An interview with the ‘Godfather of the Paranormal’
Editor’s note: The following is an interview with paranormal investigator and demonologist John Zaffis, who will appear at Mass- Paracon at the Seven Hills Inn in September. The interview, used with permission of the author, is an excerpt from “Ghost Writers: The Hallowed Haunts of Unforgettable Literary Icons.”By Sam Baltrusis
If the day ever comes when John Zaffis doesn’t fear anything, it’s time for me to get the hell out of this line of work.— John Zaffis, “Haunted Collector”
John Zaffis, star of the “Haunted Collector” and co-author of “Demon Haunted,” has been called every name in the book.
“I’ve heard Ziggity, old man, gray beard, you name it,” Zaffis said, jokingly, during a recent interview. “You’ve never heard of Ziggity? People call me that all the time.”
The latest nickname making the rounds is the “godfather of the paranormal,” and he’s not exactly sure how that one came about.
“There are so many,” he told me. “I believe it started when one of my agents called me the ‘godfather of the paranormal’ and it just kind of stuck. I went with it.”
Zaffis said the “godfather” moniker was an upgrade compared with what people nicknamed him back in the day when he first started investigat- ing with his famous uncle and aunt, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
“People would call me the ‘paranormal brat’ because I would always run to my Uncle Ed if I had a problem,” he recalled.
Nowadays, up-and-coming investigators in the paranormal field reach out to him for advice. Armed with more than 46 years of experience, Zaffis tends to be the voice of reason during an investigation.
“The thing I do more so now than before is, if I’m having a paranormal experience, I don’t say anything,” he explained. “I wait for someone around me to say something because that verifies that it’s not my imagination. When other people start validating what I’m sensing at a haunted location, that’s what I use as my gauge.”
Of course, Zaffis still makes the occasional rookie mistake. When he was dealing with a possession case, for example, he had a knee-jerk reaction when he saw a woman levitating in front of him.
“My first instinct was to push her down,” he said. “And I did.”
In addition to experiencing an entity-induced levitation, the demonologist has seen all sorts of extreme paranormal activity over the years. In fact, Zaffis has worked with wellknown exorcists such as Bishop Robert McKenna and Malachi Martin.
“One time, I witnessed a person who was truly possessed,” he said. “He wasn’t thrashing around while he was going through the rites of exorcism.”
Zaffis said he did see something that truly terrified him during the possession, however.
“[The man] opened his eyes and they were reptilian. That really took me back. The intensity was so high with that particular demon, it didn’t need to do anything to prove itself or to manifest.”
The co-author of “Demon Haunted” had to decompress for a few days so he could process the horror that unfolded in front of him.
“In the heat of the moment, I’m not the one to react,” he explained. “I’m usually evenkeeled and then realize the severity of the situation much later.”
While he tries to keep calm during intense situations, Zaffis said he has learned from his mistakes.
“It’s trial and error,” he explained. “I often share my experiences, because even people like John Zaffis have had their back up against the wall from time to time. It’s key that you share what you’ve experienced so that others can benefit from the knowledge.”
Based on his experiences as the lead investigator featured on the “Haunted Collector,” Zaffis knows a thing or two about enchanted objects.
“I put items in the same category as haunted land and places. If an item is haunted, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something evil attached to it. In some situations, there’s an energy associated with the item and it’s not always bad.”
Zaffis stores the haunted objects he has picked up along the way in a barn outside his Connecticut home. He also has a procedure to bind his collection that includes prayer, sea salt and holy water.
“If people randomly collect haunted items, it’s not a good idea to keep them in their personal space,” he said. “I’m not interested in playing Russian roulette. I rather keep them in a separate building.”
As someone who has been on television and has worked with most of the well-known investigators in the field, Zaffis said he doesn’t always trust what airs on the small screen. “Are a lot of these things on TV done for entertainment value? Yes, absolutely.”
Zaffis said that what happens in front of the camera is more about keeping people interested and less about actually finding answers. But it doesn’t mean they’re not trying.
“We are all on a journey and searching,” he told me. “At the end of the day, can we prove or disprove that there’s a heaven or a hell? None of us really know. We don’t have the hardcore evidence we need from a scientific perspective. That’s one of the driving forces for many of us. We still can’t prove or disprove these things we’ve experienced.”
The “godfather of the paranormal” has noticed a dramatic shift in pop culture thanks to a post-Conjuring interest in the Warrens and television shows such as the “Haunted Collector.”
“People look at the paranormal differently now because of the amount of exposure on TV, radio and conventions,” he said. “They have a different perspective. What I mean by that is that they realize there’s something that transpires beyond the physical body. There’s just too much out there we can’t explain.”
When I asked Zaffis about the backlash his aunt and uncle faced during the Amityville case, he said he believes it was a fear-based attack.
“Back in the day, who else was out there? It was such a small community,” he said. “Those two would push more doors open than anybody else in the field. No one would take that chance. They did. They broke down barriers. They took a beating, but they stood their ground.”
Ed Warren passed away Aug. 23, 2006, and I asked Zaffis what he thought his uncle would think about the paranormal now.
“The one thing that bothers me is that he wasn’t around to see the success of The Conjuring or to see the paranormal finally come to the forefront,” he said.
Sadly, his aunt Lorraine passed April 18, 2019. She was 92.
Even though more people are accepting that spirits and demons are real, Zaffis does bump into the occasional nonbeliever.
“If someone is a skeptic, I really don’t take offense,” he said. “Even though I grew up surrounded by the paranormal, I didn’t believe in ghosts until I was 16 years old. When I was going to bed one night, I saw a transparent, tall figure that was shaking his head back and forth.”
When he told his mother about the incident, Zaffis learned that when his grandfather was alive, he always shook his head when he was upset. A few days after the close encounter, his grandmother passed. Fueled by the life-changing experience, Zaffis became interested in the paranormal and spent his formative years studying under the Warrens.
Zaffis told me that he keeps an open mind when it comes to his work out in the field.
“If someone is scratched, it doesn’t always mean we’re dealing with something demonic,” he explained. “I used to think that if a person got pushed or scratched, that it was something evil. Not necessarily. I look at it differently today. If a person was a mean, rotten person when they were alive, then they will be like that in spirit form.”
However, if a case does involve a demonic infestation, Zaffis protects himself on a spiritual level.
“A demonologist is a person who studies across the board and looks at the different belief systems and organized religions out there. Looking at the hardcore stuff on the occult level, my guard remains very high, but I’m respectful and try to understand where they are coming from when I approach a case.”
When he works on the hardcore cases, Zaffis tries to keep his family and his work completely separate.
“I live a dual life, if that makes any sense,” he said. “Sometimes being involved with the heavier stuff can be very isolating. You have to discipline yourself and know where you have to draw the line when dealing with the paranormal and your family life.”
Zaffis, who runs the Paranormal and Demonology Research Society of New England, said his uncle taught him how to find balance.
“He always told me, ‘You have to live in two different worlds, kid.’ As time went on, I understood what he meant,” Zaffis said. “There’s a lot of work I get involved with that will probably go to the grave with me. I just don’t talk about those cases. I learned that from both Ed and Lorraine. There are things you simply need to leave alone.”
As a practicing Roman Catholic, Zaffis said it’s important for him to help people find some sort of normalcy in their lives after surviving an extreme haunting.
“If someone is levitating, I don’t look at it like I did 10 or 20 years ago,” he said. “Back then, I would have grabbed a camcorder. Now, I want to help these people.”
While Zaffis has pretty much seen it all, he still proceeds with caution when he investigates.
“If the day ever comes when John Zaffis doesn’t fear anything, it’s time for me to get the hell out of this line of work,” he concluded.
Sam Baltrusis, author of “Ghost Writers: The Hallowed Haunts of Unforgettable Literary Icons,” was featured on the 100th episode of “A Haunting” airing on the Travel Channel. Visit SamBaltrusis.com for more information.