As the Halloween season nears, horror films rise up and take over, with stories about demons and demonic possessions often taking centre stage, but how accurate are they? Hollywood’s premiere exorcist Rachel Stavis knows all about entities and how to protect people from the darkness around us. Not only has she penned a memoir about her experiences (with Sarah Durand) titled Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist, but she has also helped famous actors, rock stars, and even buildings to rid themselves of evil entities.
Stavis’ unique and gripping story is set to be adapted for television with producer, actor, and director Pamela Adlon (Californication, King of the Hill) involved as a co-writer and executive producer. Fortress of Solitude caught up with Stavis to find out more about her book, some of her most interesting cases, as well as her thoughts on how Hollywood portrays exorcisms on screen.
Fortress of Solitude: Your story in Sister of Darkness is fascinating, informative, and relatable, so it’s easy to see why you would want to share it with the world. What was your biggest concern about writing a book like this?
Rachel Stavis: I think in the beginning I was really nervous about opening up about my “gift” and sharing this part of my life with the world. It can be scary, weird, even strange for people, and I wasn’t sure what the feedback would be. Ultimately, though, I realised that I would help more people by doing so than not, and that’s what pushed me to do it.
What I found extremely interesting about this book and how you describe your experiences is how it does force the reader to take a pause and consider many of these situations they may have experienced in their own lives. Has there ever been a situation where someone has contacted you, believing they have an entity with them, but you haven’t experienced it when you meet them? And if so, how do you deal with this?
Yes, it does happen. Sometimes people are experiencing blocks or just overall negativity and think it has to be an entity. But it may be old trauma stored in the body. Removing that trauma is also part of the exorcism process, because it can attract entities. So either way, they have a clean slate when I’m done!
Another interesting point you make is how entities are drawn to negative energy or when people experience challenges in life. What would be your advice to anyone who has experienced some tough times and wants to increase their positive energy to keep entities at bay?
It can be really difficult to keep your frequency high, especially after experiencing trauma. So I say, let’s keep it simple. Do one nice thing for someone today. Do one nice thing for yourself. Sit in nature for a bit. Dance. Sing. All of those things help raise your vibration.
On your website, I read about how you exorcised the Rosenheim Mansion – the Murder House from American Horror Story. Which is the one place you have exorcised which has felt the most evil and why?
I can’t say exactly where because there’s an NDA involved, but my scariest exorcism ever was at a hotel where a massive fire killed all of the guests and ultimately burned the place down. It attracted a very dark and very old entity and then was rebuilt. It was the only entity that ever was able to hurt me physically. I’m actually working on bringing that story to everyone via feature film right now!
While most people see exorcisms and anything surrounding it as scary, have you ever had any genuine and unintentional funny moments that may have arisen?
Bizarrely that happens a lot! Especially when I first started. Like, if you light candles and put them on the ground, you’re eventually going to kick one over and start a fire. Or you get a person who comes in and says, “Trust me, my entity is the worst. The biggest. Are you sure you can even handle this?” And… it’s none of those things.
Judging by how you described entities in Sister of Darkness, Hollywood tends to focus on Realm Walkers in most of their horror films. It’s easy to understand why, especially from a threat level. What do you think Hollywood gets right and wrong about exorcisms, though?
I think Hollywood, for the most part, is very routine about how they show exorcisms. And yes, it’s always a Realm Walker-style entity. I think they do show how scary it can be for people, as well as how challenging some exorcisms can be. But I think we need to see different kinds of possession stories. The real world of entities and why they attach is so varied. We need that variety on screen. That’s why I’m working to bring some of my scariest true-life accounts to feature film.
What do you think it is about exorcisms that Hollywood and horror fans find so interesting? What draws them to those movies?
It’s that age-old battle of good versus evil. And the idea that maybe this kind of evil exists. And what would a “normal” family do if confronted with it? Those are all fascinating concepts.
I’d like to chat a little about three recent horror films, and get your input on them. First, The Nun 2. Now, Valak has been covered in a few books; however, the image of the entity is different from the nun look. First off, would you view the historical assessment of Valak as accurate and how would you see Valak in terms of your own classification of entities?
Well, I’ve never seen Valak, but with its believed abilities, plus its own Seal of Solomon, it would be classified as a Realm Walker for me.
The second film is The Exorcist: Believer, which sees two girls go out and become possessed at the same time. What are the chances of this happening and how often have you seen it?
It’s really not possible, unless it’s two different entities.
In The Conjuring 3, which is based on a real case, Arne Cheyenne Johnson blames the devil and being demon possessed as a reason he commits murder. As an exorcist, how would you navigate such a tricky slope such as this since someone could obviously use it as a defence case for their actions?
This is more realistic because this does happen. But most of the time, it really only happens to someone who is already carrying this specific kind of darkness – i.e., someone who wants to murder. In rare instances it can happen to someone more innocent, but either way, we don’t really live in a society that believes in entities and possession. So it’s not a viable defence, I guess.
What can you tell us about the upcoming TV adaptation of your story? Considering how riveting your experiences already are in the book, will there be any form of fictionalisation for the screen?
Ah! I would love to talk about it with you, but I can’t because of the strikes! The unions deserve a fair deal and have my full support. What I can say is that I get to work alongside my favourite person, Pamela Adlon, when that deal is reached. Very excited about it and would love to come back and tell you all about it when that happens!
To find out more about Rachel Stavis, visit her website. Her book, Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist, can be purchased on Amazon.
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.