The War on Christmas is Real

The Espresso Shot Heard Round the World

On November 5, Arizona vlogger and possible psychopath Joshua Feuerstein posted a Facebook video calling for a worldwide movement to force Starbucks to acknowledge Christmas.  His rant went viral, topping 12 million views in just three days.
Feuerstein was incensed that the world’s largest coffee chain had removed all vestiges of Christendom from its holiday paper cups, though a review of previous years’ cups reveals that Starbucks never actually had Christmas-themed cups in the first place. The cups usually feature stylized swirls, snowflakes, and other random wintery stuff. What does the birth of Christ have to do with the outline of a poinsettia? I don’t know, either. I just know that the ’99 cup design included a car so poorly drawn it resembled a UFO. Because Jesus.

starbucks cups

Feuerstein contends that Starbucks “hates Jesus” and is waging an assault-by-omission on Christmas.  Never mind, please, that Starbucks is offering Christmas blend coffees, Christmas albums, Christmas cookies, and porcelain Christmas mugs in all its stores. Frankly, the average Starbucks in November looks like Santa’s man cave.

Feuerstein also announced his intention to open carry in Starbucks, because Jesus just loved weaponry, right?

On a CNN appearance, he insisted that unnamed plotters are trying to “remove Christmas out of society.” He cited two examples: The SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, has “required that they take down their Christmas tree this year” (falseby popular demand, the mall’s Christmas tree will be going up) and “cities are banning nativity scenes in front of churches” (false – I can’t find a single instance of this happening in the U.S.; cities such as Santa Monica have banned public displays, but never private ones on church properties).

This sort of tirade has become an annual tradition in the U.S., and it is infinitely more beloved than fruitcake or mulled cider ever were.

I’ll Give You My Yule Log When You Pry It From My Frostbitten Hands

It all began roughly two decades ago, when Colorado pastor Jim Hagen noticed that employees at a shopping mall were greeting customers with “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Obviously, this was not an attempt to sideline Christmas (the five aisles of tinsel-decked fuzzy reindeer that pop up in stores every October will attest to that), but Pastor Hagen took (or pretended to take) umbrage. He started a grassroots campaign to get in the face of any minimum-wage retail employee that dared say “happy holidays”, although “happy holidays” is probably more appropriate for a season that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Henry Miller’s birthday, Solstice celebrations, and New Year’s Eve.

Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly later became the face of the movement. In 2004, he began collecting random tales of “holiday trees” being erected in public squares, of elementary schools staging “winter” pageants, etc. His collective term for these widely separated and unconnected incidents was – say it with me now – the “War on Christmas.”
According to O’Reilly (and other Fox pundits, notably John Gibson), this was a full-frontal assault on Christmas orchestrated by liberals, non-Christians, atheists, and Wal-Mart cashiers; a systematic effort to tear down public Christmas trees, banish nativity displays, sanitize school Christmas pageants, and render Christmas carols obsolete. In 2005, Gibson’s book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought became a bestseller.

However, Pastor Hagen and Fox News didn’t manufacture the War on Christmas all on their own. It was actually the brainchild of a British Fortune editor, Peter Brimelow. In the late ’90s, he founded one of the most virulent anti-immigration sites ever run by an immigrant: VDare.com. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies VDare as an extremist site, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. The sidebar of the site’s main articles page is a wall of Confederate flags, advertised as part of a “Personal Patriot Pack” offered to generous donors. Featured articles include “Dalton Trumbo Had It Coming” and essays mourning the death of white civilization. VDare makes it plain that immigrants are probably the worst thing to happen in the history of this planet.
Every Christmas, VDare awards a prize to the writer who can present the most enraging example of the War on Christmas. Bill O’Reilly, as we’ve noted, sticks mostly to elementary school festivities and nativity mangers and such. VDare sticks mostly to immigrants, Communists, Muslims and Jews. You read that correctly. Year after year, the “winners” of VDare’s annual War on Christmas essay competition are crackpots who believe that Jews and other “Christophobes” are trying to abolish Christmas. The 2001 winner, for example, declared Hanukkah to be a make-believe holiday unworthy of observance, and waxed nostalgic over how awesome it was for Whittaker “Pumpkin Patch” Chambers to celebrate Christmas with his kids after leaving those crummy pinkos behind.

Santa Commie

More respectable Christian media outlets soon joined in the yearly rage-fest. In 2007, Focus on the Family, America’s most popular Christian radio show, called for listeners to throw out any mail-order catalogues that used the term “Happy Holidays.” They called this campaign Merry Tossmas.

It was around this time that my own late grandmother, worked into a righteous lather by an afternoon of Fox News viewing, told me she would shout “MERRY CHRISTMAS” to the first cashier that had the gall to say “Happy holidays!” to her. To my knowledge, she never had to bother.

Then came the legislators.  In 2008, Utah senator Chris Buttars announced a resolution pressuring retailers to allow their employees to use the word “Christmas” in their greetings to customers. He ultimately abandoned the idea, but declared the battle wasn’t over.
In 2009, Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., introduced a resolution calling for the House to protect Christmas symbols and traditions. Brown was particularly peeved that the Obamas’ holiday cards hadn’t explicitly mentioned Christmas. “I believe that sending a Christmas card without referencing a holiday and its purpose limits the Christmas celebration in favor of a more ‘politically correct’ holiday,” he told Fox Radio.

I was more than a little baffled by this War on Christmas rhetoric. You see, I live in a very multicultural city where Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are well-represented. We also have a good number of Sikhs, Hindus, atheists and agnostics, Sai Baba people,  Bahá’í and Unitarian people, Maitreya people, Scientologists, folks who think Jesus came back as a South Korean, and people who worship a former shoe salesman.
Yet there is still a huge Christmas tree in the city square every year. Even when we had a Jewish mayor, you would find an enormous nativity manger parked outside city hall each Christmas. In our stores, Christmas carols play, greeters say “Merry Christmas” more than “Happy Holidays”, and expanded holiday hours are often called “Christmas hours.”

But I’m here to tell you that there is a War on Christmas, ladies and gentleman. It’s all real. A sinister cabal of people actually is trying to rip down your treetop angels and your boughs of holly and those gigantic inflatable snowglobes in your front yard. They are engaged in a tireless, year-round campaign against Christmas presents and gingerbread houses. These merciless killjoys don’t even want you to hang mistletoe or host ugly sweater competitions!

And guess what? These people are Christians.

Let’s take a look at the frontline soldiers in the real War Against Christmas.

Alex Jones/Infowars

Texas broadcaster and professional paranoid Alex Jones has long been an anti-Christmas fanatic. I first discovered this during his December 14, 2007 broadcast, when he spent a solid five minutes excoriating listeners for buying frivolous Christmas gifts like clothing and sweets and Pagan-inspired Christmas decorations – buy merchandise from the Infowars Store instead! Get the extended 12-hour director’s cut of The Obama Deception! Annoy your friends! Depress your family! Make everyone wish you’d get carted off to a FEMA camp so they don’t have to listen to your fatalistic bullshit a minute longer!

Three Christmases later, Jones’ Prison Planet website re-posted a Russia Today report titled Christmas is pagan celebration of shopping & eating’.

Last December, Infowars re-posted Michael Snyder’s essay on how Christmas gift-giving – and Christmas itself – is a sick, soulless pagan tradition.

So it’s well-established that Jones and company don’t like Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, and the other heathen and godless trappings of Christmas, right?

Well, not quite. In 2013, Jones sent two of his lackeys reporters to the Christmas tree display on the Texas state legislature grounds to express his outrage that non-Christians allegedly opposed having a Christmas tree there. He titled this report “Soft Killing Christmas” (video here). Confused yet? That’s Jonestown for you. Don’t agree with him, he’s already changed his mind.

Santa tapping your phones

The Santa = Satan Crowd

Last Christmas, the Born Again Independent Baptist Church in Harlem displayed “Santa is Satan” on its marquee sign. Most observers were baffled by this, but Pastor Edward Caruthers’ choice to associate Santa Claus with the Adversary of all mankind is not uncommon among American Christians.

santa is satan

Answers in Genesis features an article by Roger Patterson, urging parents to cool it with Santa Claus because belief in him involves deception and manipulation – and takes away too much attention from Christ. Cutting Edge Ministries has a handy chart to show you why Santa is the counterfeit Jesus.

Some Christians, like this guy, rebel against modern depictions of Santa because they stem from Coca-Cola marketing campaigns.

For true Santa-hate, it’s hard to top Wisconsin outsider artist Norbert Kox. An alleged former biker, Kox developed some rather outré Christian beliefs after an Easy Rider-calibre acid freakout in the ’70s. He decided that most of what we know about Christianity, right down to Jesus’s name, is really blasphemous misinformation that must be discarded by seekers after truth. That includes everything we think we know about Christmas. In the December 1986 issue of his now-defunct newsletter, The Wisconsin Caver, Kox linked Santa Claus to Zeus, “Old Nick” (the Devil), Odin, and just about every non-Christian deity known to history. He habitually referred to Santa as “Satan Claws.”

Santa watching you

“We Don’t Do Christmas”

It’s not just eccentrics waging war on Christmas, though. Many Christian denominations have always eschewed the season: The United Church of God , the Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are the best-known denominations to reject Christmas.
In addition, there are a growing number of evangelical Christians who won’t celebrate the holiday because it has pagan roots, encourages “worldly” behaviour such as greed, and/or isn’t explicitly referenced in the Bible.
In fact, there are so many of these Christians that Kirk Cameron addressed a presentation to them at Liberty University last year (video here) and attempted to reclaim Santa for Christianity with a feature film, Saving Christmas. He pointed out that Saint Nicholas was a model Christian who can be fondly remembered for his charity. Other, anti-Catholic evangelicals promptly told him to put a sock in it.

So if you want to save Christmas, you might end up saving it from the people who created it in the first place.

 

P.S.:  This post was written in my local Starbucks.

starbucks

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2014: The Year in Psychic Fail

mzarathustra1It’s that time of year again: Time to review some of the psychic predictions made for last year.
Sylvia Browne is out of the picture now, but as Illuminutti has pointed out, she made one last set of predictions that turned out to be very wrong. How did the upstart psychics fare?

Nikki, “Psychic to the Stars”

I covered Nikki’s predictions two years ago (and I’m still waiting for Stallone to nab that Tony nomination). It seems her style has really evolved since then. Her predictions have become more specific and less cataclysmic in nature, making them more believable than “the map of the world will change” or “Earth will fall off its axis a little more”. However, she still has that peculiar habit of combining world-shattering events like food riots and massive earthquakes with events so mundane that you wonder why the spirit world would even bother to communicate them (the death of a royal horse, marriage for Oprah).

Nikki claims that a ton of her 2014 predictions came true, including health problems for Cher and Avril Lavigne, a “space tragedy”, and the deaths of four celebrities. This year, she has unpacked a whopping 290 predictions for the new year, not including a list of dozens of public figures who may die and/or have health issues. That’s a good strategy. If you throw enough shit at the wall, something has to stick, right?

Let’s take a closer look at Nikki’s listed predictions for 2014. Out of 45 celebrity predictions, three were accurate (“Mathew McConaughey nominated for an Oscar”, “12 Years a Slave winning numerous awards”, and Rob Ford’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel). Four, if you’re very generous and include “Cher has to watch her health”. Cher is 68 years old. Everyone in their late 60s has to watch their health.
Most of the predictions on Nikki’s list were absurdly vague (“Danger around Justin Beiber”), and several were ludicrously safe bets (“A country music legend will pass”). Of the seven relationship breakups she predicted, not one actually happened. She predicted a “slight accident” for Tom Cruise and cautioned Johnny Depp to be careful around motorcycles, but said nothing about Bono’s bike mishap. Not even the predictions that seemed highly likely (“Miley Cyrus full body cast”) came to pass.

Nikki’s success rate for world events is even more dismal. The Egyptian pyramids were not sucked into a giant sinkhole, a gorilla did not devour its trainer, and the Empire State Building was not attacked by terrorists. The Coliseum Colosseum did not partially collapse, civil war did not break out in the U.S., and Mt. St. Helen’s Helens did not erupt. Her obsession with bird attacks didn’t pan out, either.

Birdemic_13

Maybe next year.

I predict that in 2015, Nikki will finally hire an editor.

T.B. Joshua

This year’s Top Fail award goes to T.B. Joshua, one of Nigeria’s most successful televangelists. His megachurch, The Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN), broadcasts his sermons to millions on its own channel, Emmanuel TV.
Joshua’s predictions merit special attention, because he presents them as information imparted to him directly from God – old school prophecy in action. Let’s examine just one of the many prophecies Joshua unveiled in 2014.

On March 8, a video made up of clips from Joshua’s July 28, 2013 sermon was posted to Emmanuel TV’s YouTube channel. During that sermon, Joshua asked his audience to pray for an Asian country to help avert an airplane crash that could happen there. He indicated the plane would have some kind of problem that could be detected while it was still on the ground. “I see a balloon,” he said.
If the plane crashed, almost 200 passengers would die.
Joshua explained that God had revealed the name of the Asian country to him, but he wouldn’t reveal it for fear of disrupting air travel to and from that nation.
The video then segues into clips of news stories about Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the plane that had just vanished.

The March 8th video is impressive, I have to admit. Here’s a guy in Africa, predicting a major Asian air disaster more than six months before a Malaysian airplane goes missing in one of the weirdest unsolved incidents of modern aviation history. Sure, Joshua was a little skimpy on the details, but that’s a remarkably on-target prediction, right?

Maybe not so much. Another video, showing an unedited version of the same July 2013 sermon, tells a rather different story. In this clip. we hear Joshua clearly say that the plane will crash just metres from its takeoff point…a key detail that somehow didn’t make it into his official video.

God revealed the crash to Joshua, yet Joshua has (obviously) played no part in locating the plane. A full day after searchers started looking for it in the Indian Ocean, he suddenly suggested that very area as the site of the crash, and revealed for the first time that some sort of confrontation or hijacking involving “strange people” was the root cause of the tragedy. He confidentally asserted that wreckage would be found in the ocean within a week.

what

WHAT ABOUT THE BALLOON, THO?

Okay, so one of T.B. Joshua’s prophecies was a bit wonky. Let’s all give him the benefit of the doubt, and see how he did with other 2014 prophecies over at the blog T.B. Joshua Watch.

Terry and Linda Jamison, the world’s “most documented” psychics

The California-based Jamison twins revealed dozens of 2014-2015 predictions during an online radio broadcast (Beyond the Gate) aired on January 6, 2014. They called 2014 The Year of the Truth Revealed – lots of uncloseted skeletons and exposed corruption. They also explained that Light Beings are helping us form crystalline bodies, increasing our “manifestation potential”. So, uh, enjoy that.
They also accused Lady Gaga of stealing their costume designs from the ’80s and ’90s.

They offered some helpful career tips (computer skillz) and a few investment tips (oil, gas, biotech, and wellness).

On their website, they have a page devoted to predictions made on this show that came to pass in the latter half of 2014. However, after listening to the broadcast on YouTube, I have a hard time matching their predictions to any of the events listed on this page. They did make a few successful predictions on the show –  that Republicans would win the Senate, for instance – but I didn’t hear them talking about the specific events on the list. They just matched real-world events to the vague statements they made. For instance, their airy prediction about “breakthroughs in prostrate cancer” is matched to a vitamin D study, even though they didn’t give any such details on-air. This is classic retrofitting in action.

Bizarrely, though, they can’t even get their retrofitting quite right. They write that Nicole Kidman’s father died in the Philippines amidst rumours of pedophilia and participation in a “child murder ring”. In reality, Antony Kidman died in Singapore. He was not under investigation for anything at the time of his death, because the International Common Law Court of Justice mentioned in blog posts about him is not an actual legal entity. It is a loose collaboration of individuals with no background in justice or law enforcement, acting under “common law” principles in the same manner as Sovereign Citizens or Freemen-on-the-Land. The allegations of Satanic ritual abuse and sacrifice that have been brought to light by the “Court” are extremely dodgy. I don’t say that lightly. The man who started the Court and popularized the Ninth Circle Satanic pedophile/murder ring meme and is now the primary investigator of its supposed crimes is a personal friend; for years, I supported his work with the survivors of Canada’s residential school system. In recent years, however, he has shown signs of mental strain and gullibility, traveling the globe to collect evidence that he believes implicates the pope, the English royals, and influential politicians in everything from mass child abduction to cannibalism. The International Common Law Court of Justice he established has presented no concrete evidence to support any of these accusations. The sole source of information about the Ninth Circle consists of testimony from various alleged victims of the cult, and they haven’t presented any evidence, either. As the stories spread via videos and blog posts, more and more people embrace them uncritically without asking for one iota of proof, just as the Jamison sisters have done. It is a disappointing and alarming trend.

Other “predictions” were flat-out wrong. “Homeopathy will be helpful” in the treatment of depression? Sorry, ladies: Sugar and salt and water won’t cure anything.

homeopathy one weird trick

Sidney Friedman

U.S. mentalist Friedman’s predictions are, by far, the most entertaining of 2014.

  • “Garlic is in the news.”
  • “Chivalry returns.”
  • “A shock wave, perhaps literally or perhaps figuratively, is felt in Russia.”
  • “Remarkably, for the first time, a poll finally finds one person who actually approves of Congress.”
ouija-lunch-box

I predict bologna sandwiches today.

LaMont Hamilton

Not one of pyschic LaMont Hamilton’s predictions for 2014 came to fruition, largely because they’re silly. He predicted scientists would find that diseases can be spread by our thoughts, that a mirror universe would be discovered, and that a former U.S. President or First Lady would die. He accurately predicted the Bitcoin crash, but attributed it to a faulty algorithm rather than plain old human greed. He also predicted that “nano-chemicals” would produce cars that don’t need to be washed as often as regular cars. His less-silly predictions crashed and burned, too:

  • An electrical fire at the NSA’s new Utah data center will be linked to sabotage. Nope.
  • The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will go to Alivisatos, Seeman, and Mirkin for their work on DNA nanotechnology.
    Nope. It went to these fellows for their work on super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.
  • At least 2-3 Congresspeople will resign their offices before the Fall elections.
    “At least” is a clever little qualifier that can save almost any dumb prediction from certain death. Clearly, though, Mr. Hamilton doesn’t pay much attention to how many resignations we see in an average Congress. The numbers are always higher than this.
  • The original 1969 USA moon landing site will be reported as damaged or vandalized by another country that lands on the moon.
    Nope. And c’mon, this is just goofy. No one was even planning a moon landing for last year.

Better luck next year, ladies and gentlemen.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Bring Out Your Dead

A parade of sad, silly people who thought they could resurrect the dead (and/or themselves)

frankenstein

Returning from the dead is a big thing right now. ABC is airing Resurrection, a series about Missourians spontaneously coming back to life (total ripoff of similar to the excellent French miniseries  Les Revenants). A film adaptation of the bestselling book Heaven is for Real, featuring the near-death experience of a 3-year-old child,  hit theatres on Easter weekend. Filmmaker  Johnny Clark recently released a documentary titled Deadraiser, which chronicles the efforts of people who believe they are capable (with God’s assistance) of bringing the dead back to life. Even as I write this, followers of Hindu guru Ashutosh Maharaj are embroiled in a legal battle with Maharaj’s family members. Maharaj died of a suspected heart attack in late January of this year, and a man claiming to be his son wishes to cremate his remains. But he can’t, because Mararaj’s followers insist he isn’t dead. They say he is actually in a state of deep meditation that has lowered his heart rate to an undetectable level, and have stashed him in a freezer at the ashram in the belief that he will come back to life any minute now. As daffy as that concept sounds, there are a surprising number of folks – past and present – who honestly thought they could trump mortality either through faith or by sheer force of will.

Margaretta Peter, the girl who crucified herself

Margaretta Peter, born into a large Swiss farming family in the late eighteenth century, was a preaching prodigy. In 1800, when Margaretta was just six years old, she enthralled relatives and other residents of a tiny hamlet near Schaffhausen (either Wildisbuch or Wildispuch) with her impromptu sermons, seeming to have a better grasp of the Bible than any minister five times her age.
This was a marvelous quality in a preschooler, but over the years, Margaret began to exert a spiritual dominance over her family that made her pastor uneasy. He noted that when Margaretta was still a teenager, her widowed father and older sisters would obey her every command as though it was the will of God.

Margaretta’s commitment to her faith deepened even more at the age of 20, when she fell in with a group of Pietists and went through a year of self-chastisement for her sins. At the end of that year, she announced she was ready to become a preacher and prophetess. She returned to her home village in the spring of 1817, and quickly established a small following that included her father, sisters, and an epileptic servant named Margaret Jäggli. Jäggli thought her seizures were caused by demons, and hoped that Margaretta could heal her.

In the spring of 1823, Margaretta began talking about the Devil, warning her followers that he was close at hand. Jäggli’s seizures increased and worsened, probably due to stress. This further reinforced the group’s notion that Satan was moving in on them. In March, Margaretta summoned her followers to her father’s house and descended into an ecstatic state, experiencing visions of Satan’s hordes overtaking the planet. She, alone, stood in their way. For days, she uttered prophecies to her breathless disciples. She declared that Napoleon’s son would reveal himself as the anti-Christ, and this cued her older sister Elizabeth and Jäggli to mimic spirit possession by Napoleon and the Duke of Reichstadt; they marched around the room like military men until Margaretta banished the spirits.

The next day, the prophetess led ten of her followers into a small attic bedroom and exhorted them to gird themselves with both prayer and any weaponry they could find, for the final battle between Christ and Satan was imminent. The group included her elderly father, two of her sisters, and a married tailor who may have been Margaretta’s lover. They obeyed Margaretta’s instructions to board up the farmhouse and arm themselves with axes, hammers, clubs – anything they could find. Napoleon’s troops were coming, she said, and the invisible minions of Satan had already besieged the house. Her followers took up their weapons and swung wildly at the air inside the attic room, trying to kill discarnate entities that only Margaretta could see. This madness went on for about three hours, drawing curious neighbours to the yard.

When the attic room was destroyed, the melee moved to a downstairs parlour. There, Margaretta began pummeling Elizabeth with her fists at Elizabeth’s urging. Somehow, the crazed group imagined that inflicting pain on each other would help repel the demonic invaders – much like the French convulsionnaires who tortured one another in the most sadistic ways imaginable in the St. Medard churchyard during the previous century.
They continued punching themselves and each other in a night-long frenzy. The ruckus finally attracted police, who found Margaretta’s followers piled in a heap on the sitting room floor while she beat them senseless. The group was ordered to disband, and local authorities issued an order that both Margaretta and Elizabeth were to be sent to an asylum.

fight club

The disciples paid no attention to these orders. Just one day after their punching fest, a dozen people gathered around Margaretta in the little attic bedroom, prepared to carry out any instructions she issued. The prophetess announced that more blood had to be shed, and proceeded to strike her brother, Caspar, repeatedly with an iron wedge. While she bludgeoned her brother, her followers resumed beating themselves and each other.

Next, Margaretta announced that the ghost of her mother was commanding her to sacrifice herself. Elizabeth immediately offered to take her sister’s place, and Margaretta obliged by striking her with the same iron wedge she had used on Caspar (who was alive, but unconscious). The others followed suit, striking the prone woman with any tools they could find. Elizabeth was soon dead. Only one person, a young woman named Ursula, protested. Margaretta assured her that Elizabeth would be raised from the dead in three days’ time.

Then Margaretta ordered her disciples to crucify her. Reluctantly, they gathered the materials for a wooden cross and assembled it in the attic room. Her sister Susanna provided the nails. Again, Ursula protested and was told that both Margaretta and Elizabeth would rise from the dead in three days.

Margaretta’s followers nailed her hands, elbows, breasts, and feet to the cross. They later told the authorities that Margaretta remained fully conscious throughout this ordeal, coaxing them on. When she was secured to the cross, she demanded to be stabbed through the heart. Ursula attempted this, but was unsuccessful. Another woman and a young man took up a hammer and a crowbar and smashed Margaretta’s head until she fell silent.

Margaretta’s lover, the tailor Jacob Morf, was not present during the murders. He had remained at home with his wife after the beating frenzy. When he returned to the Peters farmhouse and saw the corpses of his beloved prophetess and her sister laid out in a bloodstained room, he was horrified. He reported the murders to a pastor. Meanwhile, the others sat vigil in anticipation of the resurrection. The Peters sisters died on a Saturday, so it was expected they would rise again on Monday. On Sunday night, Ursula removed the nails from Margaretta’s body so that she would not be fastened to a cross when she came back to life. Throughout the night, the group remained with the bodies and prayed.

The sisters remained dead, of course. Their father now had little choice but to report their deaths. In December 1823, eleven of Margaretta’s disciples went on trial for murder in Zürich. All were convicted, and received prison sentences ranging from 6 months to 16 years. None expressed remorse for their actions. On the contrary, they insisted that the murders had been the will of God.

The Peters affair reportedly inspired Hanns Ewers’ 1910 novel The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Source: Historic Oddities and Strange Events by Sabine Baring-Gould

Charles Freeman and the Pocasset Horror

In 1879, Charles and Harriet Freeman were good, upstanding citizens in the Cape Cod Peninsula village of Pocasset. Charles, in particular, was something of a role model in the Seventh Day Adventist church the Freemans attended. But in the spring of that year, Freeman underwent a severe religious mania. He announced to his wife that God wanted him to sacrifice a member of their family – and it couldn’t be Freeman himself. The sacrifice would have to be one of their two daughters, 6-year-old Bessie or 4-year-old Edith. On the night of April 20, in spite of Harriet’s tearful entreaties, Charles crept into the room his girls shared. He woke Bessie, ordering her out of the room. Then he stabbed sleeping Edith to death. He stayed with her corpse throughout the night.

The following day, Freeman sent word  to neighbours and fellow Adventists that he would be announcing a “great revelation” at his home. When about 25 people had gathered, Freeman launched into an hour-long sermon on Christ’s imminent return. Then he led everyone into his daughters’ room and showed them Edith’s bloodied, lifeless body. God had demanded a great sacrifice, he explained, but would offer a great miracle in return: Edith would rise from the dead in three days’ time.

Incredibly, the group seemed to accept this. They returned to their daily chores and told no one what they had seen. Word did spread, though. On April 22, both Freemans were arrested on suspicion of murder. Even in jail, Freeman continued to insist that his daughter would be resurrected.
The charges against Harriet were dropped. Freeman ended up in the State Lunatic Asylum at Danvers. It wasn’t until 1883 that he began to realize he had been insane at the time of his crime. In December 1883 he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was released from the asylum four years later. The details of his life after the asylum are unknown.

pocasset

Source: Psycho USA by Harold Schecter

Cyrus Teed, prophet of the Hollow Earth (Koresh #1)

Earth1

Cyrus Teed was a New York “eclectic physician” who monkeyed around with alchemy in his spare time. In 1869, at the age of 30, he claimed to have transformed lead into gold in his lab.  That very night, a hermaphroditic deity revealed him/herself to Teed and imparted all the secrets of the universe, the most startling one being that the surface of Earth is actually located on the inside of something like a hollow egg, with the “sky” being the empty space in the middle of the “egg”.  Teed subsequently adopted the name Koresh and introduced a new scientific religion called Koreshanity.
In the 1870s, Koresh founded the Koreshan Unity, a New York commune centred around his teachings. The commune relocated to the small Florida town of Estero in 1894. Estero became less like a commune and more like a community, with its own printing press, a general store, and a power plant. Though there were some clashes with locals, including a pistol-whipping of Koresh himself in 1906, the Koreshians thrived until 1908. That’s when Teed/Koresh died.

Teed had predicted that he and his flock would be resurrected and taken up to Heaven after they died, so his followers expectantly waited beside his body for two days. The corpse had to be confiscated by order of the county health officer after it began to putrefy.

Source: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner

Branch Davidians: George Roden and Vernon Howell (Koresh #2)

In 1987, Lois Roden, the leader of the Branch Davidians at Mt. Carmel, died. This left her son George in charge of the compound, which was virtually empty after a rival prophet by the name of Vernon Howell declared himself the true leader of the flock.
George Roden soon realized that he was the incarnation of God, and God certainly holds rank against a mere prophet like Howell. It was time to establish his supremacy before the endtimes began. A brute show of strength wouldn’t do, God/George decided; a resurrection contest would be make much more sense. He went to the Mt. Carmel cemetery, exhumed the body of Anna Hughes (a sect member who had been dead for twenty years), and practiced a few resurrection techniques on the corpse.
Howell wisely refused to accept the resurrection challenge. Instead, he reported Roden’s corpse abuse to the Waco police. They told him they wouldn’t press charges without evidence that a body had been exhumed, so Howell and a few of his followers donned gamo gear and crept onto the compound grounds. In the ensuing gun battle, God lost. The eight intruders were acquitted of attempted murder, and Howell quickly laid claim to the compound…which wouldn’t see another gun battle for five whole years.
God/George was never charged with abuse of a corpse, as he insisted he had simply been moving the cemetery to a new location very slowly.

After the deadly conflagration at Mt. Carmel in 1993, the faithful expected all those who had died to be resurrected. They are still waiting. “We, as survivors of 1993, are looking for David and all those that died either in the shootout or in the fire. We believe that God will resurrect this special group,” survivor Clive Doyle recently told NPR.

Source: The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation by Dick Reavis

The Deadraisers of Bethel Church and Beyond

Tyler and Christine Johnson, a young couple living in Wyoming, are the ultimate pro-lifers. Tyler heads the Dead Raising Team, a volunteer group that “is available to come to your city to train you to raise the dead.” Tyler has also published a handy book, How to Raise the Dead. According to the DRT website, the Johnsons “hope to see a DRT started in every city in the world, so that nobody could die without being prayed back to life.” The Deadraisers can even cure leprosy, apparently. That’s neat.
Tyler Johnson was once a student at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, which is an actual thing. This Hogwarts for Grownups is an outgrowth of the Bethel Church, a megachurch in Redding, California. Bethel’s pastor, Bill Johnson (no relation to Tyler), has supposedly seen countless “miracles” at his church in recent years. First, feathers drifted down from the ceilings. Parishioners attributed this to birds nesting in the rafters, until feathers began to appear in Johnson’s presence in other public places. Johnson decided they were actually “angel feathers” (ornithologist David H. Ellis declared them to be ordinary bird feathers). Bethel members also say that “gold dust”, diamonds and pieces of jewelry have spontaneously appeared during church services. One video purportedly shows a “glory cloud” of gold dust manifesting in the sanctuary.

duck

Actual angel.

Johnson claims his flock can heal the most serious ailments. In the church’s healing rooms, members blow a ram’s horn (shofar) to summon the Holy Spirit, then pray for it to heal conditions ranging from arthritis to deafness. In 2010, Johnson told  reporter Amanda Winters, “We just had another brain tumor case of cancer healed. We have a lot of that kind of stuff happen. It’s verified by doctors, they do the tests and the cancer’s gone. We have a lot of that sort of thing – miracles.”
To date, no medical professionals have come forward to confirm that anyone has been healed of anything at Bethel.

Bill Johnson was one of the ministers who “commissioned” Todd Bentley as an evangelist in June 2008, after other Charismatic leaders expressed concerns about Bentley’s methods and claims (more on that below).

Tyler Johnson isn’t the only Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry grad who thinks he might be able to raise the dead. In October 2008, Jason Carlsen tumbled over the edge of a 200-foot cliff in Redding while drinking with two BSSM students. Instead of calling 911, Sarah Koivumaki and Zachary Gudelunas attempted to reach Carlsen (who is now a paraplegic) and pray him back to life, believing he was dead. Unable to get anywhere near their comatose friend, these two compassionate souls proceeded to bicker over whether they should summon help or not. It took them about six hours to decide they were not in a Roadrunner cartoon.

Todd Bentley, Bully for the Lord

Nearly four years ago,  Pastor Stephen Strader of Ignited Church in Lakeland, Florida launched an old-school  revival that was supposed to last for five days. The star attraction of what later became known as the Florida Healing Outpouring was a hip, tattooed preacher in his twenties, Todd Bentley of Fresh Fire Ministries.

Bentley, who was not an ordained minister, rapidly made a name for himself by turning the Lakeland Revival into a spectacle-laden stage show, full of faith healings and mind-boggling miracles. Every night, up to 10,000 Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics flooded the Ignited auditorium to witness Bentley’s gifts of the spirit in action. The five-day revival evolved into a six-month gig for him.

WARNING: May not be funny for all viewers.

The media became interested in Bentley after stories about his bizarre healing techniques surfaced. Bentley often “healed” the elderly by kicking, punching, headbutting, or kneeing them onstage. A Charismatic named Sheldon informed me that God commanded Bentley to smack people around just to test his faith. He believes God prevented actual physical contact from happening, but the numerous YouTube videos of Bentley using his “knee of God” indicate otherwise.
Then things got weird. By the revival’s end, Bentley was declaring that at least 31 people may have been raised from the dead. If you’re keeping count, that’s 30 more than Jesus raised, unless you count Jesus himself.

Some of the resurrected people included an infant that had been dead for 27 hours, another infant that was fished out of a pond, a schoolteacher who died of a massive heart attack, and a man who came back to life at a funeral home during his own wake.  Bentley excitedly announced these resurrections during the revival, but could not provide any details…because he didn’t have them. These were secondhand, unverified reports filtered to him via word of mouth and email. As it turned out, the schoolteacher story was a deliberate email hoax perpetrated by a British Christian who wanted to test Bentley’s honesty.
A Nightline report concluded that none of the Lakeland “miracles” could be verified. When he appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s Fox show, Bentley could not produce any evidence that anyone had been healed or resurrected as a result of the revival.

Bentley turned out to have a colourful history. His past exploits included sexually assaulting a 7-year-old boy when he was in his teens. In this regard, he was quite similar to one of his brothers in Christ, the incarcerated preacher Tony Alamo. Alamo, a businessman turned messiah figure, used his position as an evangelist to “marry” girls as young as 8. He became a preacher upon the death of his first wife, Susan, in 1982. He got off to a shaky start by proclaiming that Susan would be resurrected. Thirteen years later, her lifeless body was still enshrined in his ministry compound, and Susan’s daughter had to sue Alamo to get it back for proper burial.

Other Back From the Dead Cases

  • Two days ago, numerous media outlets reported that a 2- or 3-year-old girl named Sydney came back to life at her own funeral in the Philippines.
    Sadly, the reports were wrong. The child’s grandmother had scooped Sydney out of her coffin and carried her out of the church in the mistaken belief that had she had moved her head. Doctors declared her dead a short time later, and a second funeral has been arranged.
  • A popular video about a newborn coming back to life in his mother’s arms is actually 5 years old. In 2010, twins Jamie and Emily Ogg were born prematurely in an Australian hospital. Jamie did not survive long after birth, and mother Katie Ogg was reluctant to part with him. For two hours, she and her husband held and caressed Jamie’s lifeless body…and were stunned when he began to move and breathe.
    This really did happen. Jamie Ogg is now as healthy as his sister.
  • Cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall claims that only his prayers revived clinically dead patient Jeff Markin in 2006. He gives no credit to the medical procedures that were applied to Mr. Markin. Crandall is one of the stars of Deadraiser.

Satanic Panic in the News: Ouija Board Possession

On June 23, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, the Daily Mail, several paranormal websites, and other media outlets reported on this video of a “possessed” Mexican woman. The girl seen in the clip, Alexandra Huerta, alternates between growling and laughing while restrained on a hospital stretcher.

These initial reports stated that Alexandra, 22, had begun to convulse and speak in tongues after using a Ouija board with her 23-year-old brother and a teenage cousin in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco in southwest Mexico. The Blaze article is headlined, “Terrifying Video Allegedly Shows Effects of Young Woman’s Use of a Ouija Board”, and the Daily Mail article stresses that many Christians perceive Ouija boards as dangerous occult instruments.
All three were taken to hospital to be treated for symptoms that included double vision and blindness, hallucinations, numbness, difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, and deafness. The girl’s parents had sought an exorcism, but were reportedly refused one by local clergy on the grounds that the family didn’t attend church.

Two days later, the real story emerged: The two young men and Alexandra (who is 16, not 22) had ingested Brugmansia on the advice of Alexandra’s guardian, 48-year-old Maria Camaño.
Brugmansia, also known as Angel’s Trumpet, is an extremely potent (and poisonous) hallucinogenic plant that produces states of delirium in which a person can’t distinguish reality from fantasy and acts out in bizarre, sometimes violent, ways – “temporary insanity” is a term commonly used in relation to it. Effects can include fever, paralysis, convulsions, elevated heart rate (tachycardia), migraines, frightening visual and auditory hallucinations, vomiting, cycloplegia, photosensitivity, confusion, memory loss, and death.

datura drzewko-resized

Brugmansia in bloom. Psychoactive ingredients: the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine.

Camaño reportedly told the young people that Brugmansia would help them contact the spirit world and perhaps receive messages from Alexandra’s deceased parents. After the girl began to convulse and “speak in tongues”, however, Camaño began to believe her body had been taken over by a spirit. She called the paramedics only after the youths’ conditions didn’t respond to prayer and the priest refused to perform an exorcism.

ouija

Typical Ouija board. Psychoactive ingredients: None.

All of the symptoms experienced by the three young people in Mexico can be attributed to Brugmansia ingestion. There is no need to blame the spirit world, the Devil, or a piece of wood with letters on it.

Miracle in Missouri

Mysterious priests, guardian angels, and…aliens?

1950s VINTAGE POSTCARD Angel with Children On Bike and Dog

Check out the update at the end of this post.

No one wants to debunk an inspiring, heartwarming, faith-affirming “angel” story. But somebody has to be the grownup around here.

Last Sunday morning, there was a serious two-car crash on Highway 19 near Center, Missouri. Aaron Smith, 26, struck Katie Lentz, a 19-year-old on her way to church, head-on. Lentz was pinned against the steering wheel of her totaled car with a broken femur and other injuries, unable to move. After nearly an hour of unsuccessful rescue efforts, Lentz asked the rescue crew to pray with her. They obliged.
That’s when the mystery priest materialized. “He came up and approached the patient, and offered a prayer,” New London Fire Chief Raymond Reed told KHQA-TV. “It was a Catholic priest who had anointing oil with him. A sense of calmness came over her, and it did us as well.” The priest prayed that the tools being used on the car would work so that Lentz could be removed.
Moments later, the  Hannibal Fire Department arrived.
After the jaws of life were used and Lentz was extracted, people began to wonder if the priest was an angel. He came out of nowhere, vanished without a trace, and doesn’t seem to be attached to any of the area’s Catholic churches. He also doesn’t appear in any photos taken at the scene. The story has appeared in USA Today, the New York Daily News, and the Washington Times, and is now blowing up the Internet, with many people feeling that the mystery priest was either a kindly good Samaritan who is too humble to make himself known, or an honest-to-goodness angel whose prayer facilitated a miraculous rescue.


“They were Asian. I think they were speaking…Asian.”

It’s a beautiful story, but on closer inspection it’s just plain weird. For one thing, an officer who was at the scene claims he had a little chit-chat with the priest.
“My first thought was that it would possibly send the wrong message to Katie that maybe we had called a priest and thought she wasn’t going to make it. So I went back and talked to the priest and told him we were worried she would think we’d given up hope. He said, ‘I just want to anoint her,’ and so we just let him come up to the scene,” Ralls County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Adair told WTKR-TV.

Secondly, the priest’s prayer didn’t even work. He prayed that the inefficient cutting tools the rescue workers were using would suddenly start working properly. They didn’t. Lentz was rescued because the fire department – which was already en route when the praying began – reached the scene with the right tools for the job. This would have happened with or without prayer.

Thirdly, and most significantly, we have some extremely conflicting descriptions of what the mystery priest looked like. A composite sketch shows a balding man in his ’40s, with a narrow nose. Another witness saw a priest who looked like Walter Matthau.
Adair insists the man he saw is “not even remotely close” to the composite sketch. Adair thinks he was 60 to 65, about 5’6″, with an olive complexion and a “very strong” accent.
No one has said the priest was elderly, yet commentators have speculated that the spirit of the controversial saint Padre Pio, who was 81 when he died in 1968, might have visited the scene of the crash in spirit.

This is not the first time “angels” have looked different to every witness. In the Cokeville Elementary hostage crisis of 1986, several children reported seeing angels in the classroom where a deranged gunman and his wife were holding authorities at bay with explosives while making outrageous demands. Several of the children claimed to have seen a “beautiful lady” who herded them toward the windows. Sisters Rachel and Katie Walker saw beings that glowed like light bulbs hovering above the heads of the other hostages. Nathan Hartley said the angel looked like his great grandmother.
The thing is, if you’re going to believe in angels just because a group of schoolchildren saw them, then you’d better start believing in aliens, too. In 1994, 60 students at the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe claimed to have seen an alien emerge from a landed craft in the schoolyard. Unlike the Cokeville children, these kids gave consistent physical descriptions of a bald little man with huge black eyes (with the exception of one little girl who saw long, lustrous hair on the creature).
What? You still don’t believe in aliens? Then why don’t you go back to wanking to Cosmos, you black-hearted materialist bastard?

Ariel School Sketches

Pictures drawn by the Ariel School children

Yes, I’m being silly, but there’s a point here: You are not obligated to believe in angels (or aliens) on the say-so of traumatized people who may be suffering crisis hallucinations, or misinterpreting the actions of a kindly stranger, or even just flat-out lying.
There are those who would argue that God’s messengers appear to each of us differently, coming to us in the form that is most familiar and comforting to us. In that case, I fully expect my guardian angel to be a taco that poops ice cream.

the-ice-cream-crapping-taco

My hero.

UPDATE: The mystery priest has been identified. He is a local priest, Father Patrick Dowling. He has gray hair, resembles the composite sketch far more than Walter Matthau, and was en route to Mass when he stopped at the crash site. Now can we stop this angel/ghost business?

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: The Bogus Christian Memoir Hall of Shame

go-back-and-try-again-before-you-make-me-cry

Literary fraud is an important topic at Swallowing the Camel. Whether it’s middle-aged women pretending to be teen boys afflicted with HIV/AIDS (here and here), or James Cameron’s BFF letting himself be snowjobbed by a lying WWII vet, or fake Holocaust memoirists, no one gets a free pass when it comes to literary misdeeds. So why should Christians be any different? This week’s Weirdness Roundup covers some of the most egregious frauds involving inspirational Christian nonfiction, starting with the most recent case:

  • A year after diligent readers expressed their concerns, UK Christian publishing house Authentic Media has withdrawn a popular preacher’s autobiography from the market. Tony Anthony’s Taming the Tiger (2004) told the awesome story of how Jesus transformed him from an angry young criminal to the person he is today (I’ll let you decide if that was an improvement or not).
    Taming the Tiger describes how 4-year-old Tony learned Kung Fu from his grandfather. As the book’s cover reminds us, he ultimately became a “3 times Kung Fu World Champion”. His professional debut was in 1984. The following year, he went to work as a bodyguard for international VIPs, including the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Italy, and Cyprus. In 1988 or ’89, his world fell apart when his girlfriend of three years, Aiya, was killed in a car accident. He turned his back on everything good in his life and become an enforcer for his boss, threatening and beating and even killing people who posed the slightest danger to the ambassador. He then became a burglar to raise money for an expensive medical procedure his father needed, and started getting into confrontations with police in Cyprus, where he was then living. He landed himself in jail in Christmas 1989, and it was there that an Irish missionary introduced him to Jesus Christ.
    Upon release in 1992, Anthony returned to the UK and settled down to have a family. He considered himself a good Christian, but after he was arrested for killing a woman in a hit and run (and lying to police about it) in 2001, he realized he still needed a lot of work. His second awakening as a Christian spurred him to write the memoir, which has sold more than a million copies in 25 languages. Its success gave him the opportunity to preach all over the world, and he established an Essex-based international evangelism organization called Avanti Ministries.
    The whole thing imploded when skeptical readers decided to look into Anthony’s actual background. One of the first things they discovered was that he was born in 1971…meaning he would have been just 13 years old when he became a Kung Fu grand master, and 14 when he was supposedly protecting an ambassador. He would still have been a teenager when he ended up in Nicosia prison. Also, the Saudi ambassador to the UK from 1980-1992, Nasser Almanqour, was never sent to Italy or Cyprus.
    It wasn’t just readers who were skeptical. One director of Avanti Ministries, Mike Hancock, resigned because Anthony seemed reluctant to verify the stories in his book. Hancock joined forces with another former Avanti director and a few concerned Christian ministers to investigate Anthony’s claims. Last year, they submitted a summary of their findings to the board of Avanti, the UK’s Evangelical Alliance, and Authentic Media, resulting in Authentic’s decision to pull the book.
    Tony Anthony has issued a statement saying he “wholeheartedly” defends everything he wrote in Taming the Tiger, with the exception of some details that he claims he wasn’t aware of at the time he wrote it. He admits that some names, places, etc., were altered to protect the privacy of certain people. He also claims he recently tried to publish an updated autobiography, but was blocked from doing so by unnamed persons “intent on discrediting” his ministry. Hilariously, he seems astonished that anyone would be interested in the historical veracity of his work (which is categorized as a nonfiction martial arts book in libraries and bookstores).
    Anthony’s statement includes the announcement that Avanti Ministries will no longer be in charge of its outreach programs.
  • The story of “Lauren Stratford” is by far the weirdest, most convoluted bogus Christian memoir tale of the past several decades. In 1988, her book Satan’s Underground was published by one of the top Christian publishers in America, Harvest House. In it, Stratford described a nightmarish existence as an abused child prostitute, handed over to child pornographers and pedophile rapists by her own mother (a schoolteacher). As a teen, she became a virtual sex slave to a Satan-worshiping porno kingpin known only as “Victor”. Victor’s cult engaged in everything from infanticide to cannibalism, and Lauren was forced to participate in their hellish rites. She was the first former Satanist to claim status as a “breeder”, a woman forced to bear children for ritual sacrifice, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that within months of the release of Satan’s Underground, breeders were popping out of the woodwork to appear on Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael. Stratford herself was invited to appear on Oprah and Geraldo as a victim of Satanic ritual abuse. Her book became very popular with recovered memory advocates and Christian therapists, and other ritual abuse survivors credited Stratford’s book with helping them retrieve their own “repressed memories”.
    Then, in 1991, the Christian magazine Cornerstone investigated Stratford’s background. The reporters couldn’t find a shred of evidence that Laurel Wilson had ever been abused by Satanists or anyone else, but they did uncover evidence indicating that Wilson/Stratford suffered a factitious disorder.
    Toward the end of her life, Stratford re-emerged as a Holocaust survivor named “Laura Grabowski”. She said she had been one of Josef Mengele’s victims, and even had a touching reunion with a fellow child survivor of Auschwitz, Binjamin Wilkomirski. The problem was, Wilkomirski had never been in Auschwitz, either.
    You can read more about the peculiar Wilson/Stratford/Grabowski saga in Part IX of my series The Prodigal Witch.
  • In 1986, Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick published a bizarre book titled He Came to Set the Captives Free, by one “Rebecca Brown, M.D.” It told the story of a crusading Christian doctor (Brown herself) who was engaged in a life-or-death struggle against evil forces in Indiana. Satanists were dogging her every step because she had rescued a young woman named Elaine from their clutches. Elaine had been brainwashed by the Satanists from childhood, and as an adult was forced to literally marry Satan in his human form.
    Having divorced Satan and her second husband too, Elaine helped Dr. Brown foil Satanic assassins and rescue other cult victims. The duo claimed to have saved about 1000 witches from dangerous covens in the first half of the ’80s alone. Brown published a second book about her battles with darkness, Prepare for War, in 1987. That same year, she and Elaine appeared on one of Geraldo Rivera’s shows about Satanism.
    In 1989, writers G. Richard Risher, Paul R. Blizard, and M. Kurt Goedelman delved into the backgrounds of Rebecca Brown and Elaine for the Personal Freedom Outreach Newsletter. What they found was deeply disturbing. Brown was really Ruth Bailey, and she had been stripped of her medical license five years earlier, after colleagues discovered she had been giving massive (potentially fatal) doses of prescription painkillers to one of her patients, Edna Moses. Edna Moses was “Elaine”. The two women had been living together in a filthy house for years, telling neighbours they were sisters. Bailey was known for her violent, unstable, paranoid behaviour. Edna/Elaine died in 2005.
    Bailey/Brown left Edna in 1989 to marry an ex-con who claimed he was tortured by Swiss rabbis as a boy, and the couple now runs a small ministry called Harvest Warriors.
    Though many Christians recognize Brown’s books for what they are (pure batshit insanity), they remain in print and continue to captivate the more gullible members of the Christian community.  In 2010, a sixth-grade science teacher in Brooklyn was mildly reprimanded for distributing and selling copies of They Came to Set the Captives Free to some of his students.
    The full story of Ruth Bailey and Edna Moses can be read in Part VIII of my Prodigal Witch series.
  • In the early ’70s, a roly-poly young Californian named Mike Warnke took the evangelical world by storm. He was loved for his Christian stand-up comedy (yes, that’s a thing, I guess), but it was his truly sinister background that drew the most attention to him. As he detailed in his 1973 memoir The Satan Seller, Warnke had dropped out of college to lead one branch of a nationwide Satanic cult that practiced blasphemous rites, lured teenagers into their ranks with the promise of sex and drugs, and occasionally raped and dismembered innocents in the name of the Devil. You know, typical frat stuff.
    Just like Tony Anthony, Warnke founded a successful ministry on the strength of his testimony. It wasn’t until 1992, nearly 20 years after The Satan Seller was printed, that a group of Christians published an exhaustive refutation of Warnke’s claims in a Cornerstone magazine article. As writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein revealed, Warnke hadn’t been a Devil-worshiping drug addict in college; he had already become a Christian by that time, and spent most of his time doing ridiculously wholesome things that other square kids did in the late ’60s: Bowling, going out for ice cream, double-dating with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, etc.
    Confronted with his make-believe past, Warnke weakly explained that his Satanic following may have been a bit smaller than he originally stated (around a dozen people, rather than 1500). He would not back down from anything else in his book. A few years ago, though, he admitted to Jim Bakker that he had felt compelled to present a dramatic conversion testimony to impress the evangelical community, and made a joke about “evangelasticity”.
    You can read more about Warnke in
    Part II of the Prodigal Witch series.
  • The same year The Satan Seller was published, Doreen Irvine’s autobiography From Witchcraft to Christ was released in the UK. A prim-looking older lady, Irvine claimed to have been a teen prostitute who was inducted into Satanism in London around 1950. Over the next 12 years, she developed the abilities to levitate several feet off the ground, read minds, render herself invisible, manifest apports, and kill birds in midflight just by looking at them. She was crowned Queen of the Black Witches of Europe. Then she walked into a church on a whim and was instantly converted to Christianity. After a grueling exorcism removed 47 demons from her body, she traveled to churches all over the world, sharing her story of redemption.
    No one has ever extensively refuted the claims in From Witchcraft to Christ, probably because they are too absurd to take seriously in the first place. But the book, and Doreen’s preaching, had a profound and lasting impact that has left at least one young woman dead. You can read more about her influence in Part I of The Prodigal Witch.

There are a number of other Christian memoirs that definitely set off my BS alarm, but the claims made in these books are so unverifiable that there is really no way to refute them. These include:

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell (1997) and A Divine Revelation of Heaven (1998) by Mary K. Baxter. Baxter, a Pentacostal preacher from Michigan, claims she was given walking tours of both Heaven and Hell by Jesus himself, so that she could bear witness to their physical reality. She says Hell is located near the planet’s core, is shaped like a human body, and contains many homosexuals. In Heaven, angels collect the tears of everyone on Earth and store them away in jars.
  • Blood Secrets by Isaiah Oke, as told to Joe Wright (1989). Oke is a Nigerian Christian who claims he was once a ju-ju shaman, and that he witnessed a brutal human sacrifice carried out by his mentor. The person who commissioned this sacrifice is described as a powerful colonel, and it’s quite obvious that Oke wants us to think he was Idi Amin.
    Oke became a Christian while studying accounting at college. As he and Wright tell it, a young American co-ed had annoyed him one day, but Oke was unable to “hex” her even after numerous attempts. Finally, he asked her why she was resistant to his magical powers, and she told him she was a Christian. He promptly converted, and continues to talk smack about Nigerian spirituality to the present day.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Satan, Satan Everywhere

Think Satanic panic disappeared along with Geraldo and acid-washed jeans? Well, not quite. Welcome to the world of Jordanian Satanists conducting ceremonies in college bathrooms, panty-stealing gremlins, demonic mermaids – and the deeply misguided authorities who persecute them. 

Satan Is Real

 

  • We’ll get to Satan, but first: Yet another alien body has surfaced, this time in China. In what appears to be the Eastern version of the Dr. Reed Microwave Burrito Alien hoax, a man identified only as Li claims he witnessed a UFO crash near his home on the Yellow River in Binzhou, Shangdong province, on a night in March. The next day, checking his electric rabbit traps, he found the remains of a lightly fried entity roughly four feet tall, with pebbly white skin, a bulbous head, and what appears to be female genitalia. Li took the alien lady home and stowed her in his freezer, where local police officers made a landmark scientific discovery: Somewhere in the cosmos, there exists an alien race made entirely out of rubber.
  • Since 2011, four women have filed lawsuits against Mark Schwartz, founder of the Castlewood Treatment Center for eating disorders in Ballwood, Missouri. The former patients allege that in the course of treatment Schwartz and his partner, Lori Galperin, persuaded them to “recover” (false) memories of Satanic ritual abuse, cannibalism, and even murder. Schwartz has stepped down as the director of Castlewood.
    This is practically an instant replay of a case that erupted over 15 years ago in Chicago. In the mid-’90s, Dr. Bennett Braun was sued by several former patients after he and members of his staff at the Dissociative Disorders Unit of Rush Presbyterian Hospital convinced the women they were recovering repressed memories of belonging to abusive, powerful Satanic cults. Though Braun and his colleagues were trained and licensed medical professionals, their methods weren’t much better than those of the bizarre faux-psychotherapy cult of Okie pastor Doug Riggs, and the outcomes were identical: Dozens of people came to believe their loved ones were actually demented Devil worshipers who had enslaved them through a combination of ritualistic abuse and sophisticated mind control programming.
    I’ll be posting about the Schwartz and Braun cases at Speak of the Devil in the near future, because there’s far too much weirdness there for a mere roundup.
  • Also in the ritual abuse category, a Dutch woman named Toos Nijenhuis has declared that child sacrifices are taking place in Holland. She recently told a group of independent researchers that a sinister international cabal, which includes such prominent members as Prince Bernhard of Holland and British royals, has been ritualistically abusing and experimenting upon children for some arcane purpose. Nijenhuis led the researchers to a rural forest near Zwolle where she claims ritual child sacrifices have been committed as recently as November of 2010. Her claims are virtually identical to those made by some of the former witches and Satanists I wrote about in the Prodigal Witch series, particularly Arizona Wilder (who has retracted her claims about a clan of Satanic lizard-people ruling the planet) and alleged Illuminati slave Cisco Wheeler. The Canadian-based citizens’ group called the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State (ITCCS) and allied organizations plan to investigate Ms. Nijenhuis’ allegations and possibly issue  “court summonses” to the royals and high-level clerics she has named.
  • In Etwatwa, South Africa, a 14-year-old boy stands accused of murdering four members of his family with an ax. Police have reportedly called in an occult expert to determine if the boy was connected to Satanism or Satanists, but no link has been discovered so far. That hasn’t stopped neighbours and South Africans in general from declaring the murders a Satanic ritual sacrifice, as shown in the video report below and in this tabloid article, which cites a detailed confession allegedly given by the boy. The boy’s family, on the other hand, seems to think drugs were involved.
  • Many reports out of Africa draw parallels between the Etwatwa ax murders and the “Satanic” stabbing murder of schoolgirl Keamogetswe Sefularo in March, which brought up memories of the “Satanic burning” of teenager Kirsty Theologo two years ago. Two 18-year-old boys were convicted of Kirsty’s murder last March, sentenced to 17 years each.
  • Also in Africa, a 2-year-old Northern Cape girl drowned in late May after she was allegedly pushed into a dam by a female 12-year-old cousin who reportedly had a history of doing the same thing to other young children. Family members promptly blamed Satanism, telling the press the girl was possessed and “doing the Devil’s work”. Before they start shopping for an exorcist, they should perhaps ptry adopting some appropriate water safety and child supervision practices.
  • Parts of Zimbabwe have been aflame with Satanic panic in the past year. In Bulawayo’s suburban Cowdray Park last October, a teen girl confessed to participating in 16 murders committed by a neighbourhood cult of Satanists, causing deep rifts and panic in the community. Around the same time, at least three schools in the country were closed after students were stricken with bizarre symptoms they attributed to Satanic spells. Then there are the evil mermaids. Last March, Zimbabwe Water Resources Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo told a senate oversight committee that mermaids had been terrifying workers at reservoirs in Mutare, Gokwe, and Manicaland, causing them to flee their work and refuse to return. Many Zimbabweans consider mermaids to be demonic creatures, and a man named Justice Manyonga even claims to have been held captive by them for two years. To remedy the mermaid infestation, Nkomo summoned traditional chiefs to perform exorcisms at the Gokwe and Mutare dams.
    In Gokwe, Underpants Gnomes made an appearance around the same time. A 62-year-old man declared that a rash of missing ladies’ undergarments in his neighbourhood was caused by a panty-stealing goblin he had somehow acquired years earlier. Incredibly, this is not the most bizarre goblin story to come out of Zimbabwe in the past year. In January of this year, an explosion in Chitungwiza, Zumbabwe, killed 5 people in a single house. The home was owned by a traditional healer, and he claimed the explosion occurred because he was attempting to behead a goblin on behalf of a client. Just like the owner of the Underpants Gnome, this guy says he bought a goblin to help bring himself good luck and prosperity, but it ended up being a major PITA. So if you buy a goblin through Kijiji or Craigslist, make sure you get a warranty on that sucker.
  • In March, five students at Al al-Bayt university in Mafraq, Jordan, were accused of burning pages from the Koran as part of a supposed Devil-worship ritual conducted in a campus bathroom. They were promptly arrested for desecrating the Koran, but no charges were filed against them, prompting Human Rights Watch to call for their release. This resulted in immediate charges against  the students. They were tried before a military tribunal in May and acquitted of all charges, but the incident caused tremendous strife and distress throughout Jordan, with extremists demanding the students be lynched and others bewailing the lack of freedom of religious expression in a country that has been presented to the world as relatively open and progressive.

merman

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Extra-Stoopid Edition

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It’s good to be back. My ThinkPad finally succumbed to a series of long-term ailments two weeks ago (Hans has a computer, but can’t type with cloven hoofs. I think he just uses it for porn). I’ve now replaced it.
So. On with the weirdness.

  • Folks love a good feral child story. Probably because feral child stories combine three of the things we want most in our Pixar films hard-hitting news coverage: Kids, the triumph of the human spirit, and cute fluffy animals. Sadly, some of these stories are ridiculously bogus. Amala and Kamala, the Bengalese girls raised by wolves, were actually urchins “rescued” by a minister who wanted to promote his missionary work (the famous photos of the wolf-girls walking on all fours were taken years after they died, using stand-ins). Misha Defonseca, the Belgian Holocaust survivor adopted by wolves at the age of 8, wasn’t even Jewish and spent the duration of the war safely ensconced in her grandpa’s house.
    Now we have Marina Chapman, a British national who claims in a new memoir that she was reared by monkeys in Colombia. She clambers up trees, makes monkey noises, and says it’s quite comfortable to scoot around on all fours. Supposedly, Marina was abducted from her family by two men around 1954, when she was 4 or 5 years old. One of them chloroformed her as she played in her yard, and she was taken to a remote area somewhere near the Venezuela-Colombia border. Then her kidnappers simply dumped her in the rainforest for no obvious reason, never to return.
    Marina says she gradually came to be accepted – even loved – by a troop of Capuchin monkeys, and survived by mimicking their behaviour and scooping up their dropped bananas. The monkeys groomed her and led her to water when she was sick, but the relationship Marina describes strikes me as one of tolerance rather than affection.
    Marina says she was rescued by hunters around age 9, only to be sold into sexual slavery in exchange for a parrot. She ran away from the brothel to become a street kid in Cúcuta, stealing food until she was saved again, this time by a family of “notorious” gangsters that treated her like a household slave. Finally, she was adopted by a decent family that migrated to England in the late ’70s. Marina settled down and raised a large family while working as a chef at the National Media Museum in Bradford.
    At this point, no one knows exactly who the hell Marina Chapman is. She says she can’t remember her name, or where she lived prior to the age of 4. She doesn’t recall her birth family at all, in fact. Her daughter Vanessa, who helped her write the memoir, hopes someone in Venezuela or Colombia will step forward to identify her.
    Aside from the obvious parallels with the wolf-girl hoaxes, there are a few other reasons to question Marina’s story. First of all, her memoir reads like a serial melodrama from the early 1900s. It’s The Perils of Pauline meets Tarzan, with absurdly evil villains lurking around every corner, scheming to trap the innocent monkey-girl. Secondly, Marina claims she totally lost the ability to speak Spanish during her time in the jungle, yet regained it with ease some 6 years later. How likely is it that Marina basically learned to speak for the first time as a pre-adolescent, without assistance? She would be the first feral kid to pull that off. Thirdly, she recalls the details of her abduction remarkably well…but she can’t remember a single thing about the family she left behind on the very same day? This whole thing smells.
    And speaking of smells…
  • The city of Quincy, Massachusetts is experiencing some rather weird shit. Perhaps literally. For the past several weeks, citizens have been complaining of sulfurous, noxious odours wafting through town, and at night they’re observing overflights of a mysterious plane they can’t quite identify. Theories range from ZOMG ALIENS to ZOMG CHEMTRAILS, though there doesn’t seem to be any direct link between the stink and the annoying plane. Also, the Patriot Ledger reported last week that the stench is probably coming from a malodorous brown algae, Pilayella littoralis.
  • If massive, non-human primates were roaming populated areas everywhere from Arizona to upstate New York, we would be finding copious signs of their existence; bones, poop, furballs, etc. But it seems Bigfoot only leave behind Blair Witch-style craft projects and magically vanishing corpses. About a week ago, a Bigfoot was supposedly shot and killed by an unnamed turkey hunter somewhere near Altoona, Pennsylvania, as overheard by a ham radio operator known only as Daniel C. This happened scarcely two weeks after the release of Shooting Bigfoot, a documentary about a 2012 Bigfoot murder in Texas. It includes footage of Rick Dyer luring a Sasquatch with some ribs, then shooting it (the Bigfoot stumbles off, fatally wounded, and is never seen again). Before that, in 2010, there was a double Bigfoot murder called the “Sierra Kills”. That incident produced a “Bigfoot steak” that may or may not have been examined by Dr. Melba Ketchum as part of her bizarro Sasquatch DNA study, but the bodies themselves were never recovered. And no one has presented the Pennsylvania Bigfoot yet, either.
  • Alex Jones thinks a magical government weather machine may have caused the tornado that ripped through an Oklahoma City suburb, killing dozens and leaving hundreds homeless and injured. Jones hasn’t seen this mechanism, he can’t even begin to explain how it might function, and he didn’t produce the name of a single scientist or agency involved with its development. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
    Looks like the Godlike Productions Forum guys have it all figured out, though…it was a HAARP tornado whipped up to distract us from government scandals. If so, it was kind of a bonehead move; the tornado itself is creating government scandals.
    Pat Robertson doesn’t know what caused the tornado, but he still says prayer can alter storm systems  if enough people join in. He doesn’t seem to realize what he’s revealing about himself, here. If he truly buys into this prayer-based weather manipulation deal, then he should park himself in front of the Weather Channel every single day and go on the air to tell his viewers to start praying for certain areas. The 700 Club has roughly 1 million viewers per day in the U.S. alone, and if half of them prayed under Robertson’s direction, he could theoretically prevent any tragedy from occurring ever again. Instead, he waits for a storm to hit and then gets all Dr. Brule on us, like, “Why didn’t you think of that, dum-dum?” From this we can infer one of two things: Pat Robertson is lazy, or he just doesn’t give a crap.
    Either way, he’s being a total dick.

The Boy from La Noria

The Secrets of the Atacama Humanoid Human

As described in my last post, ufologist Dr. Steven Greer announced last summer that he had gained access to the tiny body then known as the Atacama Humanoid or the Atacama Alien, discovered around 2003 in the desert sands of Chile. It is a seemingly human skeleton with an elongated and peculiar skull, not much longer than a pencil, yet remarkably well-proportioned. Strangely, it has only ten ribs and what appears to be a tooth. Greer said that two top scientists – a geneticist and a foremost expert on skeletal abnormalities – were analyzing the creature, and promised the results would be made known to the world in the documentary Sirius. The film was screened earlier this week in Los Angeles, to wildly mixed reviews.

“In the end, no halfway intelligent person will be swayed by this film.” – Bad UFOs

“I got the feeling that it should be called Greer Movie instead of Sirius.” – Before It’s News

“The tag line for this film is…’It’s time you know’. To be honest you can keep it to yourselves. ” – Troll2Rocks

Did I say the reviews were mixed? Yeah, they weren’t. It was terrible. Everybody hated it. And yes, you read that correctly – a Troll 2 fan thinks Sirius is awful.

But we did get what Greer promised: The long-awaited findings of the two American scientists who analyzed the Atacama Humanoid. We now know they were Dr. Garry Nolan and Dr. Ralph Lachman. Nolan is a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, and Lachman is a pediatric radiologist specializing in the study of skeletal dysplasia (“dwarfism”).
After studying DNA samples and images of the body for over half a year, what do these esteemed medical professionals have to say about it?

Welp, it’s not a monkey. Or an ape. Or an alien. Or a human-alien hybrid. It’s a six- to eight-year-old child that could fit in the palm of your palm. Think about that for a minute. If it’s not blowing your mind yet, think about it some more. I’ll wait.

The body is evidently not – as a I originally suspected – a Piltdown Man or a Nondescript, stitched or glued together from parts of different species for the amusement of some trickster. Greer’s team extracted a DNA sample from the body by surgically dissecting two of its ten ribs. These samples contained bone marrow material. DNA analysis conducted by Nolan (which is ongoing) shows the tiny being is a male human child, probably born to an indigenous Chilean woman. Though its age is difficult to estimate, Nolan guesses it was  born sometime in the last one hundred years. According to Nolan, “Obviously, it was breathing, it was eating, it was metabolizing. It calls into question how big the thing might have been when it was born.” You can read a preliminary summary of his and Lachman’s findings here.
Working with X-ray and CAT scan images, Lachman found that the skeleton’s bone density and epiphyseal plates were those of a small child, approximately six to eight years of age, rather than a foetus. As you’ll see, not everyone agrees with his conclusions.

Atacama Human

Bizarrely, Greer states early in the film that the body is extraterrestrial, only to be contradicted later on by his own experts, and his report on the skeleton contains weird references to Martian obelisks and DNA that is 10 billion years old. He still refers to the skeleton as humanoid, and plans to talk more about it at this year’s Mutual UFO Network symposium. If someone can figure out WTF Greer thinks he’s doing, let me know.

At this point, we know very little about the boy found in the desert. His body was unearthed by a treasure-hunter in the autumn of 2003. If the account of his discovery is accurate, it seems the boy was given a crude burial beside the Catholic church in the long-abandoned mining town of La Noria, in northern Chile’s Atacama desert. This is a desolate place, once home to one of Chile’s many saltpeter mining operations but now known only as a literal ghost town with a spectacularly creepy cemetery. Eschewing a coffin, someone had wrapped the body in a piece of white cloth, bound it with some purple ribbon, and interred it in a shallow grave near the church.

Was the child considered a demon? A curse? A portent of disaster? Stories of “monstrous” human infants, like the legendary Hull House devil baby that terrified Catholics in pre-WWI Chicago, continue to be told even today – so it seems quite likely that devout Catholics in a remote desert town would have been petrified (and perhaps mesmerized) by the birth of a baby that would make Tom Thumb look like a  giant. They may have kept the child’s existence a secret, out of shame and fear. It’s even possible the boy was never known to the world beyond his immediate family, or perhaps nuns entrusted with his care. To date, no contemporary reports of a tiny child born in Chile have surfaced. One has to wonder what his brief, astonishing life and untimely death were like. Was he baptized? Was he loved? Did the skull fracture observed by the doctors have something to do with his death? Did a weeping mother kneel beside his grave? As the last residents of La Noria drove away in the 1950s, did they gaze back through the swirls of dust at the little Catholic church and whisper a goodbye to the boy they had never known, but always heard about?

After his discovery in 2003, the “horrible dwarf extraterrestrial” was briefly spotlighted in Chile’s tabloid media. Thereafter, he was passed from hand to hand like a carnival sideshow exhibit, finally ending up in the possession of a Barcelona “exobiologist” named Ramón Navia-Osorio. He was treated much more like a collectible curiosity than a scientific specimen, but Navia-Osorio did persuade several scientists to render their opinions on the body. According to an article at the UFO site Open Minds, three physicians X-rayed it and determined it was a complete human skeleton, rather than an assemblage of parts. Dr. Francisco Etxeberria Gabilondo, a professor of legal and forensic medicine at Basque Country University and a specialist in forensic anthropology at Madrid’s Complutense University, declared the body to be that of a mummified human foetus, approximately fifteen weeks old.

Greer, on the other hand, decided he was an Extraterrestrial Biological Entity and commissioned Lachman and Nolan to examine him. If the boy had been considered merely a human oddity rather than a possible EBE, it is doubtful he would have regained any degree of attention. I certainly hope that once the alien nonsense fades away, other scientists will examine him and tell us much more about him. They should be able to resolve the disparities between Dr. Etxeberria’s report and the Lachman/Nolan findings.

I have only one thing to ask of you. Don’t think of the Atacama skeleton as just another alien hoax, or yet another black mark against Steven Greer, or the over-hyped hook for some goofy documentary. Think of him as the little boy from La Noria.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: The Top 10 Conspiracy Theories About Popes and/or the Vatican

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The retirement of Benedict XVI has unleashed a shit-tonne of conspiracy theories. In a March 1 interview with Howard Stern, Alex Jones declared Benedict stepped down because of “transvestite orgies”. Others insist pedophilia must be involved, though there is scant evidence to support that. There’s also talk of a secret dossier about clerical misdeeds, last year’s “Vatileaks” scandal, and Vatican money laundering. What the conspiranoids aren’t talking about is Benedict’s advanced age, or the fact that he attempted to retire three times before being elected pope.

Conspiracy theories about the pope and the Vatican are so easy to believe, in large part, because the Vatican of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been visited by more than its share of conspiracies, cover-ups, and scandals:

  • The very establishment of Vatican City as an independent state may have been based on a forgery, the Donation of Constantine.
  • During WWII, several high-ranking Nazis were able to flee Europe with Vatican passports, thanks to a sympathetic bishop.
  • In the early ’70s, a minor investigation by the New York City district attorney’s racketeering squad led to the discovery that organized crime figures had trafficked millions in dollars worth of stolen and forged stocks all over the world…and roughly $1 billion of those bogus stocks resided in Vatican Bank vaults (see Richard Hammer’s The Vatican Connection).
  • A decade later, powerful Vatican officials were found to be part of a vast banking scheme that involved fictitious financial institutions, controlled from behind the scenes by the sinister Licio Gelli and members of his faux Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due (P2).
  • Recently, it has come to light that the cover-up of child molestation within the Catholic Church went all the way up to the Vatican.
  • Then there is the abduction of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi from the Vatican in 1983, which was badly mishandled by Vatican authorities, likely leading to the girl’s murder.
  • Then we have the tragic worldwide legacy of residential/industrial schools, magdalenes, and Catholic-run orphanages. From 1950 until the early ’70s, Irish nuns sold infants on a first-come, first-served basis (see Mike Milotte’s Banished Babies: The Secret History of Ireland’s Baby Export Business).

Add to this a couple of Dan Brown novels, anti-Catholic frauds like the Taxil hoax and The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, and a parade of memorable Catholic villains in film and literature, and it’s no wonder so many non-Catholics are willing to believe the worst.

Leaving aside the more outré conspiracy theories, like Leo Zagami‘s Illuminati/Satanism nonsense about the Jesuits and the Pope being able to summon demons (aliens) from other dimensions and Ed Chiarini’s belief that Benedict is actually Robert Blake, here are the Top 10 Conspiracy Theories About the Pope and/or the Vatican:

10. There was a female pope. The fable that one pope was actually a woman in disguise first surfaced in a thirteenth-century chronicle written by the Dominican historian Jean Mailly. Mailly recorded that in 1099, a pope went into labour whilst mounting “his” horse, and was subsequently dragged and stoned to death by the outraged citizens of Rome. Accounts written later in the same century can’t agree on a date for “Pope Joan‘s” or “Pope Joanna’s” rule, and today most historians realize that the recorded popes were the only popes. There simply isn’t a mysterious two-year gap in which Joan/Joanna could have served.
The legend of a lady pope spawned another legend that still persists, though: That each new pope must submit to a gender test in which an examiner feels his privates to ensure he has well-formed testicles. This test even appears in the very first episode of The Borgias, when Rodrigo Borgia/Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons) resignedly sits on a toilet-like chair so a papal lackey can thrust a hand beneath his gown and declare “Habet duos testiculos et bene pendentes (he has two well-hung testicles)!”. However, there is no evidence that gender exams have ever been conducted on popes.
9. The Soviet Union and/or the CIA was behind the attempted assassination of John Paul II in 1981. Even though would-be assassin Ali Agca was Turkish, Soviet involvement was something John Paul himself reportedly suspected at one time, as Russia was certainly not pleased with his support of the Solidarity labour movement in Poland. The problem with this theory is that not even the so-called “Bulgarian connection” initially described by Agca has been confirmed, much less a KGB plot.
8. The Third Secret of Fatima was suppressed for years, and/or the publicly revealed Third Secret was fabricated because the real Secret is too explosive. The three child seers of Fatima were entrusted with three secrets by the Virgin Mary, but it was not until WWII erupted that the only surviving seer, Lucia Santos, revealed the contents of the first two secrets and wrote down the third. Pope Pius XII expressed no interest in the Third Secret until 1957, and even then merely squirreled it away in a safe without reading it. It wasn’t until 1980 that John Paul II told a small audience in Germany that the Third Secret involved an epic disaster that would kill millions – possibly a nuclear holocaust. Yet he waited a full 20 years to have the Third Secret published, after revealing it had foretold his own attempted assassination.
Some Catholics still weren’t satisfied. They decried the published Third Secret as a fake, insisting the real secret was too politically sensitive and/or damaging to the Church to be revealed. Others pointed out that Lucia wanted the secret to be published before 1960, meaning the Church had suppressed it for over 40 years.
7. The “black pope” of the Jesuit order is the true ruler of the Vatican and/or the world. Jesuits have long been the favourite target of anti-Catholic crusaders, and conspiracy theories about their shady doings abound. In some conspiranoid circles, it is believed the general of the Jesuit order is secretly revered as the “black pope”, and that it is he – rather than the dude in the hat – who controls the Vatican. Here is just one of many recent examples of this theory.
6. The Knights of Malta, headquartered in the Vatican, control the world, and Opus Dei is a cult-like organization that is trying to extend its tentacles into every major government on the planet. Robert Anton Wilson was perhaps the foremost modern proponent of the idea that the Knights of Malta exert a massively disproportionate influence on world events, and were behind everything from Nazi infiltration of the CIA to the Vatican bank scandals of the ’70s and ’80s (see his article in a 1989 issue of Spin, for example). David Icke has speculated that Benedict was “fired” by the Knights of Malta. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, with its Opus Dei villains and ancient conspiracies, gave expression to concerns about the cult-like devotion and prominence of Opus Dei members.
It’s true that Opus Dei and the KoM contain many powerful, highly-placed members, but Catholic “secret societies” don’t seem to be any more dangerous than other fraternal organizations.
5. Pope Pius XII was complicit in the Holocaust. Catholic writer John Cornwell has even gone so far as to dub him “Hitler’s Pope” in his 1999 book of the same name. However, many commentators have discredited Cornwell’s claims, pointing out that Pius XII spoke out against the persecution of German Jews and was not sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Even Cornwell has conceded that Pius’s “scope of action” was very limited in regard to Hitler.
4. “The EU is a means of undoing the Reformation and extending Vatican sovereignty over Britain”. So reads the title of an opinion piece by Adrian Hilton published in the 30 August 2003 issue of The Spectator. Hilton (along with a few like-minded critics of the European Union) contends that the establishment of the EU fell perfectly in line with the Church’s aim for a one-world religion, or at least a pan-European one. But Catholic hegemony has not materialized in Europe over the past decade, and is incredibly unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.
3. Islam was invented by the Catholic Church as a means of controlling Middle Eastern peoples. This bit of WTFery comes from Alberto Rivera via Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick, the same guy who brought us John Todd and Edna “I Married Satan” Moses.
Rivera was a Spanish Christian who in the ’70s began claiming that, during his time as a Jesuit priest, he learned from his superiors that Muhammad had been conned by priests and nuns into believing he was the prophet of a new religion. Their aim was to destroy the Jews and non-Catholic Christians of the world, paving the way for Catholicism as the one-world religion (see Chick’s comic-book tract The Prophet).
He also alleged the Church faked the Fatima apparitions, created Nazism, and killed JFK (among other things).
When Rivera realized the Church was also behind Freemasonry, he left the priesthood and denounced Catholicism. As payback, the Jesuits abducted and tortured him.
Chick was so taken with Rivera’s tale of Catholic treachery that he turned it into a fawning biography and several comic-book tracts. Other, more diligent, Christians subsequently discovered that Rivera had never even been a priest.
2. John Paul I was murdered. In his 1984 book In God’s Name, David Yallop contends that the “smiling pope”, who died just 33 days after taking office, was killed, probably because he was planning to dismiss and/or excommunicate high-ranking officials who were also Freemasons, investigate the massively corrupt Vatican Bank, replace Chicago cardinal John Cody, and permit Catholic women to use artificial birth control.
The Vatican tried to counter Yallop’s claims by commissioning Catholic author John Cornwell to write his own book on John Paul I’s death. Cornwell disappointed them by publishing A Thief in the Night, which argues that although John Paul may have died from a pulmonary embolism, people close to John Paul I tampered with his body after discovering it.
1. The pope is not the pope. The pope is a powerful guy, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that there are dozens of pretenders to the hat, known as “antipopes” or “conclavists”. These faux popes often lead small, cultish sects. The French-Canadian Apostles of Infinite Love were led by two popes, one of whom was under investigation for an array of alleged extortion and sex-abuse offenses for 34 years. The Palmarian Church in Spain has had three popes since 1978, and also declared its own saints and martyrs (including, inexplicably, Pope Paul VI). Until their last pope died in 2011, he had some competition from another Spaniard named Joaquín Llorens, who made himself Pope Alexander IX in 2005. There’s even a pope in Kansas – David Bawden. Bawden claims there hasn’t been a legitimate Roman pope since Pius XII, and in 1990 (at the relatively tender age of 30) was “elected” pope by a conclave of laypeople that included himself and his parents, Kennett and Tickie Bawden (owners of a thrift store called The Question Mark). Bawden calls himself Pope Michael I. His Apostolic Palace is a rundown farmhouse he shares with his mom.
The creepiest of these pretenders is the Australian cult leader William Kamm, a thrice-convicted sex offender who says he is Benedict’s rightful successor. He also seems to think John Paul II will be bodily resurrected at some point.

Thanks to Schwarherz for venturing into the wacky world of antipopes.