5 Unconvincing Paranormal Cases

Several months ago, a guy named Ian Tindell posted 5 Convincing ‘Real’ Paranormal Cases that “will give the average skeptic…food for thought” at Ranker.com.

He’s right. There is food for thought, and “real” does belong in quotation marks. Let’s review:

1. The “exorcism” of Annelise Michel. This was the case that inspired the mediocre horror flick The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but its actual ending was far grimmer than anything Hollywood could conjure. In the autumn of 1973, German college student Anneliese Michel began exhibiting strange behaviour at the University of Wurzberg (she was, like “Emily Rose”, 19); lashing out, refusing to eat, throwing tantrums. She was epileptic, but Anneliese’s parents consulted a priest instead of a doctor, and the priest recommended exorcism. The bishop reluctantly approved this decision, and two priests were assigned to perform the rite of exorcism on Annaliese – making this (as the trailer for Emily Rose blared) an official Catholic exorcism. Unfortunately, the priest who first recommended exorcism, Adolf Rodewyk, was not part of the process, and the advice he gave in his 1963 book Possessed by Satan went unheeded: Clerics should look for medical explanations for “possession” before assuming the worst. Rodewyk’s POV is commonly held by today’s clerics, but proponents of possession and Hollywood producers insist on turning stories like Anneliese’s into simplistic science-vs.-faith fairytales in which cold, ruthless rationalists undermine the beliefs of Everyman at the expense of both.

The exorcism of Anneliese dragged on for several months. It was 1976 and Anneliese was 23 before the process ended – with her death. She had refused to take (or had been denied) water and nourishment for so long that she wasted away to 70 pounds, and died without having seen a doctor.

The priests and Anneliese’s parents were charged with negligent homicide. In the film, the priest (played by Tom Wilkinson) is a pious man whose view of exorcism is vindicated by a sympathetic jury. The prosecutors are the villains of the story, refusing to accept what’s in front of their eyes.
In reality, the priests were found guilty in 1978. Astonishingly, they were sentenced only to six month suspended prison sentences for allowing someone in their care to starve to death. To its credit, the German Bishops’ Conference ruled that an exorcism could henceforth be performed only if a physician was present.

In the film, the evidence of demonic possession is overwhelming, invisible only to the thickest and most obstinate people. In reality, the symptoms of epilepsy and hysteria are nearly identical to the “symptoms” of supposed demonic possession. Audiotapes were made of Anneliese’s exorcism. In addition to the usual sounds of possession (growling, clicking, hissing), she spoke in the voices of the various spirits who inhabited her body: Hitler, Judas Iscariot, a murderous Jewish doctor, etc. The tapes are revealing. The accent used for Hitler differed dramatically from his real one, and none of the spirits revealed any knowledge that couldn’t be gleaned from textbooks and the Bible. (“Cries of a Woman Possessed: German Court Hears Tapes in Exorcism Death Trial” by Michael Getler, Washington Post, April 21/78).

Anneliese’s death was an agonizing one, and entirely preventable. A 23-year-old woman did not have to die of thirst and starvation. The case bears far more resemblance to the death of Lisa McPherson than to the average exorcism, though I must point out that numerous exorcisms have led to fatalities.

2. Swarnlata Mishra and the reincarnation of Biya Pathak. This is a strange selection for a best evidence list, as it is virtually identical to other reincarnation stories.

3. John Titor. OMFG, tell me you’re kidding. This was just a goofety-assed ‘net hoax. As I wrote in “Time Travel Hoaxes Part I“, John Titor was sent back in time to fetch some archaic computer technology for the bigwigs of the future, who are apparently too busy watching Rocky XXII to run their own damn time-travel errands.
Titor surfaced online in 2000, claiming to be a visitor from the year 2036 with nothing better to do than lurk on 36-year-old message boards devoted to Art Bell and ancient astronauts. He offered up a dazzling array of “predictions”, including:

  • 2004: Civil war would erupt in the U.S., pitting militias and other armed citizen against something he called the American Federal Empire.
  • 2014: Civil War II ends when Russia attacks the U.S. WWIII begins. The U.S. loses, and is reduced to ruins along with China and the EU.
  • 2036: America is rebuilt and back on its feet, though considerably diminished. Then Mad Cow becomes pandemic, affecting virtually every beef-eater on the planet. Despite all these setbacks, the U.S. is in possession of time travel technology. In fact, time travel would become a reality in 2001, right after CERN’s larger facility began operating.

Titor said he was a U.S. soldier working on a time-travel project based in Florida. His mission: Go to 1975 and retrieve an IBM1500 computer, which could be used to debug legacy computer programs (the UNIX 2038 timeout error). Titor’s granddad had been involved in its development. Like another time travel insider, Dan Burisch, Titor believed in some kind of parallel timeline or universe. Hence, the past he was in wasn’t actually his own past – just a very similar one.
Titor decided to make an unscheduled stop in the year 2000 to save some family photos that he knew would be destroyed in Civil War II (making one wonder why he would want photos of people who weren’t really his ancestors, just similar to his ancestors). While there, he decided to blow the minds of a few basement dwellers by posting photos of his time machine on the Coast to Coast AM (C2C) online forum and at anomalies.net. (It was housed in a ’67 Chevy Corvette, but Titor later moved it to a truck so he could have four-wheel drive.)
Titor never coughed up a single piece of evidence, not even anything as lame as dental floss from the future. In fact, he never showed his face at all.
He returned to 2036 in the spring of 2001. A website devoted to his wisdom is still up, though, and for a time his attorney and spokesman, Larry Haber, remained a frequent guest on C2C, sharing Titor’s information about all the terrible things that were supposed to happen to us but actually didn’t.

4. The Abduction of Travis Walton. This one at least has some evidence in its favour. The UFO witnesses passed polygraph exams, and everyone involved has given a consistent account for the past 35 years.

5. Belfaazar Ashanitson.This is just stupid, because it’s only remotely linked to the paranormal (or rather, myths and legends about the paranormal). Mr. Ashanitson is a dude who consumes human blood from willing donors because his energy flags unless he does so. Probably just anemia, but it’s a lot sexier to say, “I’m a real vampire” than to just take an iron supplement, isn’t it?

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3 thoughts on “5 Unconvincing Paranormal Cases

  1. IIRC, the extras on my DVD of the Exorcism of Emily Rose show the makers of the film claiming (ridiculously if you've just watched the film) that they want people to make up their own minds. I find this is a claim made by a lot of people who wish to convince me of something absurd. I got the film because I was interested in the case of Anneliese, and I like cheesy horror. But this was an appalling case, and although they succeeded in making a cheesy horror, it left a very bad taste in my mouth. And if you want to convince someone of the reality of the paranormal, it's a really dumb case to pick.

  2. I recall that being part of the marketing schtick: "Decide for yourself". But the overall message of the movie was more like, "You'd better side with the priest on this one, or you're a callous douchenozzle who wouldn't know the truth if it set up permanent camp in your underwear." Yet they skipped over a lot of salient points, not the least of which is the fact that Anneliese/Emily didn't have to die at such a young age – whether she was "possessed" or not. If she had received proper medical treatment, including force-feeding or an IV if necessary, she would probably still be alive today.

  3. the Titor story is a proven hoax, I think his attorney is really the brother of the hoaxer….Fortean Times did an expose on this about a year ago

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