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The Bell Witch Phenomenon, possibly the most famous American haunting, dates back to around 1820 in sleepy Adams, Tennessee. The spirit that haunted the John Bell family became more infamous than probably any entity, ever. Hundreds of visitors from across the young United States, and even from as far away as Europe, witnessed and heard the spirit's eerie and destructive shenanigans. The Bell Witch was some sort of disembodied spirit. "Kate" (as it was called) kept the Bell family up all night, almost every night, for three years, with pounding and scratching on the floors and walls, poltergeist activity teleporting physical objects around the house and neighborhood, and—most disturbingly—speaking out loud in clear, decisive, and often even humorous speech.
This precarious situation is certainly frightening enough, but just think how much more unsettling it would be to carry on a conversation with an invisible entity that was not even pretending to be anything but an invisible entity. Such was the case with the Bell Witch. Many reputable individuals were reported to have conversed with the invisible Kate on topics of religion and politics, or simply just to chat about neighborhood events—the most notable person being President Andrew Jackson, who, after witnessing Kate's antics and hearing her talk, made a hasty retreat back to his home in nearby Nashville.
At the time, many engaged Kate in conversation and lively banter. The spirit was known to simultaneously deliver sermons that were also being delivered at nearby churches by various pastors. When fact checked afterwards, it was discovered that Kate's sermons and those of local ministers were identical. "She" seemed to have the talent of listening to and relaying two different sermons to her own attentive audience at once.
Kate also sang to entertain the Bell matron, Lucy Bell, and brought her fresh grapes that appeared to materialize out of thin air. She is said to have had a beautiful voice, and Lucy seemed to enjoy the grapes. Indeed, the spirit was quite fond of Mrs. Bell, often reporting to Lucy the whereabouts of her numerous children.
The spirit, however, was not so kind to Lucy's daughter, Betsy. She kept Betsy awake at night, yanking the sheets off her bed, pinching her, and pulling her hair. In fact, Betsy seemed to have been the center of the haunting. When asked why she terrorized Betsy, Kate simply replied that she didn't want to see Betsy marry a young suitor named Joshua Gardner. The spirit never gave a reason for her distaste for Gardner, so that may not have really had anything to do with Kate's motives.
Mostly, though, Kate openly detested John Bell, ridiculing him to his face and to anyone else who wanted to listen. Eventually, after three years of tormenting the family, John Bell died—apparently due to having been poisoned by an overdose of his medicine. The spirit lingered for several weeks after John's death, engaging with the mourners and openly taking full credit for Old John's demise—and loudly singing "Roll Me Over in the Clover" during his funeral.
With its primary mission accomplished, the spirit left the remaining Bells in peace afterwards, supposedly briefly returning a year later and then once again years later for a brief visit with one of John's sons.
There have been many theories as to what the Bell Witch was. No one seriously believes it was an actual witch, but many have postulated that it was a demonic entity set on torturing the Bells. There is also the credible theory that the spirit was that of a Native American buried on the Bell farm. Indeed, one of the Bell sons found a human skeleton nearby and accidentally dropped a tooth between the boards of their home's porch. There is also the theory (one with which I tend to agree) stating Kate was an elemental spirit summoned many years earlier by the Native Americans and attached to the land. There is a Native American burial mound on the Bell farm atop the Bell Witch Cave. The cave was, up until recently, a tourist attraction. Patrons were led on a tour of the cave and given a lecture concerning the Bell Witch haunting. According to tour guides, it was common for visitors, especially women, to complain of having their hair pulled as they were shown the cave. Many believe the spirit that haunted the Bells is still there. If true, that would confirm the theory of Kate being an elemental spirit placed there to guard the Native American burial grounds.
Much more recently, only sixty miles from the Bell farm, and eerily similar, is the haunting of my family that took place during the last seventeen years. (I describe our haunting in detail in my book, The Holy Water Incident.)
In 2001, when my daughter, Brittany, was fifteen years old, she was possessed by disembodied, sinister entities. At the time, and for years afterward, we assumed that the entities were demonic. I contacted our parish priest seeking an exorcism, but was rebuffed. Eventually, we obtained an exorcism from a local psychic named Laurel. That exorcism worked, but my daughter was left with the ability (curse?) of being able to see, hear, and, most importantly, channel spirits. Even after the demonic activity seemed to have subsided, Brittany channeled spirits right and left for the next year, and then sporadically for many years afterward.
The most prominent spirit she channeled was an entity calling itself Spence, who claimed to be Brittany's guardian angel. During the exorcism, Britt voiced or channeled numerous spirits and demonic entities as Laurel fought for her deliverance. During the mayhem, Spence surfaced and offered to help aid Laurel in removing the other entities. The various entities all had different accents and varying voices; a few even spoke in foreign languages. Spence claimed to have been at one time one of the Fallen Angels. He spoke through Brittany with a lilting Irish brogue, saying he had incarnated as an Irish human in the nineteenth century (I suppose, just to see what it was like to be human). Laurel was convinced that Spence was telling the truth and that he was indeed assisting her in removing all the demonic entities. The exorcism lasted all night, and the sun was coming up by the time Laurel left.
Spence was a regular in our household during that first year when Brittany was regularly channeling spirits. Making many appearances, he was witty, affable—and usually hungry. He was always quite interested with what was in the refrigerator, and even accompanied us once to a restaurant for my mother's birthday party.
After that first year, however, Brittany's channeling almost stopped completely. Nevertheless, for the next seventeen years, Spence could still be counted on to make impromptu and usually inopportune appearances several times a year. I almost felt like he was a member of the family.
Brittany also continued to see and hear spirits, and all of us still occasionally heard strange, unexplained noises. Objects often repositioned themselves throughout the home without any human assistance, and it wasn't uncommon at all for disembodied voices to talk to Brittany and I through closed doors. Often she would hear me talking to her just on the other side of a door. She'd open the door to find that I wasn't there. Likewise, I often hear her talking to me on the other side of the door—only to find she wasn't even in the house.
This activity continued for seventeen years until, finally, a paranormal group came and cleansed the home and banned any demonic or negative spirits from entering.
Although Spence had me convinced that he was indeed some sort of spirit guide or guardian angel for Britt, after the paranormal group cleansed the house she had a revelation concerning our Irish friend. Perhaps because all spirits (including Spence) had been banned from our home, Britt could think more clearly about Spence. She came to me one day and announced that she had come to the conclusion that she didn't ever want to channel Spence again. She had decided that Spence was the demonic force that had possessed her. We haven't seen or heard from Spence or any other unwanted spirits in the home for nearly three years.
Another psychic friend of mine told me that she felt the land my home is built on was the cause of the unwanted spiritual activity and Britt's possession. That's what made me start thinking about the possibility that Spence (if he was the possessing entity) was an elemental spirit and not demonic. I started doing a bit more digging into the property on which my condo is built. There was nothing here before except a horse farm; however, not three blocks from our condo is the Trail of Tears—the route taken by the Cherokee nation when the US government forced them to relocate to a reservation in Oklahoma in 1838. Thousands of Native Americans died along the way. They were forced by US troops to keep walking regardless of the weather; they were not even allowed to stop and bury their dead. So, what if some Cherokee chieftain or shaman had died as they passed this area? They would have been forced to leave the body along the side of the road. Of course, this is pure supposition, but what if some powerful Cherokee shaman called forth an elemental spirit to guard over the land where the chieftain was left? An elemental, let's say like Spence, who for some reason known only to himself possessed the body of a fifteen year old girl whom he sensed had abilities nearly two centuries later?
Elementals are chaos spirits because they do not differentiate between good and bad as we do. Their purpose is to guard a piece of earth (or some other property in the physical realm) as called upon by a powerful shaman. The Bell's spirit, Kate, tortured poor Betsy Bell and supposedly murdered old John Bell; however, Kate loved the mother, Lucy, and sang to her and brought her good things to eat when she was sick. Kate frequently engaged visitors to the Bell home in lively conversation and cracked jokes. Spence possessed Brittany and caused my family seventeen years of anguish and pain—and yet, when Britt would channel him he was jovial, good natured, and friendly. Spence and I had numerous long conversations (usually over his favorite food). We joked and kidded to the extent that I was deceived into believing he was Brittany's champion, not her tormentor. I trusted him and liked him. But he wasn't what he seemed and quite literally made fools of us.
Both Kate and Spence equally displayed both negative and positive characteristics—just as it is reported that elemental chaos spirits do. There is evidence that they were both summoned by Native American shamans to protect an area of land deemed important to them.
Spence possessed, tortured, and abused my daughter—and also attempted to win over my family and me with friendliness and humor. Kate tortured and probably killed John Bell, but also treated Lucy Bell with great kindness—as well as displaying a friendly sense of humor to many who would visit the Bell farm.
Perhaps there is much more here that I'm missing, but I think the parallels between the Bell haunting and ours are noteworthy. I believe that Kate and Spence were/are elemental chaos spirits summoned by Native American shamans.
I am thinking about taking several reputable psychics up to the Bell farm and see if they can communicate with Kate to try and find out once and for all what this entity was. Then we continue with the same operation on the land surrounding my condo. I want answers.
William Dorian (Nashville, Tennessee) has been interested in the paranormal since the mid 1970s when—together with Eileen Curran, the daughter of the famous medium Pearl Curran—he began channeling the spirit of ...