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The Dybbuk

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 43

The Dybbuk of Jewish mythology is a vicious spirit believed to be either a demon or the unrighteous soul of a deceased person who can possess the living. Derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to cling” or “clinging spirit”, the word Dybbuk first appeared in the 16th century, having been referred to as “ruchim” in prior writings.

Numerous stories exist which highlight the various aspects of the Dybbuk. The most common characteristic of a Dybbuk’s is that it is either a person with unfinished business or a wicked sinner seeking reprieve from the punishments being meted out in the afterlife. Unsettled spirits must find and possess a living thing, with people being the choice of preference. The people most susceptible to Dybbuk possession are those living in homes with a neglected mezuzot (a parchment inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Torah and attached in a case to the front doorpost or door of a building).

Those who succumb to Dybbuk possession fall to the floor in convulsions or suffer from uncontrollable weeping. The possessed might refuse to participate with the congregation or interact with the community. He or she might speak in a frightening voice about secrets within the household or community.

Ridding yourself of a Dybbuk requires exorcism by a pious man or rabbi in a synagogue in front of a minyan (ten Jewish adult males) to drive the spirit away from the possessed person and cease the Dybbuk’s wandering the earth. They start by interviewing the Dybbuk to learn why the spirit has lingered. Without learning the Dybbuk’s true name, it cannot be commanded to leave; though, in stubborn cases, the Dybbuk may refuse to leave until the possessed is exposed to Torah scrolls or had the demon beaten out of possessed. The Dybbuk’s leaving the possessed person is sometimes accompanied by the shattering of glass.

While reports of Dybbuk possession have largely been on the decline since the early 1900s, cases continue to be reported around the word. In 1999, an Israeli widow claimed the Dybbuk of her late husband has possessed her. In 2010 a Brazilian man claimed to be possessed by a Dybbuk and was provided with an exorcism – via Skype. He later posted the footage of his experience online.

In 2013, a young woman in the United States reported she and various members of her family had been possessed in turn by a Dybbuk for decades. The family reported rooms filled with moths, black shadow figures and a spectral child which would follow members of the family throughout the day. They moved house, initially believing the issues to be with the residence rather than being the result of a Dybbuk; however, regardless of the number of times they moved, the demon remained attached. In their new location, the young woman claimed to be plagued by nightmares, the hearing of disembodied screams throughout the night and suffering attacks by unseen entities.

Contact was lost with the young woman in 2014 after the family moved house – for the 20th time.

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