The underwhelming The Nun is just the latest film based on events and spirits allegedly encountered by husband and wife paranormal investigation team Ed and Lorraine Warren. While the movie itself was predictable and somewhat laughable, the interest in just what inspired the idea of a demon masquerading as a nun is not diminished. Of course, the investigation of what the truth really is involves photographs and recollections from people that are not entirely trusted by the public as a whole — especially those that do not believe in ghosts, demons, psychic abilities, or other wisps of the unknown.
First things first, the idea of a demon named Valak is not something created out of thin air by the Warrens or James Wan, overseer of the cinematic world of the couple’s adventures. The first mention of Valak occurred in the 17th Century The Lesser Key of Solomon and various other tomes cataloging the unholy residents of Hell.
The Sixty-second Spirit is Volac, or Valak, or Valu. He is a President Mighty and Great, and appeareth like a Child with Angel’s Wings, riding on a Two-headed Dragon. His Office is to give True Answers of Hidden Treasures, and to tell where Serpents may be seen. The which he will bring unto the Exorciser without any Force or Strength being by him employed. He governeth 38 Legions of Spirts, and his Seal is thus.
Obviously, there is no mention of a nun in relation to Valak or how he appears to people. Wan clarified in an interview that the Conjuring universe of films in no way means that the demon is the cause behind all of the investigations performed by the Warrens, but appears unrelated to the hauntings. According to the son-in-law of the Warrens, Tony Spera, the nun iteration of Valak came from a different paranormal investigation that happened in 1970s England.
Witnesses claimed that bells rang and a spectral nun walked the halls of Borley Church located in Borley, Essex. The original rectory burned to the ground in 1938 but the new Church supposedly still contained the spirit of a nun walled up and left to die for her affair with a monk. When the Warrens visited the location, the claimed to encounter the spectre. After Lorraine declared that she could feel the presence of the nun’s spirit, professional photographers accompanying the investigation began to snap away in the pitch darkness. The developed photos appeared to show swirling wisps of smoke the Warrens proclaimed to be the nun’s spirit. Another image had Lorraine standing near the altar of the church and splotches of white were identified as a nun kneeling to pray. If you’ve seen The Nun then you likely know that SPOILERS there are definite elements of that experience that served as inspiration.
The first appearance of Valak in The Conjuring 2 also came about based on an experience Lorraine had after the close of the Amityville Haunting investigation. She was reading in her bed when she supposedly felt an evil presence enter the room before a swirling black mass appeared before her.
And sure enough it cements it because the other option would be to do it very CGI-heavy, and I just didn’t want that at all. From talking to [the real] Lorraine in passing, she mentioned a spectral entity that has haunted her in her house. And it’s this swirling tornado vortex with this hooded figure in there, and I remember hearing that and my first thought was, ‘Oh crap, that’s going to be a CGI character.’ - Gizmodo
Valak as a nun was added in post-production and the horrifying visage taunting and following Lorraine resonated enough with audiences that he earned his own origin story. So Valak wasn’t really a part of the Warren investigations, but bits and pieces of their recounted experiences instead helped to shape and evolve the character. Now that we’ve seen pieces from Lorraine’s home haunting experiences, Annabelle’s origin, the Peron family, and the Enfield Haunting, what cases are left for the expansive universe that’s been created? I’ll be exploring that in another post.
Header Image Source: New Line Cinema