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The Mystery of the Cursed Dybbuk Box

There seem to be objects in this world that draw to themselves some sort of mysterious, dark energy. For whatever reasons unexplained forces, spirits, entities, or curses are said to gravitate towards these items, imbuing them with some ominous quality beyond our ability to explain or understand. One such baffling object turned up for sale on the Internet and immediately stirred the imagination with its story of spectral entities, curses, and strange happenings orbiting it, and it has gone on to catapult into one of the weirder haunted object tales of recent times.

The tale of what has come to be known as the Dybbuk Box, also spelled Dibbuk Box, has achieved almost urban legend status, and revolves around an old, antique wine cabinet steeped in a shadowy past that was allegedly discovered and purchased at an estate sale in Oregon by antiques collector and small-business owner Kevin Mannis. The box came with a spooky bit of lore and colorful history related to Mannis by the seller, who claimed that the box had been owned by her grandmother, who had been a holocaust survivor in World War II. The grandmother had apparently been the only one of the family to survive the atrocity, and with some other holocaust survivors had managed to escape and make her way to Spain, which was where she had acquired the box.

An approximation of the Dybbuk Box. Courtesy of Sean Hathaway @dothybidding.com

When she had immigrated to the United States, the grandmother had apparently taken the box with her, and had warned her daughter to never open it, as it was claimed that it held within it a type of demon called a dybbuk, which had been accidentally summoned and subsequently imprisoned within the box long ago. Despite this rather scary story, Mannis bought the box anyway, intrigued by this sinister history but not really putting much stock in the tale. However, he would soon realize that there was perhaps more to the ominous and creepy legend than he could have ever imagined.

Upon returning home he immediately broke the rule not to open the cabinet and found that it contained an eclectic mix of odd items, including a wine goblet, a small granite slab with the Hebrew word “Shalom” etched into it, a dried rosebud, a candlestick, two pennies from the 1920s, and strangest of all two locks of human hair bound by cords. Not long after this, on that very same day, strange things began to happen, beginning with an incident when Mannis left his shop to go on an errand and returned to find the place ransacked, as if someone had thrown a tantrum there, and nothing had been stolen. A terrified clerk at the shop also said that she had seen lightbulbs smashing by themselves and had heard what sounded like a disembodied voice cursing. Oddly, an isolated patch of area seemed to be infused with the scent of jasmine flowers, and Mannis would say of the incident:

When I got back to the shop, I went to investigate. I remember heading toward the back and walking into what I can only describe as a wall of scent. It smelled like jasmine flowers. You could take one more step and not smell a thing, and take a step backward and be surrounded by it again.

Mannis then gave the box to his mother as a present, still not connecting the strange occurrences with it, and she allegedly suffered a stroke a mere 5 minutes after receiving it. She survived the incident, which partially blinded her, but not surprisingly did not want the box anymore and gave it back, saying she felt a malevolence emanating from it. Things got even stranger when later that same day the FBI supposedly raided Mannis’ shop to search it and take some electronic gear before leaving without explanation or elaboration.

The Dybbuk Box and contents

The box was then given to Mannis’ sister, but she too soon complained that there was some inexplicable feeling of dread orbiting it and claimed that it would open on its own when no one was around. She also spoke of having potent nightmares of a scary old lady, and she soon gave the box back after only a few days. The box passed to his brother and his wife, with the wife claiming it smelled like cat urine while the brother thought it smelled of Jasmine, then on to Mannis’ girlfriend, but they all complained that there was something evil about it, that they had been beset by paranormal phenomena and horrifying nightmares, and refused to hold onto it for long. A customer bought the object and promptly returned it, saying it was evil. Mannis finally decided to hold on to it for the time being and put it in his basement.

That evening, Mannis experienced what he called some of the most potent nightmares he had ever experienced, in which he was stalked and attacked by a hunched over old hag, a series of recurring nightmares that would haunt him for weeks and which were even said to invade the sleep of people who stayed over. Scarier still, he claimed that upon awaking from these nightmares he would sometimes find scratches, bite marks, and bruises on his body, and he would describe a typical example of one of these terrifying dreams thus:

I find myself walking with a friend, usually someone I know well and trust at some point in the dream, I find myself looking into the eyes of the person that I am with. It is then that I realize that there is something different, something evil looking back at me. At that point in my dream, the person I am with changes into what can only be described as the most gruesome, demonic looking Hag that I have ever seen. This Hag proceeds then, to beat the living tar out of me.

In addition to these nightmares, Mannis claimed that he began to see indistinct, shadowy figures lurking about his home, often in the periphery of his vision. Guests reported this oddness as well, and it was all unsettling to say the least. Mannis would eventually become too spooked to keep it anymore, and he decided to sell it on eBay, along with a full account as to how it had come into his possession, as well as its history and all of the ominous phenomena associated with it. He would say in part of the description of the box:

I would destroy this thing in a second, except I really don’t have any understanding of what I may or may not be dealing with. I am afraid (and I do mean afraid) that if I destroy the cabinet, whatever it is that seems to have come with the cabinet may just stay here with me. I have been told that there are people who shop on EBAY that understand these kinds of things and specifically look for these kinds of items. If you are one of these people, please, please buy this cabinet and do whatever you do with a thing like this. Help me.

None of this deterred a buyer named Iosif Nietzke from purchasing it in 2003. For the price of $140 he got the box, its creepy contents, and apparently the evil spirit inhabiting it as well. Almost immediately after buying the cabinet Nietzke purportedly was plagued by all manner of weirdness. Electronics in his house would malfunction or simply cease to work, lights would turn on and off by themselves, and objects would be misplaced or moved around even when no one else was around, as well as strange smells that would appear and disappear abruptly and blurry spectral figures roaming about. He also claimed that his hair began to fall out and that he had a sudden insect infestation in his home that came from seemingly nowhere. This was enough to convince him to put the box up for sale on eBay as well, after which it was purchased by a university museum curator and collector of religious paraphernalia named Jason Haxton, of Kirksville, Missouri, who does not seem to have had much more luck with it.

Haxton reported that he began to have myriad health problems shortly after acquiring the box, such as inexplicable welts, rashes, and hives upon his body, constant coughing, fatigue, a metallic taste in his mouth, persistent nasal problems, and even coughing up blood for no discernible reason. He also says that his home had frequent phantom scents of things such as jasmine and cat urine. Oddly, despite all of this he has also said that he believes the box reverses the ageing process. Intrigued by these phenomena, Haxton then had it looked at by a specialist on Jewish artifacts named Rebecca Edery, who determined it to be a sacred relic for imprisoning a spirit. She would say of the box:

The two doors on the outside open up just like the Holy Closet, or Aron HaKodesh, a receptacle for Torah scrolls. And I saw round, metal hoops on the inside of the doors that would hold scrolls. This particular size is used when going to comfort the family of the deceased. This (the insertion of the spirit) was done deliberately, for a specific purpose.

Haxton, who is still the owner, has since gone to Jewish rabbis and mystics to have rituals done on the box to seal in its malicious spirit, after which he hid it away where it won’t bother anyone again. It is a location he remains secretive about, and which has only added to the whole spooky allure of the whole tale. Indeed, although he has written a book on the box, 2011’s The Dibbuk Box, and had at one time a site devoted to it, Haxton has since mostly refused to discuss it further, and evades any questions about it, even going so far as to deny email inquiries on the matter. In a past interview he said of his quest to tame the mysterious box thus:

Being the “caretaker” of the Dibbuk Box for almost seven years, I’ve experienced a range of thoughts and feelings about it and its effects. Each caretaker who has passed the Dibbuk Box on reports both relief and loss. All regret losing control of it. I decided not to act in haste and get rid of it like my predecessors. Instead, I’ve worked with scientists, kabbalists, Wiccans and those in the paranormal to diffuse the energy and put the artifact in a rest state. For the past several years I’ve sealed it within an acacia wood ark lined in 24 karat gold. It has indeed calmed its effects.

Jason Haxton with the Dybbuk Box

The Dybbuk Box has gone on to become somewhat of a phenomenon since it was first listed along with its eerie story on eBay, to the point that it has been made into numerous articles, books, and films, most notably the Sam Raimi directed film The Possession (2012). It has also been the subject of countless Internet forums and comments, to the point that the tale has become nearly legendary. But what truth does any of this all hold? Well, that largely depends on who you ask.

Skeptics have been quick to point out that the story lacks very little verification or substantiation, with some of the alleged owners, such as Iosif Nietzke impossible to track down, meaning there is no guarantee that this is even a real person. The original owner of the box, Mannis, is also an aspiring writer, which has also raised some eyebrows, and the theory that it could have all been a hoax. In this theory the history of the box likely started as a spooky story to generate interest, after which it was picked up and further exaggerated by consecutive owners, building upon the myth. Then there is the usual argument against purportedly real cursed items that these frightening rumors and tales tend to draw exaggeration and the tendency to blame anything bad that happens on the object, regardless of if it really had anything to do with it or not. Chris French, of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths’ College, has said of this in relation to the Dybbuk Box:

[They were] already primed to be looking out for bad stuff. If you believe you have been cursed, then inevitably you explain the bad stuff that happens in terms of what you perceive to be the cause. Put it like this: I would be happy to own this object.

Others at least entertain the idea that there could be a mysterious force infusing the box, although it is not at all clear what exactly it is or what it wants. If the alleged sinister energy surrounding the box is real, then how exactly did it come to be attached to this particular item and why does it do what it does? If there is some spirit dwelling within it, then how did it get there and what drives it? Is there any purpose to it all, and perhaps more importantly is this a malevolent, evil entity? For his part the current owner, Jason Haxton, has given his own theory on these questions, saying:

I believe that the box is somewhat neutral – neither evil nor good. I believe it was designed and equipped to move a person toward their innermost desire or wish. Of course, sometimes what a person wants is not always a good thing for them or others.
The Dibbuk Box moves toward understanding and exposing the truth at the smallest level. Its original acting out against its early owners and others was a way of continuing to move toward the ultimate goal of its creator. Those not willing to move it forward received stronger assaults from it until they let loose of the box so it could find someone who would fulfill its destiny and accomplish the goal or task it was given. Now the journey and its work is finished. As long as the Dibbuk Box remains contained with no one requesting anything more from it, it will stay in a neutral state.
I don’t think the box or its consciousness has any specific feeling on these things going on, but that these are just the means to provide the truth. The wish of its creator is coming to light in a few months. That was the assignment, and its job will be complete. I cannot see how this information juggernaut could be derailed at this point. So it’s resting. Mission accomplished.

While it appears that the mysterious Dybbuk box is a real object, there still seems to be much debate as to just whether it is just an old wine box wrapped in a tall tale or an actual haunted or cursed artifact, and the story just seems to pick up more mystery as time goes on. Considering it has been hidden away and apparently quieted for now, perhaps we will never know and we are left to speculation. What is the Dybbuk Box? What powers does it have, if any? Is this a powerful haunted object or just a hoax or tricks of the mind, an urban legend for the Internet age? The answers elude us, and it seems the only way to really know for sure is to get a hold of that box and own it for yourself.