I See Dead People. Oh, Also Profits.

She’s not alive, honey,” psychic Sylvia Browne told Louwanna Miller on a national TV show in 2004, referring to Miller’s missing daughter Amanda Berry. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

On the set, Miller broke down in tears. She died in 2005 0r 2006 (accounts differ), from heart failure.

Two days ago, Berry emerged alive from a home in Cleveland where she says she had been kept prisoner for the past ten years.

Browne has done this before.

In 2003, Browne incorrectly told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, and his body could be found somewhere near “two jagged boulders,” according to her premonition.

Nearly four years later, Hornbeck was found alive, and Browne was widely criticized in the media for causing the Hornbecks additional grief.

Hat tip: John Henry.

Self-Styled Rabbi Treated ‘Possessed’ Children With Suffocation, Burning, Hammers, Knives

Self-styled rabbi and former international fugitive Elior Chen did unspeakable things to young Israeli children he suspected of being possessed by demons.

He wasn’t the only one to suffer sadism-inducing delusions; about a half dozen of his devout followers did too. Together, they abused and tortured eight children who they thought were under Satanic spells.

The abuse was uncovered in 2009, when a child previously under Chen’s care lost consciousness and had to be taken to the hospital. Once the authorities caught on to the abuse, Chen fled to Brazil, which extradited him back to Israel.

Haredi _Rabbi_ Elior Chen sentenced to 24 years in prison for child abuse Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper

In February 2011, an Israeli court sentenced Chen to 24 years in prison, but he’s back in court now, insisting he didn’t get a fair trial because his lawyer allegedly had a conflict of interest. Yesterday, the child torturer argued his appeal before the Israeli Supreme Court.

If he does receive a new trial, let’s hope the judge gives him more than 24 years. Consider, courtesy of the Jerusalem Post, precisely what this fine “spiritual mentor” of a Haredi-like Jewish cult did:

Chen and his followers were convicted of abusing young children with hammers, knives and other implements over a period of several months. One child suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the abuse to which he was subjected by his mother and her companions, all under Chen’s orders. He is expected to remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. Chen gave his followers instructions on how to “fix” the children’s behavior, and “cleanse” them of their satanic possession.

The chilling and gruesome child-abuse case included a mother who forced her children to eat feces, locked them in a suitcase for three days and letting them out for only brief periods, repeatedly beat, whipped, and shook them, burnt their hands and gave them freezing showers. The abusive mother and the “educators” also poured salt on the burn wounds of one of the children, stuffing his mouth with a skullcap and sealing it with masking tape.

Chen’s disciples had “blind admiration” for him, the court found. Whatever Chen decreed, his followers happily carried out. Their abuse of the children occurred because he commanded it, but Chen wasn’t above doing a little torture himself; the cult leader was convicted in part for having actively participated in the abuse.

Four of Chen’s accomplices were sentenced to jail terms of up to 20 years each. The mother of the eight children was sentenced in May 2010. She got five years in prison after pleading guilty to shaking, burning, and tying up her brood.

[photo by Daniel Bar-On via Haaretz]

Jehovah’s Love, Shining Through

Twenty-two years ago, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer considered Steph Le Gardener a sufficiently faithful follower, they kicked her out. In a word, she was “disfellowshipped”; and in that narrow, fearful faith, that means she lost her family and friends, because Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to shun ex-members forever. And so:

The last, very brief, conversation I had with my father (who’s now in his 70’s) went something like this, “Dad, I’m flying back for my class reunion, and I’d really like to stop in for a couple of days and check on you and make sure you’re o.k.”

He replied, “Well, are you coming back to ‘The Truth?’” “No, Dad, you know I’m not,” I sighed. “Well, then we have nothing left to discuss.” Click.

watcht copy

Le Gardener is an admin for an ex-Jehovah’s Witness recovery group on Facebook.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear stories of families torn apart by these abusive shunning practices. What’s worse is that most of the stories involve children. You cannot imagine the number of grandchildren who have never known their grandparents, parents who never see their children, siblings who never see each other. Promotions, graduations, births, deaths, holidays, and more, all missed because families are torn apart by some mysterious code of religious obligation to shun one another.


The irony of the Jehovah’s brigades is that they don’t shun the people who wish to be shunned. Indeed, there are jurisdictions where homeowners who display a sign telling the inveterate proselytizers to get lost can expect a visit from the constabulary.

In 2006, police officers told a British woman, Jean Grove, to remove a sign that read “Our dogs are fed on Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The cops relayed that there had been a complaint from someone who found the sign “distressing, offensive and inappropriate”.

My Husband the Biblical King

Good judgment and intelligence took a 10-year leave of absence:

Tracey Sharp was induced to live for more than a decade in a menage of seven ‘wives’ who shared a single ‘husband’. Moreover, she was persuaded to believe the absurd fiction that Philip Sharp, once a Messianic Jewish rabbi, was a Biblical king who had been instructed by God to have multiple wives and a brood of children.

‘I do question how I got involved,’ says Tracey, 46, who has two daughters, Naomi, nine, and Mischa, three, by the self-styled king. She left his Sussex harem in November after their relationship disintegrated into a succession of blazing rows.


Why did all these women fall under a deluded man’s spell? All it took was Philip Sharp invoking the will of god.

“He said he’d had a visitation from God and was about to be a king, and I think he genuinely felt God had decreed he should take many wives and that what he was doing was right. … I was in love with the man and he is very powerful and persuasive. He assured us everything was sanctioned by God and he quoted passages from the Bible to back this up. He could have told me the sky was luminous orange and I would have believed him.”

The women were instructed to keep their heads covered — Sharp wanted to be the only one to see their hair — and were called to prayer at 6:30am every day. Says his estranged wife,

‘The hardest thing was recognizing that he wasn’t a king. He wasn’t called by God. He was just a man with a giant ego.

No shit hon. They all are.


P.S. Think seven wives is impressive? At last count, this Islamic faith healer had 86.

[image via Daily Mail]

‘Satanic-Stabbing’ Perp in South Africa ‘Drank From Neck Wound’; 10 Classmates Suspended

From the GlobalPost:

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A South African teenager was murdered outside Lukhanyo Secondary School near Randfontein by a fellow student, prompting allegations that it was a “satanic killing.”

Seventeen-year-old Kamogetswe Sefularo was stabbed to death in her chest, throat and abdomen by a 15-year-old girl who allegedly drank her blood afterwards, South Africa’s Eye Witness News reported.  A friend of Sefularo’s told her family that “the leader and the girl who did the stabbing sucked Keamo’s blood from [a wound] on her neck,” the victim’s brother Zali Nxabi told News24.

South africa satanic killing | GlobalPost

GlobalPost senior correspondent in South Africa, Erin Conway-Smith, says that  in the last few years in South Africa, there have been several murders of young people where “satanism” was said to be involved.

For example, there is a trial continuing in the murder of 18-year-old Kirsty Theologo who was doused with gas and set on fire in what was described as a satanic ritual.

Another example is the killing of a 6-year-old girl last month in KwaZulu-Natal province; charged in her murder is Wiseman Tholelani Shandu who is said to be part of a satanist group.

[image via GlobalPost]

Sect in Chile Burns ‘Antichrist’ Infant to Death

A three-day-old Chilean baby girl was thrown onto an open fire and burned to death in a religious ritual after a cult leader decided she was the antichrist — and that the end of the world was near.

Four people are under arrest. The baby’s mother, 25-year-old Natalia Guerra, is thought to have approved the sacrifice.

A police detective explained that

“They strapped tape around [the infant’s] mouth to keep her from screaming. Then they placed her on a board. After calling on the spirits they threw her on the bonfire alive.”

Authorities said the 12-member sect was formed in 2005 and was led by Ramon Gustavo Castillo Gaete [photo], 36, who remains at large.

Ben Affleck doppelganger Ramon Gaete

Ben Affleck doppelganger Ramon Gaete

At first blush, the sect members didn’t seem like the gullible type.

‘Everyone in this sect was a professional,’ [detective] Ampuero said. ‘We have someone who was a veterinarian and who worked as a flight attendant, we have a filmmaker, a draftsman. Everyone has a university degree.’

Police said Castillo Gaete, the ringleader, was last seen traveling to Peru to buy ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew plant that he used to control the members of the rite.

Previous Moral Compass mention of ayahuasca here.

[image via Mail Online]

High Tea: UDV Church Uses Hallucinogen As Sacrament; ‘Returning to the Cosmic Uterus’

Via NPR:

A small church in Santa Fe, N.M., has grown up around a unique sacrament. Twice a month, the congregation meets in a ritualized setting to drink Brazilian huasca tea [also called ayahuasca], which has psychoactive properties said to produce a trance-like state.

UDV, founded in 1961 by a Brazilian rubber tapper now revered by followers as Mestre Gabriel [photo], stands for Uniao do Vegetal, which means “the union of the plants.” Huasca tea contains DMT, considered a Schedule 1 drug (in this case, a powerful and illegal hallucinogen) by the U.S. drug-warrior establishment.

Anthropologists who’ve trekked to the Amazon to try the “vine of the soul,” as it’s called, have described the intense experience it produces as death, returning to the cosmic uterus and rebirth.

UDV founder Mestre Gabriel

UDV members are pretty gung-ho on the brew.

Barbara, an electrologist, says the tea cured her Lyme disease; Satara, a substitute teacher, claims huasca amplifies perception of herself and the world — like turning up the volume on a radio. Joaquin, a tattooed massage therapist, says the tea is much more spiritual than tripping on acid; and Pete, a martial arts teacher, says he’s here to be part of a community of people all trying to get closer to God.

Jeffrey Bronfman, national UDV vice president, swears people drink huasca for spiritual reasons. Despite the bitter taste — some congregants head for the bathrooms to vomit right after taking the sacrament — he sees the substance as a pathway to something good, a higher consciousness.

“The tea is really an instrument to help us get in touch with our own spiritual nature. It’s not something that takes people into a state of disorientation.”

He and his congregation have had to spend years in litigation with the federal government, right on up to the Supreme Court, to gain the right to drink huasca. The Supremes decided in 2006 that if Native Americans have the right to eat peyote, UDV members must be allowed to partake of their tea.

Wanna join? The church isn’t looking for new members, Bronfman says, so you may have to get high spiritual someplace else. Like Peru.

More than 40 ayahuasca lodges in Peru advertise on the Internet with pitches like, “Your vibrations will begin to harmonize with the flow of nature! Click here for rates.”

But beware bad trips — and bad characters:

Some of the experiences turn out badly. Articles have described a few spiritual seekers who’ve died or gone berserk during rituals, and women who’ve been molested by unscrupulous shamans.

[photo via VCU]


P.S.: To clarify, I don’t see the use of huasca tea, or other sacramental drugs, as a moral failure or a crime on the part of the church. At all. More power to the UDV members — and may I just add, “good for you.”

I do find it odious and annoying that the federal government has strictly verboten any drug that contains DMT  — unless you belong to a certain faith.

Religion excuses everything.

I’m not blaming the church; I’m blaming the double standards of America’s policy makers and judicial authorities.

‘Glory,’ a Zombie Woman, Excites the Faithful

An apparent case of mistaken identity in Tanzania has caused horror and morbid curiosity among locals, who claim it is proof that people can rise from the dead.

A woman who many believe died and was buried five years ago was seen again the other day. (I guess we could say she resurfaced.)


She has been admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit to help keep out the spooked and the curious. Initially, the ex-corpse had been given standard hospital accommodations, but the medical facility soon found itself under siege from throngs of people trying to get a closer look to the ostensible zombie.

Though the woman, who formally remains unnamed as family members haven’t yet shown up to confirm her identity, is unable or unwilling to speak, she does sing and chant, but only at night, says physician Gasper Nduasinde, a member of the hospital’s medical team. After dark, he says, she bursts out in religious songs and prayers.

The one time she did manage to squawk a word in an attempted conversation, it was to say that her name is Utukufu  — “Glory.”

[T-shirt via Teenormous]

How African Witchcraft Courts Enrich Judges

Modern-day accusations of witchcraft often end in lynch mobs and terrible deaths. By contrast, accused witches in the Congo may be spared their lives, but not their meager savings.

“The Lucrative Business Driving Congo’s Witchcraft Courts,” via Worldcrunch:

In the Uvira highlands, the Bafuliru tribe holds Kihango court three or four times a month.

Men and women who are accused of practicing witchcraft are brought before the court to be tried. When a person is found guilty of being a witch, the typical sentence is forced exile, and at least three weeks doing forced labor for the Mwami – the tribal chief.

“The person must leave the community immediately. This saves them from being lynched,” explains tribal elder Edmond Simba.

In this remote Congolese region, many people still believe that sickness, death or accidents do not “just happen” – they are caused by individuals, that must be identified and neutralized. This is done through a tribal justice system based on traditional customs and superstition.

No kidding:

To detect signs of witchcraft, the “judge” uses a nylon thread that is “extraordinary and resistant,” explained the tribal elders that we spoke to. The thread is put on a metal plate, which is heated with fire. If the thread breaks, the person on trial is a witch.


It should be noted that the witchcraft trials are not free, and are an important source of revenue for the tribal chiefBefore the dispute can be brought to the court, each party has to pay a mandatory fee of $200 – the price of a cow – whether they can afford it or not.

The headmaster of a primary school situated in Rubanga, 10 kilometers from the village of Lemera, says the witchcraft trials are just a way to exploit the local poor farmers in order to generate revenue for the tribal chief. “It would be naïve to think this is a real test of witchcraft. The tribal judges, who are pawns of the Mwami, are bribed to hand out false verdicts,” he says.

In August 2012, one of the judges admitted that he faked the result of the nylon test so that the woman on trial, the granddaughter of a friend, could be spared.

Being extorted and exiled is still preferable over the alternative, I suppose. Consider the fate of one accused witch from Africa, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu. For days,

Kristy was attacked with knives, sticks, metal bars, ceramic floor tiles, bottles and a hammer and chisel by [perpetrators] Bikubi and Bamu, who also used a pair of pliers to twist his ear. He drowned after he was placed in a bath for ritual cleansing.

Where do you reckon that lovely scene took place? Kinshasa? Kigali?

Try London.

[tip of the miter to John Zipps; image via Worldcrunch]

Tortured and Beheaded For ‘Sorcery’

A belief in invisible creatures and all kinds of supernatural evil produces evil of a very earthly kind:

Two elderly women were beheaded in Papua New Guinea after being tortured for three days, a report said Monday, the latest in a string of sorcery-related crimes.

“The two women were rounded up and taken to Lopele village after they were suspected of practising sorcery and blamed for the death of the former teacher, who was from Lopele village,” said [a police source].

witchcraft beheading - Google Search

They were tortured for three days, suffering knife and axe wounds, before being beheaded in front of the police who had been sent to the village to mediate, the report said.

The killings come just days after another report that six women accused of sorcery were tortured with hot irons in an Easter “sacrifice” in the Southern Highlands. …

There have been several other cases of witchcraft and cannibalism in PNG in recent years, with a man reportedly found eating his screaming, newborn son during a sorcery initiation ceremony in 2011.

Yogi Bare: How a ‘Hot Yoga’ Guru Gets His Kicks

We learned last week that 67-year-old Bikram Choudhury, the guru and promoter of “hot yoga,” is being sued for sexual harassment, discrimination, and defamation. Former student Sarah Baughn says Choudhury was her hero until he began propositioning her rather relentlessly. She accuses him of pressing his body against hers while adjusting her pose in classes, whispering sexual innuendos into her ear, ordering her to kiss him in front of other trainees, and assaulting her in a hotel room in Mexico.

Baughn says she resisted his advances. He found others easier to enthrall: Choudhury makes fawning students brush his hair, give him massages, and invites them to have sex with him, according to Baughn.


This weekend, former Choudhury acolyte Benjamin Lorr provides some insights into the yogi’s cult ardent following. Lorr wrote a book about extreme yoga and the physical and spiritual pains its followers endure on the path to enlightenment.

In an article in the Daily Beast, he calls Choudhury “a dark prince of America yoga” who approaches his students “in Speedo and Rolex, barking orders at his following of millions (19 studios in New York City alone) as they struggle to contort to his demands.” Lorr says the master “charges upward of $11,000 to attend his trainings. He has 40 Rolls Royces in his garage.”

Trappings of obscene wealth aside, let’s ponder the similarities between sex abuse allegation from one cult or religion to the next. Lorr writes:

“Observing emotions,” “working through pain,” “refusing to become a victim” — all potent pieces of advice, cornerstones of a yoga practice built on personal empowerment — can easily be turned into weapons of silence. At the same time, community exhortations to just “focus on the positives” and “remember all the good he has done” provide the justification for their use.

That second part, at least, is how it seems to work in many Christian churches, too.

In Choudhury’s case, the alleged sexual harassment seems to go hand in hand with verbal abuse.

“He once shouted at me, ‘Hey you! Do you have boobs or do you have a dick? I can’t see it!’ ” recalls Naveed Abidi, the owner of a Chicago-based Bikram yoga studio who studied under Choudhury five years ago. He’s still a fan, and an avid defender of the man, because the insults are made with good intentions: “The reason he’s saying it is he just wants to have people get over their egos.”

Calling students all kinds of names, then, is all in a day’s work for the millionaire teacher of  ancient yogic truths? Abidi confirms it:

“Every [yoga] teacher knows that Bikram calls his wife bitch. People who know Bikram know it’s nothing new. If he calls you a bitch, you should be happy he’s calling you something.”

Previous yoga-world scandals here, here, and here.

[photo by Rebecca Greenfield via the Daily Beast; tip of the miter to Erik Sherman]

A Nation of Believers … In Just About Anything

Irrational beliefs are alive and well in the United States. For instance,

One in five Republican voters believes Barack Obama is the ‘antichrist’ and nearly a third of all Americans think a secret power elite controls the world, according to new research on conspiracy theories.

A survey by the Public Policy Polling group aimed to shed light on the link between political leanings and belief in conspiracy theories. The poll found that:

• 34 percent of Republicans polled believe a New World Order controls the world, compared with 35 percent of independent voters and 15 percent of Democrats.

• 29 percent of US voters believe aliens exist.

• 13 percent of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22 percent of Romney voters.

More here.


I’m happy for people to believe whatever they want — no skin off my backside. All the same, it can be dispiriting to live in a country whose populace takes to nonsense and disinformation as a fish takes to water.

The survey steered clear of asking about delusional beliefs in various deities, but we know the picture would have been bleak indeed.

[image via Shirtoid]