Is "The Nun" Based on a True Story? Meet the "Real" Demon Valak from Mythology

The demon Valak as seen in the 2018 horror movie The Nun (left). The "real" Valak found in mythology is described as a boy with horns and wings who rides on a two-headed dragon (right).

Questioning the Story:

How is the demon Valak described in mythology?

Valak, who takes the form of a nun in the movie, appears in various grimoires (books of magic that in part describe how to conjure demons). In those works, Valak never appears as a nun, a trait created by the filmmakers. Instead, the demon is described as a child with angel wings that rides on a two-headed dragon. This is depicted in the Valak image above.

One of the most notable mentions of Valak is in the mid-17th century goetic grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon, which draws on materials from a couple centuries prior. The book's name comes from the fact that the demons focused on are ones that, according to legend, were summoned by the Biblical figure King Solomon.

The Lesser Key of Solomon describes the demon Valak (also spelled Valac, Ualac, Valu, Volac, Doolas, Volach) as the Grand President of Hell who commands legions of demonic minions. It states the following:

The Sixty-second Spirit is Volac, or Valak, or Valu. He is a President Mighty and Great, and appeareth like a Child with Angel's Wings, riding on a Two-headed Dragon. His Office is to give True Answers of Hidden Treasures, and to tell where Serpents may be seen. The which he will bring unto the Exorciser without any Force or Strength being by him employed. He governeth 38 Legions of Spirits, and his Seal is thus.

Pictured at the top left is the seal of the demon Valak (also spelled Valac) from the 17th century goetic grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon. The image shows the demon's name surrounding its symbol.

How much of the demon Valak in the movie was inspired by Valak from mythology?

As we explored whether any aspects of The Nun are based on a true story, we learned that the demon in the movie shares very little with the "real" Valak from mythology, other than the name and the title "Marquis of Snakes." During an interview for The Conjuring 2, director James Wan explained that the Nun character in the movie was actually inspired by a spectral entity that demonologist Lorraine Warren claimed had haunted her in her home. Lorraine, who is pictured below (inset) and portrayed by actress Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring movies, described the entity as a "swirling tornado vortex with this hooded figure in there."

"I remember hearing that and my first thought was, ‘Oh crap, that’s going to be a CGI character.’ I didn’t want to do that," said Wan. "And so, it kind of took me a while to cement in my head what this vision was. And it came across eventually in a very organic way. Because it is a demonic vision that haunts her, that only attacks her, I wanted something that would attack her faith. Something that would threaten the safety of her husband. And so that was eventually how the idea of this very iconographic image of a holy icon cemented in my head."

Because it took a while for James Wan to nail down his vision for the demon, it wasn't until reshoots that the Nun was actually added to The Conjuring

James Wan got the idea for the Nun character after hearing about a spectral entity that had supposedly haunted paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren (inset).

In The Conjuring 2, how does it make sense that Lorraine sees the Nun character at Amityville, at home, and in Enfield? Is it following her?

We are first introduced to the demon Valak in the form of the Nun in The Conjuring 2. Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) sees the Nun at home, at the Amityville house, and in Enfield, England. Is this just a coincidence, or is the demon following her? Actually, neither. As director James Wan explained to Gizmodo, the nun Lorraine sees is a premonition.

“When she’s at Amityville? It’s not like she’s haunted by a ghost at Amityville, she’s having a premonition of what’s going to happen to her husband in the near-future,” explained Wan. “That’s all it is. So she’s seeing what’s going to happen at the end of the movie. The demonic entity that takes on the form of a nun has got nothing to do with Amityville. At all. She’s just having a psychic premonition.”

The visions are essentially foreshadowing what's to come. For example, when the Nun appears to her at home, it's foreshadowing what's going to happen in England. It's later revealed that the being haunting Enfield isn't the spirit of the old man, but rather the demon Valak (the Nun) acting via the old man's spirit.

Is any part of The Nun based on a true story?

The Nun horror movie was inspired by the 1986 movie The Name of the Rose starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.
No. Unlike The Conjuring films and certain aspects of the Annabelle movies, The Nun was not inspired by a true story. As stated above, even the demon's name Valak is derived from mythology, not fact.

The movie's story was actually inspired by another work of fiction, the 1986 Sean Connery film The Name of the Rose, which itself was based on Italian author Umberto Eco's bestselling novel of the same name. In that movie, a fictional friar, William of Baskerville (Connery), and his apprentice (portrayed by a young Christian Slater) travel to a Benedictine abbey in Northern Italy to investigate the mysterious death of a famous monk. The last person who talked to the monk is found dead in a vat of pig blood. Inhabitants of the monastery fear that the Devil is behind the murders.

It is at this point that The Nun and The Name of the Rose diverge. The culprit in Rose is a human one, while in The Nun, those who suspect something supernatural are obviously correct. James Wan said that the film is like "The Name of the Rose crossed with The Conjuring."

Who portrays the Nun in the movie?

The Nun in the movie is played by character actress Bonnie Aarons, who reprises her role from The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation. She was previously known for portraying the Bum in David Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive and Baroness Joy von Troken in The Princess Diaries (2001) and its 2004 sequel. Aarons is pictured below next to the Valak image from the movie.

Character actress Bonnie Aarons portrays the Nun in the movie.

On a side note, the heroine in The Nun movie, Sister Irene, is portrayed by Taissa Farmiga, sister of The Conjuring actress Vera Farmiga, who plays demonologist Lorraine Warren. Director Corin Hardy initially didn't want to cast Taissa (American Horror Story), fearing that it would look too convenient given that her sister is already part of The Conjuring universe. However, during London's FrightFest last year, Hardy said that Taissa was "so good in her auditions. ... She had some kind of presence outside of her own body that is evident, and she's phenomenal."

Is the Romanian monastery in The Nun movie based on a real monastery?

Yes. In the film, a priest with a haunted past and a novice nun are sent to the Abbey of St. Carta in Romania during the early 1950s to investigate a young nun's mysterious suicide. The film was shot on location in Romania, in part due to the country's abundance of creepy castles and Gothic architecture. Making it even more enticing was the cost, it was less expensive than shooting in other parts of Europe.

The real-life Carta Monastery is a former Benedictine monastery founded in the 1200s in Southern Transylvania in Romania. Today, the monastery functions as a Lutheran Evangelical church. As pictured below, the church building is the only part of the actual monastery that is still intact. The movie's scenes were not shot there, but the film's depiction of the structure is an interesting link to the region's past.

Top: The Carta Monastery in The Nun movie is depicted as being intact and operational.  Bottom: Much of the real-life Transylvanian monastery is in ruins except for the church toward the back.

The Nun Movie Trailers & Related Videos

Watch the horror unfold in the trailers for the movie and see Valak images as the demon appears in the form of the Nun in the film. Also, check out The Name of the Rose trailer for the Sean Connery movie that inspired The Nun's plot.