THE REV TOM WILLIS seems an unlikely crusader against evil. In fact he actually wanted to be a detective as a youngster. The idea of becoming a priest he thought was boring – yet as he explained last night to a packed St Augustine’s Church, his life has been full of dramatic events. His time as an official Church of England exorcist has been anything but boring!

Rev Tom Willis
Rev Tom Willis at St Augustine’s Church

The Rev Willis from Beverley tells a great ghost story! In fact he tells lots of ghost stories. These tales, delivered with mild-mannered humour, are all anecdotes from his real-life experience as a Minister of Deliverance for 50 years. He describes strange events and hauntings as he remembers them, and adds his own impressions of the noises he’s heard and the things that people – and ghosts – have said. Although now ‘retired’, Rev Willis is still a parish priest and still expects to be called out at least twice a week to attend a ‘haunting’.

Strange noises that terrify people, apparitions that appear and disappear, objects that move through the air, ghosts that tell jokes – Rev. Willis has heard it all from the people that come to him for help. But he himself has seen or heard very little. He says he has been blessed with a lack of psychic ability which means he does not see what the ‘victim’ sees; this means that he can keep calm when others don’t! Terrified people have pointed to corners of the room and screamed “It’s there, it’s there!”, but Rev Willis sees nothing, so quietly will carry out a blessing on the empty corner. In nearly all cases peace is brought to a troubled place through prayer and blessing.

When attending an alleged haunting, Rev Willis uses those skills of a detective, that he sought as a youth, in order to determine the best course of action. He says its pointless blessing a house and anointing walls with holy oils if the ‘ghost’ turns out to be natural phenomena like a westerly wind through the rafters creating the sound of footsteps on the roof. The first task is to find out about any natural causes of events – in one case noises from a ‘haunted wardrobe’ were actually created by the sound of a neighbour’s door rattling in its frame.

So what are the causes of supernatural haunting? Some, which Rev Willis refers to as two-dimensional apparitions, are ‘memories’ that are trapped in a place. It might be that you see the image of someone who has recently died but sometimes it can be living people too – in one incident a person kept seeing images of the occasion where a recently deceased person was being greeted by a crowd of people running towards them, but some of the ‘apparitions’ in the crowd were still living.

Estate Agents are also prone to seeing these ‘trapped memories’ in empty buildings – apparently picking up on the memories of dead tenants/householders is a quirk of the job says Rev Willis!

Three-dimensional apparitions have more substance and will, for example, reflect in mirrors and hold conversations. The ghost who told jokes was one such apparition: A child got up every morning and told his mother a different joke claiming that an old lady in his bedroom was telling him them. It transpired that the lady described had died in the house. On this occasion the mother also saw the ghost talking to her son, and decided that the relationship was harmless and let it continue.

Poltergeists and the physical energy that they seem to exude are mostly created by people, says Rev Willis. It is energy and vibes which create these situations, they are exuded from people who are intensely under enormous stress. Quite often, people will not realise that it is themselves who are projecting this energy. These incidents are not created by ghosts from the dead, but energy from the living.

Ghosts that move objects are those dead people who rebel at death and do not want to leave where they lived or worked. At these incidents Rev Willis would pray that the Angels of the Lord take the soul of the dead person and bless the property and bring peace. This ‘bringing of peace’ is one of the joyous outcomes of the exorcist’s role.

Rev Willis believes that evil and Satan do exist which is why all priests are ordained as an exorcist. The forces of evil do not show themselves overtly unless invited in. Those who dabble in Satanism to attain sex, wealth and power can be devoured by it. In places where evil has been practised, then the apparitions can reflect that evil history.

A member of the audience asked if Rev Willis had attended cases of demonic possession. He said that such incidents were very rare and usually resulted because they, or a family member, had dabbled into something evil, perhaps a séance or Ouija board. Or when somebody evil has died. When he once said this to someone who had come to him for help, the person’s voice suddenly changed and snarled “You cunning swine!”

Rev Willis did not say that much about the more overt manifestations of evil he has tackled – perhaps because such incidents indeed are very rare. He did however give instances of cases where the overt healing powers of ‘good’ seem to have saved or extended the life of the dying. He gave three examples of when, through the ‘laying of hands’ and the anointing of holy oils, individuals at death’s door seem to have been given a new lease of life.

The story-telling, mild-mannered Tom Willis may seem an unlikely crusader against evil – but a crusader he is! An advocate of the light who has revelled in seeing the glory of God in action. And, as he adamantly declared, “evil is terrified of God!”

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