Demon-Free Paranormal Research?

scared personMany people email me and ask, “I’d like to become a ghost hunter, but I’m afraid of demons.  What can I do?”

If I could answer that, I’d ask them, “What’s a demon?”

The answer is important.

According to my copy of the Oxford Universal Dictionary, the word “demon” comes from the Greek term for evil spirit. Since 1706, that’s what it’s meant in English, too:  Evil spirit.

Any malicious entity or spirit could be called a demon.  That could be an alien or a faerie or something we can’t yet define.  My dictionary also says those spirits could be the souls of deceased persons.

In recent and popular use, the word “demon” has been used in a religious context, particularly the Christian beliefs indicating the (singular) Devil or Satan, or — more rarely — one of the evil entities under his command.

A ghost is not a demon. No matter what your theology, they’re different kinds of entities.

So, are you worried about ghosts and spirits?  Or, are you anxious about a dangerous entity described in the New Testament?

If you’re afraid of unhappy, angry and aggressive ghosts — that is, spirits of the deceased — don’t get involved in paranormal research.  Many ghosts seem unhappy. Some of them vent their anger in aggressive ways.

There’s no way to be involved in this work without dealing with unattractive and threatening spirits of the dead.  Sooner or later — usually sooner — you’ll encounter something startling.

On the other hand, if you want to learn ghost hunting in an setting that’s relatively free of any dangers from the religious (usually Christian) concept of a demon, start with “hallowed ground.”

That is, develop your skills in haunted cemeteries, preferably church-related cemeteries.  In most cases, they’ve been blessed to keep Satan (or the Devil) out.

But, this is important: Cemeteries (and churches) can become unhallowed and unsanctified. That’s a separate topic, too complex to discuss in this article.

In other words, don’t drop your guard in a church or related burial ground. It may not be as spiritually protected as you think.

If you want to understand more about demons, a Long Island Paranormal Investigators’ article, Demonology 101, covers the topic in depth.

I also recommend a 2007 Coast-to-Coast AM interview with John Zaffis and the late Father Andrew Calder, Demonic Forces & the Paranormal.

I spent considerable time with each of them, and learned a lot about the dangers of ghost hunting. On the topic of demons, their advice was always 100% reliable.

That doesn’t mean that cemeteries are entirely safe. I’ve mentioned severe problems at Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH.

Those were extremely rare encounters, and what we encountered wasn’t a ghost.  I’m not certain it was a demon, either.

Either way, it was unique among hundreds (perhaps thousands) of sites I’ve investigated.

In my opinion, you have more to fear from the living than from the dead (or other entities), whether you’re in a cemetery or any other “haunted” location.

If you focus on relatively benign haunted cemeteries, especially if they’re in hallowed grounds, you’re as safe as possible from demons (no matter how you define them).

That doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe.  No one can guarantee that, no matter where you are or who you’re with.

If you’re frightened by any aspect of ghost hunting or paranormal research, don’t get involved in this field. 

Sooner or later — often when you least expect it — you’re going to encounter something terrifying.

It might be a ghost. It might be something malicious.  It might just be some guy you trusted, but he’s a sexual predator.

If you’re fascinated by ghosts and haunted places, and you’re willing to take risks despite the many potential dangers, this can be a thrilling field to research.

If you’re uneasy about ghost hunting, even before you’ve explored it… stop now. Find some other hobby or interest. Ghost hunting isn’t safe, and it’s probably not for you.

Exorcisms and Demons

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski, Poland - SXCExorcisms date to earliest times.  The belief in demons and demonic influence is documented in many pagan cultures, beliefs and practices.

However, not all demonic possessions were attributed to evil spirits.  For example, in classical Greek,  daimonan merely means to be mad or insane.

The treatment for that kind of demonic problem is less than — and very different from — the rituals used to drive out malicious entities or spirits.

As I explained in Possessed? Need help?, the vast majority of so-called demonic possessions have nothing to do with demons… or even ghosts.

Before deciding that you’re dealing with demons, calmly evaluate the situation.

What you’ve seen on TV is often created to make the show more sensational and increase ratings.  That’s entertainment, not reality.

Modern and historic exorcisms range from simple to complex, but they generally have one element in common.

Pagan and earth-based rituals often involved salt and/or water, or herbs, or some blessed object, plus a casting-out ritual invoking the name and assistance of Deity.

Modern-day rituals also use holy objects plus the name or names of Deity to empower the rite.

In other words, most traditions recognized that spiritual assistance is necessary to cast out — or reject the influence of — an entity with evil intentions.

Development of exorcisms

Over many centuries as religions emerged,  very precise and effective exorcism rituals were developed.  In the Jewish faith, exorcisms were fine-tuned and included specific names, varying with the situation.

From the 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The chief characteristic of these Jewish exorcisms is their naming of names believed to be efficacious, i. e. names of good angels, which are used either alone or in combination with El (= God) … it was considered most important that the appropriate names, which varied for different times and occasions, should be used.

“…It was a popular Jewish belief… that Solomon had received the power of expelling demons, and that he had composed and transmitted certain formulae that were efficacious for that purpose.” (emphasis added)

In other words, there are specific rituals that work.  Others can do more harm than good.  That’s important to keep in mind.

Today, many exorcists rely on the rituals documented in church history.  Whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not, many exorcists note that the use of Jesus’ name seems to be among the most effective for banishing a demonic presence.

However, inexperienced ghost hunters and paranormal researchers usually don’t know the difference between a demonic possession and the far more dangerous devil (or Devil) possession.

They are two different issues, and must be treated differently.

Types of Christian exorcisms

Christian exorcisms trace their roots to the ministry of Jesus.

There are three kinds of exorcisms in the historic church:

  1. Baptismal exorcism, performed when someone is accepted (baptized) into membership in the church.
  2. Simple exorcism, including the blessing of a house.
  3. The Rite of Exorcism, used to cast out demons or the Devil from a human.

A traditional baptismal exorcism includes phrasing that is the basis for many other kinds of exorcisms.

The following text is from the 1894 book, The Glories of the Catholic Church – The Catholic Christian Instructed in Defence of His Faith.

Then the priest proceeds to the solemn prayers and exorcisms, used of old by the Catholic Church in the administration of baptism, to cast out the devil from the soul, under whose power we are born by original sin. ” I exorcise thee,” says he, ” O unclean spirit, in the name of the Father,  and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou mayest go out, and depart from this servant of God, (name of the afflicted) ; for He commands thee, O thou cursed and condemned wretch, who with His feet walked upon the sea, and stretched forth His right hand to Peter that was sinking. Therefore, O accursed devil, remember thy sentence, and give honor to  the living and true God. Give honor to Jesus Christ His Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and depart from this servant of God.”

Those kinds of prayers and rituals were developed over many centuries, and refined to work as quickly and effectively as possible.

Other religions and spiritual traditions may use different approaches.

However,  most demonologists explain that exorcisms rarely work on the first try.  The person may seem to be free of the demons, but relapse later.  It’s not unusual to require ten or more rituals of exorcism, and each one of them can be excruciating and exhausting for everyone involved.

In addition, treating a non-demonic situation as if demons are involved can be dangerous.  It can trigger mental, emotional, physical and spiritual issues that weren’t a problem before the attempted exorcism.

For this reason, physical and mental illnesses must be ruled out before an exorcism begins.  No one, including the afflicted person, should have to go through an exorcism if other treatment — medical or pastoral — is more appropriate.

Experience matters

Even it appears that a demonic entity is the cause of the problem, the solution isn’t always simple.

In the hands of someone inexperienced, exorcisms can go horribly wrong.  The methods and rituals that can drive away malicious spirits that were once human, and cause lesser demons to cower, can make things worse if a more powerful presence is involved.

Currently, the biggest liability is the example set by TV show and movies.

Even when they’re presented as “reality” shows — a loophole that allows networks to pay far less than an actor would earn in a regular TV show — what you’re seeing may not be reality… or anything even vaguely like it.

Waving a cross and walking briskly through a “possessed” house is not a Rite of Exorcism.

In addition, deciding that something is definitely demonic after just one visit… that’s not what really goes on in this field, either.

One of our biggest concerns is the number of people who see something on TV and think that’s what real paranormal researchers do.

They either emulate what they’ve seen acted-out on TV, or — if they’re clients — they expect the team (or expert) to do what was shown on TV.

Both are unhealthy approaches, and they can even be dangerous.

For that reason, we recommend contacting an experienced demonologist if someone is dealing with a potentially dangerous possession.

Remember that a demonologist is someone with expertise in the field of demons.  A demonologist may also be an exorcist, but many demonologists work with exorcists and do not initiate the rituals themselves.

Exorcists must know how to identify an actual possession — since most cases appear to only mimic possession — and which rituals and practices to use at each level of actual possession.

Recommended resources

I recommend only a few people with whom I’ve worked in the past.

John Zaffis – and PRSNE (203) 375-6083


Also, if you might be dealing with a poltergeist rather than a demon, and especially if a teen or a child is involved, contact Peter Haviland.  He travels to meet with clients, and is based in Texas.  Lone Star Spirits –

Photo credit: Michal Zacharzewski, Poland – SXC

[NH] Wilton – Vale End Cemetery, Wilton – Possible Demons

vale-sarahDemons…? At Vale End Cemetery…? I used to laugh at this idea.

In November 1999, our research focused on haunted Gilson Road Cemetery.

I wrote the following report in 2000:

One night when our team was at Gilson Road Cemetery for an investigation, one of our photographers — Nancy, my closest personal friend — brought her teenaged daughter, Alice, with her.

We had a mixed group that night, including believers and skeptics, new researchers and experienced ghost hunters. A few teens were with us.

The investigation went fairly well, with many manifestations and psychic experiences. It wasn’t especially scary. However, some people became frightened, including my friend’s daughter.

A side trip to ‘safe’ Vale End Cemetery

On their way home, Nancy and Alice stopped at Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH. According to Nancy, her plan was to take Alice to a comfortable, familiar cemetery near their home, so she’d feel better about the evening. Besides, Nancy wanted more photos.

They parked the car near the middle of the cemetery, as most of us do when we’re at Vale End. (Remember, this was 1999. From what I’ve heard, the parking area has been moved — or perhaps filled-in, for graves — in the past 10+ years.  I won’t be returning there to check it out.)

The “Blue Lady” gravestone.

And, they strolled towards The Blue Lady‘s headstone. (That’s it, on the right.)

Nancy mentioned being near an attorney’s headstone (identified by the ‘Esq.’ notation on the marker), when something dark seemed to come up out of the ground. She couldn’t tell what it was.

Alice ran in terror back to the car. As Nancy described the scene, she said that something screamed through Alice.

They drove away in such haste, a branch took their outside mirror right off the car.

Some time later that night, Alice called me at home. Fortunately, I was still awake.

She was terrified, and asked if anything follows people home from cemeteries.

I assured her that no, nothing follows you home. If ghosts could leave where they were, they probably wouldn’t be haunting.

A victim of haunted Vale End?

Five days later, Nancy — Hollow Hill’s lead photographer — was found dead as she sat in her car in a busy parking lot in Wilton. Her death must have been sudden, or she’d have hit the horn on the car to get attention. Nancy was the epitome of common sense.  She was also a very physically fit woman, and younger than me.

The hospital declared it a heart attack, and I thought nothing more about the odd circumstances. Mostly, I missed my good friend.

Looking back, if I could have prevented them from visiting Vale End that night… I would have.  And, I wouldn’t have treated Alice’s concerns so lightly.

However, for several months after my friend Nancy’s death, I refused to believe that tragedy had anything to do with ghost hunting.

A terrifying ghost vigil

The following spring, some of us began keeping vigil at Vale End Cemetery, hoping to see the Blue Lady.

One night, four of us were at the cemetery, chatting. Nothing dramatic was going on, although I’d measured some significant EMF levels near the large evergreen just north of the Blue Lady grave.

We were about to call it a night as darkness fell, when I decided to stroll over to the Blue Lady’s headstone for some last-minute photos… just in case.

I was feet away from the attorney’s stone that Nancy had mentioned, when I spotted what I’ve since called ‘a little Grover guy’ about two or three feet from me. (Today, I might call him a little Elmo guy.)

He was short, between two and three feet tall. He looked like he was covered with fur, and disproportionately skinny like Grover.

I paused, startled, but decided to keep walking. After all, if the Grover guy — who was a vivid shade of red* — hadn’t bothered me yet, he probably wouldn’t. And, the figure seemed more amusing than anything to inspire fear.

Then, I walked into something like a force field from Star Trek.  It felt as if I’d hit a glass wall, but there wasn’t anything there.

My story continues at Fear at Vale End Cemetery.

*People have asked why I don’t describe him as “Elmo.” Well, Elmo wasn’t a popular Sesame Street character at that point. Also, Elmo doesn’t have the same distinctively long, skinny arms that Grover has. So, I describe the figure as a “red Grover guy.”