A dangerous delusion

We live in an age of scientific wonder.  Technology allows us to see into the deep past of the universe and explore the core of the smallest bacteria.  Physicists are teetering on the brink of science only seen in Star Trek: creating anti-matter and accelerating particles to the speed of light.  Medical advances mean some deaf people can now hear and hearts can be fixed, and the next generation will see the end of many common killer diseases.

But sometimes things happen that make me think that the Dark Ages aren’t really that far away.  Our dark psyche is haunted by myths borne out of fancy or misunderstanding.  Most rational people expose them to the harsh sunlight of reason and science, leaving the supernatural to the realm of amusement and titillation.  Some people though, still believe that they live in an unseen flat earth of spirits and gods, and that communication with the dead and divination are reliable practices.

So, what’s the harm in it all?

Take possession and its partner, exorcism.

Just last month thirteen-year-old Tomomi Maishigi was a victim of such beliefs.  Her parents had requested the help of a Buddhist monk in ridding the young girl of an evil spirit which they believed was causing her to suffer physical and mental illness.  Tomomi died from suffocation after hours of ritual torture which involved pouring water over her head whilst she was held down.

Last year, two-year-old Jezaih King was asphyxiated to death by his mother and an accomplice whilst performing an exorcism.  The list of deaths through exorcism is long, and the number of people physically and mentally damaged is difficult to quantify.

Rather than dying out as it should, the demand for exorcism is growing, with the Catholic church reporting an increase in the number of priests trained in exorcism to handle the seeming growth in Satanic episodes.  Even cars and council houses can be exorcised.  In some places, ‘holy’ men prey on the poor and the ignorant, offering exorcism for ailments that are treatable by readily available mainstream (and proven) medicine.  All for a price, of course.

Exorcism has a tragic history, and no shortage of victims.  Deaths and increasing psychoses.  Children are particularly vulerable to parents who are deluded into believing in possession, and children dying from exorcisms or other ‘casting out’ rituals are sadly common.

It seems unbelievable that in the 21st Century people can still be so deluded.

Some of these people who believe in possession and exorcism have newspaper columns.  Take the Shields Gazette’s Mike Hallowell, who recently covered the murky world of possession and exorcism in three articles over three weeks.  To Hallowell, possession isn’t some ‘what if’ speculation or an account of some inexplicable episode, it exists in the realm of reality:

“Of course, the first question that raises its head is whether “possession” is really possible. Believe me, I know that it is.”

His possession articles weren’t harmless space-fillers about people riding the placebo euphoria of acupuncture or the titillation of something going bump in the night, they were peddling a dangerous ignorance, which finished with his final article in the series giving exorcism the stamp of religious approval, coincidentally his own religion of choice.  It paints a picture of a world where people can be ‘possessed’ by demons or spirits, and be ‘cured’ by exorcism.  It seems highly irresponsible that someone could write articles implying that dark age ritual mysticism can be used on people suffering from mental illness, and that a newspaper editor could allow the printing of assertions that could put vulnerable people in harm’s way.

It’s worrying that there may be people with mental illness who will see such articles as confirmation of their delusions, and take themselves, or their children, into an environment of spiralling harm, and away from genuine medical treatment.

People suffering from mental illness, brain disorders, or any ailment should be seen and treated by medical professionals, not by shamans or priests.  But the risk of people with real mental illness avoiding much needed medical attention and following paranormalists down the rabbit hole of delusion is all too real.

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6 responses to “A dangerous delusion”

  1. Mike Hallowell says :

    “Some of these people who believe in possession and exorcism have newspaper columns. Take the Shields Gazette’s Mike Hallowell, who recently covered the murky world of possession and exorcism in three articles over three weeks. To Hallowell, possession isn’t some ‘what if’ speculation or an account of some inexplicable episode, it exists in the realm of reality”.

    I see; and just when did expressing an opinion assertively become objectionable, if that’s what you’re suggesting? And just what makes the study of the possession/exorcism phenomenon “murky”?

    “His possession articles weren’t harmless space-fillers about people riding the placebo euphoria of acupuncture or the titillation of something going bump in the night, they were peddling a dangerous ignorance…”

    Fascinating, Brian; I’ve witnessed numerous incidents of possession and exorcism and researched the subject extensively. My guess is you’ve probably witnessed less, even none, and done little real research into it. I can speak from first-hand experience. Can you? If not, how come you’re the one calling me ignorant?

    “…it paints a picture of a world where people can be ‘possessed’ by demons or spirits, and be ‘cured’ by exorcism”

    .
    First of all, I don’t believe in demon possession. In the first article I actually stated that I wasn’t at all sure that the man who claimed to be possessed really was. In the second article I not only doubted that anyone was possessed by a demon, but cast doubt on the idea that anyone was possessed by anything at all. Further, I even stated that Jesus himself, in my opinion, did not believe that when he carried out exorcisms he was expelling “demons” in the classic Judaeo-Christian sense. I do believe in possession, but not in demon possession and not even in “spirit” possession in any way that the average person in the street would interpret the phrase. How I can be accused of painting a “picture of a world where people can be ‘possessed’ by demons or spirits” when I don’t actually believe in such a thing is beyond me.

    “It seems highly irresponsible that someone could write articles implying that dark age ritual mysticism can be used on people suffering from mental illness…”,

    And you’re right, of course, but I’ve never suggested that this should be done and, several years ago, actually penned a column in which I emphasised this very point. You obviously missed that one. Or chose to ignore it. Further, the “rituals” you refer to were not invented during the Dark Ages. Even further, only in the last article did I state that they had any real effect based on an accurate understanding of the phenomenon.

    “It’s worrying that there may be people with mental illness who will see such articles as confirmation of their delusions, and take themselves, or their children, into an environment of spiralling harm, and away from genuine medical treatment”.

    And it’s equally worrying to many that rationalists like yourself can continue to insist, cruelly, that people must be suffering from mental illness simply because you’re too narrow-minded to consider other possibilities. In my archives I have examples of doctors, specialists and psychiatrists who have actually referred patients to those who apply more spiritual solutions in the belief that they actually have a role to play when medicine fails – or, to be honest, when it isn’t at all appropriate.

    “People suffering from mental illness, brain disorders, or any ailment should be seen and treated by medical professionals, not by shamans or priests”.

    Of course they should! Where did I ever suggest anything different? As I suffer from two incurable brain disorders myself I can speak with some authority on the matter. I am under the supervision of a specialist and take a raft of different medications. I’m not possessed. I’m ill. Like you, then, I know the difference.

    “But the risk of people with real mental illness avoiding much needed medical attention and following paranormalists down the rabbit hole of delusion is all too real”.

    You need to brush up on your understanding of exorcism, possession and those who involve themselves in it. I’ve never heard of anyone utilising “paranormalism” – in or out of rabbit holes – as a method of exorcism. On the other hand, if you’re referring to me as the “paranormalist” and my article as a metaphorical rabbit hole of delusion, then I’d suggest you gain some first-hand experience in the subject before pontificating; the sort of experience that Darren and I engaged in, along with over a year of intense research, for our forthcoming book Contagion in which we examine the historical, theological, spiritual and cultural aspects of the entire possession/exorcism phenomenon. If you have had this sort of experience, then we’d love to hear about it.

    Skeptic:

    “My, my. Exorcisms, you say? Whatever next – witch-burning in the Market Place?”

    First of all, exorcism is the attempt to remove an entity which has allegedly, seemingly or actually taken over a human personality. Witch-burning was an odious attempt to suppress freedom of worship in a society that ostensibly championed it. The two have absolutely nothing to do with each other, thus confirming your brilliance when it comes to joining up dots in the most absurd of ways to make a point. Whatever your point was.

    “Perhaps the Gazette’s editor will run one of his campaigns, you know, to get the council to install ducking stools in the Marine Park. It could become a highlight of the annual Cookson Festival”.

    And this has WHAT to do with the subject of possession and exorcism, exactly? One is an attempt to relieve suffering, the other a callous attempt to inflict it. Making some sort of link between the two is not only mischievous but completely erroneous.

    “But who will be the self-appointed Witchsmeller Pursuivant leading a baying mob of Wraithscape readers along King Street with their pitchforks and flaming torches? (Gazette Exclusive)”

    Loathsome. How you have the nerve to accuse me of anything when you’re prepared to sink to this sort of level in your argumentation leaves even me startled. I run a series of articles on different perspectives regarding exorcism and you somehow link this to someone acting like a reincarnated Matthew Hopkins: And I’ll beforgiven, I think, for believing it’s me you’re picturing playing the lead role in your vile, stinking little vignette. Further, to refer to those who read my column as a “baying mob” demonstrates just how arrogant and bitter you really are.

    “It seems that for some people The Enlightenment is just an ugly rumour that can be ignored”.

    Well enlighten yourself, then, and get some first-hand experience before you start pontificating. How many exorcisms have you witnessed, exactly

    “And by the way, how does Mike Hallowell “know” that “demon possession” is real?

    Well, I’ll be happy – “by the way” – to tell you, but first let me repeat something I mentioned earlier. I don’t believe in demon possession and never have. So, point out where I’ve said I did and we can get another charity-bet on the go, although I’m still waiting for you to stump up for the last one. As soon as I’ve finished this response I’ll add this to my growing list of things you reckon I’ve said when I didn’t. The list will soon be bigger than your ego, which is saying something.

    Go on then, tell me; where did I say I believed in demon-possession? Oh, I can tell you WHY you said it; because, unlike me, you have no knowledge of the precise terminology that should be used – nay, needs to be used – when dealing with this subject. You casually mix up demons with spirits in the way that demonstrates your amateur status when it comes to discussing this sort of issue. It also demonstrates your complete lack of understanding when it comes to how such terminology is currently used by those involved in this arena of activity. Let’s hope you’re better when you’re penning your revered “peer-reviewed papers” – or, for that matter, accusing people of making promises they never made or making statements “for over a decade” they never actually uttered. Ring any bells? Oh, I forgot, we’re still waiting for the proof on those scores, aren’t we?

    Okay, let’s ignore yet another clanger of yours and move on, for although I DO NOT believe in demon possession it’s true that I do believe in possession per se. So how do I know possession is a real phenomenon? Because, unlike you, I’ve witnessed it first-hand. I’ve seen the results of possession as have my colleagues, and have, over several decades, become absolutely convinced of its reality. Now it’s likely that you’ll respond by saying that whatever I witnessed it wasn’t a possession. Well, in that case I’ll simply throw your own question back at you: “And by the way, how does Skeptic “know” that “demon possession” isn’t real?”

    The truth is you can’t know. At least I have the benefit of much research and first-hand experience. I can say, “I’ve seen it”. What can you say?
    “Perhaps Mike can prove it to the extent that demon possession can take its place in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a real phenomenon?”

    Unfortunately, as I don’t believe that real possession is a mental illness (as opposed to the vast majority of cases, which I do believe are symptomatic of mental illness) I have no interest in proving a falsehood to you or anyone else. Further, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether you believe it or not and I have no inclination, either, to “prove” anything to someone like you who, in my opinion, has neither the objectivity nor the intelligence to grasp the point.

    “I won’t be holding my breath while I wait”.

    That’s truly a pity, but as an alternative why not consider previous statements in my columns where I have actively encouraged people to seek medical help as a first resort and consider possession or harassment by “spirits” as a last resort? Did you read, for instance, the one which I had reviewed by two mental health experts before submitting it to the editor for publication? Tell you what, why don’t you do one of your usual party pieces? Why not accuse me of never having written such articles, or having promised to write them but never doing it, or claim I said they contain “startling evidence about something” when I didn’t, etc.? Then I can provide the reference, quote from it chapter and verse and prove yet again how you are seemingly incapable of making an accusation against me that has even a grain of truth in it.

    “Publishing nonsense in the Shields Gazette is easy; try getting peer-reviewed scientific research published – that is a bit more difficult”.
    Well, that’s a stupid argument, as I’m not a scientist so of course I’d find it difficult to have a piece of peer-reviewed scientific research published. Just as you might find it difficult to have anything credible published in any of the respectable magazines, journals and periodicals which accept serious pieces on paranormal research.

    I’ve had a dozen books published, another three which have been accepted and several more in the pipeline. I’ve also had over 1,200 articles, columns and features published in newspapers, magazines (both specialist and populist) and journals. I’ve written theological articles on everything from the linguistic nuances of koine Greek and Aramaic when deciphering aspects of the crucifixion (Biblical Study Monthly) to historical pieces on the evidence for pre-Christian contact between Egypt and South America (Quest). Everything from an entertaining snippet in a red-top newspaper to an in-depth piece of historical research on the use of the plant medicine Borago officinalis by the Roman military during the third century AD (Herb Quarterly) and the cultural impact of unorthodox medical practices from 200 AD onwards (Contemporary Review), in fact.

    So, although I might not be a scientist or have those oh-so-precious qualifications you continually salivate over, don’t take me for an idiot or someone who is incapable of carrying out good, solid research and writing up the same. If you think I’m someone who can do nothing other than pen entertaining ghost stories you’re sadly mistaken. Would you kindly list how many books, articles, etc. you’ve had published so that readers can assess your experience and/or qualifications to criticise my skills as a writer and researcher? And while you’re on, could you explain why, if I and those like me are so deluded, or according to Brian (and no doubt yourself) such a danger to the mentally ill, Darren and I keep getting asked to lecture to the psychology students at a local university year after year? Or why, if unlike your good self we are so unlettered and of no intellectual consequence, we were asked to give the annual Hamilton Lecture at Glasgow University, (hosted by the Scottish Society for Psychical Research this year – loads of peer-reviewing, research-writing academics there – you’d love ‘em, and actually they loved us!)? Weird, innit?

    And finally, just a reminder. Despite my lack of recognised qualifications and your alleged possession of them, YOU are the one who cowers behind a cloak of anonymity. YOU are the one who has consistently ran away from my challenge to a public debate, and YOU are the one who avoided my offer to be interviewed in my column where you could publicly espouse your views in the court of public opinion. Doesn’t it seem a little strange that, for all your (false) allegations, acerbic criticisms, sarcastic nit-picking and lofty flights into the clouds of slavish academic reverence, you don’t have the bottle to identify yourself and face me in public or in the press? The truth is that you’re running scared and know fine well that if you accepted my challenge you’d be buried without trace. Still, should you ever manage to swallow those three shredded wheat or that can of spinach and suddenly develop a backbone, the offer still stands. Like you, I won’t be holding my breath…

    • brianpaget says :

      Mike, I’ll try and respond to your key points.

      ‘when did expressing an opinion assertively become objectionable’

      Where did I say that expressing an opinion assertively was objectionable?

      ‘what makes the study of the possession/exorcism phenomenon “murky”?’

      I never said the study of possession/exorcism was murky.

      ‘how come you’re the one calling me ignorant?’

      I’ve checked my post. I didn’t call you ignorant.

      ‘First of all, I don’t believe in demon possession…’

      I’ll not get bogged down in your personal definitions. Let’s agree that you believe in possession, but also agree that many people have different ideas about what’s doing the possessing. Demons, spirits, extra-terrestrials, what does it matter? However, your first article is titled ‘Casting out the demons within’. If you’re going to use demons as a shorthand for a supernatural entity, then you shouldn’t be too worried when others do the same.

      ‘I’ve never suggested that this should be done..’

      No you haven’t, but let’s revisit this nugget of wisdom:

      ‘having witnessed the behaviour of possessed people I can vouch for the fact that some, at least, are not mentally ill at all, but truly under the control of something exterior to their own personalities.’

      I wasn’t aware you were qualified to give psychiatric diagnoses. You’re also acknowledging that there are some people with mental illness who believe that they are possessed and seek exorcism, but you fail to provide readers with any context. There’s no caveat that people with mental illness should stay away and instead seek professional help. I can’t think of any way to describe this approach without using the word ‘irresponsible’.

      ‘You obviously missed that one. Or chose to ignore it.’

      It sounds interesting. Could you provide a link?

      Your comment:

      ‘it’s equally worrying to many that rationalists like yourself can continue to insist, cruelly, that people must be suffering from mental illness simply because you’re too narrow-minded to consider other possibilities.’

      …I must admit I find pretty disgusting. People with mental illness or brain disorders have enough problems with being stigmatised by society without you adding to it.

      I’ve researched the subject and I know that there have been circumstances where exorcism has been used as a placebo, but this has been in partnership with and under the supervision of medical professionals. You will no doubt have read last week’s coverage in The Times and followed the ensuing debate. Those being treated already believed that they were possessed, due to their religious or cultural background. There’s no published material on the success or otherwise of these interventions, and there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that possession by a supernatural entity is real.

      However, this is all a sideshow; it wasn’t really about you. My key argument is that exorcism is a dangerous and deadly world with a long list of victims. Your response didn’t really engage with this. Only last week two parents went on trial in Russia after killing their 26-year-old daughter in an attempt to exorcise her. I want this to stop. This makes me ‘narrow minded’?

  2. Mike says :

    “when did expressing an opinion assertively become objectionable?”

    You made the following statement: “To Hallowell, possession isn’t some ‘what if’ speculation or an account of some inexplicable episode, it exists in the realm of reality”. My response was, “I see; and just when did expressing an opinion assertively become objectionable, if that’s what you’re suggesting?”

    I was asking you if that’s how you felt, notice my question at the end.

    “I never said the study of possession/exorcism was murky”.

    Well, you spoke of, “the murky world of possession and exorcism”, so I assumed that’s what you meant, but your point is taken; the mere study of murkiness in any shape or form may not be murky in itself. Apologies for jumping the gun and reading something into your words that wasn’t actually there.

    “I’ve checked my post. I didn’t call you ignorant”.

    Well, I’ve checked your post and you did. You accused me of, “peddling a dangerous ignorance…”, so if I really believe what I’m writing – which I do – then I surely must be ignorant too in your eyes? How can one “peddle ignorance” and not be ignorant oneself? You did accuse me of being ignorant, albeit it slightly indirectly, and actually used the word.

    ‘First of all, I don’t believe in demon possession…’

    “I’ll not get bogged down in your personal definitions. Let’s agree that you believe in possession, but also agree that many people have different ideas about what’s doing the possessing. Demons, spirits, extra-terrestrials, what does it matter?”

    It matters a great deal! First of all from the perspective of the exorcist. How can one carry out an exorcism if one doesn’t have a clue about exactly what one is attempting to exorcise? Secondly, I regularly get hauled over the coals by cyber-warriors over complete trivia, so I’m simply responding in kind. Skeptic keeps coming out with all sorts of ridiculous nit-picky stuff as we know, so if people don’t like me pointing out errors regarding terminology then they maybe need to loosen up a little when debating with me. What’s good for the goose, etc.,.and thirdly, its important to me because I’m careful with my terminology and don’t want to be saddled with a reputation for believing in demonic possession when I don’t.

    “However, your first article is titled ‘Casting out the demons within’. If you’re going to use demons as a shorthand for a supernatural entity, then you shouldn’t be too worried when others do the same”.

    But I don’t. Alas, unlike you I don’t have the privilege of creating my own headlines. That’s done by the sub-editors, and sometimes, when using terminology loosely as mentioned, the header may not be perfectly in keeping with the contents. In short, I don’t write the headers; its down to whoever is subbing my column that week. I’m responsible for the contents of my column, but not for the header above it.

    ‘I’ve never suggested that this should be done..’

    “No you haven’t…”

    So why did you say it, then?

    “I wasn’t aware you were qualified to give psychiatric diagnoses… but let’s revisit this nugget of wisdom: ‘having witnessed the behaviour of possessed people I can vouch for the fact that some, at least, are not mentally ill at all, but truly under the control of something exterior to their own personalities’.”

    And I wasn’t aware YOU were qualified to give psychiatric diagnoses, either, so let’s visit one of you own nuggets of wisdom: “It seems highly irresponsible that someone could write articles implying that dark age ritual mysticism can be used on people suffering from mental illness…”,

    Okay, so you are able to determine – nay, blithely assume – that people are suffering from mental illness without even having met them. Somehow you “know” that they are mentally ill and not actually possessed. You are doing EXACTLY the same thing as me – supposedly giving “psychiatric diagnoses” – but with one, crucial difference: I actually see these people with my own eyes so I can speak from experience.

    The difference is that possessed people are able to do things that a person who is simply mentally ill is incapable of doing. Several colleagues and I saw a possessed woman hurl a relative of hers – a really big bloke – across a room like a rag doll. I’d challenge anyone to have witnessed that and believe that the possessed person was simply mentally ill. On another occasion, a colleague and I had a conversation in the car on the way to the house in question. When we arrived and went inside the possessed person repeated verbatim every word of the conversation we’d had in the car. Here are just two symptoms which I believe take cases like that out of the realm of mental illness.

    “You’re also acknowledging that there are some people with mental illness who believe that they are possessed and seek exorcism, but you fail to provide readers with any context”.

    What sort of context do you want me to provide in a 600w column? I have penned articles on the subject before in which I’ve categorically stated that seeking medical help should be the first option and that other forms of help should take a back seat until medical issues have been ruled out. I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist, but it seems to me that you’re just as “guilty” in the same way. YOU provide no caveat that people who are possessed may need other forms of assistance than medical help. At least I accept the existence of mental illness and the fact that it is responsible for the overwhelming majority of alleged possession cases. You don’t seem to give the concept of possession any credibility at all.

    “There’s no caveat that people with mental illness should stay away…”

    Stay away from what, for goodness’ sake? Their local spiritualist church? Muslim exorcist? Paranormal research lecture?

    “and instead seek professional help….”

    By which I presume you mean medical help, which you seem to presume they’re suffering from without even having met them. There you go diagnosing again…

    ‘You obviously missed that one. Or chose to ignore it.’

    It sounds interesting. Could you provide a link?

    I’ll do better than that; as I still have the rights to all my columns as soon as they’re published I’ll simply reproduce the contents of it below right now. For the record, it was published in the Gazette on August 4, 2006:

    “I often receive correspondence from people who are genuinely convinced that their homes are haunted.

    “It’s not possible to answer all such queries personally, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to give some practical advice to readers who may be really frightened by one strange phenomenon in particular occurring around them and they just don’t know where to turn.

    “One of the most common queries I receive concerns disembodied voices. Hearing voices when no one is around is far more common than you might think, and the truth is that there are far more likely explanations than hauntings.

    “There are a number of illnesses that can cause this symptom – some psychological, some physical – and in most cases they can be treated successfully.

    “People who’ve read my column over the years know well that I don’t rule out a paranormal cause for disembodied voices, but the first thing to do is pay a visit to your GP who can assess whether you need some medical assistance.

    “There should be no stigma attached to this. You’d be amazed at the number of famous actors, writers and politicians who’ve endured the same, troubling symptoms.

    “It can be extremely difficult for victims of such phenomena, and their partners, to come to terms with the fact that a medical condition really is the most likely cause.

    “Often, those who hear disembodied voices will report other strange phenomena occurring around them, such as seeing apparitions of people or objects in their home. Others report a constant feeling that “something is going to happen” although they can’t say exactly what.

    “I once spoke to a famous footballer from abroad who had a highly successful career and was capped many times for his country. He was desperate for help because he kept hearing voices in his head that were giving him “messages”.

    “I urged him to seek medical help. Doctors discovered a previously-undiagnosed condition that was causing the problem. It was treated successfully and he is still enjoying a successful career as a manager.

    “If someone close to you says they are hearing voices in their head do not scold or belittle them. They are not “imagining” things. The voices are very real to them. What they need is love, encouragement and support to get them through the problem whilst they are seeking medical assistance.

    “The good news is that there are now treatments available that can often make these frightening symptoms disappear very quickly, and there are other therapies that can, in the long term, prevent them from reoccurring.

    “Believe it or not, a common cause of hearing disembodied voices is a lack of sleep. Some sufferers, terrified they are developing serious mental illness, feel a great sense of relief when told that the cause is so simple and can be successfully treated.

    “Confidential help and advice is readily available from your GP.

    “Are all cases of disembodied voices caused by illness? Personally I don’t think so, but in my experience the greater proportion are. If you’re troubled in this way, don’t worry – you are not alone”.

    I think my stance was pretty responsible, but you’ll have to make your own mind up.

    ’”…I must admit I find pretty disgusting. People with mental illness or brain disorders have enough problems with being stigmatised by society without you adding to it”.

    Mental illness still carries much stigma, unfortunately. It shouldn’t but it does. Facts are facts. So, when you suggest that a person isn’t possessed but is simply mentally ill sadly you’re stigmatising them yourself.

    “I’ve researched the subject and I know that there have been circumstances where exorcism has been used as a placebo, but this has been in partnership with and under the supervision of medical professionals. You will no doubt have read last week’s coverage in The Times and followed the ensuing debate. Those being treated already believed that they were possessed, due to their religious or cultural background. There’s no published material on the success or otherwise of these interventions, and there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that possession by a supernatural entity is real”.

    Well, it depends on what you’re prepared to class as “evidence”. You’ll probably go for academic papers penned by those who usually have an inherent bias against the reality of possession anyway. I’d plump for books on the subject where possessions are described in great detail, and which, if they’re read with an open mind, should, I think, convince any reasonable person that possession really does occur.

    “My key argument is that exorcism is a dangerous and deadly world with a long list of victims”.

    And I’d largely agree. But I refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, for a) possession is a real phenomenon and b) there are some exorcists who do know what they’re doing, do it well – and safely.
    “Only last week two parents went on trial in Russia after killing their 26-year-old daughter in an attempt to exorcise her. I want this to stop”.
    Good for you. I want this sort of malarkey to stop as well. However, I do believe that some possessions are real and that some types of exorcism are beneficial.

    “This makes me ‘narrow minded’?”

    No, of course it doesn’t. What makes you narrow-minded is your refusal to accept that possession is a real phenomenon when you haven’t actually witnessed any cases of it first hand; a circumstance which, I would venture, should make you refrain from making dogmatic judgements on the issue.
    Finally, I’d like to return to the point about stigmatising people.

    Your pal Skeptic seems to have no scruples in this regard. Not only has Skeptic stigmatised my colleagues and I, and paranormal researchers in general, but if you look above he caricatures followers of my column as, “a baying mob of Wraithscape readers” led by a, “self-appointed Witchsmeller Pursuivant [me, I presume]…along King Street with their pitchforks and flaming torches”.

    I don’t recall you taking Skeptic to task for encouraging THAT sort of vile stigma; is that because he’s a sceptic like yourself, and you’re reluctant to use the same criticisms against a colleague in arms as you are against me? Just wondered…

    • brianpaget says :

      ‘You did accuse me of being ignorant, albeit it slightly indirectly, and actually used the word.’

      I find your interpretation of the noun ‘ignorance’ as the adjective ‘ignorant’ rather perplexing.

      ‘It matters a great deal!’

      In the context of my original post it really doesn’t. Instead of reading ‘demon’, interpret it as ‘unknown supernatural entity’ or something equally generic if it helps.

      ‘And I wasn’t aware YOU were qualified to give psychiatric diagnoses, either’

      Which is precisely why I haven’t. I’ve made no claim of fact about people who think they are possessed. You have. The theme of my post is my opinion is that such people should be seen by (medical) professionals.

      ‘The difference is that possessed people are able to do things that a person who is simply mentally ill is incapable of doing.’

      I’ve seen people do remarkable things under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Ask any police officer who has a couple of years experience if you don’t believe me.

      ‘What sort of context do you want me to provide in a 600w column?’

      You’ve had three columns. Although you have made comment in the past (thanks for the copy of your 2006 article) you can’t expect readers to know your position on the strength of your three recent possession/exorcism articles.

      ‘So, when you suggest that a person isn’t possessed but is simply mentally ill sadly you’re stigmatising them yourself.’

      Are you for real? People – including children – are dying because they are being classified as possessed. Remember Glenn Hoddle:

      “You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.”

      Do you think I’m stigmatising the disabled for not considering karma as an explanation for disability and thinking that Hoddle was an utter cock?

      Your attitude sickens me.

      ‘I want this sort of malarkey to stop as well.’

      You class parents killing their children as ‘malarkey’? Seriously?

      ‘What makes you narrow-minded is your refusal to accept that possession is a real phenomenon when you haven’t actually witnessed any cases of it first hand…’

      I accept that there is a phenomenon, but also accept that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that it is paranormal in nature. Occam’s Razor is not my favourite rule of thumb but it tells us that more mundane explanations based upon our current knowledge are more likely. Is applying logic with available objective evidence narrow-minded?

      ‘I don’t recall you taking Skeptic to task for encouraging THAT sort of vile stigma’

      I think you’re more than capable of defending yourself over what was a grotesque pantomime critique; a caricature as you put it. I suspect there’s a bit of background between you and Skeptic and I’m not sure I’m qualified to step in between you. However, if you think there’s anything particularly slanderous in his comments then let me know. Frankly though, I think his piss-taking is a lot milder than what you’re selling.

  3. Mike says :

    “I find your interpretation of the noun ‘ignorance’ as the adjective ‘ignorant’ rather perplexing”.

    I’m not making an interpretation; merely a logical link between the two. I still fail to see how someone can peddle ignorance without being ignorant.

    “Instead of reading ‘demon’, interpret it as ‘unknown supernatural entity’ or something equally generic if it helps”.

    But that’s the problem, Brian; one is a generic term, the other a very specific description of one particular type of entity. If you’re going to pull me up over the difference between “ignorance” and “ignorant”, then I think I should be forgiven for pointing out important differences in terminology relating to demons, spirits and “unknown supernatural entities” – which, I must confess, is quite a good term and I’d be more than happy to use it if you’re happy to let me do so 

    ‘And I wasn’t aware YOU were qualified to give psychiatric diagnoses, either’.

    “Which is precisely why I haven’t. I’ve made no claim of fact about people who think they are possessed”.

    Anyone who reads your post will quite naturally assume that you think anyone who believes they’re possessed is really suffering from mental illness. Either you believe that people can be possessed by invisible entities or you don’t. If you don’t, then you must believe they’re suffering from a mental illness – which has implicit in it a diagnosis.

    “The theme of my post is my opinion is that such people should be seen by (medical) professionals”.

    As was the theme of my Gazette column of several years ago, as posted above.

    “I’ve seen people do remarkable things under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Ask any police officer who has a couple of years experience if you don’t believe me”.

    I don’t have to. I spent several years in the Special Constabulary and dealt with more drink and/or drug afflicted people than I care to remember, so I know you’re right on that score. However, the things I’ve seen in cases of possession are radically different. For example, in one case several colleagues and I heard the possessed person speak with a voice that was clearly not theirs and which we would challenge anyone to imitate so successfully.

    Now some would argue that this is a subjective interpretation predicated on our own understanding of what the human larynx is capable (or incapable) of doing. However, at the same time we saw something roughly the size of a tennis ball writhing under the person’s skin. Whatever it was quickly moved up to the region of their throat, at which point they opened their mouth, exhaled violently and the object under the skin promptly disappeared. Members of the victim’s family were also present and witnessed this. This is something that I’ve never seen in the case of a drug or alcohol-affected person, and I have no “rational” explanation for it. If you or any reader has one I’d like to hear it. The problem is that most skeptics, unless they can come up with such an answer, will simply denounce us as liars. After all, if what we say we saw couldn’t have happened, we must be lying, huh? It’s far easier to vilify someone, denigrate their character and ruin their good name than admit there might be stuff going on in our world beyond our ken, right?

    “You’ve had three columns. Although you have made comment in the past (thanks for the copy of your 2006 article) you can’t expect readers to know your position on the strength of your three recent possession/exorcism articles”.

    That’s true, but you need to remember the restrictions placed upon me in terms of column inches. Its impractical to expect me to keep inserting “WraithScape Health Warnings” every time I discuss such issues in my column, and I don’t think I said anything in any of the three articles which would urge a mentally ill person not to seek treatment, or at least seek medical advice to have their condition properly assessed.

    So, when you suggest that a person isn’t possessed but is simply mentally ill, sadly you’re stigmatising them yourself.’

    Are you for real?”

    Assuredly.

    “People – including children – are dying because they are being classified as possessed”.

    True, but this has no bearing on the reality or otherwise of the possession phenomenon. It actually speaks to the crucial importance of the victims of both mental illness and possession being correctly diagnosed. Being told that one is suffering from mental illness when one isn’t must also be a deeply upsetting experience. It seems to me that you’re condemning one potentially wrong diagnosis whilst making excuses for another.

    “Remember Glenn Hoddle”

    I’d rather not, but if you insist…

    ““You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.””

    “Do you think I’m stigmatising the disabled for not considering karma as an explanation for disability…?”

    I don’t think you’ve thought this analogy out well at all. In cases of true possession and mental illness the symptoms may look superficially the same to some, but are in reality different. Therefore, the very nature of the condition of the patient/victim is still open to question – not just the cause. When it comes to people with disabilities, there is no doubt about the nature of their condition and its physical and/or mental effects, so any attempt to interpret disability as the result of karma or anything else must be purely subjective.

    And there’s another flaw. Glen Hoddle and others like him imply that people with disabilities are (or were in a past life) in some way responsible for their current condition. I have never made this claim about those who are possessed or, as you now know full well, those who are mentally ill.

    In the case of Glen Hoddle and people with disabilities, there was the assertion that an innocent person may be guilty of precipitating their own disability. In the case of those who are possessed or mentally ill I have never, ever asserted that either is responsible. Both are innocent victims. Therefore, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to associate me with a comment made by a man whose spiritual ideals are radically different to my own, whose perception of the cause of disability I find extremely unpalatable and whose theology isn’t even remotely similar to mine. I have never had any sympathy with Glen Hoddle or his comments and do not now. As long as we’re clear on that.

    “…and thinking that Hoddle was an utter cock?”

    See above and make your own mind up what I think about Glen Hoddle and his comments. It shouldn’t be too hard.

    “Your attitude sickens me”.

    Why? My argument boils down to this: I believe in the possibility that invisible entities can possess people. I also believe that in the majority of such presumed cases mental illness may be the real problem. I believe that people should seek medical help as a first resort, and have published my opinions in that regard for all to see. I believe that in cases of mental illness medical intervention is required. I believe that in cases of true possession, where there is no mental illness, remedies other than medical ones may be required because the problem isn’t a medical one. In no cases am I stating that the mentally ill or the possessed are responsible for their situation.

    Now, I can understand you disagreeing with me on some of the above, but what exactly is it that “sickens” you? Have I suggested that mentally ill people should refrain from seeking medical assistance? No; I’ve positively encouraged it. Further, even when genuine possession is suspected I’ve encouraged medical consultation so that mental illness can be truly ruled out. “Sickens”? Why?

    ‘I want this sort of malarkey to stop as well.’

    “You class parents killing their children as ‘malarkey’? Seriously?”
    Parents killing their children would better be designated as murder, homicide or manslaughter, but you misunderstand me. It’s not the killing of children that I referred to as “malarkey”, but the dangerous twaddle that leads up to it.

    Some dictionary definitions of “malarkey”: bull, balderdash, ludicrous, absurd, nonsense, rubbish, intended to deceive, designed to obscure, mislead; lies and exaggerations, insincere, meaningless, deliberately misleading talk; nonsense, bilge, bull claptrap, crock, drivel, folly, foolishness, garbage, hokum, hoodoo, rot, rubbish, senselessness, silliness, stupidity, trash, twaddle…

    Now I accept that the term “malarkey” is sometimes used to refer to inconsequential chatter or behaviour, otherwise known as ”messing around” or engaging in “fun and games”, but I’ have thought that the context in which I used it would have made it blindingly obvious that I was not trying to devalue the seriousness of children who die at the hands of parents who are at best badly misguided and at worst criminally negligent to an unconscionable degree. Most if not all of the above definitions describe quite accurately, I think, the absurd activities of parents which, sadly, can lead to the death of innocent children and I stand by them. My feelings on this sort of activity are exactly the same as your own. As long as that’s clear as well, then.

    “I accept that there is a phenomenon, but also accept that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that it is paranormal in nature”.

    And that’s fine. I disagree with you, but you’re entitled to your opinion.

    “Occam’s Razor is not my favourite rule of thumb but it tells us that more mundane explanations based upon our current knowledge are more likely”.

    And I agree, but “more likely” isn’t exactly a rule of thumb itself, is it? “More likely” hardly excludes other explanations, does it?

    “Is applying logic with available objective evidence narrow-minded?”

    No, of course it isn’t, Brian, but the problem is that to apply logic to any given situation you have to know exactly what you’re applying it to, and you also have to be aware of as many facts as possible. Now, if you’re going to apply logic to the subject of possession, the only way one can truly have enough facts at one’s disposal is to witness at least one or two possession first-hand. As the old saying goes, “Hearing the news is not the same as seeing the news”. I’ve witnessed a good number of cases of alleged possession, and tried to be as objective as possible when assessing the evidence of my own eyes. In many cases – the vast majority, in fact – I’ve came away convinced that the person at the epicentre of the event was suffering from either severe stress or some form of mental disorder. In every case such as this I’ve tactfully but firmly encouraged the person to seek medical help. However, there have been times when I and my colleagues have witnessed things which, try as we might – and we do try, believe me – we simply cannot find a rational explanation for. When we’ve assessed all of the facts at our disposal we’ve been left with no other option but to conclude that we had witnessed something truly preternatural.

    Our choice, then, was to either be candid about both what we’d witnessed and our conclusions, or lie about what we’d seen. We’ve always taken the former route, despite the fact that our honesty has brought us no end of criticism and attack. Unless you’ve witnessed such events first-hand, you simply aren’t in a position to make pronouncements on them with anything like the conviction and authority that someone who has witnessed them can.

    I think what frustrates my colleagues and I is the way that sceptics can be so aggressively dogmatic in their attacks upon our understanding of paranormal phenomena when they have rarely if ever witnessed them first-hand. And why? Because, instead of opening themselves up to the possibility that there may be things at work in our universe currently beyond our understanding, and which do not sit comfortably with our current level of scientific knowledge, they take the opposite route and argue that because they haven’t a) seen such phenomena themselves and/or b) been able to square them with orthodox scientific thinking, then they simply can’t exist. When a dispassionate neutrality would seem to be the logical stance, they instead opt for open warfare upon those who see things differently. I can’t find it within myself to get angry with people just because they’re sceptical, but what does annoy me is the attitude that many sceptics take towards we “paranormalists” as you call us. It seems that it’s not sufficient to simply, ”agree to disagree”. You don’t believe in the paranormal? Fine. But why be so aggressive towards those who do? I’d much rather engage in constructive dialogue with a sceptic than a cage-fight, but most of the sceptics I know don’t have the least interest in dialogue with us because, to be blunt about it, they think we’re all either confidence tricksters, uneducated idiots, religious zealots or just plain weirdos. No change there, then…

    “I think you’re more than capable of defending yourself over what was a grotesque pantomime critique; a caricature as you put it”.

    True, but it’s hard to defend yourself adequately against an opponent who is reluctant to step out of the shadows and be counted. I want Skeptic to be publicly identified so that people can either voice their support for him or, should they wish, take my anonymous detractor to task. People can do that with me – not that I have to tell you that – because I don’t hide behind my keyboard. I think it’s morally wrong – craven cowardice, actually – for a person to pen what you rightly describe as “a grotesque pantomime critique” and thereby grossly insult people without giving them the right to know who is scribbling such rubbish and who they are actually responding to.

    “I suspect there’s a bit of background between you and Skeptic….”

    There is, and it all started – at least as far as I’m aware – when you both posted some rather acerbic comments about Darren and I’s book The South Shields Poltergeist. Since then, Skeptic has continually sniped at me on numerous message boards both here and abroad.

    There are only three things I want Skeptic to do:

    Firstly, I want him to stop posting inaccurate statements about me, which he has done, and then refrain from apologising when I call him on them. You may recall that his excuse – he said I’d merely scored a “hollow victory” – was that he wasn’t penning an academic paper at the time! You couldn’t make it up. I’ve repeatedly challenged him to post proof of his assertions but he never does.

    Secondly, I want Skeptic to be publicly identified. This hit-and-run merchant can pen all sorts of mischievous nonsense about me, but never gets called to account publicly because he chooses to remain anonymous. Skeptic can post utter tripe about, but never has to look anyone in the eye and explain why because our kryptonite-powered cyber-warrior has the right (legally, not morally), to hide away in the corner. I want to meet Skeptic face-to-face. Considering the things he’s written about me I think I’ve earned that right. I’ve offered to engage him in a public debate and give the proceeds to a charity. The response? A deafening silence. I’ve offered to interview Skeptic in my column so that he can explain to people why a supposedly academic person seems to be so obsessed with criticising me – another deafening silence. I’ve challenged Skeptic to do the decent thing and step out from behind that keyboard, thus enabling my “baying mob” of readers to see just who it is who apparently holds them in such contempt. Yet another deafening silence.

    Thirdly, I don’t want Skeptic to stop posting his criticisms – only that he does so in a respectful, thoughtful manner. Should he choose to do this, and introduce a little dignity into the proceedings, I’ll be more than happy to provide respectful, thoughtful, dignified responses. It’s up to him.

    “…and I’m not sure I’m qualified to step in between you”.

    It’s not a case of stepping in between us – I don’t think that’s necessary – but he could learn a lesson from history. I recall the time when you posted anonymously. Then someone called you on it. You thought about what they’d said and decided they were right. You had a choice. You could have remained in the shadows – the easy option – but you didn’t. You decided that you had to be consistent and publicly identified yourself. Skeptic should take a leaf out of your book. The only thing I could suggest is not that you referee, but that you at least encourage my opponent to step into the ring before they starts throwing punches. In fact, even getting them to enter the arena at all would be a start.

    “Frankly though, I think his piss-taking is a lot milder than what you’re selling…”

    Easy enough to say when you’re not on the receiving end of such a regular stream of inane drivel.

    “However, if you think there’s anything particularly slanderous in his comments then let me know”.

    I’m not sure they’re slanderous exactly – just inaccurate, and damaging in the sense that his accusations suggest that my professional standards are lower than they are and that I don’t keep my promises. That’s bloody annoying. I want people to know that Skeptic seems not only incapable of putting a cogent argument forward regarding my work, but also that he’s apparently too much of a coward to identify himself.

    There are people out there who know who Skeptic is – I’m pretty sure that I know who Skeptic is, actually – but they may not know of what seems to be his consuming passion for baiting me on a regular basis. Mind you, if they read last night’s Gazette then they’ll surely know now…

  4. Mike says :

    Skeptic:

    “Mike – you’re taking this too personally. I don’t bear you any personal animosity, I bear no ill will towards you…”

    You say this, but then write nasty little vignettes like the one about my “baying mob” of readers and I, so YOU are the one who has made our exchanges personal. In addition, there are other reasons why you’ve forced me to take what you say personally and I’m in no doubt that was the way it was meant.

    For example, at the very beginning of this debate in 2008 you started by making derogatory comments about Darren W. Ritson and I – the colour of our clothes, the pose we were asked to take by the photographer, etc. etc. These remarks WERE personal and had nothing to do with our book or the veracity of its contents. So, don’t suddenly throw your hands up in mock horror and feign innocence.

    “…and I sympathise with your medical problems. If I were able to do it, I would cure those medical problems for you for purely altruistic reasons. Unfortunately, like medical science – and the so-called complementary and alternative medicine (sCAM) you regularly promote – I am powerless in that regard”.

    You’re a real piece of work Skeptic, do you know that? You can’t even offer sympathy to someone with a brace of incurable brain disorders without taking a cheap shot at them about their support for some complimentary medicines. Such a comment is beneath contempt, but coming from you I’m not surprised.

    “What it comes down to is simply this: you make claims (extraordinary claims by any standard) and do not back them up with tangible evidence”.

    No Skeptic; what it REALLY comes down to is this: You KEEP MAKING the above claim about me but YOU are the one who never backs YOUR statement with any proof. I’ve challenged you repeatedly to produce your so-called “evidence” and you’ve signally failed to do so. Now I accept that in a short column I may not be able to provide detailed proof to research standard regarding every single statement I make; that idea is simply preposterous. This has nothing to do with you demanding proof about things being true, because I’m not really interested in whether you believe anything I read or not, and, as I said in my last post, have little inclination to waste time trying to convince you as I have serious doubts about your ability to carry out a cogent debate. This has to do with you making INACCURATE claims about me and then reposting them when I’ve clearly demonstrated them to be false.

    “People (like me) who have actually paid money to read your stuff are left with little to show for it”.

    Its a hard life. I agree that “people like me” – that is, you – will be left with little at the end of reading my books because you approach the contents with a completely negative mind-set. The best idea is to stop reading my books if doing so is hitting you in the pocket.

    “It’s just not good enough to claim (as you have, on various blogs) that you have the evidence but you are not going to reveal it “for copyright reasons””.

    Look, you’ve made this argument before and each time I’ve shot you down in flames because of it. First of all, please refer me to the blogs you are talking about – specific links – so that I can a) check that you’re telling the truth and b) respond accordingly. There are a mere handful of cases where other people hold the copyright to photographs, footage or audio recordings and which I cannot reproduce without permission. You say “its just not good enough”, but what would you have us do – break the law and publish the material anyway? In any case, the material in question is not vital to the credibility of any case I’ve investigated, few of which depend on evidence for a singular incident. Also, I can only recall ONE blog where I’ve mentioned this: So, please provide references to the others you claim to have read and I’ll respond to them if they really exist. If you don’t, I will continue to supply you with my little reminders to produce evidence, all of which I have copies of, including your original statements, AND NOT ONE OF WHICH YOU HAVE RESPONDED TO.

    “…or that you have shown it to “people you trust” but no-one else is going to see it”.

    Okay, let’s give the lie to this one – again. First of all, the “people we trust” are not anonymous. They have been named by us and include, but are not limited to, the Society for Psychical Research. Bear in mind that it was barrister Alan Murdie who, on their behalf, examined all of our evidence and wrote up his findings in the society’s journal. The result? A conclusion that the case is genuine.

    Secondly, we have never stated that “no one else is going to see it”. We can show the evidence we’ve accumulated to others, and indeed have. So you’re assertion that we’ve decided “no one else is going to see it” is a complete falsehood. Yes, we’ve only shown the evidence “to those we trust”, but “trust” to do what? Analyse it competently, that’s what. And if you think we’re under some sort of moral obligation to pass our material over for scrutiny to any bunch of numptys who think they have a right to see it then you’re sadly mistaken.

    “If you want rational people to believe you…”

    The first words of this sentence are based upon a false assumption. I don’t care whether people believe me or not. If people choose to read my books and are convinced about my message then I’m obviously happy, but if they aren’t it doesn’t trouble me. You see, I’m not an insecure person. I’ll respond when challenged – particularly when I’m challenged by inaccurate and misleading rubbish such as yours – but I don’t feel the need to go trawling the Internet looking for evolutionists or skeptics to fight with. I don’t in the least care if people believe me or not. So, let’s see what the next part of your argument has to say for itself…

    “then you should show your evidence (scientists do it, because they want everyone to know that they have discovered something new, or have maybe confirmed a hypothesis that might advance to the highest possible scientific status – a theory)”
    .
    We’ll show our evidence to whom we trust to review it competently, not to whom you think we should show it to.

    I said, “You just said, “Well, in that case I’ll simply throw your own question back at you: “And by the way, how does Skeptic “know” that “demon possession” isn’t real?”

    Your response: “That is just a cop-out. In logic, it is called “the argument to ignorance” (argumentum ad ignorantiam).

    You’re wrong. In fact, its you who are employing an argumentum ad ignorantiam, for you deny the reality of possession although you have no evidence to the contrary. I’ve based my belief in the phenomenon on years of research and personal observation. The fact is that you deny the existence of something without having researched the matter or investigated it personally.

    “It is an irrelevant argument, and is used usually by those who make a claim but have nothing to back it up”.

    Look, I can back up my stance with dozens of recorded instances and the eye-witness testimony of others as well as my own. But you?

    “If you make a claim, then the onus is upon you to prove the claim”.

    No its not. I don’t have any onus upon me to prove anything to anyone. I research a case, collate enough evidence to satisfy me – or not – and then, if its interesting enough, write it up for others to read about. Having said that, the onus then comes back to rest upon YOUR shoulders to prove I’m wrong a) if you feel the need to, and b) if you have the proof. To date, you haven’t produced a single shred of evidence that ANYTHING I and/or my colleagues have written about doesn’t stand up.

    “If you claim you have fairies at the bottom of your garden, it is not up to me or anyone else to prove your claim is false”.

    That’s true, but I suspect you’d have on helluva go at trying.

    “But if you want to stick with a claim that has nothing to support it…”

    Hang on; how would you KNOW that a claim has nothing to support it if you’ve never examined the evidence or researched it yourself?

    “whilst believing it is others who have the responsibility to disprove it…”

    I’ve never argued that anyone has an automatic “responsibility” to disprove anything I’ve written in regards to my research. However, if people make inaccurate statements about me or my research – claim that I made statements I never made, state that I did things I never did – then they DO have a responsibility to support them or withdraw their allegations. When such false allegations are repeated, despite having been proved false, then they are no longer inaccurate statements but downright lies. Months ago you promised to withdraw a statement of yours should it prove to be false. I proved to you that your statement was filled with inaccuracies, but did you withdraw your comment? No; you simply said that I’d scored a “hollow victory” as you weren’t writing a research paper at the time! And you have the nerve to accuse ME of using a “cop-out”!

    “The same applies to this exorcism nonsense…”

    Great, just the sort of unbiased, open-minded academic approach I’d expect from an intellectual genius such as yourself.

    “…except there is a lot more at stake. Even now, in the twenty first century, people are being killed because of such beliefs”.

    “Being killed” is hardly a passive description and could be read to suggest that exorcists are deliberately killing people. Think what we may of exorcism and how it is carried out, I’ve never met an exorcist who set out to kill a victim, even if through their stupidity they ended up dead anyway.

    “Well, I’d say that people are dying because of those dangerous practices”.
    And I’d agree. SOME people have died because of SOME dangerous exorcism rituals. However, you simply can’t label ALL exorcism rituals as dangerous because there are so many different kinds based upon a multitude of different spiritual and cultural antecedents.

    “In Africa, for instance, people are being burned alive because of the same dark-age, pre-scientific thinking that you, yourself, espouse”.

    First of all, you describe my thinking as “pre-scientific”. My response is to ask you a number of questions.

    How many exorcisms that I have been personally present at have you also personally attended? If the answer is “none”, then you have no way of knowing whether the procedures carried out had any scientific basis or not. If your answer is “one” or more, then kindly detail which exorcism we mutually attended and specifically which aspects of those procedures were “pre-scientific” and why.

    Just what aspect of my thinking do you regard as “pre-scientific” and why?

    “I have video of people being thrown onto a bonfire because they are deemed to be possessed…”

    Its difficult to believe that you are still confusing exorcism with this sort of activity despite the fact that in a) a previous post in this blog and b) my Gazette article I pointed out the obvious differences. An exorcism is an attempt to relieve a victim of possession by an invisible entity. Throwing someone onto a fire because they are believed to be possessed – a truly revolting practice – has nothing to do with exorcism. Author and zoologist Richard Freeman and I are currently working on a book concerning a specific kind of possession recognised by North American Indians. Some tribes believe that there is no solution to this kind of possession and that the possessed person will always be a danger to the rest of their community and will probably attempt – and possibly succeed at – murder. In rare cases the possessed person will be killed – not by burning, may I add – in the belief that doing so is the only way to protect innocent people from them. However, the practice of killing possessed people has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the practice of exorcism. The latter I do espouse – when it is carried out safely and properly, and when it is demanded – but the former I completely reject. Therefore, to suggest that I espouse any sort of thinking that could end up with people being burnt alive is an obnoxious slur.

    “(whether or not you want to split hairs about whether it is “demon” possession or any other kind of possession)”.

    This isn’t splitting hairs, any more than it is”splitting hairs” for the owner of a Rolls Royce to point out to a garage mechanic that he doesn’t want his car’s engine replaced with one designed to fit a Honda motorcycle. It only seems like “splitting hairs” to you because you are ignorant of the subject and the importance that such differences make.

    “I cannot bring myself to watch that footage a second time – it is too harrowing to witness those helpless innocents trying to crawl out of the flames only to be clubbed by – yes – a baying mob of believers who then throw them straight back into the inferno”.

    Well, bin your video then. You have already described my readers as a “baying mob” carrying pitchforks and lighted torches – just the sort of “baying mob” who’d burn witches alive and carry out the sort of vile activities portrayed on your video, eh? By by the way, your caricature of my readers in this way precipitated a predictable (and in my opinion entirely deserved) response, and as an intellectual of great insight I don’t think it will take you very long to work out what it was.

    “Even worse, children are also victims of this evil by those who are, as you put it, “open-minded enough” to believe that “possession” is real”.

    First of all, I spoke of those who were open-minded enough to accept the reality of the possession phenomenon – NOT those who were “open-minded” enough to burn alive the victims of it. Your persistence in confusing these two entirely different set of circumstances, and your insistence on linking both I and my readers to one of them – burning innocent people alive – either directly or by inference, is execrable

    “Superstitious illiterates”

    Psychic Skeptic strikes again. So now you somehow “know” that people who believe in exorcism are all “superstitious” and – wait for it – “illiterate”. As many of my readers believe in exorcism, they may well now conclude, as do I, that you visualise them not only as a baying mob of torch-and-pitchfork bearers out on the hunt for a good ol’ witch-ducking, but also as superstitious illiterates. Anything else you’d like to get off your chest about those who read my column?

    “are being led by shamans…”

    Not all people who believe in possession believe in shamanism. In fact, some vigorously oppose it.

    “…who, like you, “know” that possession is “real”…

    Which is probably the only thing we have in common…

    “and they are killing people in the most horrible way…”

    I know. You’ve already pointed this out in graphic detail.

    “Do you laud them for being “open minded enough” to accept the “reality” of possession?”

    If someone tells me that they believe in the reality of possession then I’ll tell them I’ll agree with them. I won’t “laud” them; simply acknowledge that we agree on the point. If someone tells me that they think its acceptable to burn someone alive because they believe they’re possessed then I’ll tell them that, in my opinion, they themselves should be at least jailed for life and, preferably…we’ll, I’ll stop there as I’m not sure that what I would like to suggest would be entirely legal.

    As you’ve specifically mentioned the African continent as the venue for this sort of activity, perhaps readers of African decent would like to reaffirm what anyone with any sense already knows; that not all Africans espouse the sort of terrible behaviour you describe. I could speak for them, but they’re quite capable of speaking for themselves.

    “But now, in this age of science, when we should have the stars in our future, we have “experts” like you and your colleagues…”

    Yes, I make no bones about it. I do believe I’m an expert in the areas of paranormal and supernatural phenomena and have been described as such by others, which isn’t my fault. Its hard not to be an expert in something when you’ve studied it and written over a dozen books and over a thousand features and articles on the matter. You aren’t an expert, and it shows to an embarrassing degree. That isn’t your fault, but what is your fault, as a rank amateur, is your repeated attempts to debate these issues with a professional who has forgotten more about them then you will ever know.

    “…directing us backwards to the terror”.

    And just what “terror” am I and others directing people back to? “Terror” is what the victims are ALREADY experiencing before we even get involved. We don’t have to “direct them back” to anything – they’re already there. What they need to be directed back to is a situation in which they are no longer possessed and can have peace in their lives – which is what a properly-conducted exorcism is all about.

    “I do not claim as a fact that “demon possession” (or any other kind of possession) is not real. I don’t know”.

    Wow, I take back any statements I’ve made to the contrary, then. In my defence, I think it could have been the entirely spurious link you made with witch-killing when you said, “Perhaps the Gazette’s editor will run one of his campaigns, you know, to get the council to install ducking stools in the Marine Park. It could become a highlight of the annual Cookson Festival”.
    Or it could have been the bit where you thoughtfully inquired, “But who will be the self-appointed Witchsmeller Pursuivant leading a baying mob of Wraithscape readers along King Street with their pitchforks and flaming torches? (Gazette Exclusive)”

    Or just maybe it was when you opined that, “It seems that for some people The Enlightenment is just an ugly rumour that can be ignored. Here we go into The Endarkenment… courtesy of The Shields Gazette”.

    No…hang on – I’ve got it. It was probably when you asked, “And by the way, how does Mike Hallowell “know” that “demon possession” is real? Will he reveal how such a hypothesis can be tested objectively? Perhaps Mike can prove it to the extent that demon possession can take its place in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a real phenomenon?”

    How I could have mistaken such objective, carefully considered analyses as a suggestion that you didn’t believe in exorcism I’ll never know. I humbly apologise.

    “What I do know is that there is not a single piece of confirmable evidence that exists to say that there is anything in it, so I doubt it – very much”.

    And you know that, “there is not a single piece of confirmable evidence that exists to say that there is anything in it” how, exactly? You’ve studied all the available evidence, have you? I’m excited. Please refer me to your published conclusions and evidence in this regard.

    “The probability of possession being real is so vanishingly small that it can be safely rejected”.

    Evidence of the research you’ve carried out which enabled you to make this dogmatic statement, please.

    “Telling us that you “know” it is real might be good enough for your wide-eyed followers…”

    “Baying mob”, “carrying pitchforks and torches”, “superstitious”, “illiterate” “shaman-following” and now “wide-eyed”. Okay, carry on…

    “but you have the responsibility to prove it is a real phenomenon”.

    I’m sorry to burst our little bubble, but I have no such responsibility whatsoever. I have a responsibility to myself; to believe the evidence of my own eyes. I have a responsibility to my readers; to write truthfully and accurately a) what I see, and b) what my conclusions are. What they choose to believe is up to them, and if anyone requires”proof” of anything so strongly then I’d suggest that they do their own damned research instead of lazily demanding that I supply it for them. As it happens, those who read my column with an open-mind do not do this.

    “Most of what you write in your column about the so-called paranormal is just silly, laughable and worthy of parody”.

    Well, that’s your opinion. Although why you see the need to parody people simply because they disagree with you speaks more to your own insecurities than it does to the mind-set of my readers.

    This is why you refuse to identify yourself and ignore my repeated requests to this end – a stance which you seem to have adopted as a policy: “Don’t identify myself, and don’t even comment on Mike’s requests that I do”.

    “I don’t doubt your sincerity…”

    Well that’s something.

    “but this stuff is truly dangerous, and you are promoting it as if it were real”.

    Hang on, didn’t you just say that you didn’t know whether it was “real” or not? Exorcism is only dangerous in the same way that surgery is dangerous; when its carried out by people who don’t know what they’re doing. I’m looking forward to seeing your call that all surgery should be henceforth banned on the basis that it is “dangerous”, along with a blanket ban on skateboarding, cycling and watching horror movies.
    “Whatever possessed you?”

    Oh, I don’t know, it could have been my democratic right to express an opinion, my desire to broaden the horizons of my readers, the satisfaction of writing about things I’ve actually studied as opposed to pontificating about things I’m completely ignorant of…but I’ll tell you this much; whatever possessed me it certainly wasn’t Beelzebub or any of his demonic minions.

    “*Update* – here is the current state of the findings of parapsychological research:

    http://xkcd.com/373/

    Alas, for one, brief moment I thought you were going to provide a link to some genuine research, when all you’ve done is point us all to what appears to be one of your own in-depth academic presentations. (If readers want to gain an insight into the level of Skeptic’s understanding, or how seriously he’s trying to understand paranormal phenomena, PLEASE visit the above link.)

    ” Addendum:You’ve scored a neat own goal in your latest column…”
    Blimey, this should be interesting. I hope its got more substance to it than the other “own goals” you allege I’ve scored in the past. If not, I’m going to be deeply, deeply disappointed.

    “You could have spent your six hundred words providing evidence to support any of your paranormal, supernatural or UFO claims…”

    As I’ve done over the past quarter of a century, or specifically regarding my column, for well over a decade.

    “but instead squandered that opportunity to bleat about me…”

    Oh, don’t kid yourself. That was no squandered opportunity, I can assure you. The feedback I’ve had from readers – and even others – has been very enlightening indeed and given the lie to that assertion completely.

    “…me, a rational person…”

    We’ll take your word for it. On second thoughts, why should we? You’re too scared to identify yourself and your refusal makes it impossible for those who don’t know who you are to check your bona fides. All we have as a testimony to your rationality is the word of an anonymous scribbler.

    “…wanting you to provide confirmable evidence about your paranormal, supernatural and UFO claims”.

    Well, if you’d have done what I’ve repeatedly asked you to do in the past regarding specific claims on precise events that I’ve allegedly made, and then fallen down on, I’d have been happy to deal with them. However, all I can do on this point is repeat two important caveats:

    I’ll provide evidence regarding specific claims I’ve allegedly made (if they ever truly existed) if you do what YOU promised to do ages ago; withdraw a comment if it proved to be false. You failed to deliver on this promise even though I tore apart your diatribe on the “hairdresser” case. You made – and repeated – a whole raft of completely false assertions regarding me and have consistently refused to apologise for doing so. When you do the decent thing, I’ll consider your request.

    I’m not going to give in to demands or even requests from someone who doesn’t have the guts to identify themselves. Grow a backbone and go public like I’ve done and then I’ll take you seriously. Not only don’t you have the courage to identify yourself, but you don’t even seem to have the balls to acknowledge or comment on just WHY you won’t let people know who you are. Apart from those who do know who you are, that is.

    “And your characterisation of me and what I have said is totally wrong”.

    Evidence and examples of this, please. What “characterised” you was your own words which I repeated verbatim.

    “I’ve seen a more accurate plumber’s estimate”.

    You didn’t happen to write it yourself, did you?

    “You forgot to mention that I am not your only critic. People across the internet keep asking you for one simple thing: evidence to support your claims”.

    And I’ll keep giving the same clear, simple answers which I’ve repeated here and elsewhere more times than I care to remember. My colleagues and I will (and indeed have) provided evidence in copious amounts to those we choose and trust. When we have done this, we have been found justified. Those who have seen the evidence have the right to do this. Others who have not seen it are not in a position to comment on its veracity one way or another. We will not supply it to “people across the Internet” simply because they think they have some sort of “moral right” to see it. We don’t give in to pleading, bullying, threats and efforts to obtain our archived material illegally – all of which have actually occurred.

    “You could show your evidence…”

    As we have.

    “…and if it holds up you could be feted around the world…”

    Alas, you are again mistaken as I have not the slightest desire to be “feted” anywhere.

    “…for being the first person to definitively prove the existence of the paranormal, the supernatural or extraterrestrial visitation”.

    As far as I’m concerned its it’s already been proved, but in any event I have no interest in proving anything to anyone. I write to make people think and come to their own conclusions, not to prove anything to them.

    “I assume your evidence exists, but it must be pretty weak”
    .
    Which begs the question, if you don’t know just what that evidence consists of, how can you possibly label it as “weak”?

    “Instead, you have produced a whiney column that shows you in a very unprofessional light”.

    Which differs markedly from the responses I’ve received, the vast majority of which commend me for “calling you out” not only on your errors, but also on your refusal to identify yourself. You talk about you and those “other people on the Internet” who criticise me. At least my critics have the benefit of knowing just who their criticisms are aimed at, unlike yours, who can only direct them to a faceless icon on other people’s blogs.

    “Having said that, however, your article, which is dedicated to me this week, has not appeared on The Shields Gazette’s website”.

    Not all of my articles appear on-line.

    “I was waiting to reply to it with a link, but it is now Wednesday and I don’t want to wait any longer.”

    You could, of course, have sent a letter or e-mail to the letters page, but for reasons only known to yourself refrained from doing so.

    “So come on, Mike, give us the evidence… and no bleating about the bush”.

    You seriously expect me to respond to a request from you when you steadfastly refuse to respond to any of mine? Identify yourself. Let the “baying mob” of “illiterate”, “wide-eyed” pitchfork and torch-bearers know who you really are. Apologise for your repeated inaccuracies about me. Then – and only then – might I take seriously any demands you make of me. For years I’ve provided specific, detailed answers to every criticism you’ve ever made of me. Search as you might, and you’ll find not ONE example of me running away from one of your inane critiques. You, in comparison, have dodged just about all of mine. When you develop the courage to let “the baying mob” see just who it is who holds them in such vile contempt, then I might agree to spend some time in dialogue with you.

    I tell you what; let me offer you a deal. If you agree to identify yourself publicly, then I’ll be prepared to show you some of the materials in our archives (from the South Shields and other cases) and Darren and I will engage in an in-depth discussion with you regarding those cases and just why we believe they’re genuine. All you have to do is a) acknowledge that you’ve made erroneous allegations about me in the past and apologise for them, and b) let people know who you really are, and we’ll then arrange for you to see the aforementioned material.

    I’ll also offer you the opportunity to respond to my article of last week – in my column.

    “So come on”, Skeptic, give us your real identity… “and no hiding behind the bush”.

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