|The Exorcist: Rev Tom Willis|
It has been dismissed by sceptics who believe it is the stuff of Hollywood horror movies rather than real life.
But when Pope Francis stopped to lay hands on a disabled boy last week some believe he shone a new light on the mysterious world of exorcism.
And while many people believe it has no place in modern society, there are still ministers across Britain who insist that they are casting out evil spirits.
Reverend Tom Willis is the UK’s leading exorcist – a man who has been called in to tackle poltergeists and the possessed for the past 50 years.
In a lifetime dealing with the supernatural, he says he has seen things that cannot be explained, including ornaments flying through walls and bodiless voices calling to him from beyond the grave.
And at the age of 82, the Church of England minister is still in demand around the world from people who want his help to destroy what they believe are evil spirits.
His expertise is so valued in Britain that even the police call on him.
Rev Willis says: “The people who come to me are really frightened. I’ve even had atheists tell me, ‘I don’t believe in ghosts but I can’t explain what is happening’.”
He adds: “I always say, ‘you don’t get possessed just walking to the supermarket’. You have to look for a reason why it should have happened. Often, people have dabbled quite strongly in evil.”
Rev Willis found his spooky vocation while working as a minister in York.
When a parishioner asked for help dealing with her haunted house – something Rev Willis says is more common than people think – he discovered he had a gift for restoring peace.
Since then he’s found himself in some strange and scary situations – including the time he helped rid a medium of a powerful evil spirit.
Rev Willis says the man approached him after giving a speech about the supernatural.
The stranger kept tapping his shoulder and talking to an invisible companion. Rev Willis was unsure if the medium was pretending... until the conversation took an unexpected turn.
The reverend says: “When I mentioned the blood of Christ, his voice changed. He said, ‘don’t talk about that’ and started shaking and rubbing himself. At that point I thought ‘you really have got something evil in you’.”
“The colleague told me that when he blessed her she began to shake,” he explains. “He asked the girl what her name was and although she didn’t usually talk, a weird voice said, ‘I am stubbornness’.
“He commanded the evil to depart and she fell back. He went on down the line, blessing people. Then when he looked back she had started singing hymns in her normal language.”
Rev Willis is often called on to rid a haunted house of ghosts.
He had a particularly chilling experience when he went to the home of a policeman who feared that his home had become possessed.
As Rev Willis sat with the officer and his family, ornaments suddenly started to move.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he says.
“After 10 minutes the father said, ‘the dog ornament has gone again’. I looked at the mantelpiece and it had.
Then I heard a thump in the kitchen and said ‘nobody move’. I went to take a look and the ornament was there on the kitchen floor. It had gone right through a brick wall.”
Speaking about the continuing demand for his services – including from the authorities – he says: “I still get a couple of calls a week. The police say ‘we think this one is more your field of expertise’.”
Rev Willis has encountered his fair share of sceptics over the decades but he says that he is convinced by what he has witnessed.
He adds that one in 10 people will claim to see a ghost during their lifetime.
Now one of his four daughters is documenting his spooky experiences for a book which will feature the strangest cases he has dealt with.
And while he’s happy to talk about some of the frightening episodes, he is keen to point out that not every claim is genuine.
He says some of the reports of hauntings and possessions are made by attention seekers as well as people with mental health problems.
Rev Willis knows that some people dismiss every claim about evil spirits but he says what the Pope did in the Vatican eight days ago has sparked a much-needed debate about the subject.
The Pontiff touched the head of a boy who then convulsed and slumped in his wheelchair.
Some say it was an exorcism, though the Vatican has denied it.
Even so, Rev Willis says: “This Pope and the last have encouraged the ministry of exorcism and set up conferences and colleges because it is a problem that is brought to them.”
This means exorcists like Rev Willis will continue to be called into action, tending to the spiritual needs of their flocks and the wider population.
It isn’t always an easy task but the minister says the strength of his faith continues to guide him.
It can be uncomfortable if I lay my hands on someone for healing and they growl at me in a weird voice,” he explains. “And I might bring another couple of priests in to help me.
“In the end, I know evil exists but it is afraid of good. I need to be wary of it but I should not be afraid. That is what my work is all about.”
Source: The Mirror UK