Thursday, June 26, 2014

More Studies Like This, Please!

Academic scientists who want to study anything associated with the paranormal face serious hurdles, both in terms of obtaining funding and maintaining their professional reputations. That's a real problem for anyone wanting to do formal scientific research in these areas, and in my opinion has a lot to do with how few decent studies ever are performed.

This story, though, shows that sometimes interesting work gets done anyway. Two years ago a Canadian research team made up of Dr. Ron Rensink, Helene Gauchou, and Dr. Sidney Fels set up a series of experiments involving the use of Ouija boards. The intent of the study was not to investigate the paranormal properties of the boards themselves. Rather, the experiment was designed to determine whether a person who believed someone else was using the board with them would be able to answer questions more accurately.

What the team found surprised them: When participants were asked, verbally, to guess the answers to the best of their ability, they were right only around 50 percent of the time, a typical result for guessing. But when they answered using the board, believing that the answers were coming from someplace else, they answered correctly upwards of 65 percent of the time. “It was so dramatic how much better they did on these questions than if they answered to the best of their ability that we were like, ‘This is just weird, how could they be that much better?’” recalled Fels. “It was so dramatic we couldn’t believe it.” The implication was, Fels explained, that one’s non-conscious was a lot smarter than anyone knew.

The robot, unfortunately, proved too delicate for further experiments, but the researchers were sufficiently intrigued to pursue further Ouija research. They divined another experiment: This time, rather than a robot, the participant actually played with a real human. At some point, the participant was blindfolded—and the other player, really a confederate, quietly took their hands off the planchette. This meant that the participant believed he or she wasn’t alone, enabling the kind of automatic pilot state the researchers were looking for, but still ensuring that the answers could only come from the participant.

It worked. Rensink says, “Some people were complaining about how the other person was moving the planchette around. That was a good sign that we really got this kind of condition that people were convinced that somebody else was there.” Their results replicated the findings of the experiment with the robot, that people knew more when they didn’t think they were controlling the answers (50 percent accuracy for vocal responses to 65 percent for Ouija responses). They reported their findings in February 2012 issue of Consciousness and Cognition.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is Astrology Harmful?

Too many skeptics suffer from the delusion that belief in anything that has not been 100% verified by formal science is fundamentally dangerous to one's well-being. For years, the James Randi Educational Foundation has been calling on newspapers to ban horoscope columns. This is because even though any astrologer will tell you that they're basically useless without more information, they somehow nonetheless pose some poorly-defined existential threat to modern civilization.

Today IO9, which I usually enjoy, has an article up that once more tries to explain why astrology is harmful. For the purposes of this post I'm not going to get into whether or not astrology works. I do make use of it in my spiritual and magical work, but the fact is that it has yet to be verified by orthodox scientific research. So for the moment I'm willing to play in the skeptical sandbox to point out that even if we operate under the assumption that astrology is 100% nonsense, the idea that it is somehow especially harmful is just plain silly.

To start with, basic psychology tells us that people are wrong about things all the time without necessarily incurring any real harm from their inaccurate beliefs. In fact, as a perfect example of this, the author of the article clearly doesn't have a solid understanding of how astrology works. I get that he considers it nonsense and not worth his time, but presumably he was paid for this article. Couldn't he have done a little more research? Statements like this one show that whatever he did was inadequate.

It didn't help the astrological cause back in 2011 when an entirely new version of the zodiac was proposed, thus shifting everyone's sign from its mythical original position. Indeed, the whole premise behind astrology is predicated on some rather flimsy parameters; what we call "months" are actually cultural — and not cosmological — constructs. Moreover, our expanding universe, and all that's within it, is in a constant state of flux.

The truth is that most actual astrologers didn't care about this "controversy" one bit. The difference between tropical and sidereal astrology is well-known, and is one of the main differences between Western astrology and its Vedic counterpart that's practiced in India. The "new order" is just the sidereal order, and if you got a chart from an Indian astrologer it would match the "new" schema, aside from the supposed "13th sign."

As far as that goes, the only way in which you even get an extra sign is if you conflate astrology with astronomy, which skeptics are always telling people not to do. Tropical astrologers don't treat the signs as the literal result of a planet overlapping with a constellation. Rather, they divide the year into twelve parts and use the constellation names as convenient labels. So pointing out that a thirteenth constellation touches the ecliptic doesn't mean anything to an astrologer, especially a Western one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ouija Board Possession?

Does anybody here remember the film Witchboard? It was a horror movie from the 1980's about a woman who is possessed by a spirit she contacts using a Ouija board. The film has plenty of cheesy moments, such as when the board spins across the screen as one of the characters shoots at it (!), but in fact it was reasonably well-done given the subject matter. I'm not the only person who thinks so, either; the movie has some good reviews on imdb and overall rates a 5.7, which is actually decent for a genre in which most films come in at 3's and 4's.

Now one of the things the movie gets totally right is that earthbound spirits like to lie. The spirit the woman initially contacts claims to be that of a little boy, but is in fact that of a psychopathic murderer. What it gets fairly wrong, though, is that the board itself has no magical power, so you're not going to accomplish anything by burning or, say, shooting it. The problem with using a Ouija board is the same as what Aleister Crowley observed with regard to spiritualists - rather than following any sort of formal magical procedure, the operator opens him or herself up to whatever happens to be out there. Most of the time nothing will happen, but if her or she has a measure of psychic talent it's possible to contact something hostile or dangerous.

That brings us to today's story. Three American friends visiting Mexico were playing around with a Ouija board, and one of them was apparently "possessed" by a spirit. The video purports to show this, but honestly what it looks like to me is that she's doing her best to growl like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and then laughing when she can't keep a straight face. There might be some sort of spirit influence there, but it looks like much of it is probably play-acting. For one thing, it's way too similar to how it looks in the movies as opposed to real life.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Convicted Christian Singer Outed as Atheist

So there's this joke I like to tell: "What do you call Christian music that's good? Music." It's all too true because it's not like there are no Christian themes in American popular music, as it's by far the majority religion in this country. Rather, if a band has to brand itself as "Christian" that's pretty much proof that its music is terrible. There are a few exceptions here and there, but in fact bands that start out as Christian for other reasons generally transition into the mainstream if they're decent.

There's also the South Park episode where Cartman decides to start a Christian band. He comments, "Writing Christian music is easy! You just take old songs and cross out words like 'honey' and 'baby' and write in 'Jesus'!" Now you might think that a real Christian musician would be doing it because they want to share and promote their faith rather than sell inferior tunes to what is essentially a captive audience, but as this story shows, plenty of them are just in it for the money.

A so-called Christian heavy metal band whose frontman was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to murder his estranged wife has admitted that it duped fans into believing that they were Christian in order to sell their music.

“Truthfully, I was an atheist,” Tim Lambesis, the lead singer and founder of As I Lay Dying told the Alternative Press in a recent interview. “I actually wasn’t the first guy in As I Lay Dying to stop being a Christian. In fact, I think I was the third. The two who remained kind of stopped talking about it, and then I’m pretty sure they dropped it, too.”

The publication noted that his wife, Meggan, had likewise divulged in divorce papers that Lambesis had become an atheist. Lambesis, in admitting his atheism, outlined that he turned away from Christianity as he majored in religious studies while attending college through a long distance program.

“In the process of trying to defend my faith, I started thinking the other point of view was the stronger one,” he said.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fake Shaman Sentenced

When I look at the amount of money some of these fake occultists manage to extort from their clients I occasionally wonder if I'm in the wrong business. A British professional psychic who called herself a "shaman" has been convicted of defrauding clients of more that a million pounds (~$1.6m) and sentenced to ten years in prison. She perpetrated the classic scam of telling her clients that they were cursed or ill, and then requiring large sums of money to remedy these imaginary problems. What always amazes me is how many people go along with it, but then I was raised with a belief in magick and have studied how it works for many years.

Juliette D'Souza convinced a range of people to hand over money to save the lives of loved ones, avoid being made redundant or cure a variety of illnesses. The judge in her trial at Blackfriars Crown Court said that perhaps the "most upsetting" victim was one who gave D'Souza £176,000 over several years to help her get pregnant. When she actually fell pregnant, D'Souza told her to have an abortion as the unborn child would be "deformed" and "ill". Many of her 11 victims were left in financial ruin, with one elderly woman having more than £200,000 "remorselessly extracted" from her over 12 years.

D'Souza, 59, from Hampstead, north London, was jailed for 10 years on Friday after being convicted of 23 counts of obtaining property by deception and fraud between 1998 and 2010. Judge Ian Karsten QC said she had cast a "spell" over her victims and told them to hand over large amounts of money or face "terrifying" consequences.
He said: "It is the worst case of confidence fraud I have ever had to deal with or indeed that I have ever heard of. The most serious aspect of this case is that you wrecked the lives of a number of your victims and you have done it out of pure greed."

Now I do pretty well as a software architect and developer, but it sounds like this particular confidence artist managed to make more doing substantially less work. Then I remember two things. First of all, I don't actually make that much less, as that million pounds was over the course of 12 years. Second of all, I'm too honest to carry out a con like this for very long, or for that matter have any desire to do so. And, of course, there's that whole "going to prison" thing, which I'm happy to avoid.

As I've commented before, people like D'Souza prove that the world really does need debunkers, no matter how annoying they might be under different circumstances. But magical education is another area that would cut into the supply of available marks, since anybody who knows how magick works is probably not going to fall for one of these schemes.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Powderhorn Lake Monster

After years of writing about lake monsters and other Fortean phenomena, I finally can report on one close to home. Minne the Lake Creature has been spotted in Powderhorn Lake, right next to my house in Minneapolis. I've stated on a number of occasions that I believe many of the famous lake monsters could be sturgeons, but that's clearly not the case here. For one thing, as you can see in the above photo Minne looks nothing like a fish, and furthermore sturgeons generally aren't made of fiberglass.

The 13-foot fiberglass sculpture was installed in Powderhorn this morning and will remain there until September. Powderhorn Lake was chosen as Minne’s home this summer after it beat out Lake Hiawatha by 10 votes, 347-337, in a Facebook poll.

Minneapolis artist Cameron Gainer created Minne in 2009, inspired by the infamous 1934 “Surgeon’s Photo” of the Loch Ness Monster. Since then Minne has been in each of the nine Minneapolis lakes it can fit into.

So thanks to good old-fashioned Powderhorn neighborhood spirit, Minne will be residing in Powderhorn Lake for the rest of the summer. What I find interesting about Minne from a Fortean perspective is that the sculpture is quite realistic even up close, and provides a good control for what lake monster photos should look like if a real plesiosaurus were surfaced in a lake. A picture of a real, solid, flesh-and-blood creature of this sort should look much like the picture above in terms of light, shadow, wave size, and composition, with the possible exception of sharpness. After all, Minne is made of fiberglass and therefore doesn't move like a living animal would, and some cameras don't capture movement well.

But the short of it is this: a photo taken under similar conditions that doesn't look this good is quite likely to be a hoax or at best some sort of mistaken identification. The "Surgeon's Photo" that inspired Minne's shape was faked, after all, and at one time that was the most famous Loch Ness photo out there. The moment you compare the texture of the ripples around Minne to the texture of the water in the Surgeon's Photo, it's pretty obvious that Minne is a much larger object.

Welcome to Powderhorn, Minne! Enjoy your stay.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Panic Over Possessed Doll

Here's another one of those stories that sounds like a bad, cheesy, and completely implausible horror film waiting to happen. Recently in Singapore a doll was found under a tree by the side of a road. This wouldn't be that unusual, except that the doll was found wearing a blindfold with Arabic writing on it. A picture of the doll was posted to Reddit along with a story about how it was allegedly possessed, and the link went viral from there.

This creepy figurine is apparently keeping Singaporean children (and adults) awake at night after it was found resting against a tree by the side of a busy street. Wearing a stained silk and lace dress, the doll looks as if it has been accidentally left outside for the night.

But it has caused something of a stir online after pictures of it were posted to Reddit, along with a bizarre story about how it is supposedly 'possessed'. According to the post, the doll was found blindfolded with a cloth with the word 'bismillah', an Arabic phrase meaning 'in the name of God', written on it.

The post includes claims that the doll has the ability to move on its own accord and can even be heard talking in a woman's voice. The post reads: 'Original owner found that the only way to get rid of it and make sure it won't come back is to cover its eyesight.

This being the Internet and all, it's not clear whether the panic over the doll extends to the people in Singapore who actually found the thing, or if it's purely an online phenomenon. But whatever the case, there's plenty of inspiration here for anyone who thinks they might want to try their hand at building the next Troma Productions. The tale of a creepy cursed doll that moves on its own practically writes itself, and unfortunately for studio copyright lawyers the doll looks nothing like Chucky of Child's Play fame.

In the immortal words of Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, "You may love the movie, you may hate the movie, but we never want you to forget the movie." Mission accomplished, Internet!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A New Haunted Hotel

According to Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of SyFy's Ghost Hunters, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky is one of the most haunted sites they have ever investigated. Three episodes of the show were filmed there, including a live real-time live Halloween special in 2007. Many people did die at the former tuberculosis hospital, though experts estimate the total at around 8,200 over the course of its 52 years of operation rather than the 63,000 suggested by some urban legends. Soon visitors will be able to experience for themselves how haunted the site really is, as the owners plan to convert it into a hotel and convention center. Back in February their renovation plan was approved by the Louisville metro council, and the work is currently underway.

Owners Charlie and Tina Mattingly have plans to turn the former tuberculosis hospital into a 120-room four-star hotel, convention center, and liquor bottling business. The hotel will cater to the haunted hotel tourists as well as regular guests.

According to the plans, the first floor will be used to for a 3,050 square foot restaurant and an 8,500 square foot conference center. The second and third floors will have 120 hotel rooms. The fourth floor will have meeting rooms and a museum focusing on the hospital.

Last Tuesday, the Louisville Metro Council's Planning, Zoning, Design, and Land Development Committee voted unanimously for recommendations to approve zoning for the Mattingly's project. The Louisville Metro Council met today and approved the zoning change request by a 21 to 0 vote.

As the sanatorium was abandoned for many years, the necessary renovations are extensive and there's no announcement yet when the hotel might finally be open for business. The owners currently operate "ghost tours" at the site and plan to continue catering to paranormal enthusiasts once the hotel is open. I wonder, though, whether the alleged hauntings will survive such a substantial renovation. From a skeptical standpoint, it's probably true that the run-down condition of the site makes it a lot creepier and as a result people are primed to interpret their experiences there as paranormal. And from a magical standpoint, most paranormal investigators will tell you that it's quite common for remodeling to disturb hauntings and related phenomena. But if the reports keep coming in once the renovations are complete, it could very well be a site worth visiting and checking out.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What the Heck is "Onionhead?"

I generally consider myself pretty savvy about new religious movements, but I had no idea that this one even existed. Three former employees of a health care company in New York have filed suit claiming that they were discriminated against after criticizing and refusing to take part in practices of the "Onionhead" religion that had infiltrated their workplace.

The suit identifies a cost containment official, “Denali,” as the leader of Onionhead practices at the company. Former employees Elizabeth Ontaneda, Francine Pennisi, and Faith Pabon said Denali retaliated against them when they balked at attending one-on-one sessions with her to discuss “divine plans” and “moral codes.”

Pennisi said she spoke out against Onionhead at a company meeting, suggesting the practices violated her Catholic beliefs, and she claims she was moved from her office and replaced by Denali with a large statue of Buddha. The suit claims Denali blamed “demons” for Ontaneda’s and Pennisi’s resistance to Onionhead.

All three women were demoted and later fired, the suit claims. Denali Jordan, who identified herself as an independent consultant to the company, denied Onionhead was a religion.

That's funny, it sure sounds like one! It talks about divine plans and demons, and includes prayer circles and thanking God. A little more research turned up that basically, "Onionhead" is a sort of New Age theosophy-light type religious system that has some overlap with the self-help market. It clearly fits the definition of a religion, as it consists of a codified set of beliefs that pertain to spiritual forces and the like.

The organization's website is incredibly hokey and filled with New Age platitudes and self-help acronyms, but it also seems that they do some good charity work. And maybe I'm reading their materials wrong, but it sounds like the founders of the system would be appalled at employees being demoted and fired over acceptance of its principles. From the site:

We call upon schools, churches and aligned nonprofit organizations to work with us closely to help children and adults re-connect to their feelings. Our goal is to see our tools and materials distributed to each and every person who needs them, no matter the age or circumstance. Through this mandate, we firmly believe we will see a decrease in violence, suicide, depression, addiction and we will see an increase in love, respect, honor, peace and happiness.

It sounds like either this is complete nonsense, or the people pushing this stuff at the company don't understand it. Demoting and then firing employees who disagree with your religious beliefs is pretty much diametrically opposed to the principles of "love, respect, honor, peace and happiness."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ten Paranormal Regulations

One of the things I like about living in a country where belief in magick is not widespread is that it remains mostly unregulated. A lot of newbie magicians get it into their heads that they want to prove the existence of magick to skeptics, and while I think that such a thing would be valuable in pure scientific terms, I wonder what the consequences of it might be. Government regulation would certainly be proposed, and I can't say that I have much interest in, say, needing a license to practice my spirituality.

However, just because the paranormal is currently largely unregulated doesn't mean that government bodies haven't tried. IO9 has an article up that lists 10 examples of laws intended to regulate various forms of paranormal phenomena. A few of them like #7, the Chinese government's attempts to regulate reincarnation, have been covered here on Augoeides, while others are completely new to me.

1. In some cases, US home sellers must tell a buyer if a property is haunted.

2. But if you base your horror movie on a "true story" or famously haunted house, you can avoid all sorts of intellectual property issues.

3. In San Francisco, you need a license to practice necromancy.

4. In New Orleans, a person may not set forth his or her power to convert bitterest enemies into staunchest friends.

5. Different jurisdictions have very different laws governing the hunting of Bigfoot.

6. If you want to start a construction project in Iceland, you may want to check with the local elves.

7. Tibetan Buddhists must apply for a reincarnation license from the Chinese government.

8. If you want to perform an exorcism, you should probably do it in Texas.

9. You can't sue the Devil (or God, for that matter) in the US.

10. But you can sue a genie in Saudi Arabia.

The article goes into more detail about each of these laws, along with references to legal cases and so forth. #2 helps explain why so many "based on a true story" movies about hauntings are such complete bullshit and have little to do with what really took place, and the deal with #8 is that in Texas courts ruled that anything related to exorcism is a matter of religious freedom, even if an individual was subjected to one against their will - which is kind of scary.

For now I'm content to let skeptics be skeptics, since if anyone ever did pass the Randi Challenge or something I have no doubts that regulatory legislation would be immediately forthcoming. That's a basic reality that anyone interested in "proving magick" should at the very least consider before moving forward.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Another "Slender Man" Attack?

Many people in the United State don't realize that violent attacks such as school shootings and so forth actually peaked around 1991, with the overall rate dropping ever since. The difference is that back then the major news networks had an agreement not to cover such events, for fear of inspiring copycats. Unfortunately, with the advent of competition from cable news and the Internet, the desire for sensational stories now seems to have overwhelmed any such consideration. As a result it seems like violence is on the rise even though it has in fact declined substantially over the course of the last twenty years.

Recently the story of two Wisconsin teens who attempted to murder a friend in hopes of appeasing Slender Man, an Internet meme that originated in online horror stories, was widely reported, including here on Augoeides. Only a few days after that, another attack was reported by an Ohio mother, who was attacked by her 13-year-old daughter. Like the Wisconsin teens, the daughter was also apparently obsessed with Slender Man.

“I came home one night from work and she was in the kitchen waiting for me and she was wearing a mask — a white mask,” the woman said. “She had her hood up and had her hands covered with her sleeves and the mask. She was someone else during that attack,” the mother added.

The woman returned home one evening when her daughter attacked her in the kitchen, stabbing her multiple times. She sustained minor injuries in the attack, including cuts on her neck and face and a puncture wound on her back. She explained that her daughter has mental issues and that her writings were dark, frequently mentioning demons, being insane, and “falling into darkness.”

Following the attack, she discovered evidence of her daughter’s obsession with Slenderman. “We found things that she had written and she made reference to Slenderman. She also made references to killing,” the mother said. “She even created a world for Slenderman in the game Minecraft.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Stupid, It Burns

Literally. According to this story, a West Toledo man who might be the world's dumbest arsonist has failed to burn down a Masonic Temple for what appears to be the second time. Not only that, but this time around he managed to set himself on fire, and security cameras recorded the whole thing. My guess is that the main reason the video hasn't shown up online yet is that it's evidence in an ongoing investigation, so anyone who wants to watch this display of epic incompetence will have to wait until the arsonist is caught.

Surveillance cameras recorded the unidentified suspect drive up to the temple, get out of his vehicle and walk towards the building. Shortly after the suspects walks towards the building, a burst of light is seen coming from the side of the Temple as the suspect is seen scampering away.

When the fire appears to burn out, the suspect is seen running towards the building, apparently to try again. When he backed away, the man's hand appeared to be on fire.He then jumped in his car and drove off.

Police in West Toledo say that fire officials determined that the suspect had used a patio brick with a burning rag attached to it to break a window at the temple on the north side of the building. The rag, officials say, was found on the lawn. At the end of the day, the failed flaming brick did about $300 in damage. Authorities say someone attempted to set the same temple on fire on May 14.

While this might be the result of some personal grudge, my guess is that the desire to burn down a Masonic lodge has its origins in all the nonsensical conspiracy theories posted online. In 1950's America so many men were Masons that it was hard to succeed in business without being a member, but that's about the closest the fraternity has come to world domination. Those days are now long past; the men who joined during WWII and are still living are now in their late eighties, and the number of deaths have exceeded the number of new initiates for decades.

Here's hoping that with the security camera footage police will be able to identify this suspect quickly. It sounds like if they don't, he's just going to try again.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Creationism, Evolution, and Statistics

In the Facebook discussion of my last post, a commenter claimed that belief in creationism seemed to be on the rise and I replied that I didn't think that was true based on recent surveys. One of these is a Gallup poll that has been taken since 1982. It proposes three options for human origins, and asks respondents which is closest to their beliefs.

(1) Human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.

(2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process.

(3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form some time within the last 10,000 years or so.

The results are graphed in the image above, and you can click to enlarge it. Comparing 1982 with today we find the following:

1982: (1) 38%, (2) 9%, (3) 44%
Today: (1) 31%, (2) 19%, (3) 42%

So this shows a statistically insignificant drop in the number of creationists, a more significant drop in the "God guided evolution" camp, and a more than doubling of support for natural evolution. For reference, the United States is about 85% Christian. Adding (1) and (3) together, you get 82% for 1982 and 73% for today. So, in fact, this survey shows that pretty much all Christians fell into one of those two groups in 1982, whereas today perhaps as many as 10% of them don't believe God had any role in the evolution of human beings. That shows pretty clearly that the creationists are losing ground, albeit slowly.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Scourge of Imagination

Last summer I commented on a study showing that atheists are just like everyone else. That is, most are reasonable people who simply want to be left alone, while a small minority can be just as dogmatic and obnoxious as fundamentalist believers. Many of the so-called "New Atheists" fall into this latter camp, and here's a perfect example.

Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent public atheists, has stated in an interview that fairy tales are harmful to children - because they're not scientific and include events that are "too improbable." Seriously? I know that atheism is getting out of hand when atheists start arguing that imagination is the enemy.

“Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?” he said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

“I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway.

“Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable.”

I suppose, then, following this logic there should be no fantasy or paranormal stories in literature, and no science fiction that contains any scientific errors - which, statistically speaking, is just about all of it, because the odds that you're going to get your projections of future technological advances precisely correct are pretty low.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Cult of Slender Man

It's something of a modern mystery why so many weird crimes seem to happen in the state of Wisconsin. Both Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer committed serial murders there, and recently two twelve-year-old girls nearly murdered a friend in order to appease "Slender Man," a fictional character appearing in "creepypasta" online horror stories.

Creepypasta, contrary to the name, has nothing to do with noodles. It's a generic term for horror short stories that are posted on particular Internet forums. Just like with fanfiction, I find most kind of dumb, but some are genuinely well-written and spooky. For example, a few months ago the "Russian Sleep Experiment" story, originally from a creepypasta forum, went viral on Facebook. Some posters even believed it to be true.

A significant number of creepypasta stories concern Slender Man, a meme that has become so popular it was even alluded to as "Thinman" in a recent episode of the television series Supernatural. The actual name could not be used because the Slender Man meme is copyrighted by its creator, Eric Knudsen, who has shut down several projects related to the character.

According to police reports, the two Wisconsin girls were obsessed with the character, to the point where they decided to murder one of their friends as a sort of sacrifice. One of the girls explained they did it so that they would be able to run away and live with Slender Man in his Nicolet National Forest mansion - which, of course, does not exist anywhere outside the collective imagination of Slender Man's fans.

"It's extremely disturbing as a parent and as chief of police," Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack said at a news conference ahead of the court appearances Monday.

The girls invited their friend to a slumber party on Friday evening, the complaint said. They planned to kill her during the night so they wouldn't have to look into her eyes, one girl told police, and then run away. They decided to put it off, but the next day, during a hide-and-seek game in a wooded park, they attacked their friend with a knife. One girl told the other to "go ballistic, go crazy," according to the complaint.

The victim began to scream that she hated them and started stumbling away, one of the girls told police. The girls left the victim lying in the woods. She crawled to a road where a bicyclist found her lying on the sidewalk. Police arrived and she gave them the name of one of the girls who attacked her. She was rushed into surgery, police said.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Elf Sex?

The top Augoeides article of all time is this debunking of a fake news story about a woman in Iceland who was kidnapped by elves and held for seven years. The original story built on the fact that in Iceland, the existence of elves is taken quite seriously by the local population. For example, in a number of cases roads have been rerouted in order to keep from upsetting the creatures. But as Vice reports, blogger Hallgerdur Hallgrímsdóttir takes it one step further. She claims to have had sex with elves on many occasions, and even describes herself on her blog as an "expert on how to have sex with elves."

Hallgerdur claims many Icelanders have been doing elves in secret for centuries. There’s even a myth covering the inter-hominid couplings. Hallgerdur receives a lot of flack from her countrymen for spilling the beans on elf sex, so we hope you appreciate her act of smutty treason. Although Hallgerdur has a boyfriend now, she recently claimed that “sex with humans is boring”. In her blog she goes into great detail about her experience sexing it up with elves.

I seriously have no idea what's going on here, but all of the possibilities strike me as pretty interesting. Are these elves actually flesh-and-blood beings? Is this some sort of astral experience, like my "ghost sex" article from last month might be referring to? Or does Hallgerdur suffer from some very specific mental illness that produces this one particular delusion but otherwise leaves her clear-minded and lucid? Whatever the case, something strange is going on here and and I would really like to know more about it. Someday I'd like to go to Iceland anyway just to see the volcanic landscape, and if I ever do I'll have to see about doing some paranormal investigation of the elf phenomenon.

Frankly, Hallgerdur's story is hard to debunk unless it's totally made up. She's awake and out in the wilderness when the encounters happen, so it's not sleep paralysis. She also seems far too generally lucid to be mentally ill, though I suppose there are cases of people whose delusions are oddly specific. It also doesn't sound like an astral or spirit encounter, since she describes the elves doing all sorts of physical things that an astral entity shouldn't be able to do. So as I see it, this case is either legitimately paranormal or completely imaginary. And given the folklore, I will say that if elves can be found anywhere, Iceland seems like the best place to look.