Devil's Wine Box: Missouri's tie to The Possession

Devil's Wine Box: Missouri's tie to <i>The Possession</i>
Diyah Pera
Matisyahu and Natasha Calis battle the dybbuk in The Possession.

As the director of a medical museum in Kirksville, Jason Haxton manages the macabre on a daily basis. His collection includes the brutally primitive tools of early brain surgery, a bloody-looking dissected human nervous system and even a wallet sewn from human skin.

But these artifacts seem quaint compared to the heavy, ominous black case sitting upright in the back seat of Haxton's four-door pickup. Nested inside the military-grade shipping locker is an acacia-wood ark lined with gold leaf. Inside of that lies what dozens of people believe is the cause of strange maladies and terrible misfortune — a small, antique wine box now known as the "dybbuk box."

Haxton is reticent to show it. He doesn't want weirdos trekking to northeast Missouri to demand a viewing. (Haxton says occult fans have already tracked him down at his museum assuming the box is part of the collection; it is not.) Above all, Haxton doesn't want to disturb it.

The &ldquo;real&rdquo; dybbuk box &mdash; shown here inside its protective ark &mdash; is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.
Jessica Lussenhop
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.

"I do treat it with respect," he said hesitantly by phone a few days earlier. "Which is why it's not out there like a traveling snake-oil show."

But for all his precautions, Haxton has at times acted with the abandon of a spiritual thrill seeker. Why else, after so many warnings from its previous owners, would he take willing possession of the box and keep it for nine years?

"I'm a historian. I'm a researcher," he says. "I don't go around measuring ghost wavelengths and cold spots."

Haxton does not come across as a morbid guy. He's an excitable and eager host with a goofy smile, dressed in khakis, an ID badge clipped to the pocket of his yellow button-down.

With the dybbuk box nestled in the cab, the beige truck bounces along the highway to Haxton's home in the tiny nearby town of Greentop. The museum director's house is a tall, skinny brick mansion on the edge of a cemetery.

In the driveway Haxton opens the back seat and heaves the black locker onto a hand-truck. The corners of the sky are growing dark with an approaching storm as he hauls the box indoors.

In the Haxtons' living room, his son, 21-year-old Ross, shows where the box used to be kept and how, as a boy, he would see strange apparitions undulate from the corner of his eye or dance across the wall slowly enough that he thought he could reach out and touch them.

"We live in a historic home near a cemetery," Haxton reminds him. "We know four people have died in this home."

Ross shakes his head and looks down at the black case.

"None of this happened until we got the box," he insists. "This home is normal. That box is not."


Walk into a hardware store in Israel and ask for "dybbuk," and the clerk will hand over a tube of glue. In Jewish mythology, the word is also used to describe a homeless spirit looking for a body to "cling," "cleave" or "adhere" to.

According to Rabbi Gershon Winkler, the author of a book called, simply, Dybbuk, Jewish folklore is filled with tales of possessions, though there have only been a handful of famous Jewish exorcisms in history.

"Just like any other ancient aboriginal tradition, we do have this relationship with what is glibly referred to as the 'spirit world,'" he says. "Anyone who is dabbling in it needs to be incredibly prepared spiritually so they do not get hurt or open doors to things to come into this reality that don't belong here."

Dybbuk tales often center around someone who is spiritually bereft, leaving him an empty vessel open to a wandering spirit with unfinished business. The 1920s Yiddish play The Dybbuk tells a kind of Romeo and Juliet version of the story about a young man who dies after using dark arts and the Jewish mysticism kabbalah and whose ghost inhabits the body of the woman he wanted to marry. In 2009 researchers at the University of Manchester discovered a scrap of parchment that documented an eighteenth-century exorcism to remove the dybbuk of a dead husband from his widow.

The dybbuk box in Kirksville, however, has deviated quite a bit from ancient folklore. Not only did its mischief play out on eBay, its story caught the eye of Hollywood. This weekend The Possession, a $17.5 million film produced by cult horror-movie legend Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell), and starring Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, opens in theaters all over the country.

The film is a highly fictionalized version of the story, though the cast and crew say they saw the dybbuk's work on-set. Director Ole Bornedal told one interviewer that light bulbs spontaneously shattered above their heads during takes. A huge storage warehouse where the movie's sets and props were kept in Vancouver burned to the ground. Haxton offered the box to Raimi and his team for inspiration, but no one involved with the film would agree to take it.

"We were like, 'Hell, no,'" recalls screenwriter Juliet Snowden. "'We don't want to see it. Don't send us a picture of it.'"

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7 comments
kevinmannis
kevinmannis

Please know that the comment below was left with a great deal of affection and not intended to be offensive in any regard.

 

Jason Haxton is an outstanding writer, a true scholar, and someone I am privileged to call my friend.

kevinmannis
kevinmannis

Over the past 8 years, or so, I have come to know Jason Haxton as a fine upstanding citizen, an intrepid investigator, and someone, in my who has made great efforts, great strides, and found success as an academic achiever.

 

In the article Devil's Wine Box: Missouri's tie to The Possession, it was reported that Jason doesn’t like my “un-academic” approach when I’m interviewed about the box. The article goes on to say that Jason’s irritation stems from my repeated statements that the box contains a “Dybbuk”, and “Kesem”, which Jason asserts is a “…totally incorrect term for a spirit or magical object.”

 

I just wanted to chime in by saying that the word “unacademic” is not a hyphenated word according to the Oxford dictionary, Webster’s, or Dictionary.com, and while Jason may not like, approve, or consider my approach to interviews we have done as being academic, the fact of the matter is that I approach every interview from the position of being the only person who has been allowed to maintain contact with the family of the original creator of the object. The fact of the matter is that I have never claimed that the box contained anything called “Kesem”. I have always used the correct term, “Kesselim”, which is a Hebrew word for what is translated as the term, “fooling spirits”.  One of the best descriptions of these entities may be found in Gershom Sholem’s book, “Kabbalah”, which is considered to be a definitive primer on the subject.

 

To be certain, I approach interviews and the subject of the Dibbuk Box as someone who began learning Hebrew at birth; began studying the contents of the Hebrew works such as the Mishnah at the age of 10; studied the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Torah, the first five books of Moses-the first five books of the Old Testament, and the verses of the Haftarah, from the books of the Prophets on a daily basis in “shiurim” classes, “chavrutas” pairs and private tutored study 3 hours per day, from the age of 10, through the date of my Bar Mitva at the age of 13.

 

Upon my Bar Mitva I became eligible to lead religious services, and read from the Torah as well as participate as a member of a minion. I was expected as I continued my daily studies of the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch, and Halakha. Halakha has been developed throughout the generations since before 500 BCE. It is a constantly expanding collection of commentaries consolidated in the Talmud. It is the amalgamation of intricate judicial opinions, legislation, customs, and recommendations, passed down over the centuries, and taught to successive generations from the moment a child begins to speak. It is the subject of study in yeshivot. Yeshiva is a Hebrew word   I was also expected to have learned and responsible for keeping the 613 commandments contained in the Old Testament. Known as the Taryag mitzvot תרי"ג מצוות, there are 248 positive mitzvot and 365 negative mitzvot given in the Torah.

 

I have read and studied in Hebrew, Aramaic, and English, ancient Kabbalistic texts such as the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), the Zohar, the Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Illumination), and scores of other works contained as part of Aggada – always keeping in step with Parashat HaShavuah, or the weekly portion of the Torah, Ketuvim, Navi, and the blessings of the works of Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and even the radical works of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

 

Eventually, I ended up also taking the regular courses I completed in college for my A.A. in Real Estate, and the licensing requirements of my state, and my B.S. in Business/Advertising too.

 

I’m sure it is obvious that due to the fact that I am a Jew, aside from my regular American education, I have had no other option but to receive my education in exactly, and identically, the same manner as people such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Jesus.

 

On his website, under the heading of research, Jason lists two books:

 

 Sepher Ha-Razim (the Book of Mysteries) Jason states that the book contains actual Hebrew “incantations” written phonetically in English that instruct a user on how to call upon angels.

 

Jewish Magic and Superstition, by an author named Trachtenberg. Jason offers this book as the best book on Jewish Mysticism in the last 2000 years up until 1939.

 

Having said all of this, let me just give my apology for the unacademic way I have approached the subject of the Dibbuk Box, derived from my original Ebay posting, and the subsequent interviews I have participated in over the last 8 years. I have been trying to do the best I can with the resources I have had.

 

Steven Butler once commented,

 

"Academic and aristocratic people live in such an uncommon atmosphere that common sense can rarely reach them."

 

Happy Rosh Hashana, everyone!

 

kyda40
kyda40

@rbdragonrider You should research and learn the difference between "then" and "than" as well as how the space goes after the comma instead of before and a period ends a sentence, not a comma.

rbdragonrider
rbdragonrider

that is Qaballa, and Madonna is one celebrity ,among many, who practice the spiritualism and self empowerment, before quoting it u should learn to spell it and study it, I have studied the Qaballa for years and even applied it to precepts of wica,for self  healing and power, and i have never had  any disease since adolescence,more serious then a cold

rbdragonrider
rbdragonrider

 @kyda40  @rbdragonrider actually i probably know better then u how to punctuate since i have had several published essays in Missouri Youth Writes,from Mizzou press, but my typing is atrocious so a few typos are inevitable, hence editors

kevinmannis
kevinmannis

 @rbdragonrider The word is spelled Kabbalah, when it isn't spelled in Hebrew, and Madonna's practice of Kabbalah is similar to a penguin's practice of rug crochet. I am glad, however that you have been blessed with good health and a hearty faith.

 

rbdragonrider
rbdragonrider

 @kevinmannis like i said the correct spelling is Qaballa go to ur local library and check the card index I have the the book. published in 1934 by Random house

 
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