The Bone-Chilling True Story Of The Demon Valak, Who Terrified Audiences In ‘The Nun’ And ‘The Conjuring’

Published October 9, 2021
Updated October 11, 2021

Although Valak is depicted in "The Nun" as a habit-wearing spirit, the real demon appears as a child riding a two-headed dragon — at least according to a 17th-century demon-hunting manual.

Skeptics are quick to dismiss the veracity of horror movies that claim to be based on real events, but references to the demon Valak — the one at the center of The Nun — stretch back centuries.

Valak or Valac appears in a variety of medieval grimoires, which were basically manuals on demons and spells.

Valak The Nun

The NunA depiction of the demon Valak from The Nun.

Unlike the 2018 film, Valak does not appear in the form of a nun but rather as a sinister child with the ability to conjure serpents. According to one 17th-century text, Valak controls a legion of serpentine spirits and can summon living serpents to see to his evil bidding.

While Valak may not be real, the divine fear it instilled in God-fearing citizens of yore certainly was — and continues to incite chills in movie-goers today.

Valak First Appears In The Lesser Key Of Solomon

Illustration Of Valac

Wikimedia CommonsA 19th-century illustration of the demon known as Valac or Valak.

The first known reference to the name “Valak” is found in a 17th-century grimoire titled Clavicula Salomonis Regis, or the The Key of Solomon.

University of Hertfordshire Professor Owen Davies, an expert of the history of ghosts and witchcraft, described grimoires as “books that contain a mix of spells, conjurations, natural secrets and ancient wisdom.” Indeed, Solomon is a self-described guide to “the ceremonial art of commanding spirits both good and evil.”

German Grimoire

Wikimedia CommonsAn 18th-century German grimoire.

Solomon features King Solomon of Old Testament fame who was renowned for his wisdom. 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 should they come in contact with such spirits themselves.

Valak, which is sometimes also spelled Ualac, Valu, Volac, Doolas or Volach, is the 62nd spirit listed in Solomon, according to which he “appeareth like a boy with angels wings, riding on a two-headed dragon.” His special power, according to the text, is finding snakes and hidden treasures while leading an army of 30 demons.

The Nun Horror Movie

The NunAlthough Valak the demon does not appear in medieval grimoires as a nun, it does have roots in Christianity.

The Bible itself contains no reference to Solomon’s 72 demons, but Solomon was actually listed in the Vatican’s Index librorum prohibitorum, or the List of Prohibited Books, which the Church continuously updated until scrapping it altogether in 1966. 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.

A 1970 Encounter Between Paranormal Investigators And A Ghost Inspired The Nun

Ed And Lorraine Warren Outside

Getty ImagesParanormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The demon Valak made its first appearance in the film series The Conjuring 2, during which a character named Lorraine Warren is able to stop it and banish it back to hell by using its own name against it. In The Nun, another installment in The Conjuring horror series, a Romanian monastery is haunted by a demonic presence dressed in the garb of a Catholic nun.

As it turns out, there is some truth to both of these storylines. Lorraine Warren was a real person and she was really a paranormal investigator who encountered a presence in a Church.

Ed and Lorraine Warren first came into the spotlight after their initial investigation into the famous Amityville haunting in 1976. Lorraine Warren claimed to be a clairvoyant and medium where her husband was a self-professed demonologist.

A scene from The Conjuring 2 involving Valak.

Although the disturbing and supposedly supernatural events at the Amityville house were later widely reported to be a hoax, the popularity of the 1977 book The Amityville Horror and the subsequent 1979 film catapulted the Warrens into the spotlight.

The Warrens, who were devout Catholics, claimed to have investigated over 10,000 cases of paranormal activity over the course of their career.

Lorraine Warren Sensing Spirits

Russell McPhedran/Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesOne of Lorraine Warren’s favorite investigative techniques was to lay back on the beds in a house, which she claimed allowed her to detect and absorb the psychic energy in a home.

And according to the Warrens’ son-in-law, the Warrens encountered a “spectral nun” while on a trip to the haunted Borley church in southern England in the 1970s. According to lore, the churchyard’s ghost was a nun who had been buried alive in the brick walls of the convent centuries ago after having had an affair with a monk.

Lorraine Warren allegedly met that ghost face-to-face a midnight one evening in the church graveyard — and left unscathed.

How Valak Is Represented In The Conjuring Series

The chilling trailer for The Nun.

Valak’s recent depiction as a nun was pure invention on the part of the director of The Conjuring 2, James Wan.

“I had a strong outlook on the whole movie, but the one thing I wasn’t quite sure of [was the design of the demon character],” Wan said in 2016.

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 of a nun in order to put it more directly in conflict with the Warrens’ Catholic faith.

“Because it is a demonic vision that haunts her, that only attacks her, I wanted something that would attack her faith,” Wan continued, “and so that was eventually how the idea of this very iconographic image of a holy icon cemented in my head.”

The idea of being haunted by your own faith was so potent to Wan that Valak became a central character in 2018’s The Nun, wherein the demon terrorizes and possesses the devout members of a Romanian abbey in 1952. With black veins and lips peeking out of a ghostly-white face, Valak is truly a horrifying presence.


After this look at Valak from The Nun, read the disturbing story of Anneliese Michel and 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.