Valak: The Story Behind The Fearsome Demon From ‘The Nun’

Published October 15, 2018
Updated January 17, 2019
Published October 15, 2018
Updated January 17, 2019

Though Valak is well-known now thanks to "The Nun" and "The Conjuring," stories of this terrifying demon actually strech back centuries.

Valak The Nun

The NunA depiction of the demon Valak from The Nun.

Skeptics are quick to dismiss the veracity of horror movies that claim to be based on real events, but the references to the demon Valak — the one at the center of The Nun — stretch back centuries. And while the demon itself may not be real, we can at least investigate where history and cinema align and where they diverge.

Ed And Lorraine Warren

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren first came into the spotlight after their initial investigation into the famous Amityville Haunting in 1976. Although the disturbing, supposedly supernatural events, were later widely reported to be a hoax, the popularity of the 1977 book The Amityville Horror and subsequent 1979 film catapulted the Warrens into the spotlight.

Ed And Lorraine Warren

Getty ImagesEd and Lorraine Warren

Finally, another one of the Warrens’ cases made it onto the big screen in 2017. The Conjuring tells the story of another famous American haunting and proved to be such a huge horror hit that it spawned an entire film series based off of the Warrens and their exploits.

The authenticity of the investigations behind these stories is controversial, with some skeptics arguing that the “based on real events” tagline is just there to boost ticket sales. However, the origins of Valak, the creature featured in the series’ latest installment, The Nun, stretch back centuries.

The trailer for The Nun.

Valak In History

The Nun tells the story of a demonic presence that haunts a Romanian monastery dressed in the garb of a Catholic nun. The demon made its first appearance in the film series in The Conjuring 2, during which the Lorraine Warren character is able to stop it wreaking havoc and banish it back to hell by using its name: Valak.

The first known reference to that name, centuries upon centuries before the Warrens, comes from a medieval grimoire entitled The Clavicule of Solomon or the Lesser Key of Solomon. Professor Owen Davies describes grimoires as ” books that contain a mix of spells, conjurations, natural secrets and ancient wisdom” and the Clavicule indeed describes itself as a guide to “the ceremonial art of commanding spirits both good and evil.”

German Grimoire

Wikimedia CommonsAn 18th-century German grimoire.

The Solomon referenced in this particular grimoire’s title is the same King Solomon of Old Testament fame. The biblical Solomon was renowned for his wisdom and, at some point around the second century B.C., the idea spread that the king’s realm of knowledge had also included certain secrets of astrology and magic. The grimoire bearing his name lists the 72 demons that the king supposedly vanquished during his reign, providing readers with their names and instructions for expelling them.


Wikimedia CommonsBuer, another demon described in the Clavicule, who supposedly appeared when the sun was in Sagittarius.

Fact Vs. Fiction

Valak is the 62nd demon listed in the Clavicule, according to which he “appeareth like a Boy with angels wings, riding on a 2 headed Dragon.” Valak’s recent depiction as a nun was pure invention on the part of the director of The Conjuring 2, James Wan.

According to Wan, the real Lorraine Warren had told him about a “spectral entity” that appeared as a “swirling tornado vortex with this hooded figure.” Wan then decided to have the figure don the costume as a nun to put it more directly in conflict with Warren’s Catholic faith.

A scene from The Conjuring 2 involving Valak.

The Bible itself contains no reference to Solomon’s 72 demons and the Clavicule was actually listed on the Vatican’s 1599 “Indexes of Prohibited Books.” The Church considered the text not only non-religious but heretical. However, to the dismay of many inquisitors, the grimoire was still found in the possession of many a Catholic priest.

Despite being banned, the grimoire remained hugely popular in Europe and, given the success of the Conjuring movies, it seems that its contents still hold a terrifying appeal to this day.

After this look at Valak, read the disturbing story of Anneliese Michel and discover the true tale behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Then, learn all about how Roland Doe inspired The Exorcist.

Gina Dimuro
Gina Dimuro is a New York-based writer and translator.