The Dybbuk Box

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”—Alexander Pope


It is unknown where the story of the Dybbuk Box really began. All that we know was that it was acquired by a Polish woman while she was living in Spain after escaping from a Nazi concentration camp. She later immigrated to the United States and brought the box with her. Officially, it was a wine box

First eBay auctionAfter her death in 2001, it was purchased at an estate sale in Portland, Oregon by a man named Kevin Mannis, who later sold it on eBay. The listing included the rather lengthy story of the box and what had happened to him and those close to him after he bought it

At the sale, the Polish woman’s granddaughter remarked to Mannis that he had bought the Dybbuk Box. That was what her grandmother had always called it. When the granddaughter had asked what was in it, her grandmother told her “a dybbuk and keselim.” The granddaughter didn’t know what either of those were, and her grandmother had kept the box out of reach and insisted that it was never to be opened. She had wanted it buried with her, but since that was against Orthodox Jewish burial customs, her wish had not been honored.

When Mannis found out that it was a “family heirloom,” he offered to give it back, at which the granddaughter replied that it was now his. When he offered to open it so that they could see what was inside together, the woman declined. When Mannis insisted that her family should keep it, she became upset and yelled at him that she didn’t want it, all of which could be taken as a bit of a hint that this thing was bad news.

A dybbuk is a spirit in Hebrew folklore that cannot move on because it has unfinished business on Earth. They frequently try to take possession of someone in order to help them complete their unresolved issues. Keselim doesn’t seem to mean anything in any language. I thought that since it was probably a Hebrew word, the correct spelling might be “cheselim” and that the granddaughter had misunderstood since English speakers have a hard time with the Hebrew pronunciation of “ch,” but that spelling doesn’t seem to mean anything either. I have some further thoughts on the matter that I’ll get to later.

Collage of Dybbuk BoxThe box itself was made of mahogany and built with no handles on the double doors that open in front. They both swing open simultaneously when the small drawer at the bottom is pulled out so that light fills the entire interior uniformly, indicating that its builder intended it to be a vessel dedicated to God. There was also a common Jewish prayer inscribed on the back that translates as “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. Blessed is the name of his honored kingdom forever.”

Mannis took the box to his furniture refinishing store and stuck it in the basement workshop. He planned on refinishing it and giving it to his mother. Then he opened the store and left to run errands, leaving the young woman who worked for him in charge. Half an hour later, the woman called Mannis on his cellphone, hysterical and screaming that someone was in the basement cursing and breaking glass. She couldn’t get out because the iron security gates and emergency exit were locked. Mannis told her to call 911 just as the battery in his phone went dead. He raced back to the shop and when he got there, the woman was on the floor in a corner of his office sobbing hysterically. When he went down into the basement, he was struck by the overwhelming stench of cat urine and found that the lights didn’t work. A quick investigation revealed that the sound of breaking glass had been from every bulb in the basement being shattered. When Mannis went back upstairs, his young employee was gone and she never returned. At that point, he didn’t connect any of this with the presence of the box.

Mannis opened the box soon afterward and found some unusual items inside. There was a granite prayer stone inscribed with the word “shalom” in Hebrew, a cast iron candle holder with four octopus legs, two locks of hair, one blond and one brown, each bound together with string, a small golden wine cup, a dried rose, a 1925 wheat penny, and a 1928 wheat penny, possibly indicating that the box was made no earlier than that. He offered to return these things to the family, but they didn’t want them.

So anyway, the box was in such good condition that he decided not to refinish it before giving it to his mother, sans the weird contents. Too bad. It would be interesting to know what would have happened if he had taken a sander to it…or tried to.

Since she was out of town on her birthday, Mannis had to wait until three days later to give it to her, on October 31, 2001. He presented it to her at his store, then went to his office to make a phone call before taking her to lunch. Less than five minutes later, one of his employees rushed in to tell him that there was something wrong with his mother. Mannis went out to find her sitting in a chair next to the box in a catatonic state with a blank expression and tears streaming down her face. She had suffered a stroke. She was partially paralyzed and unable to speak, though she later regained her speech. The next day at the hospital, she was communicating by pointing to letters. To her son, she spelled the words “no gift.” When he reminded her that he had given her a gift, she spelled out “hate gift.” Mannis told her that it was okay; he would get her something else. He still wasn’t seeing a connection.

After this, he tried giving it to his sister, who returned it after a week, saying that the doors wouldn’t stay closed. Then he gave it to his brother, who gave it back after three days. He said that it smelled like jasmine, but his wife insisted that it reeked of cat urine.

At this point in the story, two things became obvious to me. First, this guy was determined to give this thing to somebody, and also that these people know a lot more than I do about the smell of cat urine. I guess I’m more of a dog person.

Next, he gave it to his girlfriend, but she only kept it for two days for reasons unknown. Then she gave it back and asked Mannis to sell it for her, which is pretty darned funny when you think about it. When’s the last time you gave someone a present and had them say “I love it! Can you sell it for me? I’d rather have the money.” He then sold it to an elderly couple (no word on who got the cash), but found it sitting in front of the door to his shop three days later with a note that read “This thing has a darkness,” so he took it home. Good idea.

Demonic hagAs soon as he brought it home, he started having a recurring nightmare. He would be walking with a friend when he would realize that the “friend” was really something evil. The person would then transform into a demonic hag and attack him. He claims that he would sometimes wake up with marks and bruises where the hag had hit him. He still saw no connection to the box.

He finally got it when his sister, brother and sister-in-law all spent the night at his house and they all had the same dream. A little discussion revealed that they had all had this same dream before and always when the box was in their home. His girlfriend confirmed by phone that she’d had the same dream while she had it, so naturally he decided to sell it to some poor sap on eBay. In all fairness, almost everything I’ve recounted so far was included in the exhaustively long listing, as well as some stuff that I left out because I’m not trying to sell anything, so it’s not like he didn’t warn people.

What happened next was that he got tons of questions and offers for large amounts of money from people who wanted to circumvent the auction. Mannis was suspicious of these people for undisclosed reasons, but it appears that he was right to doubt their sincerity. The box didn’t sell for any huge amount, although if anyone knows exactly what it did sell for they aren’t saying. If these people had really been willing to cough up some serious cash, they certainly could have done so honestly. Others contacted him about studying the box or performing an exorcism on it. He turned them all down. It sold in June of 2003, which surprised me when I saw the date. He had kept this thing for nearly two years.

The dumbass who bought it…I mean the fine, intelligent young lad who purchased it received a call from Mannis shortly after the auction ended. Mannis had said that he would do this in the listing to make sure that the buyer really understood what they were getting. The young man was less than impressed by the warning and told Mannis to stop wasting his time and just ship it already (see opening quote).

This young man, who prefers to remain anonymous, was a college student at Truman State in Kirksville, Missouri. He decided to sell the box just a few months after purchasing it, once again on eBay. Though he maintained in his listing that he still did not believe in the paranormal, he included all of the information from the original auction as well as some of his own reasons for wanting to be rid of it.

He lived in a house with six roommates, and each of them took turns sleeping with the box in their room (again, see opening quote). Several of them began to suffer from mysterious afflictions including burning eyes, bronchitis, general listlessness, insomnia and an undisclosed illness that the seller attributed to allergies. The house was also occasionally permeated with strange odors and there were a number of automotive and electrical mishaps. He also said that about half of his hair had fallen out.

The most intriguing part of this listing was that he stated that he would not talk about what had happened between September of ’03 and January ’04, which of course probably means that this is when things got really interesting. Why else would you bring it up? Although he didn’t mention it in the listing, those who knew him also said that he went from being a solid student to being placed on academic probation during this time. I kind of doubt that this is what he wouldn’t talk about, though I’m sure it’s related.

Second eBay auctionJason Haxton, the next and current owner of the box, was the Director of the A.T. Still University Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville where he learned about the box from one of the owner’s roommates. When Haxton offered to buy the box outright, the owner told him that if he wanted it, then he could bid on it like everyone else. (Does this guy strike anyone else as being a complete jackhole?) So that’s what he did. He got it for $280. He intended to give it to an illusionist friend of his to use in his act, but when he heard about its past, the man didn’t want it. This is unusual in itself considering how disdainful – and sometimes openly hostile – most stage magicians are toward anything paranormal, going all the way back to Harry Houdini, who spent more time exposing fraudulent mediums than escaping from straightjackets.

So being a man totally rooted in science, Haxton didn’t put much stock in the idea that there was anything supernatural about the box. However, when he first opened the package that it came in, he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen as if he had just been stabbed. When he woke up the next morning after a restless night, he found that blood had pooled in his eyes, as if something had clawed at them in his sleep. Haxton’s son Ross said that his father seemed to suddenly look and feel an if he had become ill and that this lasted for weeks, possibly months, afterward. Haxton had the box tested for any substances that might account for its adverse effects on his health, but there was no indication of any toxins or heavy metals that would cause this sort of reaction. Ross Haxton reported an incident of seeing a “black flame” move across the room and disappear into a wall. He said that this sighting lasted about thirty seconds. The previous owner and Kevin Mannis also claimed that they and others had seen shadowy figures in their homes while they were in possession of the box.

Jason Haxton then took the box to the house next door which they had recently purchased and was vacant. He didn’t want this thing in the same house with his family. He kept it in the basement there and forgot about it for nearly five months before he went back to check on it one day. He found that the area around the cubby hole that he had stuck it in was surrounded by hundreds of venomous centipedes, even though it was the middle of winter. They scattered as soon as he came in and were gone in a matter of seconds. He also found that all of the spiders in the basement were dead in their webs – encased in some sort of white coating that also covered the walls. He claims that as soon as he removed the box, this substance just went away. He took pictures to back this up, but I can’t show them to you due to copyright restrictions.

So what to do with the box? Haxton didn’t want to get rid of it because doing so would take control of the thing that had so impacted his life out of his hands. What he did instead was research it to try to determine his best course of action. Rabbis told him that to reseal the box he would have to construct an ark made of acacia wood from a single tree and line it with 24 carat gold to contain it. They told him that this would have a calming effect on the box. Scientists agreed that gold would be dense enough to contain any electromagnetic forces that the box might contain. So that’s what he did. The box and the ark are now locked inside of a military-grade, shockproof container and kept in a secret location. Many people who want access to the box for various reasons have contacted him in an attempt to persuade him to let them see it, but so far he has turned them all down, with one exception which I’ll get to in the final paragraph.

It would seem obvious that the dybbuk, or spirit, contained in the box (if that’s what it really is) is that of a malevolent old woman. Perhaps “keselim” is an obscure term in some regional dialect or language for what is usually referred to in English as a black entity* – a shadowy creature that has no distinct form and seems to feed off of negative emotions, especially fear, which sounds more like what Ross Haxton saw. There are several languages spoken in Spain by relatively small segments of the population, most notably Basque and Catalan. These are not the sorts of languages that you’re likely to find fluent translators for outside of their particular cultural areas, so this idea is far from being a mere shot in the dark. If this is the case and there are two entities involved, then they would seem to truly be a match made somewhere a little south of Heaven. The more likely explanation is a little more mundane. “Kessem” is a little-known Hebrew word for items used in a magical operation. This word probably got mispronounced or misheard somewhere along the line as “keselim.” It was probably just a reference to the various, more tangible items in the box.

The one group of people Haxton has worked with and given limited access to the box were thePossession Poster people who made the movie that was very loosely based on the actual events. Since the producers of The Possessed billed it as being “based on a true story” and then went on to present us with a movie that was a complete work of fiction, it was nice of them to include a short documentary about the real story of the Dybbuk Box as a bonus feature on the DVD as told by three of the people actually involved. That’s where you can see the actual Dybbuk Box, or at least the front of it since Haxton wouldn’t remove it from its ark or open it. In case you’re suggestible,I should tell you that this piece ends with a cryptic warning from Kevin Mannis that just becoming interested in the box could somehow involve you with it.I guess if I were nicer, I would have told you that at the beginning.


*Fortunately, black entities are a very rarely reported phenomenon. If you’ve ever read anything about them, let alone encountered one, then you know what I mean. They are nasty little buggers. Unfortunately, they have recently come to be summarily grouped in with the much more trendy category of shadow people, entities whose existence I have my doubts about. I’m not saying that they don’t exist, but I’m always wary of the validity of trendy ideas and the credibility, motives and objectivity of those who latch onto them. If any shadow people take offense to this, I would be happy to discuss it with you over lunch at one of those restaurants where you have to eat in total darkness. My treat.

Maybe I’m the one who’s suggestible, or maybe Kevin Mannis was right and I should take another look at the opening quote myself.

The night after I posted this article, I absent-mindedly rubbed my right eye and felt a sharp, burning sensation on my face. My first thought was that I had spent too much time in the sun and my face had burned. A quick check in the mirror proved that this was not the case. There was no visible sign of anything at all.

The next morning, this area was still sensitive to the touch and there were little bumps that were difficult to see but that I could definitely feel. I shrugged it off and went on about my day, although I was rubbing my face constantly to feel if the bumps were still there.facial scars

The following morning, July 19 (my mother’s birthday, coincidentally, although I never tried to give her a haunted wine box), I looked in the mirror and saw what you now see in the picture on the right. These scratches were right underneath the tender area below my right eye. I don’t have any pets, so this wasn’t the work of a disgruntled feline. They are definitely scratches and not just red marks, but they don’t hurt at all. I was understandably a bit startled when I saw them.

The most obvious answer is that I scratched myself in my sleep, and that’s almost certainly what happened. Why I would do this is still a mystery. As I said, the bumpy area on my face didn’t hurt unless I touched it, and it never itched. Scratching it wouldn’t have done anything but cause pain. It would be cool and creepy if I could tell you that I had a dream about being attacked by a demonic old woman, but if I did I don’t remember it.







and all the devils are here


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