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.

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?