Exorcising your demons

Tom Willis ps1245-22'Exorcist Beverley Pictured by Pam Stanforth ps1245-22
Tom Willis ps1245-22'Exorcist Beverley Pictured by Pam Stanforth ps1245-22

THE spookiest season of the year has past but our obsession with the paranormal remains all year round.

Ghosts, poltergeists and demons are things which for most of us remain trapped inside the television and cinema screen.

But for many others the existence of the supernatural is a very real thing. A few even give in to the temptation and attempt to make contact with the dead, whether it be sincere or just a bit of fun.

The popularity of Ouija Boards in the 1960s sparked an increase in DIY dark arts but it is said to carry some nasty side effects.

One message we can take from our Hollywood-ised understanding of the occult, is that the undead are really not to be messed with.

This is a view upheld by the Christian church, in which there is an entire profession dedicated to exorcising malign spirits.

The Free Press took some time to find out what being an exorcist for the Church of England involves, and the dangers of dabbling in the dark arts, with a man who confronts ghosts on a weekly basis.

“I have never seen an apparition in 50 years,” says the Reverend Tom Willis, of the York Diocese, matter-of-factly.

He continues: “I have witnessed objects moving and that sort of thing. I usually get a zig-zaggy feeling around my edges.”

Mr Willis is an ordained member of the Church of England, and is the former vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Bridlington, and St John’s Church, Sewerby.

He has also been an authorised Church of England exorcist for more than 50 years in the York diocese, and advised the former Archbishop of York, the Rt Rev David Hope.

Now retired and living in Beverley, Mr Willis is still called out by members of the public to perform exorcisms at least twice a week.

When asked if he enjoys his work, he said: “It is nice to leave the place peaceful and happy, and it is nice to let the soul go in peace.”

Mr Willis had wanted to work as a detective before he received his calling to the church and it seems as though his line of work is somehow entwined in the art of exorcism.

He explains in order to perform an exorcism, detective work into the history of the hauntings is necessary through contacting previous residents of the haunted building.

He offers a strong warning against those who think trying to make contact with the dead might be a good idea.

He said: “A lot more people are dabbling in the occult and having seances and that is causing a lot of problems. In the 1960s the Ouija Board caused so many problems of people ending up in mental hospitals because of what they have experienced.

“It may pretend to be your grandmother you’re in contact with but it might be something more evil that suddenly gives you some bad advice.”

After an evening of playing the Ouija Board, a number of workers from the Hull dockyards came to see him, Mr Willis says, and were still trembling from what they had witnessed the evening before, needing him to help calm them down.

Mr Willis discusses his job as if it were completely normal, which to him after 50 years, it is.

He talks of the encounters he has had, including some grisly tales of exorcising demons from people possessed, with humour and even laughs at some of the, frankly terrifying experiences he has had.

For instance, one evening he had been called to a block of flats to investigate the frightened residents’ claims of a screaming noise coming from their floor in the flats. On arrival Mr Willis sensed the spirits and performed an exorcism asking the demons to leave. This was met by gasps from the onlooking residents as they saw the spirits rush from the flats, leaving the place at peace.

His tales of exorcisms are plenty and he lists locations including hospitals, hotels, garages, caravans, stately homes and army barracks. “Usually hotels have at least one room,” he says.

He also explains that some spirits are not malign: “If somebody dies in their sleep they still think they are dreaming and people think they must try and get attention so start moving things around.

“It is very rare if there is real evil around but I know God is more powerful than evil.”

Mr Willis stresses he is available to help people and, whether you are a sceptic or not, it is nice to know there’s someone nearby who can bust your ghosts.