Narrator: Voodoo: it’s a strange and powerful word which conjures up all sorts of contrasting images. From the melodramatic scenes in Hollywood B movies, to the terror of alien possession. Various types of voodoo have existed for hundreds of years in a subculture of the West Indies. But the fact is that the practice of voodoo today is stronger than ever, not only in its native Haiti and around the Caribbean, and the American Deep South, but wherever Caribbean populations have emigrated – even in London.
Hyacinth: Voodoo is African witchcraft. It’s practised in every society – they have different names for it. Some call it obeah, some call it jumbee, some people just call it black magic. What it does is, it can protect people, it can cause harm, and it is a mixture of Christianity and rituals all descended from Africa. The bible is strongly used in voodoo.
Narrator: At its most benign voodoo is a kind of religion, steeped in mysticism with a strong belief in the separation between body and spirit. Living spirits, it is believed, can vacate one body and enter that of another. But even spirits of the dead can enter into living bodies.
Hyacinth: Well, voodoo leaders and priestesses and shepherds[?], they do believe your spirit wander from your body many a times. And actually at twelve midday that’s when they believe your body is at its most vulnerable. Because then you don’t cast a shadow, which means the spirit has left the body, and the body is empty. So the wrong spirit could come back in your body. Your spirit might be wandering around and when it comes back there’s no space for it. Because when it comes back that space has been filled by a spirit that does not belong to your body.
Narrator: But voodoo has a far more sinister side. Practitioners claim to be able to harness the spirits of the dead and direct them at unfortunate victims, so creating a sort of spiritual weapon which can cause real mental and physical harm even over great distances.
Hyacinth: These spirits can do real harm. They can do serious damage, they can cause mental illness. They can cause physical deformity that you could never imagine. You have to have death. You have to have spirit of the dead. Whether good spirits or bad spirits. Bad spirits we get from people who have died untimely death. People who lived horrible lives. They are the ones whose spirit you could call upon to actually inflict hurt. You couldn’t call upon that spirit to inflict any good on anybody. Because that spirit died miserable.
Narrator: This extraordinary story of voodoo possession takes place in no more exotic a place than North London in a very ordinary suburban house. It concerns Gay, she believes that a voodoo attack aimed at her from far away Mississippi has invaded her house and is taking over her life. Gay claims that nameless entities have appeared throughout her house and actually attacked her physically.
Gay [A white woman with a London accent]: I’ve had different kind of things here, and they are like animals, I mean they are from hell itself. I can’t even walk out my house and have a break to get away from them. These actually follow me out of my house to wherever I’m going. And as I’m walking up the street they’re pulling at my jacket. They’re picking stones or something at my legs.
Narrator: Her husband John has also experienced a range of terrifying paranormal events.
John [A black man with an American accent]: I’ve seen figurines that I know are solid objects move. I’ve seen smoke coming from places where there’s no fire and no opening. I’ve seen shapes that look like people when there’s obviously nobody there.
Narrator: Gay and John were married while John was serving in the American Air Force and stationed in Britain. When John left the forces they set up house in London. Ultimately marital problems led John to return to his native Mississippi for a while. There he entered into a romantic relationship with a former girlfriend.
John: Well I more or less met someone that I knew back in school, years ago. And it seemed to be starting out as a casual friendship. But as I’ve learned, there was nothing casual about it.
Gay: An old school sweetheart, or supposed to have been [rolls eyes]. Um, but in fact she was into voodoo and a lot of herbal things that they use to control people down in Mississippi.
John: It seems to be part of the underground culture of Mississippi. You hear about different people spoken in whispers, because they say it’s not a good idea to speak their name out loud, and the different things they tend to do to people around them if they don’t like you. They either get rid of you one way or another.
Narrator: John admits that while he was in Mississippi he personally took part in voodoo ceremonies. When he returned to London and to Gay, the troubles began.
Gay: The woman in Mississippi is to blame for everything.
John: It seems like the essence of her plan was to – might as well say, get even with me for things I’ve done to her, wrongdoings I’ve done to her. And the easiest way to do that was to start with what was closest to me. And Gay sure is one of the closest things to me, so the easiest way to get to me was to go after them. I’m not sure how they could transmit that kind of power over this distance. But it’s being done! I wish I had the knowledge to understand how they do it. Then I’d have a better chance of being able to effect stopping it.
Narrator: The voodoo tradition suggests that voodoo attacks can be transmitted in a number of ways, often acting through some object or item of clothing belonging to the victim.
Hyacinth: A curse can be placed on someone by taking bits of their clothes and their fingernails, hair, stuff like that. With their clothing, it can’t be anything new. It has to be something that the person has worn and has perspiration. They don’t even have to wear it again. All they have to do is take that to the obeah man or the voodoo man. Whatever is going to be put it in like oil or powder or stuff like that. They take that there and it’s placed in it. It can be given to you through food or stuff thrown around your house. Or even if the person don’t have anything for you, by just getting to know the person by looking, you can actually have something done to them. You don’t have to take anything of the person.
John: There are some people I have heard rumours of who are practically vegetables because they really have no mind any more. They’ve been affected so much by what has been done to them.
Narrator: Voodoo ceremonies frequently involve groups of people banding together to combine their psychic powers. It raises profound questions about the nature of evil.
Eddie Burks, Psychic Medium: It is alarming when one hears that a band of people can cause an attack like this at a distance, but let’s look at it at two levels. We know very well that people can band together and cause the most terrible things to happen. We’ve witnessed it recently in Ruanda and we’ve witnessed it Bosnia. I mean here we have groups of soldiers killing their neighbours, raping them and so on. Now it’s in our nature that we can group together and behave very basely, and when we gather together we’re apt to strengthen the intention to be base. And if we now translate that into the context of the psychic, spiritual level – well more the psychic than the spiritual - with the greater freedom over distance that that can offer, it becomes much more understandable. It’s only human nature behaving like human nature, but with more power at its elbow.
Narrator: It seems totally incredible that voodoo or witchcraft practices carried out in far away Mississippi can be felt here in London. How could that be possible?
Prof. Brian Josephson, Nobel Laureate in Physics: The theory we use nowadays suggests that sometimes one bit of matter may influence another bit of matter at a distance, and erm some experiments carried out in France suggest this really does happen. They had, in one part of a laboratory they had something that was being switched at a high speed, and there was a corresponding effect across the other side of the room. And that effect was found so rapidly that even a signal travelling at the speed of light would not have been able to get from one end of the room to the other in time to have an influence. So science does at any rate does have some strange things connected with distant influence.
Dr Peter Fenwick, Consultant Neuro Psychiatrist: The most interesting piece of research that really makes my hair stand up, is two studies. The first is the one from America that shows that mind can directly influence matter, the way balls fall – amazing. The second one is some studies from Mexico that shows that one brain, if it’s in empathic contact with another brain, can alter that brain’s activity directly. Now if that’s true, then mind can act at a distance. Amazing studies.
Eddie Burks: We know from many experiments that telepathy works over long distances, and just as effectively from one continent to another as from one room to another. And this has been shown by various people, Dr J B Rhine for example did a lot of work on this.
Narrator: According to both Gay and John, undoubtedly the most fearful and terrifying aspect of this case is that the evil powers in Mississippi have even attempted, and Gay claims succeeded, in attacking Gay sexually.
John: As to whether or not this presence could rape her – yes. Because the physical effects that I’ve seen, like when she has cuts on her legs, that seem to just come from nowhere. Or she has a bruise that just shows up mysteriously. She hasn’t banged herself anywhere, and a bruise comes up for nothing. It’s like if they can affect her physically like that, then of course they could rape her.
Eddie Burks: In my experience, sexual assaults are often associated with severe hauntings, and with the sort of attack that we’ve been associated with in this programme. And this, these sexual assaults can take various forms. In the less severe cases there’s the presence of sexual intereference for example, in the early stages of going to sleep or waking up. And the worrying thing for me as someone trying to deal with some of these cases, is that the person that’s affected by such attack is sometimes unwilling to let it go. Because of this they have found some perverse satisfaction.
John: Them raping her makes you want to go out and do something physically to them. It makes you wish you had them right to hand where you could deal with them there. Not in this form where you can see them move but you can’t touch them.
Narrator: Voodoo curses, uttered in far away Mississippi, and having an effect on a woman in suburban north London – it seems impossible to believe. But Gay’s own accounts of her ordeal, even when they’re related some time after the event, are very disturbing. She claims that she has been psychically raped.
Gay: Well when I was raped in Suffolk [poss. Southwark], it was like somebody – I was sitting on the bed – and it was like somebody pinched my backside and made me jump. And I started getting cramps in my stomach and I had to sit down. And I just felt this thing inside of me, and the pain was excruciating, and I just went berserk because – I knew what was happening but I didn’t know how to stop it. And I was running round banging my back into the wall, thinking that might get it off. And pleading with it to stop, because it was really really hurting. It felt like it was going to come through my stomach.
Narrator: Because of the strangeness of the circumstances, a question about the state of Gay’s mind cannot be avoided. Has she suffered from a series of psychic attacks? Or is the problem linked to her own anxieties, her own fantasies?
Eddie Burks: When I get a case of this sort, in order to judge the validity of it I take into account the personality of the person, as far as I’m able to assess it first of all over the telephone, or maybe on first acquaintance. I also take into account the type of phenomena that they describe. I mean by now I’ve a fairly good idea of what characterises a real event. And what characterises something which is psychotic. And I judged from my talk with her that this was genuine.
Gay: Yeah. When I first had all this trouble, and I was raped, I went to see my doctor in [Suffolk / Southwark] and I told him what had happened. And he of course sent me to see a psychiatrist. And I was all for it. I would have loved nothing more than to be told I was mad, because I didn’t understand. So I saw this psychiatrist that was there for that day, and the first thing he asked me was, did I hear voices. Was I hearing voices. And I just went crazy, because if I heard voices, I could ask them, you know, and I’d hear a reply, what’s going on. And after everything cooled down, I told him everything that had happened, the psychiatrist, and he was from Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge. And he turned round and he told me that he was going back to tell my doctor, in the next room, that I needed no medication. And that as far as he was concerned, I was saner than he was, and that he was only sorry that he didn’t know anybody that he could put me in contact with.
Narrator: In some considerable desperation Gay and John eventually sought help. They called in Eddie Burks, one of this country’s leading psychic mediums. Despite the power of John and Gay’s story, Eddie Burks found no alien presence in the house.
Eddie [to John and Gay in their front room]: Have you an upright chair like a kitchen chair? Have you got an upright chair I could use? So you’ve not been too troubled today?
Gay: I’ve been… There’s been things around me but not the smell that…
Eddie Burks: When I met her this confirmed my feeling that this was genuine. So therefore I was rather pleased that I’d been called in to help.
Eddie [sitting on his upright chair]: It’s been quiet all day. There really is no influence in this place at all at the moment, as far as I can see. It’s just gone. It’s kept out the way.
Eddie Burks: I would normally expect to go into a house like that and get some sense of the psychic ambience of the place. But when I went in it was as though it had been cleaned out, it was clear. And I thought about this and came to the conclusion that the unpleasant psychic phenomena, the entities concerned had withdrawn completely – because they would have quite clearly anticipated my coming, it would have been talked about, it was mentally projected and so on. They got out of the way.
Eddie [on his chair]: Can you feel the presence ascending through now? Different, isn’t it, to the dark presence. Intention is to flood this place with light. Not the sort of light that we can see with the ordinary vision, but the bright light of the angelic presence that’s here, which has a great power of cleansing. It has an astringent quality, and will make this place untenable by the forces of darkness. I’d like to just – can you join hands, as a threesome – this will help to protect you as well. I do all this in the name of God, in the name of Jesus. I would like to seal off this visit with the Lord’s Prayer. And you can join me in this if you wish. Our Father, Who Art In Heaven….
Eddie Burks: The individual left on their own and not having access to this sort of help is best advised to use prayer. To go back to whatever religious belief they have if they have one. Most people have one from their young days. And use that as the platform from which they begin to build up a defence. Religious traditions have a power of their own, whatever they come from they have a power of their own. And in a sense, what the religious tradition does is offer a power in the same region of the non-material as the attack is coming from.
Hyacinth: There are many ways in which you can protect yourself. There’s the cross, the bible, certain scriptures from the bible you can use. There are rings and chains, charms and colours, and actual lines and sayings that you will actually get only from a voodoo priestess. Only from her can you get those to protect yourself.
John [after Eddie has left the house]: I feel, well I’ll just say – different. The heat that seemed to come on all of a sudden, I can still feel it all over me. There’s energy or something rippling up and down my back. And my mood feels a bit lighter.
Gay: They won’t change. And they knew Eddie was coming. So that’s why he probably didn’t pick anything up. Except that it had been here. But they would have been destroyed if they’d been here when Eddie came. So maybe that’s the last of them here at least.
Narrator: For a while after Eddie’s visit the house remained calm and quiet. But since then, Gay says the alien spirits have returned to haunt her.