Ghost Hunters: Holy Ghost Busters

Another transcript from the 1990s UK television series, Ghosthunters. I find the psychological aspects of this episode very interesting. It's also interesting to note that those who are trained by the church to deal with such situations are given an amalgum of advice from church, psychologists and psychiatrists. These things are clearly dealt with very sensitively and take in a broad spectrum of surrounding circumstances. That's definitely not to say 'ghosts are bunk' - but more to acknowledge that people who experience such things might be predisposed to do so, in some way. 

Narrator: A sleepy seaside town in north Yorkshire. A typical parish church. Inside, the local priest is going through the rituals of an exorcism. For the priest, this is by no means an unusual experience. This ‘Service of Deliverance’ as it’s so called, is set out in exactly the same way as those for christenings and marriages. Not used as often, perhaps. But it is being called upon more frequently as people turn to the church for help in situations they don’t understand. For Jane, however, the young mother involved, it is intensely traumatic – her life has changed so rapidly. Just six months ago she was perfectly happy, living in a small apartment with her young daughter. Then she began to feel that her life was being invaded by a threatening spirit. Eventually in desperation she turned to her local priest. This is the second exorcism she’s been through in a matter of weeks.

Jane: Strange things started happening in about October last year. First, I must admit it was a big joke, I mean with Chloe’s toys moving about. Friends would come round and throw a toy through the door and say “Oh god! It’s moving!”

Jean, Jane’s mother: I didn’t think a lot about what she was saying at first, because I thought she’d have to experience a bit more until I could see... until I could understand it, because I couldn’t understand it, you know. I didn’t know if it was imagination, or anything, because I couldn’t see anything. And I was willing to watch, because I was interested in watching.

Jane: The thing that brought it to a head was, I’d put all the lights on in the flat while I was going to bed, and I just sat up in bed really thinking I’m going to challenge whatever this thing is. And I said, well if you’re there now, I can’t really see you because all my lights are on, and if you show yourself I won’t see anything. And with that, my little girl’s nightlight flew off the shelf into her cot, just missing her. And the light went out, so I automatically dived out of bed thinking it might have hit Chloe, and as I walked towards the cot, the shelves that the nightlight was on just flipped up as if this thing was saying – this weren’t an accident, the lights won’t bother me.

Jean: Finally I went down to stay with her, this particular evening, and got in bed at the side where she said this person or thing had been touching [her?] in the middle of the night, and she said “It’s coming for me now, mum”. And I said – well I can’t feel anything – which I didn’t. But I could hear the clicking that she said it was.

Jane: The tapping started at the right side near me, and mum said – look, it’s your radiator, something like that. Well the tapping just turned into a great big banging, as if someone was banging on the kitchen door. And then I just got the icy cold feeling, and I said “It’s here again.” But this time when it came, it weren’t just an uncomfortable feeling, it were a feeling that it wanted to hurt me, like as if it had got its hands round my face, squeezing them. You know, squeezing my face.

Jean: She said it was on her, she screwed up, she was clawing at her face, pulling her hair and everything. And that lasted a few minutes and it went away again. So we rang Reverend Willis, who came down.

Narrator: Tom Willis is close to retirement. He’s been a priest for over forty years, and he has a strong reputation for the sensitivity and clarity with which he handles paranormal cases. His view of the role of exorcism might be described perhaps as the older, traditional view of the church: ghosts exist, they can and do interact with living people, and the service of exorcism is designed to drive out the alien spirit when its presence causes fear and dread.

Reverend Tom Willis: I command in the name of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, any evil around you or within you to be bound, and to go from this place never to return, doing no harm to anyone in the going. Through the power, and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reigns supreme over all things, now and forever, Amen.
The biggest problem in all this ministry is diagnosis. You know, is it really happening, for a start, is it hysteria. What evidence is there that other people have witnessed things. In this case, certainly a lot of people seem to have witnessed and experienced things happening. Well where there is a haunting, there is a distortion. It’s a kind of spiritual sickness. And therefore our ministry is to bring healing to it, and to bring the peace of God back to this place. Erm, and therefore to send that soul to the place appointed for it. Erm, if it something evil, to command it to go to that place appointed to it, never to return. The ministry is really freeing people from oppression of some kind.

Narrator: Tom Willis’s first response was to call on Jane, and to try to bless her and the flat. But what might have seemed a simple act proved impossible to carry out.

Jane: He tried to start blessing me, and I just wouldn’t have it. I mean a lot of the things, I just didn’t know what I was doing. But I’d just like pass out, and when I came round I just felt drained of every bit of energy I’d got.

Jean: We finally got her out of there, physically, dragging her out, up to our home. We spent a restless night at home, at my house, and then we took her to church the next day.

Narrator: When the attempt at blessing failed, Tom decided to carry out a full exorcism in the church. But once again, whatever it was that was troubling Jane, drove her into a violent and uncontrolled reaction.

Jane: He tried to give me a card to read. I wouldn’t mention the name Jesus, I just could not bring myself to say it. Um, at one point this thing came, and I was aware – it’s the only thing I can really remember – I was aware of Reverend Willis trying to put holy oil on me. And all I was thinking was ‘get him away, don’t let him near me.’

Jean: They laid hands, finally they laid hands on her and blessed her, and a most terrible noise came from her. Ooh [shakes head] I can’t explain it really. It was like a scream, a growl, a spitting, a snarl – terrible. That went on for about twenty minutes, and then she just blacked out. When she came round, she was able to repeat this renunciation on the card, what Reverend Willis asked her to do. And we went out of church, and she’d got colour in her cheeks, and her hair had gone straight.

Narrator: When this first exorcism failed, Jane found it impossible to continue living in the flat in which up till then she’d been so happy. She simply couldn’t overcome her sense of fear and dread.

Jane: A friend knew what I was going through, and I had the offer of the flat I’m in now. Because perhaps I mean I would have stayed at my mum’s longer, but like I’d got all my furniture, I’d got nowhere to put it, and I suppose really I kept saying to myself ‘be strong enough to keep going – don’t let this thing beat you.’ About a month ago, I was obviously in bed asleep, the next minute I got out. I can remember coming out the bedroom and trying to go in the kitchen for a drink. It was as if something, something was trying to stop me getting this drink. And I was just literally, well I thought I was falling on the floor, but as I’ve looked into it I realise now I’d tried to get up two or three times. I mean I had cuts all over me, bruises. But at the end of that episode I just literally lay on the floor and curled up, and the only thoughts that were going through my mind was ‘If I lay here and die, somebody’ll find Chloe because my front curtains were shut.’

Narrator: When Jane found that the sense of oppression had followed her into her new apartment she became desperate. She turned again to the only source of help she knew, Tom Willis. And despite the agonies of her first experience, she agreed to go through a second exorcism service. It is now some weeks since that second exorcism. It was clearly a more controlled and calm event. Jane experienced nothing like the pain and anguish of her first service. But despite that, the deep underlying anxiety remains – the constant fear that the sense of an alien spirit will return.

Reverend Willis: The only thing that makes sense is that there seems to be something trying desperately to communicate with her because she’s a mother. Erm, and trying to draw near to the child and herself. We’ve tried to do some research on her original flat, and we understand there was a tragedy connected with the flat, when a child died.

Jean: There still seems to be something there with Jane, because she’s still not settled. But it’s a different kind of thing. She just senses that there’s something around her, but not making her do things she doesn’t want to do. It’s not making her ill. She can’t sleep though at nights. And she is frightened, really.

Narrator: The Christian church has of course been dealing with the spirit world ever since its inception. So there’s a great body of tradition and experience in this field. But in modern times the Anglican church, for example, has re-examined and redefined its position. It is now very much less concerned with driving out evil spirits, and much more concerned with psychology and treating the whole person. The modern Anglican clergyman will have been exposed to the latest psychiatric and psychological views to assist in dealing with paranormal cases.

Canon Dominic Walker, Christian Deliverance Study Group: In the 1960s the Bishop of Exeter set up a commission of psychiatrists and priests to look at the whole question of ministry and exorcism. And the reason for this was that so many people were turning up on vicarage doorsteps saying that they’d got paranormal activity, or they’d been involved in the occult, and the clergy didn’t know how to deal with it. And so one of the recommendations of that report, which was put into effect, was that each bishop would appoint clergy within his diocese to deal with this particular ministry. And we train them to do it, so when they’re sent on a training course there are psychiatrists and psychologists and clergy with vast experience present, so that they can be taught how to approach these particular problems. And particularly to be taught to look for a natural or psychological explanation before going for a paranormal one.
We have a problem from having the Greek understanding of a human being – we divide people into body, mind, and spirit, with the G.P., the psychologist and the priest dealing with the different parts. That wouldn’t have been an understanding that Jesus had. I mean he would have used the Hebraic model, which is to see a person as a whole person. So a person was a soul, a person didn’t possess a soul. And so he could forgive someone’s sins and heal their body at the same time. And we really need to get back to that sort of ministry.

Narrator: It all sounds very clear, in theory at least. But how does that highly structured, somewhat academic position stand up to the test of reality? To the kind of problem that more and more people are bringing to the local churchmen. Tom Willis has two or three cases every month – they’re all profoundly different. After seeing Jane, for example, with her deep seated, deeply personal fears, he is now on his way to another request for help: a woman who believes that her house has been taken over by a spirit.

Tom Willis: And this particular case, the local vicar rang up, and a woman in his parish was reporting something appearing every evening, or most evenings around about eight o’clock, nine o’clock at night. Several people have witnessed it or experienced it – a tremendous sense of coldness, a sense of a presence coming into the room, and just standing there. And she thinks it’s something to do with her aunt, because when she brought in two vases which belonged to her aunt, that that began the whole thing. She seems a very sensible person from the phone call, and the phenomena seem to be very familiar stuff really. I think it will need simply a blessing of the house, and praying for the woman who has died.

Tony Waites: Well, um, we just got a message to go and pick up these particular vases from a house in York. I had never been anywhere near the place or anything, and apparently Carol was telling me a bit of the story about them, that she’d seen them when she was a bit of a kiddie, and this aunt had said ‘they’re yours when you grow up, or when I die’. So we found the house and went in, and had a cup of tea, and there were these three black plastic bags on the floor, and her auntie there was telling her various stories about what went on – you know, about the old girl that had died, and what she’d left and all that.

Carol: I had a talk with her sister. She pointed out where the vases were. I put them in the car. Mr Waites and myself went to Clifton, to the shops, and I’d left the car outside the pet shop in Clifton. I came out and it wasn’t there.

Tony: And, ‘where the hell is the car?!’ you know, it was like that. Well we found it, and it wasn’t where we’d put it, I’m sure.

Carol: We got stuck in a traffic jam – the car overheated. We managed to get out of the traffic jam, we came up to the house. I put the vases and the urn onto the settee, and from there my troubles began.

Narrator: Carol had always been very close to her aunt Alice, in fact she’d been virtually brought up by her. They’d always had a strong and loving relationship until two years or so ago, when they had a powerful argument. The two still hadn’t become reconciled when the aunt died. The vases bequeathed in the will were placed on windowsills on the stairs and in the bedrooms.

Tony: There was a plant on the window ledge, and I said ‘That plant’s moving!’. The leaves were moving and there was no draught, it was a lovely autumn night really. And after that it started getting colder, and I said ‘Is it going to freeze tonight?’ … all this tingling … that draught … I actually got on the floor, and went checking all around – ‘There’s no draughts’, the dog was laying against the door. And after about an hour I said ‘Well it’s getting warm again now, this is strange.’ The next night, the same thing happens again, I looked at the clock. And then it got to be a bit of a joke. I used to say to her, ‘Eh up, it’s about time for Aunty Alice to come!’ – as a joke. But it got a bit serious then.

Carol: The house is I think fourteen year old. It’s got a [?], it’s got central heating, the heating is always on, and it’s a warm house. On a night, anywhere from half past eight to ten o’clock at night, it is so icy, it is so cold, and it starts from the stairs and works its way down.

Tony: And it gets to the witching hour, sort of thing, and I never really sensed anything, only the cold as such, and out of my eye corner – sensed something on the stairs, to my right. And I thought, well, what’s that? I daren’t look, but I looked through my eye corners at it. There was this shape, five foot, shimmering grey black. I couldn’t really define whether it was a human being or what. But it was stood at the bottom, base of the stairs there. And the dogs, one dog previous to this had been looking up the stairs, as if there was someone up the stairs. He kept looking and I said ‘shut up’ – he was grumbling and panting a little bit. About an hour after that, Carol said ‘I’ve just seen something on the stairs’.

Carol: And I said to Tony, ‘There’s something at the bottom of the stairs.’ And Tony says, ‘It’s been here an hour.’ And I said ‘You’re joking.’ And I happened to look to the stairs, and it had vanished.

Tony: She said ‘Well what was it!’ and I explained to her what it was, this five foot figure of sorts, this shadow. Shimmering, not moving, just shimmering. And she said ‘Well Aunty Alice was only five foot something.’

Carol: I know for a fact that she’s actually haunting me. For the simple reason is, she was taken into hospital, and she always said, that she would come back and haunt. And little did I know, she is actually haunting me.

Narrator: Carol is a person with an immensely strong and stable personality. But as her sense of unease deepened, she began to look around for help. Her local vicar referred the case to Tom Willis.

Tom Willis: Well the service that we’d do here, the blessing of a house, is a traditional one in which we start at the front door, and pray that the peace of God may return to this house, assuming that there is a disturbance or that there are memories and possibly hauntings in connection with this house. And it’s blessing all four walls of each room with holy water. In some sense you get memories hanging around objects, it would seem. And therefore it’s important to bless the actual object around which is the centre of attention, to specifically command that the peace of God may remove the disturbance or the memory which seems to hang around that particular object. The problem is, we don’t really know if it really is hanging around, why she’s hanging around. Is it that she’s trying to force her into a course of action – she’s saying, you know, she’s still trying to dominate the family. Well I hope after blessing the house, that Carol will report that there is a warmth in the house which was not there before – that there’s a sense of peace about the place. And objectively that the soul of Alice has gone in peace, and will bother them no more.

Narrator: It does seem, that despite many hundreds of years of experience, the church certainly doesn’t have all the answers, as far as the paranormal is concerned. Indeed it’s quite difficult to reconcile the experiences of people like Jane and Carol with the somewhat sterile official position. And what of Jane and Carol – how have their lives been changed by the religious intervention? For Carol, it hasn’t improved matters. Whatever is troubling her house seems to have become more noisy and boisterous. There are now bangings and rumblings, and heavy footsteps on the stairs. For Jane, after a while after the second exorcism, things got much worse. Eventually Tom Willis called in a psychic medium, and they claim they made contact with the spirit of a young girl who died tragically in the area a hundred years ago in 1897. They established from local records that had indeed happened. The night following that encounter, Jane suddenly felt the oppression lift from her.  It hasn’t returned.