quite popular, due to so many families seeking comfort from the loss of their loved ones. At the behest of his wife, Abraham attended two of the sessions, but was not entirely satisfied with the results, and could be found weeping at Willie’s crypt for hours. The Lincoln’s third son, Tad, passed away at age eighteen after his father’s assassination. Their third son died after Abraham had already been assassinated. To this day, it is claimed that Abraham’s ghost still appears in the Lincoln Bedroom and the Yellow Oval Room. Some notable witnesses to his apparition were First Lady Grace Coolidge, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as well as Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands. As far as Willie? Well, the last time Willie’s spirit was witnessed was in the 1870s by the administration of the White House.

During the 1860’s Mary Todd Lincoln would reportedly hear the ghost of Andrew Jackson stomping and swearing, while he is otherwise said to be hanging out in his bed in the Queens Bedroom laughing heartily.

During Andrew Johnson’s presidency, he was reportedly visited multiple times by Anna Surratt who was there to beg for a pardon on her mother’s behalf, her mother was Mary Surratt, a conspirator for Lincoln’s assassination. Years after her death, her ghost can still be witnessed banging on the doors of the White House in desperation for a pardon for her mother.

1901-1904: Jeremiah Jerry Smith

Smith began working at the White House during the late 1860s during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, his career lasted around 35 years before he retired. His accounts of the ghosts of Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, and several of the first ladies were always a media go-to on slow news days.

1911: The Thing

An apparition that terrified the Taft administration and domestic staff in 1911, was one of an unidentified fifteen-year-old boy; even Major Archibald Butt, the military aid to President Taft acknowledged the ghost, saying it was, “a young boy about fourteen or fifteen years old … they say that the first knowledge one has of the presence of the Thing is a slight pressure on the shoulder, as if someone were leaning over your shoulder to see what you might be doing.” It was after this point that President Taft ordered Butt to make the White House staff aware that they would be fired if they ever repeated stories about the Thing.

Modern Sightings

These days the random apparition is still experienced by White House Staff and administration, though some administrations may be less forthcoming about these sightings. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is seen and heard playing his violin in the Yellow Oval Room, while Dolley Madison is said to protect the Rose Garden. John Tyler haunts the Blue Room where he proposed to Julia Gardner, his second wife. William Henry Harrison, the first president to die in the White House, haunts the attic and the smell of wet laundry and lavender are observed in the East Room where Abigail Adams hung laundry. David Burnes, the original owner of the land on which the Presidential Mansion now stands can be both seen and heard in the Yellow Oval Room.