FrightFind Talks with Ghost Hunter Tony Spera
Tony Spera, director of the New England Society of Psychic Researchers (NESPR), has been a ghost hunter for more than 30 years. During much of that time Tony worked with his in-laws, Ed and Lorraine Warren, the legendary experts in the field of spirits and demonology. They’re also the couple portrayed in The Conjuring movies. You can read more about the Warrens’ connection to The Conjuring movies in part one of our interview, plus much more in part 2 of the interview.
In part 3 of our interview, Tony explains how hard it is to set up an exorcism, the difference between an demonologist and an exorcist, and how he decides which cases to pursue. He also offers advice for those interested in becoming a ghost hunter.
FF:In The Conjuring there was a scene in which Ed Warren was called the only non-ordained person to be approved by the Catholic Church to perform exorcisms. Is that accurate?
Tony Spera: No. He’s the only one who’s not an ordained member of the clergy that’s recognized as a religious demonologist. A demonologist and an exorcist are two different animals. A demonologist studies devils and demons. An exorcist expels devils and demons. In other words, a priest or minister could be an exorcist, but a layman cannot. Now, having said that, a layman, like Ed, could recite the Rituale Romanum (or Roman Ritual), which is the right of exorcism in the Catholic faith, but it’s not going to have much effect at all.
FF: Why not?
TS: Because there’s power in ordination. When somebody gets ordained they have the authority to do these things. They’re holy, they’re pious, they go through special fasts and things like that, and they prepare for the ritual. It’s like a cop. You can go make a citizen’s arrest, but how much power is that going to wield when the guy takes a gun out and shoots you. You don’t have the authority to do the things that the cops have the authority to do. Only in this case it’s a spiritual authority from God.
Through God’s name, the priest is working. God is working through that priest to get rid of the devil. Ed did not have that power. I don’t. You don’t. But an ordained member of the clergy who has approval from the bishop, and who is trained in demonology and in exorcism can do it. It doesn’t mean they’re going to be successful because a lot of it depends on the piousness of the priest. If he has a lot of secrets, a lot of sins that he’s not telling people about, or he’s not pure, then it may not work.
FF: So Ed would actually determine whether there was an evil presence, and if there was, then he could call in a priest at that point to hopefully conduct an exorcism.
TS: That’s exactly it. Ed was an information gatherer. And Lorraine an information gatherer. That’s their job. Their job was to detect, gather, document, and photograph evidence to give to the clergy for possible blessings, deliverances, or exorcisms. Because the clergy are the only people authorized to do that. What Ed and Lorraine did is very different than what you see on TV with a lot of these shows.
If you watch these other TV shows, most of them, I’m not going to give any names, but most of them, they go into a house. Their job should be to try to help the family. Not by just going in and documenting. They’re only doing half the job that way.
Let’s go back to the police example again. I used to be a cop, so I keep going back to the police. Anyway, a cop goes to a murder scene. He walks in the house, he goes, “Yep. The guy’s dead, all right.” And he walks out and doesn’t investigate who did it, or how to find the killer, or how to resolve anything.
Same thing that they’re doing in these ghost shows. They’re going, “Wow! Yeah! You got a ghost here, all right. You hear that? You see that? Ooh, I got something on my EVPs (electronic voice phenomena). I got something on my night camera.” But what are they doing when they leave? Nothing. The family still has the problem.
Ed and Lorraine, on the other hand, used to take that information and try to find the clergy to come back out because they would have the knowledge, and the clergy would trust their expertise. Ed would say, “Look, Father. You have to come out and at least do a blessing on the house. Let’s see what happens after you do a blessing.”
And then the priest would come out, do the blessing, and see if that would work. If it didn’t, you try the next step, which is getting authorization from the diocese or from the bishop to do an exorcism, which is very difficult. But they tried. Their goal was to solve the problem that the family was experiencing.
The Inside Scoop on Exorcisms
FF: I see. So the church saw the Warrens as authorities after they correctly identified enough cases?
TS: Right. So they were more apt to help. But a lot of times the church would turn them down. Right now, if you called 50 Catholic churches in your area and said, “Is there a priest there who can come out and do an exorcism in my house? Just exorcise the house, not even me, just the house,” you’d be hard pressed to get one out of 50 to come out and do it. It’s very difficult.
FF: Because they assume people are making it up or it’s simply not what they think it is?
TS: One reason is that they assume you’re making it up. Another reason is like the ostrich who puts his head in the dirt, they don’t want to deal with it, or they’re afraid. The worst is if they don’t believe in the devil. There are priests that do not believe in the personification of evil.
That is the truth. There are priests that don’t believe in the devil. There are priests that are afraid to confront the devil because maybe they have hidden demons of their own and they know they are not going to be effective and they are frightened.
And then there are other church dioceses that don’t want their priests doing this work. So, it can be very difficult unless there’s a lot of documentation, not just somebody calling you on the phone saying, “We need help.” But Ed and Lorraine used to forge ahead and try anyway. Normally they would at least get a priest to do a blessing.
FF: That is fascinating. Do you also work with the church to help people?
TS Yes, I do. That’s how I know how difficult it is. The end game is getting clergy to cooperate. Just like if you called a hundred churches in your area to find someone to do an exorcism. None of them are going to admit that they do. Not one of them. It’s very, very tough. Even though it’s recognized by the Vatican that there are devils and demons and exorcists around, it’s a difficult process. It involves fact gathering and a lot of psychological testing needs to be done on the person before. There’s a lot of red tape.
FF: Interesting. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to convince someone.
TS: The thing is, with me, I’m just one ghost hunting group, the New England Society for Psychic Research. I get many, many emails from people all over the world, asking for help and saying they need an exorcist. That’s where we filter people out.
If we went to see every person that called we’d be overwhelmed. It would waste a lot of time for priests because a lot of these people are mentally disturbed. And a lot just have overactive imaginations. The calls and the ramping up of cases that happen after a horror movie, like The Exorcist, it’s phenomenal. Some people think they’re possessed, but it’s psychological, so you have to filter it out. You have to be trained enough to know when these people are making up a story, or they’re just using overactive imagination, or they’re letting their mind get away from them.
Choosing the Cases to Investigate
FF: So over the past 30 years, I’d assume you’ll developed a pretty good filter. I’m sure being a cop helped as well. How do you decide which cases to investigate?
TS: Well, seven out of 10 calls are fake. When I say fake, I’m mean it’s not really paranormal phenomena. It might be pipes banging, it might be the air conditioning unit not working right, it might be imagination, it might be some 14 year old kid causing a problem in the house, making up stuff because he doesn’t want to go to school, or whatever.
Then there’s mental illness, or drug use, stuff like that. There’s a lot of bipolar because the first question I’ll ask somebody when they start to give me this long story of these demons and devils in their house, I’ll say, “Have you ever been treated for psychological problems?” And they come back with, “Well, I’m bipolar. I’m on meds, but I stopped taking them two months ago.” Boom! There’s your answer right there.
But that’s why it takes a lot of training and expertise. Yeah, they could be bipolar, but they also could be possessed. So, just because they’re bipolar doesn’t necessarily mean they’re crazy when it comes to being possessed. Maybe they are possessed because that’s where the demons and devils like to go. They like to go where there’s weakness. They attack the very weakest level.
In other words, if you like alcohol, they would entice you to drink more. The devils, they would obsess your thoughts, make you drink more to make you weaker, then attack you because you’re in a weakened state. Same with mentally ill people. What would most people say? “She’s bipolar. She’s not possessed.” And now the devil is hiding within her, possessing her body and nobody believes her. So, you can’t just go by, “Oh, well I’m bipolar and I stopped taking my meds,” as being definitely not possessed. You have to go farther and dig deeper until you get to the root.
FF: So at some point, if you find enough hard evidence, you’ll pursue a case?
TS That’s right. I’ll usually start by telling them to go find a priest or minister and have them come to your house. Have them bless the house, property, and you and all the members of your family that are there in the house, and let me know what happens.” Nine times out of 10 either the blessing works or they don’t get it done. They just don’t contact me anymore because sometimes I’ll follow up and ask how the blessing went and they’ll say “Well, I couldn’t find a priest to come out.” Or something similar.
Now, coming out to do a blessing is a lot different than doing an exorcism. House blessings are common. It takes just a little effort, and you may have to offer a small donation to the church.
But some people won’t even do that. If they don’t want to donate $50 to the priest or the church, then how much of a problem do they have? So, that’s almost like a filter, right there. If you’re telling me you’re tormented, you’re tortured, and you can’t take it anymore but won’t even get a simple blessing for a small donation, then how bad can it be?
In other words, they have to do their part. They’re not calling David Copperfield. I’m not coming out with a magic wand and going, “Whoop,” and everything’s fine. That’s what they want. They want a magic wand answer. If that were the case, then we don’t need exorcists. We don’t need priests. We don’t need anything, just a guy with a magic wand.
It’s not easy to get rid of a real devil or demon in a house, anything that has evil influence. If it was so easy, then there wouldn’t be any devils or demons, would there? You’d just go, “Get out. Stay out,” and they’re out. But it’s not that easy. They’re pains in the ass. They’re like a bully at school. They keep coming back, unless you know how to deal with it.
Tony’s Advice for Ghost Hunters
FF: Do you get many people asking how to get involved in ghost hunting? What do you tell someone interested in doing this kind of work?
TS: Yeah. That happens a lot. They’re normally young people without much direction in their life and they don’t know what to do. So they’re looking for something that sounds fun, sounds exciting, sounds like Hollywood. But that’s not the way it is at all and I usually just tell them to start by reading a lot of books, and I give them a couple of titles to read to start.
Some people call or email me to ask how to become a demonologist. They ask if there is a school of demonology they can attend. Well, not in the United States. There might be one in the Vatican, but not in the United States.
So, I try and steer them away from it unless they’re really, totally passionate about it. It’s like when a 14 year old kids says, “I want to be an NBA star.” It’s a pipe dream because the odds of becoming an NBA star are pretty bad. A demonologist, the same thing. It’s a lot of study. I didn’t learn what I learned in 10 days. I didn’t learn what I learned in a couple of weeks, or a month, or a year. It took me a long, long time to get what I know today. And I don’t know everything! That’s the crazy part. I don’t know nearly everything about the supernatural because I’m not supposed to. Only God knows everything about the supernatural because He created everything.