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10 Spooky Stories About Evil Spirits Around the World

There's something nearly every religion and culture in the world shares: a belief in the spirit world. Be careful, these true tales may give you chills.

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Voodoo doll, black candles, pentagram and old books on witch table. Occult, esoteric, divination and wicca concept. Mystic, voodoo and vintage background Vera Petruk/Shutterstock

Benign possession

Drums beat in a quick rhythm and dancers spin until a woman’s eyes roll back in her head. Suddenly, she slumps to the ground, smudging the holy symbols drawn in talc or cornmeal on the ground. When she arises her facial expression is changed, her dance steps are different, and when she speaks, her voice is not her own. She is a Haitian Vodoun worshiper, and she is being “ridden” (or possessed) by a godlike spirit called a Loa.

This may sound like a harrowing, frightful experience, but, according to this National Geographic report, Loa possession is considered a totally normal, even positive, phenomenon in Haitian Vodoun (voodoo). While their bodies are being used by a Loa, people’s facial expressions, personalities, and even voices may change completely. And when they “wake up,” they often don’t remember what took place.

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The scientist and the poltergeist

Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, director of the NY State Psychiatric Institute, specializes in treating patients with schizophrenia. But several years ago, he came into contact with a patient he couldn’t diagnose—at least not with anything from his diagnostic manual.

Dr. Lieberman and a colleague had been trying to help a woman whose family thought she was possessed by demons. The treatment wasn’t working, however, and strange things began to happen that “freaked me out,” he told CNN. When Dr. Lieberman got home from appointments with the patient, he said, photos and framed art would fall off of shelves. He would have splitting headaches. And lights would turn on and off by themselves. The spookiest part of all? His colleague told him that the same exact things were happening to her. “I had to sort of admit that I didn’t really know what was going on,” Lieberman said. “Because of the bizarre things that occurred, I wouldn’t say that (demonic possession) is impossible or categorically rule it out … although I have very limited empirical evidence to verify its existence.” Here are 16 more of the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time.

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Detail of a gravestone in a cemetery during autumn.Joyce Vincent/Shutterstock

Haunted in Hawaii

Spirits of ancestors are revered in traditional Hawaiian culture. So storyteller and author Lopaka Kapanui offers tours of “spiritual” and “haunted” spots on the Island of Oahu, where he teaches locals and tourists alike about the islanders’ ancient traditions. One day in 2008, he took a group of people on a tour of Mō’ili’ili Japanese Cemetery to see, among other things, the gravesite of a famous kidnapper and murderer, he told Honolulu Magazine. While walking the grounds, Kapanui came across a little boy about 7 years old, sitting alone in front of a gravestone. The boy told Kapanui he was waiting for his mother, that she was supposed to bring him a treat: guava juice and bubble gum. Reassured the boy was okay, Kapanui was about to return to his tour clients when the boy asked, “Why don’t you ever stop here and say hi?”

Kapanui said that’s when he realized this boy wasn’t from the land of the living. Now, when Kapanui visits the cemetery, he stops to pay his respects. Unleash your spooky side–these are the creepiest tourist attractions in every state. 

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Infested by disembodied souls

Similar to the way Christians believe that demons can “bedevil” people, practitioners of Scientology believe that clusters of spirits called “body thetans” infest humans’ physical bodies, causing upheaval, pain, and other trouble for their hosts, according to the textbook Controversial New Religions. Although the religion’s founder L. Ron Hubbard—a prolific science fiction writer and author of the international bestselling self-help book of the 1950s Dianeticsmeant for the “body thetan” and other high-level doctrines to be kept secret from outsiders, scholars, journalists, and ex-members have reported on and shared the details widely in books and articles over the last several decades.

To get rid of these spiritual stowaways, practitioners use a type of Scientology counseling called auditing to “discover these thetans and expel them,” journalist Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, told NPR. “It’s akin to casting out demons [so] that you can free yourself to ever higher levels of spiritual accomplishment.”

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The woman with someone else’s soul

In 1985, a 17-year-old girl in India named Sumitra began having seizures and going into “trances.” In the midst of one of these spells, she predicted her own death. A few days later, she stopped breathing for several minutes, and her family thought she had died, according to University of Virginia psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, MD, who co-authored a case study about the woman with colleagues from India, published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. As the family was starting to grieve, the young woman revived—although it didn’t seem to be the same woman at all.

“Sumitra began to behave like a different person,” Stevenson and his coauthors wrote. “She did not recognize the people around her and said that her name was Shiva,” and that she had been murdered in Dibiyapur, a village about 60 miles away. Although Sumitra was had no formal education, she could also suddenly read and write Hindi fluently. She wanted nothing to do with her own children; instead, she cried and begged to be “reunited” with Shiva’s.

Journalists, police, and medical personnel investigated and found that a young, well-educated mother named Shiva had died violently in Dibiyapur just two days before. When they showed pictures of Shiva’s family to Sumitra, she positively—and correctly—identified 23 of them.

Dr. Stevenson’s conclusion? “The authors conclude that the subject demonstrated knowledge of another person’s life obtained paranormally,” the journal article reads. The idea that one can transfer his soul into another person’s body is called pravesha parakaya in Hindu yogic tradition. Check out more spooky stories from the most haunted places in the world.

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The spirits of Samhain

Have you ever caught a glimpse of someone standing in a doorway out of the corner of your eye, but when you turned to look, they were gone? Jaymi Elford, a witch, tarot reader, and author of Tarot Inspired Life, believes those may actually be spirits of people who have passed on, especially if that hair-raising phenomenon happens during late October and early November. “For pagans and witches, October heralds the thinning of the ‘veil,’ or the energetic shield that separates our world from others,” she tells Reader’s Digest.

In fact, the modern holiday of Halloween has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, a time when the separation between the living and the spirit world faded and spirits could walk the Earth. Modern-day pagans, witches, and Wiccans still celebrate Samhain, and Elford says she’s grown accustomed to glimpsing otherworldly beings in her peripheral vision in the fall. “There’s something about this time of year which gets our spooky sense tingling. Divination techniques, like tarot, become stronger and more potent, too.” Don’t miss these 11 creepy events that actually happened on Halloween.

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The exorcist’s helper

Yale-trained psychiatrist Richard Gallagher, MD, is a man of medicine—and also of faith. A Catholic, he has been invited by exorcist priests to weigh in on cases of parishioners who claimed to be possessed by the devil. Most could be explained by physical or psychological disorders, Dr. Gallagher wrote in the Washington Post—but not all. One particular woman’s behavior “exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses…She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother…Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability.”

He concluded that she was possessed and has “diagnosed” other cases over the last few decades. “I have always thought that, if requested to help a tortured person, a physician should not arbitrarily refuse to get involved,” Dr. Gallagher wrote. “For any person of science or faith, it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.” Check out these other stories of real-life exorcisms.

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Evergreen mountain forests (rainforest) of the Pre-Himalayas (Sivalik, Shiva Mountains). Area of valley of Parvati river. Young mountains, river in winter low-water, Deciduous forest. Road serpentineMaksimilian/Shutterstock

Forest devils in the Himalayas

In rural areas of the Indian Himalayas, the existence of spirits is an accepted part of life, though it’s not always a welcome one. Evil ghosts and spirits—like the ones villagers of Bemni believe live in the forests surrounding their town—may hurt or even kill you. One evening, Bemni resident Mohan Singh was gathering wood in the nearby forest when a man with thick, waist-long hair approached and asked why he was cutting a tree. The instant the question left the man’s lips, the sky went black, Singh told anthropologist Jane Dyson. The strange man grabbed Singh and his ghostly hand burst right through Singh’s torso to the other side of his body. Singh fought for his life, as the spirit kept changing size and shape from a 9-foot-tall giant, to the size of a backyard rooster. When Singh got back home, he had a high fever and believed his fight with the apparition had caused it. “I was possessed by that spirit,” Singh told the anthropologist. The fever didn’t break until a local priest sacrificed a goat in a special ceremony. These are the spookiest things ghost hunters have seen on the job.

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Exorcisms on demand


Bob Larson, a self-described reverend and founder of the Spiritual Freedom Church International in Colorado, stands in front of a small crowd of worshipers in a simply-decorated hall, giving a sermon about the dangers of the devil. Suddenly, a young man jumps to his feet, laughing, and starts heckling the preacher. The shocked congregation looks on as his eyes roll back in his head and his face contorts into a bone-chilling, tongue-out snarl.

That real-life scene appears in one of hundreds of similar videos uploaded to YouTube by the preacher, who calls himself the “real Exorcist.” Larson travels the globe performing exorcisms in hotel ballrooms and conference centers, and also offers on-demand exorcisms via Skype at $300 a pop. (Money well spent? This undercover Daily Beast reporter didn’t think so.)

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The slit-mouthed spirit

In Japan, a famously violent female ghost called the Kuchisake-onna—the soul of a woman murdered by her jealous husband—has been blamed for multiple assaults and killings since the 1600s. She is believed to stalk dimly lit streets and dark alleys for prey. Covering her mouth with a fan or handkerchief (or, in more modern times, a medical mask), she approaches solo travelers and asks two simple but deadly questions: “Watashi kirei?” (Do you think I’m pretty?) Then, after removing her disguise to reveal a bloody, Joker-like gash of a smile: “Kore demo?” (Do you still think so?) No matter the answer, Kuchisake-onna takes her revenge.

Stories of Kuchisake-onna were common during the Edo period in Japan in the 1600-1800s, then she faded away until the 1970s when a rash of sightings prompted widespread chatter and even police investigation. Next, check out the 13 haunted house mysteries no one can explain.