5 Legitimately Terrifying “Ghost” Stories From Church History

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Cowboy riding a horse, holding a lantern.

HALLOWEEN IS UPON US!

“THIS IS HALLOWEEN, THIS IS HALLOWEEN, EVERYBODY SCREEEAM!”

Sorry … Halloween makes me a little dramatic. But it is only a few days away! As such I’ve compiled a list of some spine-tingling ghoulish tales from the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Be ye warned: These stories are much more than something you might hear around the campfire. These things actually happened and may be legitimately disturbing to some readers.

But before we get to the stories, consider this quote from Joseph Smith:

The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes.

So, yes, Satan and his companions exist, but God and His angels are also there, and God’s team is infinitely more powerful than Satan’s. Of course, nobody wants to have experiences like these, but if the powers of darkness seem combined against you, it just might mean you’re doing something right … Unless you’re 1831 Sidney Ridgon (the last story on this list) … that was just the result of some really bad decisions. Don’t do that.

1. A legion of demons

In 1888, Orson F. Whitney published Life of Heber C. Kimball: an apostle: the father and founder of the British Mission, where this story comes from. Whitney (Kimball’s grandson) writes from the perspective of Heber C. Kimball.

[Begin transcript (some punctuation edited, original spelling retained)]

‘Saturday evening,’ says Heber C. Kimball, ‘it was agreed that I should go forward and baptize, the next morning, in the river Ribble, which runs through Preston.

‘By this time the adversary of souls began to rage, and he felt determined to destroy us before we had fully established the kingdom of God in that land, and the next morning I witnessed a scene of satanic power and influence which I shall never forget.

Portrait of Isaac Russell
Portrait of Isaac Russell

‘Sunday, July 3Oth, about daybreak, Elder Isaac Russell (who had been appointed to preach on the obelisk in Preston Square, that day,) who slept with Elder Richards in Wilfred Street, came up to the third story, where Elder Hyde and myself were sleeping, and called out, ‘Brother Kimball, I want you should get up and pray for me that I may be delivered from the evil spirits that are tormenting me to such a degree that I feel I cannot live long, unless I obtain relief

‘I had been sleeping on the back of the bed. I immediately arose, slipped off at the foot of the bed, and passed round to where he was. Elder Hyde threw his feet out, and sat up in the bed, and we laid hands on him, I being mouth, and prayed that the Lord would have mercy on him, and rebuked the devil.

‘While thus engaged, I was struck with great force by some invisible power, and fell senseless on the floor. The first thing I recollected was being supported by Elders Hyde and Richards, who were praying for me; Elder Richards having followed Russell up to my room. Elders Hyde and Richards then assisted me to get on the bed, but my agony was so great I could not endure it, and I arose, bowed my knees and prayed. I then arose and sat up on the bed, when a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us.

‘We gazed upon them about an hour and a half (by Willard’s watch). We were not looking towards the window, but towards the wall. Space appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions, with their leaders, who came within a few feet of us. They came towards us like armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate; and I shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain.

‘I perspired exceedingly, my clothes becoming as wet as if I had been taken out of the river. I felt excessive pain, and was in the greatest distress for some time. I cannot even look back on the scene without feelings of horror; yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world. We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us. However, the Lord delivered us from them, and blessed us exceedingly that day.’

For more on this story, including the experience from Orson Hyde’s perspective (demons rushing at him with knives, etc.) as well as some post-event commentary from Joseph Smith, check out this article.

2. The first miracle of the Church

This record comes from History of the Church, volume one. It takes place soon after the Church was formally organized, in 1830. It involves Newel Knight, who was at that time was not a member of the Church (though he was baptized soon after this experience):

Portrait of Newel Knight
Portrait of Newel Knight by Annie Henrie.

Amongst those who attended our meetings regularly, was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and I had many serious conversations on the important subject of man’s eternal salvation. We had got into the habit of praying much at our meetings, and Newel had said that he would try and take up his cross, and pray vocally during meeting; but when we again met together, he rather excused himself. I tried to prevail upon him, making use of the figure, supposing that he should get into a mud-hole, would he not try to help himself out? And I further said that we were willing now to help him out of the mud-hole. He replied, that provided he had got into a mud-hole through carelessness, he would rather wait and get out himself, than to have others help him; and so he would wait until he could get into the woods by himself, and there he would pray. Accordingly, he deferred praying until next morning, when he retired into the woods; where, according to his own account afterwards, he made several attempts to pray, but could scarcely do so, feeling that he had not done his duty, in refusing to pray in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body, until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance was such as to alarm his wife very much. He requested her to go and bring me to him. I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body acted upon in a very strange manner; his visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine; and finally he was caught up off the floor of the apartment, and tossed about most fearfully.

His situation was soon made known to his neighbors and relatives and in a short time as many as eight or nine grown persons had got together to witness the scene. After he had thus suffered for a time, I succeeded in getting hold of him by the hand, when almost immediately he spoke to me, and with great earnestness requested me to cast the devil out of him, saying that he knew he was in him, and that he also knew that I could cast him out.

I replied, ‘If you know that I can, it shall be done,’ and then almost unconsciously I rebuked the devil, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to depart from him; when immediately Newel spoke out and said that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight. This was the first miracle which was done in the Church, or by any member of it; and it was done, not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God, and by the power of godliness; therefore, let the honor and the praise, the dominion and the glory, be ascribed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

3. A fistfight with Satan

Wilfred Woodruff
Wilford Woodruff

The following excerpt is from the journal of Wilford Woodruff. The events of the passage took place in October of 1840, in London, England.

Having retired to rest in good season, I fell asleep and slept until midnight, when I awoke and meditated upon the things of God until 3 o’clock in the morning; and, while forming a determination to warn the people in London and by the assistance and inspiration of God to overcome the power of darkness, a person appeared to me, whom I consider was the prince of darkness. He made war upon me, and attempted to take my life. [He caught me by the throat and choked me nearly to death. He wounded me in my forehead. I also wounded him in a number of places in the head.] As he was about to overcome me I prayed to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, for help. I then had power over him and he left me, though I was much wounded. Afterwards three persons dressed in white came to me and prayed with me, and I was healed immediately of all my wounds, and delivered of all my troubles.

Note that the text within brackets “[]” does not appear in the journal text from the source cited (above). The bracketed text is found included in this paper published by Brigham Young University. According to the footnotes from that publication, the words “He wounded me in the forehead. I also wounded him in a number of places in the head,” was later struck through by an unknown individual at a later time.

4. The Harvey Whitlock incident

In the autobiography of Levi Hancock we find another terrifying encounter with these spirits of darkness that took place in 1831:

The Fourth of June came and we all met in a little string of buildings under the hill near Isaac Morley’s in Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio. Then we all went to a school house on the hill about one fourth of a mile ascending nearly all the way. The building was built of logs. It was filled with slab benches, Here the elders were seated and the meeting was opened as usual.

… Joseph put his hands on Harvey Whitlock and ordained him to the high priesthood. He turned as black as Lyman was white. His fingers were set like claws. He went around the room and showed his hands and tried to speak; his eyes were in the shape of oval O’s.

Hyrum Smith said, ‘Joseph, that is not of God.’ Joseph said, ‘Do not speak against this.’ ‘I will not believe,’ said Hyrum, ‘unless you inquire of God and he owns it.’  Joseph bowed his head, and in a short time got up and commanded Satan to leave Harvey, laying his hands upon his head at the same time.

At that very instant an old man said to weigh two hundred and fourteen pounds sitting in the window turned a complete summersault in the house and came his back across a bench and lay helpless. Joseph told Lyman to cast Satan out. He did. The man’s name was Leanon [Leman] Coply [Copley], formally a Quaker [Shaker].

The evil spirit left him and as quick lightning Harvey Green fell bound and screamed like a panther. Satan was cast out of him. But immediately entered someone else. This continued all day and the greater part of the night. … I knew the things I had seen was not made.

… After this we went down to the house and heard Harvey Whitlock say when Hyrum Smith said it was not God, he disdained him in his heart and when the Devil was cast out he was convinced it was Satan that was in him and he knew then it. I also heard Harvey Green say that he could not describe the awful feeling he experienced while in the hands of Satan.

5. The Sidney Rigdon incident

The following excerpt comes from Philo Dibble’s Narrative:

On invitation of Father Johnson, of Hiram, Joseph removed his family to his home, to translate the New Testament. This was in the year 1831.

At this time Sidney Rigdon was left to preside at Kirtland and frequently preached to us. Upon one occasion he said they keys of the kingdom had been taken from us. On hearing this, many of his hearers wept, and when someone undertook to dismiss the meeting by prayer, he said praying would do them no good, and the meeting broke up in confusion.

Portrait of Sidney Rigdon
Via josephsmithpapers.org

Brother Hyrum came to my house the next morning and told me all about it, and said it was false, and that they keys of the kingdom were still with us. He wanted my carriage and horses to go to the town of Hiram and bring Joseph. The word went abroad among the people immediately that Sidney was going to expose Mormonism.

Joseph came up to Kirtland a few days afterwards and held a meeting in a large barn. Nearly all the inhabitants of Kirtland turned out to hear him. The barn was filled with people, and others, unable to get inside, stood around the doors as far as they could hear.

Joseph arose in our midst and spoke in mighty power, saying, ‘I can contend with wicked men and devils, yes with angels. No power can pluck those keys from me, except the power that gave them to me; that was Peter, James, and John. But for what Sidney has done, the devil shall handle him as one man handles another.’

Thomas B. Marsh’s wife went from the meeting and told Sidney what Joseph had said, and he replied: ‘Is it possible that I have been so deceived? But if Joseph says so, it is so.’

About three weeks after this Sidney was lying on his bed alone. An unseen power lifted him from his bed, threw him across the room, and tossed him from one side of the room to the other. The noise being heard in the adjoining room, his family went in to see what was the matter, and found him going from one side of the room to the other, from the effects of which Sidney was laid up for 5 or 6 weeks. Thus was Joseph’s prediction in regard to him verified.

Happy Halloween!

David Snell is a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's the Founder of The Sunday Pews, and has experience writing for Mormon Newsroom Pacific, KBYU11, Classical 89 Radio, FamilyShare.com and plenty more. He tries not to take himself too seriously and just wants to brighten your day a bit.