On an unseasonably warm Saturday morning, Archbishop James Cloud and I meet at a Starbucks in Bethany, a small suburb north of Beaverton. Bishop Cloud wears a clerical collar, with a crucifix hanging from a golden chain around his neck. He is in his mid-40s, has a playful smile, and could otherwise be mistaken for the dungeon master of a local D&D group. But we’re not here to play games. In less than an hour, I’ll be accompanying Bishop Cloud a half-mile down the road to watch him perform a home exorcism.
Finishing our coffee, I ask Bishop Cloud what to expect. It’s my first exorcism, after all, and I don’t know the protocol.
“If you have a faith, pray,” he tells me. “Get yourself centered, ready to rock, because if you go in unarmored and without faith, you can be attacked, as retribution for what I’m going to be doing. It can get scary.”
I nod solemnly. I wonder if my faith is sufficient. I can’t remember the last time I attended church, and lately my faith has been more like acid reflux—stronger some days than others. Nevertheless, I do what I can to center myself, to get ready to rock. I ask Bishop Cloud if he expects much resistance or struggle during today’s exorcism. He explains that the dark entities, such as the ones we might soon encounter, respond only to force. Occasionally they put up a hell of a fight.
“I’m not there as a negotiator,” he says. “I’m not there as, 'Hey, I’m your buddy, let’s have a nice conversation.’ I’m there to kick ass and take names. I’m there as a soldier. I’m going into battle. And, by God, I ain’t giving them any quarter.
“I like a good fight,” he continues with a laugh. “Bring it, son. Let’s do this. Let’s get it on like Donkey Kong.”
James Cloud has been an exorcist for over 20 years. Born in Stockton, California, he and his family moved to Oregon when he was 17. His father, a Pentecostal minister, opened a church in the central Oregon town of La Pine, and as a boy Cloud would tag along with his father on home ministries. At age four, he began to see “shadow people,” mysterious dark spirits, which initiated his lifelong fascination with the paranormal.
After a crisis of faith in the mid-’90s, Cloud dropped out of Eugene Bible College (now New Hope Christian College), accusing the school of espousing conformity and greed rather than Scripture. Reading up on the anti-Nicene fathers, he decided to join ranks with the Anglican ministry. He was a parish priest for 10 years, but was ostracized from the church after independently performing exorcisms. He was then welcomed by the Old Catholics, a schismatic movement unaffiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and largely self-governing. Because these various autocephalus (autonomous) churches and denominations are not answerable to any higher clerical authority, members are more or less free to write their own liturgy, set their own doctrine, and appoint their own bishops. Cloud was consecrated as bishop of Advent International Catholic Church in 2012, an Old Catholic church based in West Virginia. In early 2016, Presiding Bishop of Advent International, Archbishop Kevin Twohig, elevated Cloud to Archbishop, and later that year bestowed upon him the stately title of Superior for Advent International’s Order of Exorcists. Bishop Cloud is also an affiliated member of the Sacred Order of St. Michael the Archangel’s Order of Exorcists—a fringe, California-based organization led by Archbishop Ron Feyl, who purports to recruit and train exorcists worldwide.
With this support and backing, Bishop Cloud is free to pursue his life’s calling: liberating people from demonic possession.
“That’s been one of my main thrusts,” Bishop Cloud tells me. “To help people understand that this universe is much bigger and broader than we could ever imagine, and there are entities that, for whatever reason, decide to interact and sometimes torment. That’s where my job as an exorcist comes in, to relieve the home, or the individual, of the torment.”
While exorcisms are his chief passion, Bishop Cloud—who lives with his wife and kids in Medford, Oregon—keeps a day job as a mental health therapist and certified drug-and-alcohol counselor, with a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Capella University, an online institution. This training helps him to determine if an individual, rather than experiencing a possession, is instead suffering from a mental health crisis or drug-induced psychosis.
“I usually counsel those people to get with a mental health professional or their doctor, to talk about medication management. However, if the person is seeing or hearing things, there’s phenomena in the home, and others are also seeing and experiencing it, then it’s most likely not a mental health issue, it’s most likely an environmental issue.”
According to Bishop Cloud, there are three stages to a haunting: The first stage, infestation, is when people report knocks or scratching on walls, hear their name called, or feel unexpected cold spots. The next stage, oppression, is when the entity starts to affect a person’s mind, provoking heightened anxiety, anger, or depression, but only within a specific environment. The final stage is possession—the spinning heads and pea soup-spitting propagated by movies like The Exorcist—but, as Bishop Cloud explains, these cases are quite rare.
After concluding that an environment is indeed experiencing an infestation or oppression, Bishop Cloud schedules a visit. During his more than 20 years as an exorcist, he has never charged for his services.
“Christ said, ‘Freely you have been given, freely give,’ and so I do,” he says. “It comes out of my own pocket, because I feel it is my calling, my ministry. People need help, and there’s so few of us that do this. The need far outweighs the availability of exorcists.”
The need for exorcists appears to be increasing. According to a 2017 article by National Catholic Register, the number of trained exorcists in the US has multiplied in the last decade, from 12 to at least 50. This need has been attributed to such demonic influences as illicit drug use, pornography, and the appeal of occult or pagan practices, such as the use of Ouija boards. Responding to this growing need, the Milwaukee-based Pope Leo XII Institute was founded in 2012, to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” In 2015, the Institute—a two-year program—graduated its first class of 55 aspiring exorcists.
While the identities of exorcists were once confidential, today’s exorcist may advertise his services online, something akin to an independent contractor, though many of these “private exorcists” work outside the jurisdiction of the Vatican. Since accreditation or registration is not required to call oneself an exorcist, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly how many are operating in the US. And with the growing popularity of exorcisms, it can be difficult to distinguish a trained exorcist from any ordinary ghost hunter.
I found Bishop Cloud the same way you find anybody: the internet. In addition to his YouTube channel, Bishop Cloud maintains the website for the Paranormal Research Investigators of St. Michael (PRISM), a very small and rotating team of professed paranormal investigators, led by Bishop Cloud. PRISM, listed by the Online Paranormal Society directory, is advertised as being “dedicated to helping individuals and families who have endured infestation and oppression in their homes and lives due to the influence of evil spirits.” By his own estimates, Bishop Cloud is called to perform an exorcism in Oregon one to three times a month.
I emailed Bishop Cloud late last December, asking for an interview. We planned to speak in the coming weeks, but seven days later, he emailed to say he’d just been offered a case, “a house exorcism and a minor rite of exorcism on an individual who most likely has an attachment.” It was scheduled for January 13, in the affluent suburb of Bethany, a 20-minute drive southwest from downtown Portland. Would I like to accompany him? Yes, I wrote back. Yes, I would.
The house sits on a dead-end street in a quiet residential neighborhood. A two-story Craftsman with a beige exterior and one-car garage, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the half-dozen other houses on this street. A middle-aged man wearing a light gray polo meets Bishop Cloud and me at the door. The inside is as plain as the outside, with beige carpeting and minimal furniture and decorations. The man introduces himself as Stan (his name has been changed for this article).
Stan is a single, divorced father of two, and a 27-year employee of a major airline. He purchased this home soon after it was built in 2005. Stan’s daughter is 23; his son is 17. They’re not home today. Neither of his kids has reported any paranormal activities, and Stan doesn’t intend to tell them about this visit. His kids moved out of their mother’s house and into his just last summer, and he doesn’t want to spook them. At the moment, Stan is tense, jittery, with the nervous energy of someone who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time. He tells us he’s taken to sleeping on the couch.
“I’m a tummy sleeper,” Stan explains. “And if I roll onto my tummy, the darkness will hold me down. I can never—this vision or dream or nightmare—I can never see what this is, I can never see it. It’s very dark, putting a weight on my shoulders. Sleeping on the couch prevents me from rolling onto my stomach. If I’m on my back or my side, then there’s no chance for the darkness to hold me down.”
Stan has felt an uneasy presence inside this house for years. He’s experienced what feels like gnawing at his feet. He’s felt fingers pulling his hair, touching his head. He’s smelled cigarette breath, perfume, sulfur. He enlisted the services of esoteric or psychic professionals—a clairsentient from Australia, and what he calls “light workers”—often at the cost of hundreds of dollars. Things were at least tolerable, until Sunday, December 17, 2017.
“It was about noon,” he says. “I’d just dropped my son off at work. I came home, laid in my bed, and was starting to doze off, when I had the feeling of something clawing at my toes. And then there was this feeling of an animal bedding down... something that just rested in. You could feel the weight and the heat, and it was grabbing and clawing and needling at my toes. And then, as I lay there, the vision came in. It was a horrific vision. My heart rate started to accelerate. I was getting chilled. I couldn’t shake these thoughts out of my head. These were horrible thoughts.”
Stan immediately began reaching out to pastors, priests, the Archdiocese of Portland, anybody—desperately seeking “somebody close to God.” He was rebuffed. He’d begun to lose faith. And then one day Stan discovered the Sacred Order of St. Michael the Archangel’s, who put him in touch with SOSM’s Oregon representative: Archbishop James Cloud. And so here we all are.
Bishop Cloud is doing a preliminary examination of the house, walking through each of the three upstairs bedrooms, the bathroom, and the laundry room, establishing communication. Worrying rosary beads through his fingers, he speaks directly to the invisible entity, with admonishment and authority, like a parent reprimanding a misbehaving child. When he demands the entity identify itself, it tells Bishop Cloud its name is Zozo, which also happens to be the name of an archetypal bogeyman, like Slenderman.
“And I said, 'No, don’t give me that BS. Tell me the truth,’” Bishop Cloud explains a moment later. “And then it said its name is Jariel, which means it’s a fallen angel. Angels always have 'EL,’ the name of God, in their name. So it’s not just a demon, it’s a fallen angel.”
Bishop Cloud says he can feel the presence of a woman with golden blond hair hovering in an upper corner of Stan’s bedroom, keeping watch over his bed. Stan’s face drops.
“Nighttime is when it starts to get a little more electric,” Stan says. “As soon as I’m coming up the stairs, electricity. The hairs are standing up, so I know something’s here. And then I turn the corner into my room, and I’m just flooded with it.”
In Stan’s daughter’s room, Bishop Cloud senses another apparition, also a woman with golden blond hair, lurking in the corner. The daughter’s bed is unmade, as though she’d left in a hurry. On her desk are photos of friends, souvenir shot glasses, a Magic 8 Ball. In one corner is an absurdly large plush bear, wearing a collection of sun visors and a novelty Captain Morgan pirate hat.
We travel back downstairs and into the garage, where Stan keeps some furniture, including an old rocking chair, inherited from his late mother, and an antique dresser from his former mother-in-law. These two items, he tells Bishop Cloud, have also been putting out a dark and unnerving energy. Bishop Cloud agrees, promising to remove the malevolent attachments from these items.
We exit the garage, into the small backyard. Bishop Cloud believes this area may have been built on an ancient Native American burial ground, a sacred site, or some combination of the two. Within two minutes Bishop Cloud tells us he’s seen an apparition.
“I saw a Native American woman,” he says. “I don’t know what the local tribes were, so I’m going to describe her. She was standing here [wearing] an off-white gown, with brown leather piping. She had a headdress on, so it looked ceremonial. That ties in with this being a sacred site.”
Bishop Cloud looks around and sighs. He has his work cut out for him.
As we head back inside, the conversation turns to Stan’s daughter. Stan confesses that in the spring and early summer after hiring the clairsentient, he had felt less troubled at home, much less tormented. He’d felt lightened, unburdened—up until late August, the day his daughter moved in.
“I started to get pestered,” he says. “Quite a bit.”
“Maybe she has an attachment,” Bishop Cloud offers.
Stan sucks his teeth. “Four years ago, when she was in college,” he says, “my daughter posted a Facebook picture of her and her friends, and they had a Ouija board. So I posted back, 'For the love of God, please do not, do not, do not.’ Now, I have to travel a lot for work. And when she was in high school, they would apparently come in my house and party and stuff like that. So I don’t know what was going on then.”
“And see, this is the other thing,” Bishop Cloud interjects. “If any psychoactive drugs were taken during the party, maybe not her, but with her friends—that’s sorcery. The Greek word for sorcery is pharmakeia. And so drug abuse—psychoactive drugs—is absolutely sorcery, which is another open door.”
Stan looks troubled. I can’t say I blame him. I wouldn’t be thrilled to learn my daughter had opened up my home to fallen angels or evil entities.
“Okay,” Bishop Cloud continues. “So tell me if any of these symptoms of an attachment apply: a lot of anxiety. Depression. Mood swings, such as anger, coming out of nowhere. Poor relationships... like a black cloud follows this person. Does any of that sound similar?”
“Yes,” Stan responds right away.
“Okay,” Bishop Cloud says. “Then she has an attachment.”
There’s a long pause as Stan takes this in.
At this point, I feel like I should interrupt, to point out that those symptoms sound like a lot like those of any young woman in her early 20s. Or anybody at all, really. But what do I know? Again, this is my first exorcism. Though with the golden-haired phantoms in the bedrooms, the malevolent mother and wicked stepmother in the garage, the Native American woman in the backyard, and now the daughter’s attachment issues, I’m beginning to sense a theme.
“One thing to keep in mind, for when I’m done here,” Bishop Cloud continues. “Getting it off you and out of here isn’t the problem. But since your daughter dabbled, she may continue to have an open door, unless she renounces that. And, honestly, she could bring it back. Just by the non-renunciation of that occultic practice.”
“I mean, she’s a good kid,” Stan offers. “My kids are good kids. I believe in them. Umm, but yeah, so... some things ramped up the day she moved in.”
Bishop Cloud sympathizes, but is now faced with an unfortunate conundrum. Without his daughter here, he can’t break her attachment.
“She has to renounce it,” he explains. “It has legal right, because she opened herself up. It has legal right to do what it does, and she has to revoke that legal right through the renunciation. That’s the sticky wicket I’m at.”
After deliberating for a minute, Bishop Cloud decides he can at least consecrate her bed with blessed salt. The entity or spirit might be agitated enough to leave on its own, but Stan should be sure to report back in a week or so.
“If you find the depression and anxiety is releasing, then I know it’s working,” Bishop Cloud says. “If not, we can do it over Skype.”
Now that we’ve given the house a complete walkthrough, and have determined the root, cause, and many incongruent manifestations of the entity, the exorcism can begin.
Bishop Cloud starts in the garage, with the accursed furniture. He burns incense—frankincense and myrrh—all the while censuring and taunting the evil spirits.
“In the name of Jesus, I break any attachments,” he says. “You have no dominion. You have no authority. By the power of Christ, you will depart. You will leave now in the name of Jesus Christ. You will stop contributing to this land; you will stop contributing to this house. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I command you to leave. Now.”
When he enters the kitchen, Bishop Cloud begins to speak in tongues. It’s a shock, because his voice, admittedly, does sound different—not quite like a demon or an angel, but more like a beginner’s attempt at Mandarin. It passes after a few seconds, and Bishop Cloud resumes his litany.
“In the name of Jesus,” he says. “You have no dominion. You have no authority. You are defeated already—I’m just reminding you of your failure. In the name of Jesus Christ, I revoke every right, every privilege you may think you have. I rebuke you, Satan. I rebuke you, Jariel. In the name of Jesus Christ, you will submit like the good lapdog you are....”
He then heads upstairs, visiting each of the three bedrooms, filling the rooms with incense smoke and praying over the beds.
“I command every attachment to leave,” he says. “By the power of the blood. You have no dominion. You have no authority. You will not harm this individual any longer. You will not torment their mind. You will not torment their spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Cloud returns to the living room. He snaps open a plain, wooden box. Inside are bags of incense and a small collection of crucifixes, each one looking a little worse for wear. Bishop Cloud extracts the largest, and holds it up admiringly. This, he explains, is the cross of St. Benedict, “the actual true exorcist cross.” He translates the Latin text printed on its back: “Get thee behind me, Satan. Drink your own poison. What you have to offer is evil.”
I ask where he finds his crucifixes.
“Catholic supply stores and things like that,” he says. “There are smaller versions, but I like this one. ’Cause I’m a hefty boy, and I like to have a little heftiness. I like to get it on!”
While the burning incense represented the prayers of the saints, serving as notice to the dark entity of what’s to come, Bishop Cloud explains that next comes the final push, the banishment.
“Now,” he says, “it’s pure war.”
Returning again to the garage, Bishop Cloud holds the crucifix above the infernal rocking chair, speaking louder and more aggressively than before.
“Gaze upon the cross of your failure, and the triumph of Christ,” he commands. “You have no authority. You are a sham. You have zero dominion. You will leave. By the power of Jesus Christ.”
He makes his way back upstairs. As I follow him up the staircase, two or three stairs behind, Bishop Cloud stops suddenly, turns, and apologizes.
“Oops,” he says. “Did I just kick you?”
“No,” I say.
Bishop Cloud laughs and shakes his head. “That sucker grabbed my foot.”
“Hmm,” I say. “Wasn’t me.”
It’s becoming clear that Jariel has a foot fetish. It’s not exactly flying chairs, spinning heads, or levitating beds, but I guess it’s something.
Bishop Cloud revisits each bedroom, brandishing the crucifix and commanding the devil to leave, to bow and submit to the cross. He wields his crucifix like a sword, breaking malevolent attachments, sanctifying the unmade beds, and casting the demon out of the giant plush bear. He then seals the bedrooms, placing consecrated olive oil above each door.
“Lord God,” he says, “let this cross be a sign of protection for this family. Let nothing unclean enter this room. Amen.”
We return downstairs for the final step: Stan needs to be cleansed. He needs to be exorcised personally, to be freed of the darkness.
We gather in the kitchen, and Bishop Cloud instructs Stan to have a seat, as he stands above him, placing his hand on Stan’s forehead.
“Let us pray,” he begins. “Lord God, creator of Heaven and Earth, maker of man in your own image. We ask that you pour your holy spirit upon him. O God, rip asunder every attachment... let nothing unclean remain upon Stan. In the name of Jesus Christ, you will leave. I command you. You will not fight. You will shut up. You have no dominion. He has not invited you. He owns this property. You will leave now, in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Cloud now directly addresses Stan: “Do you renounce all the occult, all the devices of the enemy, in the name of Jesus Christ?”
“I do,” Stan says.
“Father,” continues Bishop Cloud, “by his own admission. I beg of you to send your warring angels, to shed off this attachment. By the power of the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us, for His divine mercy, His precious grace. And to gift us with life eternal. O God, you who are Master and King. We thank you. We praise you. Amen.”
It’s silent for a moment. Bishop Cloud looks at Stan.
“Doing okay?” he asks.
“Umm,” Stan says, followed by another long pause. He lets out a sigh. “Still feels like something is... just... lingering.”
“Okay,” Bishop Cloud says. “Do you have a specific area where it’s lingering?”
“Uhh. On the backside. Down here, on the hip, basically. Just below the hip.”
“Okay well, I’ll touch the hip, but—”
Bishop Cloud places his hand on Stan’s hip, and offers another prayer, for the Lord to remove Stan’s ailments, to send His healing power to the lingering area. Bishop Cloud then steps back and waits.
Stan touches his back and sighs. “What is that?” he asks. “Is that some sort of a medical condition, perhaps?”
“Could be,” Bishop Cloud offers. “The thing could’ve been exacerbating it. Right there is the sciatic nerve. Definitely check in with your doc. God gave us doctors for a reason.”
We soon pack up to leave. Bishop Cloud tells Stan to be in touch with any developments, especially concerning his daughter. An entity usually moves on after a cleansing, to find new homes to haunt—but sometimes, if a person hasn’t renounced it him or herself, the entity will return sevenfold. Stan sighs and shakes his head.
“But let me know,” Bishop Cloud says. “We can do more stuff via Skype.”
We shake hands and say goodbye. Bishop Cloud walks out the door and down the front steps. He turns, smiles, and waves, then begins the long drive back home to Medford.
It’s a little after two o’clock. The sun is bright, with few clouds in the sky. A neighbor down the street has taken off his jacket and tosses it into the passenger seat of his car. Overhead, a large bird circles in the air, then lands on the roof of the house. It gives two quick squawks, looks around, and promptly flies away.