Sylvia Shults is the author of several previous books, including Fractured Spirits and Ghosts of the Illinois River. She describes herself as an open-minded skeptic. She has been a paranormal investigator for several years. She goes into dark and spooky places, she says, so you don’t have to! She lives in Illinois.
Hunting Demons: A True Story of the Dark Side of the Supernatural tells the story of Linda, a seasoned paranormal investigator who found more than she bargained for. How close were you to this case, and what lessons did you learn?
I didn’t start out close to this case at all. I had met Linda only briefly before this — she and her group had done an investigation at the Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, and I interviewed her to get her story for Fractured Spirits. We didn’t keep in touch much after that, so it was a complete surprise to me when she came to visit me at the library where I work. She asked if there was a place we could chat privately, so I took her to a quiet corner of the room. She told me that she had suffered a severe case of demonic attachment, and shared a few of her experiences with me. Then she asked if i would write a book about it.
To tell you the truth, at first I was leery of doing such a project. I didn’t want to attract the attention of whatever had been tormenting Linda! But she was so sincere in her story; she really wanted to share her experience, so that if someone else was having the same problems, they’d know they weren’t alone in their suffering. I had to help Linda tell her story.
What lessons did I learn? Hmm. I guess the most important one is that God’s not dead. Religion is alive and well in America today. And there is bad to balance the good. There are plenty of folks in America today who believe in angels. I learned that there is always balance; if you believe in guardian angels, you also have to believe that there are demons out there too. You can’t cherry-pick your beliefs.
I like going out of my comfort zone as an author. When I get the idea for a book, or when an idea for a book gets handed to me, I seize it and run with it. That’s the very best part of being a writer — I get to tell stories, and people enjoy them. I get to say, “Hey, I found out something really neat — wanna hear?” And so far, people have been willing to come along for the ride. I’m so grateful for that. Thanks to my readers, I get to grow as an author. That’s so precious to me.
A lot of attention has been given to the subject of demons and demonology over the past several years. What does your book add to the discussion? Did you learn anything surprising while researching it?
My book isn’t only one woman’s story. The first half of the book is devoted to a look at the history and lore of demons. Some of it will leave you scratching your head in amusement. Some of it will make your jaw drop. All of it is amazing stuff.
Did I learn anything surprising while researching it? You bet I did! I learned some interesting facts about the difference in attitudes towards demons in Western versus Eastern culture. In Western culture, we tend to think that demonic possession is something we bring on ourselves, by mucking about with the occult, playing with Ouija boards, and things like that. In Eastern culture, the attitude towards demons is a lot more … pragmatic. You could be walking down the street, minding your own business, and get jumped by a demon. The theory seems to be, “it’s nothing personal”.
One of my favorite facts that I turned up while doing research for Hunting Demons is the story of one of the medieval popes. We all know that the Catholic Church is famous for its exorcism ministry. Pope John Paul II even performed an exorcism while in the middle of an audience; someone came to him suffering from possession, and the pope stopped and ministered to the possessed right in public. But Pope Honorius III beat them all. He lived from 1150 to 1227, and was known as a talented writer. He wrote a couple of biographies, some church literature, thirty-four sermons — and he also wrote his own grimoire. Yes, a pope of the Catholic Church wrote a manual for summoning demons. His theory was that if his priests knew how to summon demons on purpose, and then cast them back into Hell, they would be better equipped to deal with the demonic when they encountered it in their ministry. When it came to exorcism, Pope Honorius III didn’t screw around.
How common are demonic entities? How would you know if you encounter one and what actions should you take if you do?
Demonic entities really aren’t very common, from what I’ve found. Some ghost hunting shows will have you believe there are demons under every bed, but they just aren’t that thick on the ground. That being said, there are ways, according to the lore, to tell if what you’re dealing with is actually a demon, or if it’s just a really nasty head-ghost. If the spirit you’re communicating with shows a marked aversion to the name of God or Jesus, for example, you might just be talking with a demon. Another big clue is if the entity you’re communicating with refuses to tell you their name. With knowledge of a name comes power. A demon will do just about anything to avoid giving an exorcist that power over it.
There’s a very famous exorcism case, the case of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who was possessed, and actually died from it. The teenager weighed just 96 pounds when she died. Her death was due partly to the stress of the repeated exorcisms, and mostly from severe malnutrition, as she was unable to keep food down. The priests who were performing her deliverance were found guilty of neglect for allowing her to get so malnourished without seeking medical help for her. I mention this because if you listen to audio of Anneliese’s exorcism, you can hear a guttural scream coming from her mouth — but it’s not a human voice. Most people have a couple of tones to their voice when they speak — it’s the way we distinguish one voice from another.
Tibetan monks, who are trained for years in chanting, can manage something like fourteen vocal tones at once. But this voice — there are thirty-four tones in this moaning scream. There is no way that’s a human girl’s voice. So if you’ve started chatting up some spirit and it starts acting inhuman, I mean not physically human at all, you might be in the presence of a demon.
It’s very rare to encounter a demon in the field, but if you think you have encountered one, my advice would be to back away slowly, don’t take your eyes off of it, and get the help of a priest or other clergy as soon as possible. Possession is a frightful experience, and even demonic attachment is literally hell on earth. A demonic entity is NOT something any ghost hunter should seek out, and it’s dangerous to tangle with something like that if you haven’t had the training. The Orthodox Church says that every Christian should be able to cast out demons, because Christ was able to do it. But even though I was raised Orthodox, my common sense tells me to leave it to someone trained in deliverance ministry, someone who has developed the willpower and spiritual discipline to be able to resist the tricks a demon will play.
Over the years, you have worked with a variety of publishers. Do you have any advice for our aspiring authors out there when it comes to finding a publisher that’s right for them?
I could be trite and say “Never give up”, but jeez, it’s so true. If you know you have an exciting story to tell, just keep on sharing it with the people who’ll listen. If you keep bugging enough publishers, one will eventually say yes.
Where can our readers go to find out more about you, your books, and your upcoming projects and events?
I invite readers to visit my webpage, sylviashults.com, for information on me and my books. The webpage is also where readers can find a lovely little podcast called Lights Out (it’s also available on iTunes). That’s where I find people with true ghost stories to share — it’s a bunch of fun. I’m also on Facebook, where readers can find me at the Fractured Spirits and Ghosts of the Illinois River fanpages. Hunting Demons is also available through Whitechapel Press.
Sorry guys, this page is copyright Mysteriousheartland.com, 2015. You do not have permission to copy this for any reason. Please learn how to cite your work. Photos provided by Sylvia Shults.