Are demons real? Though evil spirits possessing the body of a hapless human victim seems like the stuff of science fiction, the possibility of being possessed by demons is, in fact, a common belief held by religions around the world. Even the Christian Bible alludes to demonic possession more than thirty times, including several cases of Jesus "casting out demons" from people. Most religions offer prayers, spells, or incantations that are used to remove these invading spirits via exorcism rituals.
As hard as it may be to believe, countless accounts by victims and witnesses dating back to ancient times are hard to ignore. Let's explore ten cases of truly scary and, by all accounts, real demonic possession.
Note: For most of these cases, there are no photographs for us to share with you here. We have used images from movies and other sources to illustrate this post.
1Clara Germana Cele
In 1906, Clara Germana Cele was a Christian student at St. Michael's Mission in Natal, South Africa. For some reason, Cele prayed and made a pact with Satan when she was sixteen years-old, and just days later, Cele was overtaken by strange impulses. She was repulsed by religious artifacts like crucifixes, she could speak and understand several languages of which she had no previous knowledge, and she became clairvoyant regarding the thoughts and histories of the people around her.
Nuns who attended to Cele reported that she produced horrible, animalistic sounds; she also levitated up to five feet in the air. Eventually, two priests were brought in to perform an exorcism. Cele tried to strangle one of the priests with his stole, and over one hundred and seventy people witnessed her levitating as the priests read Scripture. Over the course of two days, the rites of exorcism successfully drove the dark spirits from her body.
Anneliese Michel is a controversial case, as well as the subject of many fictional accounts of her tragic story, most notably the 2005 courtroom drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sixteen year-old Anneliese Michel had a history of epilepsy and mental illness, for which she had often been treated at a psychiatric hospital. However, in 1973 Michel become suicidal, spurned all religious artifacts, drank her own urine, and began to hear voices. Medicine did nothing to help the girl, who begged her family to bring in a priest because she believed that she was possessed by demons. Though her request was rejected, two local priests secretly began treating her with exorcism rites. Meanwhile, her parents stopped treating her epilepsy and mental disorders. She was dead within a year.
Michel had almost seventy exorcisms performed on her over the course of ten months. She refused to eat, and often talked of dying as a martyr. Many of the attempted exorcisms were recorded:
Anneliese Michel died from emaciation and starvation. Consequently, her parents and the priests responsible were charged with negligent homicide.
3"Roland Doe"/"Robbie Mannheim"
Known as the "real" story behind the novel and Hollywood movie The Exorcist, the tale of fourteen year-old Roland Doe is one of the most notorious stories of demonic possession. In fact, Roland Doe is not his real name; it is a pseudonym assigned to him by the Catholic church in order to preserve the boy's privacy. In the late 1940s, Doe's aunt encouraged him to use a Ouija board, and many speculate that after her death the boy attempted to contact his aunt with the Ouija board, an act which opened the door for the demons who wished to possess him.
The possession started with strange sounds, like dripping water, that no one could place. Eventually, religious artifacts began to quake and fly off the walls, and unexplained footsteps and scratching noises could be heard around the home. Scratches began to appear on the boy's body, including words that seemed to have been carved into his flesh by unseen claws. The boy spoke in tongues in a guttural voice and levitated in the air, with his body contorted in pain.
His family brought in a Catholic priest, who determined that the boy was possessed by evil spirits and needed an exorcism. The exorcism ritual was performed over thirty times, with the boy injuring the priest many times throughout. When, at last, the rite was successful, the entire hospital heard Doe's cries of bestial anguish and reported a horrible sulfuric odor hanging in the air.
In 2008, Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, documented the case of a patient nicknamed "Julia" whom he deduced was indeed possessed by demons. It's rare that a scientist and psychiatrist would acknowledge the possibility of possession; typically doctors think that possession is either fraudulent or a result of mental illness.
Dr. Gallagher personally observed items flying around the room, Julia levitating off the bed, speaking in tongues, and knowing things about people around her that she could not possibly have known. Here is an excerpt from Gallagher's statement:
“Periodically, in our presence, Julia would go into a trance state of a recurring nature,” writes Gallagher. “Mentally troubled individuals often ‘dissociate,' but Julia's trances were accompanied by an unusual phenomenon: Out of her mouth would come various threats, taunts and scatological language, phrases like ‘Leave her alone, you idiot,' ‘She's ours,' ‘Leave, you imbecile priest,' or just ‘Leave.' The tone of this voice differed markedly from Julia's own, and it varied, sometimes sounding guttural and vaguely masculine, at other points high pitched. Most of her comments during these ‘trances,' or at the subsequent exorcisms, displayed a marked contempt for anything religious or sacred.”
5Arne Cheyenne Johnson
Known as the "Demon Murder Trial," the case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson is the first known court case in the United States during which the defense attempted to prove that the defendant was not guilty by reason of possession.
In 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson murdered his landlord, Alan Bono, in Connecticut. Johnson's attorneys argued that his actions indicated a pattern of erratic behavior that had begun when Johnson was just a child. Johnson's family had even consulted with "demonologists" Ed and Lorraine Warren, saying that the child had been taunted and harassed by unknown entities for most of his life. They also asserted that his evil-doings resulted not from a psychological disorder, but from demonic possession.
Ultimately, the judge ruled that demonic possession was not a valid defense against first-degree murder. Johnson was convicted and served a mere five years of his ten to twenty year sentence.
6David Berkowitz, AKA "Son of Sam"
In 1976, the people of New York City were terrorized by a serial killer known as the "Son of Sam," or the ".44 Caliber Killer." For more than a year, the killer lead police on a wild goose chase, leaving behind taunting notes at the crime scenes. Six people were killed and seven others severely wounded in the "Summer of Sam."
When the killer was finally apprehended, he was identified as David Berkowitz. Berkowitz confessed to all of the shootings and claimed that he was commanded to kill by a demon. Berkowitz did not claim to be possessed himself, however; he claimed that his neighbor's dog was possessed, and the dog had ordered him to perform the killings. Berkowitz was sentenced to six life sentences, and in the mid-1990s he issued an amendment to his confession, claiming that he had indeed been a member of a Satanic cult that had orchestrated the incidents as part of a ritual murder.
Michael Taylor and his wife, Christine, lived in a small town in Great Britain called Ossett. The couple was very religious, and had joined a Christian prayer group lead by Marie Robinson. At one meeting in 1974, Christine Taylor accused her husband and Robinson of having an affair, which both people hotly denied. Michael Taylor then spewed obscenities and began acting extremely erratic and out of character, leading witnesses to think that he seemed possessed by evil.
After months of crazy behavior, Taylor eventually consulted with clergy who performed an exorcism. The exorcism lasted for well over twenty-four hours, and the priests involved claimed to have removed forty demons from the man's body. However, before he left, the priests warned him that the demon of murder remained dormant in his soul.
As soon as Taylor arrived home, he brutally murdered his wife and their dog. He was later found wandering the streets, covered in blood. At his trial, he was acquitted by reason of insanity.
In 1778, English tailor George Lukins claimed to be possessed. The man would often sing in a voice and language that was not his own, and finally neighbors, concerned by his increasingly frightening behavior, reached out to the church to help the man.
Lukins was sent to a hospital for over twenty months, but doctors could not help him. His caregivers discharged him, even more convinced that his affliction was demonic in nature. During his possession, a very violent Lukins reportedly claimed that he was the devil, barked like a dog, and sang hymns backward. In 1778, after Lukins claimed to be possessed by seven demons that could only be driven out by seven clergymen, the church got involved. Seven priests assembled at Temple Church, where they performed an exorcism. When the ceremony was over, priests claimed that the man had been delivered from the demons who possessed him, and George Lukins exclaimed, "Blessed Jesus!" Lukins then praised God, recited the Lord's prayer, and thanked the priests.
9Anna Ecklund: The Earling Possession
By the time she was just fourteen years-old, a girl from Earling, Iowa named Anna Ecklund began showing signs of demonic possession. The girl had been raised a devout Catholic, however her father and aunt, who practiced witchcraft, allegedly cursed the girl routinely and used herbs to taint her food. Soon, she could not tolerate religious artifacts, became sexually depraved, and could not enter a church. In 1912, the girl underwent a successful exorcism, but after being "cured" of her possession, her father and aunt prayed to Satan for her to suffer even more, and within a year the girl had become possessed by multiple entities, many of whom are said to be the same spirits who possessed Annaliese Michel.
In 1928, Ecklund again sought help from the church. She was placed in a convent where her exorcism would take place, and the girl's behavior worsened while in the care of the nuns. When the nuns would bless her food before entering her room, Ecklund could sense the blessing. She would hiss at the nuns and throw the food on the floor. She would tolerate food that had not been blessed. Witnesses testified to seeing the girl speak and understand foreign languages she'd never heard before. They also claimed that she defied gravity by levitating and clinging to the wall. The girl was clairvoyant and often vomited and spit at the priests. Her eyes bulged and her body was so bloated and heavy that she nearly broke the iron bed on which she lay.
After twenty-three days and three complete exorcism rituals, the clergymen finally declared her free from the demons who had possessed her.
10Pope Francis Exorcises Boy
The Catholic church performs thousands of exorcisms each year, and Pope Francis has said that he believes that Satan is real, and that the battle against evil is one that he must fight every day. In May of 2013, the newly-elected Pope allegedly performed a brief exorcism live on camera. As he was moving down the line of disabled people, offering blessings, the Pontiff paused before a boy in a wheelchair. Grasping the boy by the head, the boy shuddered and gasped before going limp.
See the moment yourself: