Category Archives: supernatural

Not Just Ladders Trigger Superstitious Behavior


I am appearing at this years Secret Garden Party where the theme is Superstition….though with David Icke on the bill, general wackiness might be more appropriate as a theme. Anyway, it has been a while since I posted (The new book is nearly done!). So I was pleased when my Icelandic friend Hjalti Hjalmarsson sent me this photograph of a public path in Russia. It is not a ladder but clearly there is some superstitious thinking going on. It reminds me of an old 1974 study where they found that people would be more likely to walk under a ladder after observing a someone else tempting fate, but not when they were unobserved.


Filed under General Thoughts, supernatural

Superstitious Politicians

I'm telling you put it all on 45

This time of year is always a surefire bet that weird supernatural beliefs will start to appear in the media. With Halloween looming, I had a quick peek to see who was topping the nutty charts. I note that my friend and colleague Jesse Bering (author of the eminently readable “The God Instinct”) was asked to comment on Hermain Cain for “The Daily Beast.” Cain who is the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO is putting himself forward for the presidential race. In his manifesto, he devotes a whole chapter to the special significance of the number 45 – the year he was born. Cain believes that this number has punctuated his entire life in a meaningful way and believes it will aid him to becoming, yup you guessed it, the 45th president of the US.

To be fair, Obama was equally superstitious during his rise to the Whitehouse, always playing basketball on the morning of each primary election. Other politicians have been equally frank about their superstitious rituals. It would seem that it was a prerequisite for standing for high political office! God forbid that anyone should say that the were not superstitious!


Filed under In the News, supernatural

Wellcome to My Charming World

This week the Wellcome Trust opened an exhibition in London called Miracles & Charms. It is actually two exhibits in one. The Miracle component, ‘Infinitas Gracias’ (Infinite Thank You)  is the first major display of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico. Votives are small paintings, usually executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster and sometimes death. Over a hundred votives dating from the 18th century are in the exhibition. They are usually displayed in Mexican churches as gestures of thanksgiving, replacing powerful doctrine-driven images of the saints with personal and direct pleas for help. The religious imagery depicted in these vernacular paintings is at the heart of famous works of art by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera were avid votive collectors

Votives are an intimate records of the tumultuous dramas of everyday life – lightning strikes, gunfights, motor accidents, ill-health and false imprisonment – in which saintly intervention was believed to have led to survival and reprieve.

Charming. If only they could do something to stop the carnage of the Mexican Drug Wars that is currently destroying the country. When I troll the web looking for unusual stories and items for this blog, I am often shocked by the amount of grisly footage of killings that is being posted by the gangs and vigilantes. For such a devout country, where is religion in all this horror?

'I thank our Lord Saint Francis of Assisi for saving us from drowning on 27 Oct 1962'

The other component of the exhibition is “Charmed Life” made up 1400 amulets assembled by the Edwardian amateur folklorist Edward Lovett. The artist Felicity Powell who put the exhibit together describes how these objects seem to retain an insistent sense that they might yet hold some hidden magic. Does that sound familiar?

The front feet of a mole are permanently curved for digging, and this curved appearance is so suggestive of cramp that these feet are carried as a cure for cramp.

A BBC researcher called me this week to appear on national Morning television to discuss the exhibition as an expert of lucky charms. I was very tempted as this would have been great publicity for SuperSense but I declined the offer. I am now preparing for the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (which is why I have less time for posting blogs) and have moved on from my interest in supernatural thinking. I also have a new book coming out in the Spring so I want to shed the spooky scientist label that my interest in supernatural objects conjures up. However, I will be dropping into the exhibit when I am next in London on my way to the RI,  as it looks too good to miss.


Filed under book publicity, Essentialism, supernatural, Television

Killer Phone Numbers

This is where you'll end up if you return a call in Nigeria

I had a meeting this week with several colleagues to discuss a bid to one of the research councils who are interested in funding research into conspiracy. So my mind is focused on this aspect of human reasoning where individuals believe that there are nefarious parties at work subverting society.

I just saw this piece on the BBC News website about a Nigerian urban myth that if you respond to a text message with an ID number of 09141, you die. A bit like watching that spooky video in “The Ring.” According to the brief report, up to 10 people are believed to have died returning this call. Now I have good grounds to ignore all those Nigerian emails from women whose husbands have died but left millions of dollars in bank accounts that they are happy to share with me if only I give them my bank details.

BTW I remembered I had this image of an African coffin shaped like a mobile phone on an earlier blog that dated back to 2009. I cannot believe I remarked about the exponential rise in FaceBook users at 175 million users. The current figure is around 750 millions users. Now that’s a conspiracy!


Filed under In the News, supernatural

The Owlman of Mawnan

Leonora Carrington

On learning of the death this week of the last surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington at the ripe old age of 94, I did a little background research and was amazed to discover what a bizarre life she led. She hung out with Picasso, fled the Nazis and escaped from a psychiatric hospital but it was her love affair with Max Ernst that I thought would interest you.

Born into a very wealthy background in 1917, Leonora was expelled from several convents for her “eccentricity, usually a combination of anti-social tendencies and certain supernatural proclivities.” At the age of 19 she met and fell in love with the much older and married Max Ernst, one of the leaders of the Dada and Surrealist movements.

In 1937 Max and Leonora visited the village of Mawnan, Cornwall where they are said to have performed rituals to invoke the appearance of therianthorpes (half-man half-animal). One of these was said to be the Nightjarman a half bird, half human creature. The birdman was to become a recurrent iconic theme in Ernst’s artwork and also featured in some of Leonora’s work. Max and Leonora led a bizarre tempestuous life but eventually went their separate ways.

In 1976, Ernst died but a couple of weeks after his death, some peculiar sightings were reported in Mawnan. Don Melling had been visiting the area on holiday from Lancaster with his family when his two daughters, 12-year-old June and her 9-year-old sister, Vicky, were walking through the woods near the church. Suddenly the two girls saw a large winged creature hovering above the church tower.

Drawing of the Owlman based on girls sighting

Paranormal researcher Tony “Doc” Shiels who was in the area interviewed the girls and produced a sketch based on what the girls reported. The Owlman of Mawnan had been born. Soon there were other reports of the strange creature. The last sighting was in the 1990s but the Cornish Owlman has become established folklore.

Now that Leonora has also died, I wonder if we will now hear reports of two owls around the village?

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Filed under In the News, supernatural

The Fall of Rome?

For all you out there who are not fans of the Vatican, fear not, as the papal city and the rest of Rome for that matter, is to be reduced to rubble tomorrow according to seismologist Raffaele Bendandi. Already, many Romans are leaving the city and it is predicted that one fifth of the workforce is not turning up to work tomorrow.

But how accurate are Bendandi’s readings? Pretty spooky to be honest – the man has been dead for 30 years! That’s right. The whole of Rome is getting itself in a tiss about this urban rumor that is circulating on the internet. Anyway, many Romans are putting their faith in the papa. One inhabitant, Franceso Verselli, said that Rome would be spared because it was home to the Pope: “Wherever the Pope is, nothing will happen.” Maybe he’ll say a prayer so that the earthquake doesn’t happen.


Filed under In the News, supernatural, Weird Story of the Week

Welcome to Head Lice Control

When my girls were younger,  I remember the horror of discovering their first infestation of head lice. Despite the reassurances that “lice prefer clean hair” you still feel that a hoard of aliens have taken of the head of your beloved child. After the third or fourth reoccurrence, you resigned yourself to the truth that all kids get them but that some parents were less concerned about treating them. I can understand. You have to shampoo the hair and then comb out the lice and eggs. It was like painting the Forth Road Bridge – an endless task.

One HELCU - yours for £19

Anyway, that could all change. If you go to Wincanton, Somerset (Yet another example of woomongery in my neck of the woods – must be something to do with all the leigh lines we have about here) you arrive at the Maperton Trust which according to their website is Head Lice Control.  We are told that 20 years of research has lead to the development of the HELRU (head lice repelling unit). What is this amazing innovative technology that combats the fiendish pediculosis capitis? Why it’s a £19 badge with a picture of a unicorn on it. Does it work? Sure. Why not check out the testimonial from a school teacher who wrote,

To whom it may concern

I am a primary school teacher who has been troubled with head lice since I began teaching nearly five years ago. I started using the Maperton Trust’s device about four months ago. The lice disappeared within a few weeks and have yet to return despite the fact that the children in my class continue to suffer from them.

Fiona Woods

Or consider the letter from a grandmother

Further to my telephone call to you today re-head lice badge, I enclose a cheque for 3 which you have reserved for me. I got one for my grand-daughter Tanya in January and until begining of April when she unfortunately lost it she hadn’t had any ‘Lice’ but within a few days of losing it my daughter found some again, as she had mixed with children that had them, so we believe the badge does work, and hopefully you may have some requests for more, as 2 of these are for Tanya’s friends.

Thank you,

Yours faithfully,

Mrs. E. Hobbs.

And if that is not enough just check out this brilliant statistical analysis of a twelve week trial based on 28 children.

This swings it for me!

Apparently this evidence has not been enough to satisfy the Advertising Standards Agency who have told the Maperton Trust to remove the claims from their website. What cynics. Anyway if you take the time to explore the Maperton Trust site you can discover all manner of amazing science such as radionics and brain broadcasting. This Trust and all of its groundbreaking work appears to be the brainchild of Gordon who is featured on the site alongside many of his animals at his barn in Wincanton. Here he is with his horse. His cat also features prominently on his site but unlike other country animals, I am sure that none of these have fleas. That’s because they have a picture of a unicorn protecting them.

I really should go into this business!


Filed under In the News, supernatural

Sacred Sport

One of the ideas I have for another book down the road is one on superstition and sport. After religion, sport comes pretty high up on the list of human activities that evoke magical thinking. We all know about all the superstitious rituals that various players engage in prior to matches. I have already covered David Beckham’s OCD and the habit of his AC milan teammates patting his bottom for good luck. But I think that the sports fan is a peculiar species.

Nick Hornby famously wrote about his pre-match ritual of buying a sugar mouse on his way to the football match.  He would bite the head off and then lob the remainder into the road as a way of ensuring that his beloved Arsenal would win.

Not much of view from here

I recently had the rare opportunity to go to an Arsenal game – the first match that I have been to in over 25 years and there is something fanatical about fans. So I was not too surprised to read this week about the corpse of a fan that was smuggled into a Colombia match between Cúcuta Deportivo and Envigado. Cristopher Alexander Jácome Sanguino, a 17-year-old supporter, had been gunned down the day before but his friends decide to take him to the match last sunday anyway.

We always think of the South Americans being somewhat loco when it comes to football but you find similar sports fever across the globe.

Hamburg SV soccer team in Germany is building a cemetery as part of a new stadium so that fans can be buried next to the playing fields. Apparently this is because it is illegal in Germany  to scatter human remains in pubic places. Other clubs are a bit more liberal with many die-hard fans ending their days on the pitch. The singer/actor Meatloaf is such a fanatical baseball supporter, that he plans to have his ashes scattered over the Yankees stadium in New York by helicopter.

These stadiums are the new sacred sites that must not be violated. When a construction worker recently buried a Boston Red Sox jersey in the concrete foundation of the Yankees stadium as a curse, team owners paid $50,000 dollars to have the offending garment excavated in a five-hour operation. The jersey later sold for $175,000 to a Red Sox fan.

So when it comes to sport, people display some very strange beliefs and behaviour. As Bill Shankley, the former manager of Liverpool Football Club quipped,

‘football isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that’


Filed under In the News, supernatural

What to Do If You See a Ghost

With the launch of Richard Wiseman’s excellent new book, “Paranormality,” there is alot of talk about ghosts in the media at the moment. As most you probably know, we scientists don’t give much credence to reports of ghosts. More often than not, peoples’ experiences are simply due to their hypervigilance in situations where any ambiguous event can be reinterpreted as a ghost. And of course, there are always the pranksters who take delight in fooling the gullible.

But what should you do if you think you have seen a ghost. This video showing how unsuspecting Koreans resp0nd to the sight of a “Ring” type of ghost, ends with exactly what you should do.

I am sure that Richard would also suggest that you test out the physics of any apparition you may encounter. I, on the other hand, had better get on with writing my own book, “The Self Illusion,” which argues that our selves may not even exist. Now that is going to take a lot more persuading than belief in ghosts.


Filed under book publicity, General Thoughts, supernatural

Powerband Gives Little Wrist Action

A month or two back I received a package from Australia from Richard Saunders who wanted to send me something. Now if you know Richard, then you know there is always a little twinkle in his eye most of the time. Richard is from the the Skeptic Zone and is one of the powerhouses behind exposing the Power Balance Bands – a silicone band with a hologram, that the makers claim  can improve your balance, strength and flexibility all for about £38 (approx $50).It’s a bit of woo merchandizing that has gone both global and mega. Numerous superstars from the sporting world swear by them including that well-known bastion of rationality, David Beckham.

Expecting the unusual, I opened the package to discover two rubber wristbands that could easily have been mistaken for something out of the Ann Summers adult catalogue. These were mock Power Balance Bands produced by the Skeptic Zone to draw attention to the ludicrous claims.

But then earlier this month, the English Cricket Team won the Ashes in spectacular fashion and as you can see from the victory group photograph, the Power Balance Bands are clearly evident. 

However, through the efforts of our more sensible cousins down under, the bracelet’s distributors in Australia were made to apologise and change their marketing and advertising text after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took action.

The US distributors of the Power Balance had also claimed: “Power Balance is based on the idea of optimising the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.” Now if that doesn’t trigger your BS detectors then what will?

Anyway, this story has been developing in the past few months and I guess I have just been to busy to draw attention to it, but today the Telegraph in the UK reported that the creators of the Power Balance Bands admitted that there was no scientific evidence to back up the claims and that they were offering refunds. However, even when the game is up, some believers refuse to listen. Huw Davies, the head of strength and conditioning at Wasps rugby club, said that players were initially skeptical but had responded significantly well to wearing the wristbands.

If the Powerbands improve performance, then they are clearly working on the same principle as lucky charms – wishful thinking and placebo. Anyway, thank you Richard for sending me the fake Powerbands. Maybe I can take them to Ann Summers and see if they have an alternative use for them or where to wear them.


Filed under In the News, supernatural