The REAL Exorcist: Vicar reveals how he took on a truly terrifying new role
At heart, I’m your classic Anglican vicar. I’m the priest who will conduct your wedding service, baptise your child and come to see you when you’ve lost a loved one. But I am also a deliverance minister — a side-line I decided to pursue after my own experience, writes Rev Jason Bray, pictured
The fear on my wife’s face was the first real clue. She’d woken to the sound of our baby Tom crying, walked into his bedroom and realised it was freezing. But only in the area around his cot.
Laura and I had moved into our home the previous summer, just before my ordination. It was an old council house in Wales that the Church felt was ideal for a curate.
That first winter, the whole place was dark and dank, and we could never really get warm even when every radiator was on full-blast.
This was particularly weird, given the house had new double-glazed windows. But there was nothing we could do. It was simply a cold house.
Then came Laura’s experience, followed by something that shook my trust in rational explanations. Late one night, I’d gone to the bathroom, washed my hands and turned towards the door.
It was closed, but I sensed there was something — someone — on the other side, staring straight at me. A prickling sensation ran through me, from top to bottom.
But it wasn’t just a sense, it was a concrete vision. He — I knew it was a he — was about my height and wearing a wooden mask, roughly twice as wide as his face, with sunrays shooting off in all directions. The mask had holes for his eyes which were drilling into mine.
After a few seconds, I also began to sense malice. I was paralysed with terror, unable to breathe.
Eventually, however, I managed to run back to our bedroom, where I threw myself under the covers and tried to tell Laura what I’d seen. I was a gibbering mess.
I kept insisting what I’d seen and sensed couldn’t have really been there. But Laura suspected otherwise. ‘I think it’s time we spoke to the vicar,’ she said.
As the vicar was my boss, I worried he’d think I’d gone crazy. So when I sidled up to him at a cheese and wine party the following evening, I expected him to recommend a good heating engineer and advise me to pull myself together.
To my relief he took me seriously. He turned up the next day with a Bible, a bottle of holy water and a sprinkler. He walked from room to room, praying silently and blessing the house.
Finally, we gathered in the living-room and said the Lord’s Prayer. The change was almost instant: somehow it felt as though the house had become friendlier.
In the following days, it was filled with light. And it was warm: suddenly we were having to turn the thermostat down. Some days, we’d turn the heating off completely.
Whatever had been there was gone. Had the house been haunted, I wondered? A chat with a church warden proved fruitful. ‘Interesting history,’ he said of my house. ‘When they were digging the foundations, they disturbed a Roman graveyard.’
Chilling: 1973 film The Exorcist. There are, in fact, quite a few of us who have special permission from our bishops to deal with the paranormal. If that surprises you, it is because the Church tends to keep the whole subject quiet
Had something from that time attached itself to our home? And did it have a particular attraction to our son? Perhaps, I thought to myself, there really are more things on Earth than we can rationally account for…
This all happened more than 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve had many more experiences of dealing with the paranormal.
At heart, I’m your classic Anglican vicar. I’m the priest who will conduct your wedding service, baptise your child and come to see you when you’ve lost a loved one.
But I am also a deliverance minister — a side-line I decided to pursue after my own experience.
There are, in fact, quite a few of us who have special permission from our bishops to deal with the paranormal. If that surprises you, it is because the Church tends to keep the whole subject quiet.
No one wants everyone to know they’ve just had a visit from the deliverance team. Well, almost no one, anyway.
In effect, deliverance ministers are exorcists, although we tend not to use the word because most people think it means expelling demons from the possessed. The truth is that genuine cases of possession are vanishingly rare.
I’ve certainly never encountered one, though I come across many people who tell me they think they or a family member — usually a mother-in-law — is possessed. But these cases are probably the result of overactive imaginations or maybe wishful thinking.
So, I never turn up saying: ‘Hi, I’m the exorcist.’ Instead, I’ll usually say: ‘Hi, I’m Jason and I’ve been sent to sort out your problem’ — more like the gas man than your conventional Hollywood exorcist.
I bring my ever-ready deliverance bag, containing prayer books, a small wine chalice, a plate for the communion wafers, linen cloths to act as an altar cloth, hand-gel, tealight candles and a lighter, as well as a crucifix to act as a focus.
Also packed are a spare bottle of water which can be blessed to provide holy water, a water sprinkler and a supply of salt (traditionally added to water as a sign of purification) because you can never guarantee people will have any in these low-sodium times. Finally, there’s a small pot of oil that the bishop blesses once a year.
Sounds a lot, but that’s what I need to celebrate requiems for the souls of the departed — or rather those who aren’t as departed as they should be.
The Church even provides me with insurance cover — because if it becomes known that a house has been ‘exorcised’, then its price may drop — meaning that I could be sued for the difference.
For the record, by the way: I don’t charge for my services. And no, I don’t collude with people’s delusions, and I do sometimes have to encourage them to see a mental-health professional.
Like all Anglican deliverance ministers, I’ve been on a special course to help me diagnose and deal with the paranormal — as well as diagnose when there’s nothing amiss.
My first case involved a family who’d claimed to their housing officer that they were being haunted by a ghost.
‘Yeah, we saw this shadowy figure over there . . . so we called the council,’ they told me.
They looked on with utter indifference as I blessed their house, sprinkling holy water on each wall, and proclaiming we were about to drive out the forces of darkness.
As a more experienced colleague pointed out later, this family had almost certainly just wanted an excuse to be moved to a nicer council house.
That was my first important lesson: people who are genuinely experiencing paranormal phenomena are never indifferent; they’re always frightened.
Not by ‘true hauntings’, as we call them — because it’s extremely rare for a ghost to communicate with the living. The most common form of haunting is a ‘place memory’ — like the masked man in my home.
In a place memory, a building or a piece of ground is somehow replaying something that’s happened there before. Crucially, there’s no attempt to communicate.
It could be something like a fox hunt that comes through a pub wall from time to time. And it’s almost like watching a film — the ghost is not there in any real sense, despite being distressingly visible.
Sometimes, a place memory encompasses a traumatic event such as a previous homeowner falling down the stairs and breaking his neck, so the occupants feel they have to step over him.
Place memories can be very unpleasant to live with, as one young couple discovered.
I met them one day when they came into my church, wheeling a baby in a pushchair and looking deeply uncomfortable. I invited them to join me in a quiet corner.
They thought they had a ghost, they told me. ‘We keep seeing these shadows around the place,’ said the young man.
Their south-facing house was always dark and cold, despite a new heating system. Alarmingly, since the arrival of their baby, the shadows gathered around his cot.
‘We’re terrified,’ said the woman. ‘We simply can’t live there any longer.’ This sounded like my own experience. I asked if they’d had any major structural work done. The man looked dumbfounded. ‘How did you know?’
I wasn’t at all surprised. I always ask about recent building work because it can be a trigger for paranormal activity. Nine times out of 10, the answer is yes.
Another common cause of place memories seems to be the arrival of a child — possibly because they can be more sensitive to the paranormal than adults. So here there were two possible triggers.
Anyway, having agreed to bless the couple’s home, I arrived there on a glorious spring day. The house should have been filled with light, but it was dark and gloomy.
We began in the main room, where I lit candles and blessed water. I also prayed in the baby’s room, and splashed holy water at the cot and in the corners.
Then we returned to the main room and, as we said the Lord’s Prayer together, I happened to be standing where a wall had recently been removed. There had been many dramatic moments in my ministry, but what happened next put them all into the shade. As we were praying, I felt my body arch backwards, as if it were being stiffened and bent by forces beyond my control.
It almost felt as if something was travelling through my spine and contorting it. Then immediately after we’d said the final Amen, the woman exclaimed: ‘Oh my God!’
In the space of 30 seconds, the room had become light and bright. It was also suddenly and inexplicably warm, as if the temperature had risen by five degrees.
I was utterly astonished. Yes, something similar had happened in my case, but the change had been far more gradual.
This time it was instantaneous. We all started to laugh spontaneously with joy.
Poltergeist activity, which is relatively common, was assumed in the past to be caused by the restless spirit of someone who’d died. Not so. In all the cases I’ve dealt with, it’s been the living — people who may be undergoing significant trauma or stress, but find it hard to communicate their distress.
Often they are children or teenagers, and occasionally the elderly. The theory is the energy which builds up in them — call it frustration — is released. A bit like a lightning strike, which is a release of invisible static energy that can produce visible effects.
So we’re talking about a force outside the human body that, for some reason, often homes in on shoes, socks and utensils. Sometimes, this activity — which can be quite violent — happens when there are people present. On other occasions, it takes place when there’s no one there, resulting in things going missing and reappearing in a different place.
One year, the week before Christmas, when I was dealing with almost wall-to-wall carol services, I had a call from a social worker.
‘A family I deal with has had a whole load of really strange things happen,’ he said. ‘There’ve been all sorts of things flying round the house, then the other night one of the sons saw the ghost of a monk.’
But it was what the social worker said next that really grabbed my attention: The family were Muslim.
They’d called their local imam but he’d refused to help, saying the ghost of a monk needed to be dealt with by a Christian priest. I turned up at the family’s large council house the next day, along with the local vicar. A tired and anxious-looking lady in her 50s let us in. Judging from the noise, a group of young people seemed to be having a party in the kitchen.
She told me she and her husband had moved to Wales from Pakistan to begin a new life together, but he’d always wanted to return to the country of his birth. ‘But it never happened,’ she said before bursting into tears.
Her husband had died from cancer just four days before. He didn’t want to go to hospital so she’d cared for him in the house till the end.
Meanwhile, terrifying things had been happening. ‘Last week, we were sitting having breakfast, and my husband’s bowl and spoon started to fly across the room,’ she said. ‘Another day, a pair of slippers flew and hit the wall.’
The slippers had almost hit her eldest son. And it was this son who’d seen a hooded figure — ‘just standing there in the mist’ outside the house.
The ghost of a monk? Perhaps. There’d been Cistercian monks in the area many years before, so the story was plausible.
Had the poltergeist activity stopped when her husband died, I asked? Yes it had, she said.
At this point, I got up to bless all the rooms. In the kitchen, about half a dozen young people were watching TV. I splashed holy water at the walls and left them to it.
Place memories can be very unpleasant to live with, as one young couple discovered. I met them one day when they came into my church, wheeling a baby in a pushchair and looking deeply uncomfortable. I invited them to join me in a quiet corner. They thought they had a ghost, they told me. ‘We keep seeing these shadows around the place,’ said the young man [File photo]
Then we came to her eldest son’s room. Although we knocked twice, he and his girlfriend were still hastily readjusting their clothing when we entered.
I blessed the room in record time and left. The lady just shrugged. Obviously, whatever her eldest and his girlfriend had been doing was a regular occurrence.
‘I think that’s it,’ I said smiling, ‘but if there are any more problems, please get in touch.’
Outside, the local vicar and I sat in my car. ‘That was amazing,’ he said, his eyes sparkling. ‘So we exorcised the ghost of the monk!’
‘What monk?’ I shot back. ‘I’m not convinced there ever was a ghostly monk.’
It may have been a swirl of mist or someone in a hoodie. Whatever the case, it wasn’t the monk that had caused objects to fly round — it was the woman’s husband.
Why? Because when he died, all poltergeist activity had ceased.
I still feel so sorry for that father, who’d been pining to return to Pakistan. I can imagine him sitting there, in pain from his cancer, in a turbulent house full of partying and fornicating teenagers, far from home and cut off from everyone.
And then came the morning when his tension manifested itself in the slipper that flew across the room, almost hitting his eldest son.
Another case vivid in my mind involved a close friend called Lucy.
‘I know it sounds really corny, but we can sometimes hear organ music,’ she told me one day. ‘It’s a sort of jolly Yamaha-like music, and for years we thought it was coming from next door.’
But she’d mentioned the music to her neighbour, and received a strange look. The neighbour had never owned an organ — but the lady who’d lived in Lucy’s house before her did have a Yamaha-type organ, and was ‘really good’.
Lucy paused for breath. ‘The other odd thing,’ she continued, ‘is that there’ve been all sorts of things going missing. My son keeps losing his shoes — and we’ll find, say, one of his football boots on top of the kitchen cupboard.’
She’d already decided the Yamaha player must be responsible.
‘I think I’ve seen her,’ Lucy said. ‘It was a couple of nights ago. I was doing housework, looked towards the stairs, and there she was, walking down them.
‘All I saw was the bottom of her nightie — an old-fashioned pink nylon nightie. It was like she was actually there, like there was some creepy old lady who’d been asleep upstairs and was coming down to see me.
‘I screamed, and told her to go away because she was frightening me. And she did, thank goodness.’
I asked Lucy if she was sure she hadn’t imagined the old lady.
‘Yes, of course I’m sure. If I’d imagined a ghost coming down my stairs, it wouldn’t have been wearing a pink nylon nightie!’
Now, Lucy does not suffer from any psychiatric illnesses. And quite a few people had also heard the music — so this seemed to be a clear case of a place memory plus poltergeist activity.
To deal with the problem, I joined Lucy and her parents at her house to do a blessing and celebrate the Eucharist for the repose of the dead spirit. Then we said the Lord’s Prayer together, and received Communion.
‘It feels different,’ Lucy said afterwards, ‘lighter, somehow.’
That’s not quite the end of the story. A week later, I had a chat with her father Frank, who’s always known that he has psychic abilities.
‘It was really strange,’ he said, ‘but while you were doing the service, I was aware there was a mist gathering just in front of you in the living-room. It was swirling, and seemed to be getting darker, and then it suddenly vanished like it had been sucked up the chimney.
‘It was when you picked up the bread. You said something about it being Jesus’ body, and then you lifted it up high, and that was when the mist disappeared.’
Since then, all paranormal activity in Lucy’s home has ceased.
So what do I, as a priest and theologian, think is going on with these kind of phenomena?
Well, from the start I’ve kept an open mind. After all, it’s sometimes forgotten that, as God’s ministers, vicars like me actually represent the supernatural.
What I can say is the people I’ve encountered have all had very similar experiences of the paranormal, and their stories have been broadly consistent with one another.
So, yes, I’m now quite convinced that, sometimes, the dividing line between life and death isn’t final.
But as a Christian priest, I’m equally convinced God responds to prayer and can restore peace to even the most troubled home.
Adapted by Corinna Honan from Deliverance by Jason Bray, published by Hodder on February 18 at £20. © Jason Bray 2021.
To order a copy for £17.60 (offer valid to 27/2/21; free UK P&P), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.