How The Possession Changed Jeffrey Dean Morgan Forever

There's plenty for viewers to be scared of when it comes to the 2012 horror film "The Possession." There's the fact that it was based on the allegedly true story of the "dybbuk box," a mysterious, cursed object that some claim is responsible for the physical and psychological torment of nearly everyone who owned or happened to be around it. There's also the fact that the film realistically depicts the helplessness of a family in turmoil, with their pain and silent heartbreak made worse by the presence of a malevolent supernatural entity that takes control of Emily, the family's youngest daughter. I mean, navigating unfortunate family affairs is frightening enough without the added bonus of evil spirits who make your daughter stab you in the hand with a fork.

The box that spooked Negan

According to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who convincingly plays Emily's desperate and frightened father in the film, the scares weren't just limited to viewers. Despite describing himself as a skeptic, the actor admitted to experiencing a sense of unease and unexplained incidents while filming "The Possession" that made him want to stay away from the dybbuk box and its supposed real-life victims. He even stated in an interview that his co-stars shared the same fear, saying "I'm a skeptic, look, I'm not going to lie. That being said, there was some weird goings on set. Lots of light bulbs exploding. Just overall kind of creepiness ... 'Don't mock the box' was sort of the mantra that we lived by while we were filming this."

In that same interview, Morgan also describes how someone wanted to bring the dybbuk box onto the set of "The Possession," to which he adamantly objected:

"I didn't want to get scared. It might have freaked me out a little bit too much, to be honest. Somebody wanted to bring the box to the set, the real box. I was adamantly against it. If you go and you look at what has happened to people that have had contact with an actual dybbuk box, it's not good stuff ... Why risk that?"

So just what is it about the dybbuk box that could strike fear into the heart of the same guy who played the fearless and sadistic bat-wielding Negan in "The Walking Dead"?

A quick lesson on dybbuks and boxes

In order to really answer that question, we should first learn what a dybbuk is. In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is defined as a disembodied human spirit that attaches itself to living people. According to the educational website My Jewish Learning, a dybbuk is not always evil or malevolent, unlike its depiction in "The Possession." According to the site:

Ideally it returns to its source, but sometimes the process goes wrong. In such cases, a variety of ills may befall the soul. The most well-known of these is the phenomenon of the dybbuk, or possession, when one soul 'sticks' onto another. Possession by a dybbuk can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps the departed soul is sinister and the living person innocent. Or, conversely, the departed soul may have been saintly, but wronged by the living; in this case, possession by a dybbuk is essentially punishment (or revenge) for an improper act. Or, apparently, possession may happen almost at random.

As for a dybbuk box, well ... they aren't real. Not in the sense that movies like "The Possession" or popular depictions would have people believe. By definition, a dybbuk is a human soul that attaches itself specifically to humans who are still alive. Knowing this, it wouldn't make much sense for it to be attached to an inanimate object, like a box. The concept of a dybbuk willfully inhabiting or being trapped inside of a box does not actually exist in traditional Jewish folklore or mythology. Instead, according to the book "Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul," in the event that a dybbuk must be expelled from a living host, it is sent away from our world entirely and back to the realm of the dead — not kept in a box or any other trinkets. 

So, where did the infamous dybbuk box come from?

According to a 2004 Los Angeles Times article, the infamous dybbuk box that inspired "The Possession" and the mythos surrounding it is actually a wine cabinet that seemed to wreak havoc in the lives of those who owned or spent too much time around it. It first appeared in an eBay listing created by a man named Kevin Mannis, who claimed that the box once belonged to a Holocaust survivor and that several strange and unfortunate events in his life were linked to the box, including his mother suffering a stroke that temporarily took away her ability to speak after he gave it to her as a gift.

The box was eventually purchased from Mannis by a guy named Iosif Neitzke. Neitzke eventually decided to sell the box on eBay as well, claiming that he experienced a string of bad luck since the box came into his possession, including an unidentifiable sudden illness and hair loss.

As tales of the cursed box and its victims began to spread over the years, Mannis eventually came out and said that he actually made up aspects of the tale, although his recanting is somewhat unclear and inconsistent, as illustrated in his confession in a 2021 InputMag article about the murky origin of the box. At first, Mannis claimed that he didn't make up the part about the box originally belonging to a Holocaust survivor, as reported by Charles Moss. The following is an excerpt from the article which features Mannis' response to Moss asking him if "the whole backstory of it coming from a Holocaust survivor" was made up:

"No, no, I'm not saying that," he replies. He explains the term Dybbuk Box came from the Holocaust survivor, who somehow imbued the wine cabinet with supernatural powers, and that her granddaughter used the term when he bought it from her in 2001. As he's telling me this, he starts stumbling over his words and then quickly changes the subject.

Moss states that he spoke to Mannis again sometime after this exchange and that this time, Mannis admitted to making all of it up, saying:

"I am a creative writer. The Dybbuk Box is a story that I created. And the Dybbuk Box story has done exactly what I intended it to do when I posted it 20 years ago [...] Which is to become an interactive horror story in real-time."

In that same article, Mannis also reiterates the fact that the idea of a dybbuk attaching itself to a box does not line up with traditional beliefs about such spirits, saying, "It's kind of an oxymoron. Dybbuks don't live in boxes. So a dybbuk box, by definition, doesn't make any sense.

The damage was done

Despite the fact that he made up the entire Holocaust survivor backstory, using one of the worst atrocities in human history to add some zest to his eBay listing, Mannis maintains that his mother did suffer a stroke after he gave her the box. He also says that he fabricated the "Dybbuk Box" story during a particularly unhappy time in his life.

Jason Haxton, another previous owner of the box — and arguably the most well-known of them all — is also featured in the InputMag article. In it, he states that he believes Mannis did fabricate the origin story, but only to cover up the fact that he probably cursed the box himself using Kabbalah. The problem with this theory is that Kabbalah is a school of thought that deals with Jewish mysticism, and not some "Hocus Pocus"-style magic used to cast spells or curse people. Haxton also claims that Mannis may just be bitter about not being the most well-known of the dybbuk box owners, and is seeking to destroy the box's urban legend status and legacy by claiming it was all a hoax.

To sum it up, even though Mannis admits to fabricating the box's origin story, Haxton still firmly believes that it's cursed.

Somehow, Post Malone is involved

Mannis' confession doesn't account for the inexplicable bad luck attributed to other people who had contact with the box over the years, and it turns out Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn't the only celebrity to be freaked out by the dybbuk box. Unlike Morgan, who made a point to stay away from the box entirely, musician Post Malone experienced the supposed negative consequences of being around the box firsthand. 

Malone came into contact with the box when filming an episode of the popular paranormal investigation series "Ghost Adventures" in 2018. Specifically, he was in the same room when Zak Bagans, his friend and the host of the show, committed the taboo act of opening the box. According to the made-up lore surrounding it, opening the box is supposed to invite chaos and misery into your life.

Shortly after this incident, the rapper would experience a barrage of bad luck including a car accident, an emergency plane landing, and a break-in, all of which took place in less than two weeks. Fans speculated that his recent contact with the box was responsible for this rapid-fire series of unfortunate events. Malone, who is a believer in the supernatural, acknowledged this theory in an interview on "Late Night with Seth Meyers."

The original box that started it all is currently in the possession of Zak Bagans as part of the collection of haunted artifacts housed at the Zak Bagans Haunted Museum in downtown Las Vegas. Whatever the case may be, the many strange and unfortunate incidents surrounding the infamous so-called "dybbuk box" were more than enough to strike fear into the hearts of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his costars on the set of "The Possession." 

If you happen to believe in any sort of divine retribution, perhaps the bad luck surrounding the box is the result of all the negative energy created by an admitted conman taking advantage of the general public's lack of knowledge concerning Jewish mythology in an attempt to capitalize on ignorance and antisemitism for personal gain and amusement. In other words, maybe the real source of the alleged curse is just the lies that were told along the way.