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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mysticism: Fleecing the Credulous

Look, I consider myself to be a spiritual person. Formalized religion is a subject I wish to tackle another time, when I am stoked full of Wheaties, warmed up and better rested. But there are a number of long cons being run under the many banners of mysticism, and I hate to see ignorant or desperate people taken advantage of because they need or want to believe. And by the way, I do believe that there is much in this world that is unseen and inexplicable. But for Chrissakes, some people will believe anything. Literally, anything.

Ehrich Weiss was a Hungarian immigrant and the son of a Rabbi. Between public appearances, Weiss, who performed under the better known name Harry Houdini, made it his business to discredit mediums and spiritualists. He delighted in reproducing the effects of séances using stage magic techniques, exposing the chicanery of charlatans whenever and wherever possible. Interestingly enough, Houdini started out with an open mind towards spiritualists, attending séances in an attempt to contact the spirit of his beloved and dearly-missed mother. Each séance he attended enraged him more than the last, since he was able to see through the tricks employed by quack mediums due to his extensive knowledge of illusion and stage magic. What began as a quest for new knowledge became a war between Houdini and the entire community of spiritualists, culminating in his testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives Judicial Subcommittee investigation of fortunetellers and mediums. He also started giving special lectures demonstrating and exposing these frauds’ techniques to the public. He wrote a book on the subject in 1924 entitled A Magician Among the Spirits. By contrast, another, more prominent author - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, bought spiritualism hook, line, and sinker. ‘I consider the psychic question to be infinitely the most important thing in the world,’ declared Doyle, ‘All modern inventions and discoveries will sink into insignificance beside those psychic facts which will force themselves within a few years upon the universal human mind.’ Doyle attempted to publicly discredit Houdini’s delving into the shady world of Mediums, but had little to offer in refutation other than pompous outbursts of temper and bluster. Finally, Houdini made a pact with his wife Bess to contact her from the other side exactly one year from the date of his death if there were any way possible to do so. On October 31, one year after his death, Bess held a séance with prominent guests in attendance. Unfortunately there was no sign from the late, great magician. Succumbing to the lure of false hope, poor bereaved Bess went on to hold such a séance every year for ten years after Houdini’s demise. She quit participating after that, but a séance attempting to contact Houdini has been held every year since the great man’s death. This, in reaction to the death of the greatest debunker of spiritualists and mediums of all time! Talk about missing the point. Why, you ask? Did I mention that people will believe just about anything?

I have a good friend who lived in California for a number of years. He shared an observation with me about a fundamental difference between their New Age Crystal Culture and that of our native Midwest. He told me, “You know how in Illinois you can always spot the crazies – they have a ‘wild look’ about them, or they are dressed strangely, pasty white complected, unkempt in appearance and unhealthy-looking in general? Well, here (In California) you can’t tell until they start to talk. A suntanned, muscular, fit-looking fellow with a great haircut and perfect white teeth, who is dressed in designer clothes will look you square in the eye and in a booming voice will say, ‘You see this crystal amulet I’m wearing? It has the regenerative power of seven pyramids in a crystal astral matrix and protects me from sickness, disease and my enemies on the ethereal planes!!’” Now that would send me edging towards the door, how about you? The President of the large insurance corporation where my friend was employed sat on a specially-attuned crystal in his office chair in order to focus positive energies and protect his aura. Good for the aura, maybe, but hell on the hemorrhoids, I should think. Happily, my friend eventually relocated to Texas, where they don’t put up with that shit. You start talking about your aura or sleeping under a crystal pyramid in Texas and you are liable to get your ass kicked real good. Score one for the cowboys, I say.

Notice how cult leaders all seem to have two things in common. First - they are always controlling, charismatic men, and second - sooner or later it becomes a necessary ritual or an article of faith for them to have sex with all the women in the group. This one is a no-brainer. “Okay, everybody – now that we have all sold our possessions and are living together under one roof with me in charge, I have some exciting news! The greater power spoke to me in a dream last night and gave me the divine revelation that I can spread my positive energies amongst all of you, simply by spreading my seed amongst all of the women!” I can only assume they concentrate on the hotties first, where they are sure to spend the most seed and thereby presumably to do the most good. Don’t the other men at that meeting take pause at that moment and think, “Hey! Wait a minute!” I’m just sayin’ – lying there alone on your cot in the darkened common room, listening to your wife moan and cry out whilst “receiving grace” from the Glorious Leader - wouldn’t it set off your bullshit detector? And if not, WHY NOT?

Another example is Channeling. Notice how everyone who channels has lived previously in their former incarnations as Alexander the Great or Cleopatra or King Tut or Charlemagne or some such. Gee, what are the odds? How come nobody ever goes through hypnotic regression and discovers they were Nob, the village idiot and stable boy, a young man of few ideas and fewer teeth whose hobbies included bestiality and making crude sculptures out of horse dung and drying them in the sun? Do people who channel have to avoid each other lest they get into a public argument over which of them was really Napoleon? So I suppose a national convention of channelers would be out of the question. “Cocktails will be served in the Dakota room for all persons channeling American Presidents until five P.M.” Regression through hypnosis, once briefly heralded as an exciting field of research has pretty much been discredited by anyone who requires a single shred of hard evidence in order to endorse a theory. Bridey Murphy wasn’t necessarily a hoax, just a sad example of wishful thinking and leading the witness under hypnosis. Oh, and by the way, we’re sorry Ms. MacLaine, you may be one hell of an actor and song & dance gal, but it turns out you are as nutty as a rat in a coffee can.

OK, so we’ve established that people will believe the craziest crap you can imagine, and then some. Why? Because most people are looking for authority figures to attach themselves to, leaders who have the answers and take the uncertainty out of life. Basically the same need that drives most organized religions (more on that another day). It ain’t easy working without a net. For one thing, you have to think. Asking for real proof is anathema to these con men, and they are con men. Any belief system that cannot stand up to any doubt or scholarly examination and questioning is a con. Period. Question authority, and please, oh please get a tiny shred of evidence to back up outlandish pseudoscientific or paranormal claims before going willy-nilly down the purple path with the next space-alien-contact-koolaid-suicide-transformation-nike-wearing-galactic-traveling cracker that opens a website claiming to be the Gate to Heaven. And tell them Jim sent you. Thank you for your attention.

© Copyright 11/12/2009 by James Clifford Dobbs

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points all around, Jim.
    And I LOLed at "receiving grace" --just sayin.
    However you kinda let Texas off easy there. Where exactly is Waco? Hmmmm....