Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Olof Jonsson - the Swedish Swindler

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The popularity of physical mediums and spiritualistic seances faded inexorably during the first decades of the 20th century. Most of the prominent psychics were exposed as fraudulent and as some of them confessed and revealed the methods used, business for those remaining wasn't exactly blooming. The reputations of researchers like Sir William Crookes, Charles Richet, Baron von Schrenck Notzing, Sir Oliver Lodge, Henry Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Sir William Barrett, were unsparingly blemished when spiritualistic mediums they had once declared genuine now admitted to fraud or were exposed beyond doubt. (Edmunds, 1966; Hansel, 1989)

In 1934, Joseph Banks Rhine published Extra-Sensory Perception, in which he described very promising research on telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. It aroused huge interest among the lay public and the term "ESP" was suddenly on everyone's lips. But the critique was severe, and rightfully so; Rhine's experimental conditions were far from satisfactory (Hansel, 1989). Nevertheless, his work set the standard for modern parapsychology. And the people who claimed contact with the dead were not welcome. Although religiously inclined, Rhine left no laboratory door open for spiritualism. His research subjects were mainly university students. A special group of individuals did however emerge - the birth of modern parapsychology paved the way and introduced an academic label for a new breed of swindlers: "high-scoring subjects".

You have probably heard of some of the names. There was Ingo Swann who "remote viewed" the content of boxes by simply peeking into them when no one was looking (Randi, 1982). Bill Delmore made his way into the annals of parapsychology by doing parlour card tricks (Diaconis, 1978). Ted Serios produced "psychic" pictures by holding gadgets in front of camera lenses (Christopher, 1975; Diaconis, 1978). In the Soviet Union, Nina Kulagina was able to move objects by "psychokinesis", i.e. with the help of thin threads and magnets (Björkhem & Johnson, 1986). There was of course Uri Geller, who managed to hoodwink hordes of parapsychologists and gullible scientists. He is probably the most exposed fraudster in history but there are still grown-ups, even on university payroll, who credit him with genuine psychic abilities. Not bad for a con artist.

These dexterous and unscrupulous attention-addicts were met by researchers who were gullible and presumptuous, to say the least, by experimental conditions that could be altered or overturned at whim, and by experimental analysis that demanded few successful deceptions to cause "statistical significance". But if the parapsychologists were clowns in the laboratory, they excelled in covering up. Diaconis notes that reports from ESP experiments "are often wholly inadequate" and offer poor record of what has actually taken place (Diaconis, 1978). When Barber suggested that parapsychological research very well could serve as a model to other fields of science regarding stringency and control (Johnson, 1980), it was on the basis of reports, not actual experiments.

Into this hodgepodge of deception, delusion and sloppy science entered a flamboyant Swedish psychic in the middle of the 20th century. His name was Olof Jönsson.

Most psychics create some sort of interesting background narrative to gloss over their often ordinary and banal descent. In Jönsson's case, the story is passed on by long time friend, Swedish literature professor Olle Holmberg (1968), and American writer Brad Steiger (1971), and it carries the standard elements of mindblowing miracles as everyday fun for the innocent psychic child. Jönsson, born in Malmoe 1918, claimed that he started to experience strange things at the age of seven. At his parental home, he one day discovered, allegedly, that he could make a bottle fall from the table to the floor just by concentrating on it. According to Jönsson, he realized that he could affect lots of objects just by looking at them. He also claimed to have started to dream of events that later occured and that he knew what people were thinking; he could answer questions before they were asked. In school, he didn't need to study because he dreamed up the answers the night before the tests. That no one heard of those miracles when they were performed is astonishing...

One of his school teachers is said to have lulled Jönsson into Rosicrucianism. Later, when he was beginning his psychic career, Jönsson used to start his sessions with a lecture on the fundamentals of this branch of mysticism, but he soon gave that up since his audience had more taste for miracles than for ludicrous "wisdom".

Jönsson studied engineering and after a couple of odd jobs following his exam in 1941, he was employed as a draftsman at the Monark bicycle manufacturing company in Varberg 1946. By then, he had also dabbled a bit in healing together with a sidekick whose stutter Jönsson claimed to have cured. But it was during his time in Varberg that Jönsson's reputation as a miracle man started to spread. He soon became the pet psychic of a number of influential names in Swedish psychic research. Unfortunately, that doesn't say much since Swedish parapsychology has been, and still is, the playground of woo-woos with or without academic badges. Subsequently, the "experiments" with Jönsson, as described in Holmberg's, Steiger's and other's tributes, were in most cases carried out in the comfort of someone's home, during dinner, in the living-room, or at a restaurant, always in the company of friends and devotees. The feats reported is the standard routine for most mentalist entertainers; a lot of card tricks, identifying apparently random words in "never-before-seen books", and an occasional pullling of bottles with threads. Yes, that's right - Jönsson was performing parlour magic. But he, and his fans, called it "clairvoyance", "telepathy", "psychokinesis", and so on.

In 1949, the professor of telephony and telegraphy of the Royal Institute of Technology, Torben Laurent, conducted a series of experiments with Jönsson. Laurent was astonished but could not explain Jönsson's accomplishments with other than it had to be tricks. And again, as you read the "reports", the "experiments", although in an academical setting, are nothing but card tricks. Jönsson was allowed to do exactly what he was doing among friends in their homes; he had full controll over the situation.

A couple of years ago, I made notes on several of Jönsson's most common effects. Now, when you describe a magic trick, you have to separate what is being performed by the magician from the effect it has on the audience. The most important psychologichal tool of the magician is misdirection, i.e. leading the audience to look somewhere else when the feat is executed. But the misdirection can also be in time, i.e. the presentation of a trick is done long after it has been executed.

The reports on Jönsson's effects are available en masse, but I wanted to find out how some of them could have been produced. I e-mailed a translated compilation of my notes to a very prominent British mentalist, who was kind enough to take the time to read and answer my letter. He admitted he had trouble identifying the exact tricks that would cause the described effects. But not because he didn't know how they had been produced, but because he couldn't decide which of many possible ways to produce the same effect had been used. Every effect, i.e. what the audience experience, often has a multitude of different ways to be accomplished. That is another very important tool of the magician. Never produce an effect the same way twice.

Indeed, when magicians were present during Jönsson's "experiments", they had no doubt about what he was doing. At one private dinner party, Erik Truxa and his wife were invited and when Jönsson demonstrated his "telepathy", Truxa immediately duplicated the trick, showing that all it took was some sleight-of-hand (, Truxa). Eric Cubis was another magician who debunked Jönsson several times.

But the downfall of Jönsson in Sweden was his own doing. In the small village of Tjornarp in the south of Sweden, a murder occupied the police and the national press in November 1951. Mill owner Allan Nilsson was found dead in his bed after a fire had almost burned his house down. During the following investigation, the police soon suspected arson and in the autopsy, the cause of death was found to be severe battery. But the police had no leads and in desperation, one of the many psychics that had announced their interest in the matter was called in - Olof Jönsson.

Jönsson was confident and stated that he at anytime would be able to disclose who committed the crime, even if the murderer had made his way half around the world. With the help of objects belonging to the victim, Jönsson spent a day trying to "sense" the killer. He was assisted by local police officer Tore Hedin - seen here together with Jönsson who is "feeling" a rifle. The picture was published nationwide and confirmed Jönsson's reputation as a miracle man. But Jönsson was unable to come up with the name of the murderer and the crime remained unsolved for almost a year.

On the night of Friday 22 August 1952, local police officer Tore Hedin slew his sleeping parents with an axe in the village of Saxtorp. After having set the house on fire, he proceeded to Hurva village, and a home for old people where his former fiancée was working, and living. He crushed the back of her skull with the axe, in her sleep. The next victim was the manager, who received three blows to the head and died. Hedin dropped the axe, got two cans of gasoline from his car and set the house on fire. Four more people died in the flames.

Hedin wrote a suicide note and had some sausages in his car. Then he took a rowing-boat, went out on lake Bosarp, tied some weights to his body, jumped in the water, and drowned himself. He was found on Saturday. In his note, he admitted to having killed mill owner Allan Nilsson the year before. In the following investigation, it was discovered that Hedin had saved a clip with the picture of him and Jönsson during the arson investigation in 1951. The national headlines that followed cunningly mocked the psychic for apparently being too close to the perpetrator (Nilsson, 2008). Jönsson's reputation was wrecked and only the Swedish parapsychologists still had faith in him. With their help, he left for the United States in 1953(Steiger, 1971).

In the US, Jönsson got rid of the dots over "o" to make it easier for Americans to pronounce his name. He moved to Chicago, where he found work with the help of an aunt. In Durham, J. B. Rhine had heard about the Swedish miracle man - although I doubt that the Swedish parapsychologists had informed him of Jönsson's assistance in the Hurva murder case or the many fraud exposures - and offered him to come down for testing. Jönsson willingly complied and of his accomplishments at the Rhine laboratories, there are several versions.

According to Jönsson (Steiger, 1971), Rhine considered him one of the most talented psychics he had ever tested. His results were so significant that Rhine even asked some research assistants to "adjust" the best ones because they were too good. And Jönsson told his fan club back in Sweden that he was performing well in controlled experiments (SM, 1998). The "tests" he bragged about were those conducted at night, during a stop with the car on a road, or in someone's home (Steiger, 1971) - conditions very far from those prescribed by Rhine as necessary when verifying parapsychological hypotheses (Rhine & Pratt, 1974).

Rhine, on the other hand, had a slightly different version. The testing of Jönsson was terminated because he never managed to produce anything convincing. In fact, Rhine noted that Jönsson's performances diminished as controls increased. At an important presentation for a group of scientists, Rhine even caught Jönsson red-handed, when he was about to cheat. Rhine whispered to him:
- Ollie, stop that at once!
Jönsson blushed, embarrased, and failed miserably with the test. Rhine had also figured out how Jönsson did some of his other "telepathy" card feats. (Semitjov, 1979)

Holmberg (1968) notes that both he and Jönsson overestimated the support Jönsson would get from American researchers, so I guess it is safe to conclude that Rhine's version is closer to the truth. But, in fairness, there are some parapsychologists in the States that were completely taken in by Jönsson. Norman Don, for instance, illustrates how completely deluded you can be and still hold an academic title. Although Jönsson died in 1998, Don corresponded with him as late as 2001 (Harrell, 2001). There is also William Cox who readily acknowledged that Jönsson was a fraud but still considered him a "sensitive" (Cox, 1974). Yes, the same Cox who, at the 1976 Parapsychological Association convention in Utrecht, declared that magician Ulf Mörling, who was demonstrating how paranormal phenomena could be accomplished with trickery, was a genuine psychic without knowing it (Johnson, 1980).

Jönsson's next big escapade was the telepathy experiment during Apollo 14's space trip in 1971. In short, four psychics on earth were supposed to receive telepathic signals from astronaut Edgar Mitchell in space. The tests failed miserably, of course. In fact, Jönsson's results were so bad the parapsychologists decided it was supernaturally bad, so-called PSI-missing (Randi, 1982). Jönsson even "received" during a day when Mitchell had to cancel "sending" due to other commitments (Semitjov, 1979). What is interesting about this experiment, though, is Jönsson's stunt with the press. NASA had decided that the test, which was Mitchell's private project, should be conducted in secret and it was stipulated that the names of the four psychics not were to be disclosed, they were only to be referred to as A, B, C, and D. But days before Apollo 14 landed, someone leaked to the press and the experiment made big headlines. Only one of the psychics was named. Olof Jönsson. He was psychic A. None of the other psychics have ever been disclosed. According to Mitchell, the leak was Jönsson (Backstrom, 2001). He simply couldn't restrain himself from seizing this opportunity to personal fame and glory.

One of many outrageous psychic accomplishments Jönsson claimed was helping adventurer Mel Fisher to find a Spanish galleon with $300,000 (or sometimes $140million) worth of gold in July 1974. The site of the wreck was outside Florida Keys and Jönsson was allegedly able to direct the search team to the spot were the treasure was found (Semitjov, 1979). But no one at Fisher's company - it is still in business, or at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, has any recollection of any such assistance or knowledge of a man by the name of "Olof Jönsson" - and some of the people now (or when I contacted them a couple of years ago) working for the company did so back in 1974. In fact, no galleon was even found that year, no major discoveries at all were made. The famous gold treasure and pieces of a ship found in 1985 was the result of a long-time search effort with findings of scattered pieces preceeding it. And Olof Jönsson had nothing to do with it, although he may have claimed that too.

The stories about Jönsson led Philippino president Ferdinand Marcos, a certified woo-woo with psychic aspirations of his own, to hire the Swede for a World War II treasure hunt, the gold cargo of a sunken Japanese heavy cruiser, the Nachi. Jönsson's reward, if he found anything, was to be more than generous. This time, Jönsson was sort of lucky. The location was already marked on a map. When a first dive failed, Jönsson insisted that they should try some hundred yards away. Ka-ching, there was the Nachi! Jönsson had actually found war loot using his psychic powers! And a map marked with the location of the wreck... (Seagrave & Seagrave, 2003) On the picture below, Jönsson meets with Marcos.

In closing, perhaps Olof Jönsson's obituary in the Chicago Tribune may serve as a proper summary of his life as a psychic. I quote:

Yet Mr. Jonsson did establish an international reputation as a psychic as a young man growing up in his native Sweden. After a small town in Sweden had a series of bizarre murders in which 12 women were brutally slain, police authorities contacted Mr. Jonsson, who had a detailed vision of the crimes and the murderer. After Mr. Jonsson identified the suspect as a young policeman, the officer confessed the crimes in a suicide note. Mr. Jonsson later told the Tribune that the situation disturbed and depressed him, and he swore to never again get involved in solving violent crimes. (McSherry Breslin, 1998)

Remember Jönsson's complete failure in finding the Hurva murderer, police man Tore Hedin? Well, in the US, Jönsson converted that to a success. He didn't even bother to keep track of essential details, such as the number or gender of the victims, or the fact that Hedin only had slain one person at the time when Jönsson was involved in the investigation. He sometimes counted the victims to thirteen, and claimed that Hedin made a note in his suicide letter that it only was a matter of time until Jönsson would identify him (Semitjov, 1979). No journalist ever bothered to check Jönsson's stories...

Olof Jönsson was a simple trickster, with an amazing career. Next to Uri Geller, he may very well be the swindler that managed to cheat the largest number of parapsychologists ever. Then again, anyone can call him- or herself a parapsychologist. And if you take an interest in these matters called "paranormal", you will soon find that anyone does.

Backstrom, F., (2001). Private Lunar ESP: An Interview with Edgar Mitchell. In Cabinet Magazine, 5. [web document]
Björkhem, Ö., & Johnson, M., (1986). Parapsykologi och övertro. Stockholm: Forum
Christopher, M., (1975). Mediums, Mystics & The Occult. New York: Crowell
Cox, W. E., (1974). Parapsychology and Magicians. In Parapsychology Review, May-June, pp. 12-14.
Diaconis, P., (1978). Statistical Problems in ESP Research. In Science, 201, (14)
Edmunds, S., (1966). Spiritualism. A critical Survey. London: Aquarian Press
Hansel, C. E. M., (1989). The Search for Psychic Power. ESP & Parapsychology Revisited. New York: Prometheus
Harrell, M. A., (2001). Condition Three. [web document]
Holmberg, O., (1968). Den osannolika verkligheten. Stockholm: Bonniers
Johnson, M., (1980). Parapsykologi. Zindermans
McSherry Breslin, M., (1998). Olof Jonsson obituary. In Chicago Tribune, quoted in [web document]
Nilsson, K., (2008). Polis - och mördare. Tore Hedin utredde sina egna mord. In Aftonbladet, 9 July.
Randi, J., (1982). Flim-Flam. Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions. New York: Prometheus
Rhine, J. B., & Pratt, J. G., (1974). Parapsychology. Frontier Science of the Mind (5th printing). Springfield: Charles C. Thomas
Seagrave, S., & Seagrave, P., (2003). Gold Warriors: America's Secret Recovery of Yamashita's Gold. Verso.
Semitjov, E., (1979). Mellan dröm och verklighet. Askild & Kärnekull
Steiger, B., (1971). Fallet Olle Jönsson. Ockulta fenomen - parapsykologiska experiment. Zindermans. (Am: The Psychic Feats of Olof Jonsson, Prentice-Hall)
SM, (1998). The laws of nature were put out of play. Conversations with Sune Stigsjöö. In Sokaren. [web document], article Truxa, [web document]

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Colin Fry revisited

In August 2007, English psychic Colin Fry signed over charlatan hothouse Ramsbergsgarden, Sweden, to Jane Lyzell and her spouse. Lyzell served as Fry's sidekick during his time in Sweden (see Is the Small Fry a Big Fish?) In a way, it's a shame that Fry's Swedish engagement has been reduced. After all, he brought a bit of class and style to the Swedish psychic scene. Now we are left with nasty rabble like Terry Evans, Jörgen "Cry Baby" Gustafsson, Elisabeth Lannge, and of course the absolute scrapings, Jane Lyzell.

As a tribute to Fry, it would be nice to revisit a definite highlight in his career -- the trumpet incident. I know he has made everything he can to pass this occasion to oblivion, but it is such a great moment I just have to repeat the story again. I do it in form of the actual article in Psychic News that broke the news to the world. Just click the following images to open high resolution versions in new windows. As an extra bonus, I've added an image of Colin Fry playing around with so called ectoplasm at the bottom. What a great showman, what a great fraud - enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2008


Someone requested a banner so here are some models. Just right-click and choose "Save image as" to download it to your computer. The link URL is







Monday, July 14, 2008

Jane Lyzell knows

Ooops, I just noticed that Jane Lyzell, former sidekick of trumpet-swinging British fraud Colin Fry, claims that the facts are already there for you to find, if you just bother to check. But she is not willing to back up her claim with links, since this generation lives in "syberspayce" (I think it means "cyberspace"). The right thing to do, according to Lyzell, is to search for knowledge in our libraries and ask psychics. Then you will discover the real facts! Indeed, Helen Duncan was tested! (And was declared an obvious fraud, but I think Lyzell missed that shelf.) Anyway, in an act of benevolence, Lyzell suggests an old title from 1922 by Björke. I happen to have it and it's the standard anecdotal stories being repeated over and over again on the internet, with the exception of a few Scandinavian cases. But since she is devoted to books, there are some titles I would like to suggest for her to read:

"A Beginners Guide to the Swedish Language"

"Hair-care for Dummies"

"Sociopathy and hysteria combined? How to adapt to social contexts."

I'm sure Lyzell will find them if she just bothers to check...

Psychic and brain incompatible?

Mr Johan Lundberg, the "psychic in training" that was thrown out of the Swedish Psychic Challenge by his peers in 2007 and since have been somewhat unobtrusive, is now calling out for a power demonstration by Swedish psychics who claim to be able to aid the police in finding missing persons. According to Lundberg, or Manthrax as he also calls himself, such a demonstration would be possible through "some sort of test". That is, Lundberg doesn't know how the test is to be designed. He just knows that a test may show skeptics the power of psychic ability "once and for all". Apparently, the multitude of cases of missing persons so far has not been ample opportunity for psychics to prove their abilities "once and for all". As psychics tend to shower police switchboards with "insights" as soon as a case makes headlines, you would have expected some success by now. There has been none. Zip. Zero. Nada.

However, as a demonstration of pure delusion, Lundberg's initiative is very illustrating indeed...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Holy Crap! Or Myrna Nazzour - the Miracle Faker of Damascus

Take a look at the objects below. The first is the Holy Lance that is kept in the Schatzkammer of Vienna. Allegedly, this is the spear that was used to pierce Jesus on the cross. There are of course other relics like it and we don't even know for certain that the story of the crucifixion - or Jesus for that matter - is anything more than religious myth. But for our purpose, it is sufficient that if the incident took place at the time suggested, and if Jesus was pierced by a Roman spearhead, it would a have been roughly similar to the one below in shape.

What kind of wound would such a spear produce? What would a wound from a Roman spear look like? Painters and other artists have imagined and depicted it for centuries and if you google for "stab wound" or "knife wound", perhaps you can get a general idea. Now, would it look like on the picture below?

As you can see, this is not a cut and it is not an open wound. The shape of this wound to the side of the chest is irregular so it has not been produced by a blade pushed into the body and then pulled out. And even if the blade had been turned and twisted during the penetration, it would have produced a wound with totally different irregularities - and something of a mess. In addition, alongside the wound in the picture, there is coloring of the skin suggesting that it has been scratched rather than pierced. I think it is fair to say that a) this wound is not caused by a Roman spear and b) this wound is not what you would imagine that such a wound would look like. Why these two alternatives are equally important, I will explain later on.

The next object is a replica of a Roman nail as they were designed during the time of Jesus. It is fairly safe to say that nails had to be quite large and look something like this to hold a body in place on a cross. And it is a fact that crucifixions were Roman practice at the time.

We don't really know if it was the palm of the hand or the wrist that was spiked, or if the feet were penetrated on the instep or through the heel. Some suggest that the arms were tied to the cross with ropes. Regardless of which, you should be able to imagine what kind of wound a Roman nail would cause. And keep in mind that the nails were not withdrawn right after the penetration, but stayed in place for at least one or a couple of days. Now, is it probable that the wounds pictured below were caused by Roman nails?

If you saw these wounds out of context, would you suggest they were caused by a thick nail having been pierced through the limbs? Of course not. They are similar in type to the chest wound, only shorter. It is likely that these palm and instep wounds derive from the same source and it is fair to say that a) these wounds are not caused by Roman nails and b) these wounds are not what you would imagine that such wounds would look like.

Jesus is said to have been wearing a crown of thorn. The image below is just a costume replica and it is of course impossible to know exactly what such a headgear would have looked like but we do know thorn and it could have looked something like this. We can be certain that it would have had lots of thorns, since crucifixion and everything pertaining to it was intended to cause as much pain as possible, for as long time as possible.

Would a crown of thorn produce wounds like on the picture below?

This time, it's hard to tell because of the blood. But if you look carefully you see that just above where the blood seems to spring from, there is a scratch or irritation of the skin close to the wound. You can also see that there is only one wound, perhaps with the other, upper scratch being a failed attempt. But there are no other wounds around the head, just the one at the center of the forehead. So this stigmata corresponds with a crown of thorn with only one thorn. It is fair to say that a) this wound is not caused by a crown of thorn and b) this wound is not what you would imagine that such wounds would look like.

All the objects above are essential to the myth of the crucifixion of Jesus, and to the phenomena of stigmata, the appearance of bodily wounds, or sensing of pain, in locations corresponding to the wounds of Jesus on the cross. Apart from nail wounds to the palms and feet, a spear wound to the chest area or abdomen, and marks from the crown, stigmatics may also show wounds to the shoulders from carrying the cross or sweating or crying blood. The phenomena is regarded as a sign from God and stigmatic persons tend to be canonized by religious believers and sometimes even by the church - such a miracle is of course only displayed by someone who is pure in heart and faith.

There are three major suggested explanations for the phenomena of stigmata:

1. Wounds or other signs are produced by a suggested supreme being.

2. Wounds or other signs are produced through self-suggestion, i.e. the "victim" inflicts the wounds him- or herself by power of suggestion. The stigmatic has such a strong faith that it effects the physiology.

3. Wounds or other signs are faked.

In our case, the first option must be considered totally out of the question. If a supreme being would have the power to inflict wounds, it would surely not restrain itself to scratches -- we would see wounds that actually resemble what wounds would look like if they were caused by the objects suggested. In our case, they don't. Not by a long shot.

There is scientific evidence that lends support to the second option. There are studies suggesting that dermatological changes can occur as a result of suggestion (Spanos & Chaves, 1989). However, not in any case have such changes been in the form of scratches. Blisters, warts, hemorrhages, or burns may appear, but never scratches.

So none of the wounds above look like what might be expected if they were inflicted by a supreme being, or what might be expected if our imagination was aided by strong suggestion and the skin subject to change in accordance.

That leaves us with the third option: fake.

Myrna Nazzour of Damascus, Syriah, is stigmatic. The wounds you have seen so far are all pictures of Myrna. She is a fake. All her wounds appear when she is hiding under a blanket. Although there are a lot of footage of her, not one sequence shows a wound actually appearing. Myrna's case is similar to that of Therese Neumann, another stigmata faker (Spanos & Chaves, 1989).

In fairness, Myrna's wounds do derive from Jesus, just not in the way they are supposed to. Under the blanket, Myrna uses her crucifix pendant to produce the wounds. That is why she needs a blanket and that is why she keeps twisting and turning under it. That is why the wounds look like they have been caused by an object with features like those of a crucifix pendant.

Crucifix pendants are designed to hang from necklaces. They come in different sizes and models but the three pictured below are fairly common.

These pendants each have at least four points that would produce wounds such as Myrna's. There are the ends of the cross itself and then there is the attachment to the necklace. The ends of the cross can very easily be sharpened without making it visibly obvious. As you can see on the following pictures, Myrna wears her pendant at every time the wounds appear under the blanket. (Feel free to browse the internet for more pictures and footage.)

If the pendant doesn't show, it is concealed under Myrna's clothes. This is evident when you watch the following movie clip:

[Movie clip: watch closely from about 03:35 into the film] (opens in new window)

What you see in this clip is how a hand removes the crucifix pendant to make the wound visible. This tells us two things: if the necklace and pendant doesn't show, it is concealed under Myrna's clothes, and the necklace is of such length that it is more than possible for Myrna to produce wounds below her breasts.

This movie is the third part of a Swedish TV3 documentary, Reportage, televised 16 September 2004. Along with the TV-team, there was a team of Nordic scientists present at Easter that year, monitoring Myrna and the event. The research team was headed by Norwegian cardiothoracic surgeon Knut Kvernebo. No wounds appeared when the researchers were present, but when they all went shopping on the last day, a wound of course appeared. What a proud moment for the scientific community when research is conducted in this way. And what a proud moment for the Swedish skeptics, the VoF, when their chairman at the time, Dan Larhammar, suggests in an interview that the wounds may be caused by bacteria or blood vessels starting to bleed spontaneosly. Larhammar illustrates perfectly the fallacy of misplaced rationalism as described by Sheaffer in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer:

"Before suggesting such a bizarre and complex yet still ultimately rational explanation, it would be more rational to inquire whether there is really any mystery in need of explaining." (Sheaffer, 2008)

In the case of Myrna Nazzour, there is no mystery - she is using jewelry to scratch her skin. It is obvious to anyone that cares to look. There is no need for far-fetched explanations. Skeptics that are afraid to state that fakers are fakers should not comment on fakers.

The simple and obvious explanation for Myrna Nazzour's alleged stigmata is this:

And should Myrna be deprived of her jewelry, and if her nails were checked properly, no wounds would appear. That such precautions are not taken by a research team is an outrage. The scientist's "testimonies" that they have "no explanation" for the wounds displayed by Myrna are now flaunted all over the internet in support for "miracles" that are nothing but fraud. Knut Kvernebo has prostituted science for the benefit of superstition. Hallelujah...

Swedish TV3 documentary: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Sheaffer, R., (2008). The Fallacy of Misplaced Rationalism in Skeptical Inquirer, 32, (4).

Spanos, N. P., & Chaves, J. F., (1989). Hypnosis. The Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective. New York: Prometheus.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Look into my eyes, look into my eyes...

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Let's say, hypothetically, that you suffer from skin disorder, anorexia, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, obsessional neurosis, post traumatic stress disorder, asthma, allergy, tinnitus, migraine, depression, phobia, or anxiety. Or perhaps you want to quit smoking, ejaculate later rather than sooner, or stop sucking your thumb. If you had one or more of these health-care problems and wanted to get rid of it or them, would you call Jörgen Sundvall or Zoe D. Katze?

You probably don't know anything about them, but let me assure you that they both have documented qualifications to treat your problem or disorder. Jörgen Sundvall holds diplomas in hypnotherapy from both HCB in England and ISEAH in Ireland. He's also a member of both the International Association of Hypnoanalysts and the Irish Association of Hypnoanalysts. Zoe D. Katze on the other hand, is a psychotherapy Diplomate in the American Psychotherapy Association and has been certified as a hypnotherapist by the American Board of Hypnotherapy, the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association, and the National Guild of Hypnotists. Does this information make your choice easier? Both Sundvall and Katze have impressive credentials, but you may be leaning towards Katze. In comparison, she appears to have a more solid background, being certified and all. She holds a Ph.D, a C.Ht., and a DAPA. Very impressive indeed.

But what if I told you that Zoe D. Katze is a cat? And I mean it literally - Zoe D. Katze is a felis silvestris catus, a furry animal that has long tail, sharp claws and often is kept as a pet. However, there is nothing wrong with Zoe's credentials, they are all issued in her name, and she is listed as a practitioner in therapist registries. When a reporter found "Dr. Zoe D. Katze" in such a registry and called her to get her opinion on hypnosis in childbirthing, Zoe's owner, Steve K. D. Eichel, felt compelled to disclose the trick he had played on some organsiations he considered a bit too generous when handing out credentials. I won't give you the whole Zoe story here, but I urge you to take the time and read it at

By now, you probably have made your mind up. Let's face it, credentials aside, Jörgen Sundvall is at least homo sapiens! Surely, you would prefer being treated by a human rather than a household pet!? But before you make your final decision, let me tell you about Jörgen Sundvall.

First, let's check his credentials. A diploma from HCB -- what does it represent? HCB stands for Hypnotherapy Control Board. However, when you visit, you soon realize that it isn't a "board" at all and it doesn't "control" anything. HCB is actually the Successful Hypnotherapy Diploma Course. But when you visit, you arrive at the International Association of Pure Hypnoanalysts, IAPH. Confusing, isn't it? Well, if we ignore the name juggling we find that this is a course, and an association that is comprised of people who have completed the course. So when you finish the Successfull Hypnotherapy Diploma Course, you get a HCB diploma and a IAPH membership. Two credentials in one. Why? Simply because two merits look better than one. And to the lay person, "International Association of Pure Hypnoanalysts" sounds just like an organisation of independent professionals, formed to manifest professional practice and code of ethics -- a sort of health-care professional's guarantee. But in this case, it only manifests that the members have completed a course.

So what profound education is necessary to achieve these impressive titles? What kind of hard studies have Jörgen Sundvall undertaken and what qualifications did he have in order to enrol?
To become qualified to treat phobias, compulsive disorders, neurosis and depressions, Jörgen Sundvall bought a 20 lecture CD course. That's right, the Successful Hypnotherapy Diploma Course is a home-study course. But surely, since hypnosis is just a therapeutic tool, Jörgen Sundvall must have had some professional healt-care experience? No, he had none, and it was not required. This home-study course "is very thorough and covers all aspects of hypnosis, psychology and hypnotherapy" so you don't have to have any knowledge whatsoever prior to enrolling. And to think that I spent five months of full time university studies to finish an introductory psychology course, which doesn't make me qualified to give treatment of any kind to anyone! I could have paid £1495 and studied in the comfort of my home. And besides all aspects of psychology, I would have learned hypnosis and hypnotherapy as well -- and become qualified to treat premature ejaculation and frigidity! What a bummer... I would have had a clinic up and running by now, just like Jörgen Sundvall (

People like Jörgen Sundvall, "institutions" and bogus credentials as the ones mentioned above, are the reason why real healt-care professionals with real education and background issue warnings like these:

"In most cities, the Yellow Pages of the telephone book carry a listing of 'Hypnotists' or 'Hypnotherapy'. While this should make finding an appropriately trained clinician of hypnosis relatively easy, in fact, it does not. In these pages, professionals in Medicine, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Social Work are lumped together with individuals who have no such formal training -- that is, with what are called lay hypnotists. [...] A further difficulty in finding a properly qualified clinician who is trained in hypnotic procedures is that many of the lay hypnotists confer upon themselves and each other official sounding names, titles and letters after their names; some even designate themselves as 'Doctor', or 'Professor.' These letterings after the name and pseudo-titles imply a legitimacy that, usually, does not exist.The Bulgarian Institute of Hypnosis or the Norwegian College of Hypnotherapists, for instance, could be the name of a legitimate professional practice, but it could, as equally, be the name of a lay hypnosis organization." (Perry)

"It is time that the general public be informed that there is no such person as a 'qualified hypnotherapist', and claims of degrees in this speciality exist only in the fantasies of the so-called 'therapist'. No properly recognised degrees in hypnosis are issued anywhere in the world." (David Waxman, 1984, quoted by Wheeler, 2008)

"Whether your training costs you two hundred pounds or nearer twenty thousand pounds makes no difference: the certificate or hypnotherapy qualifications you will receive are only worth the value of the sheet of paper it is printed on. The reason for that is because there is no one governing body controlling the system." (Wheeler, 2008)

"In Britain anybody can be regarded as a psychotherapist, and there are many 'hypnotherapists'. We strongly believe that hypnosis is not a therapy in its own right, and should only be used alongside standard psychological treatment by a suitably qualified professional." (Whalley, 2008)

In Sweden, where Sundvall is operating his Swedish School of Ethical and Analytical Hypnotherapy, use of hypnosis in clinical practice is regulated by law (LYHS, 1998:531). It clearly states that anyone that lacks professional training controlled and authorized by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare is forbidden to examine or provide treatment with the use of hypnosis. Examining and treating with the use of hypnosis is exactly what Jörgen Sundvall is doing. Do you think that the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare has approved the Successful Hypnotherapy Diploma Course? Neither do I. But the people that should be on the lookout for the likes of Jörgen Sundvall, the Swedish Society for Clinical Hypnosis, are busy lobbying against stage hypnotism (Lindahl, 2005), so they don't have time to bother with a self-proclaimed health-care practitioner who treats real health problems with amateur methods and bogus credentials. It's better to focus attention on hypnotists who make people behave silly on stage for entertainment. And Jörgen Sundvall is sort of a peer, although he prefers to associate himself with New Age riff-raff like Jörgen "Cry Baby" Gustafsson, renowned psychic and charlatan.

So, by now you know that Zoe D. Katze is a cat and that Jörgen Sundvall's diplomas are worth nothing more than the paper they are written on, and that he probably is breaking Swedish law. So who would you choose? Zoe? Come on, it's a cat! Even if Jörgen Sundvall is a total fraud, at least he is human. And he looks nice. Even if he is a con artist, it must be better to have a conversation with a nice-looking person than a cat? But wait, there's more to Jörgen Sundvall than the above.

Do you know Vegavan Das? No? It's Jörgen Sundvall. Vegavan Das was the name he chose for himself when he joined the Hare Krishna, or ISCKON. In fact, Sundvall was instrumental in introducing Hare Krishna in Sweden back in 1973. Although he nowadays claims to be a passive member only (Essén, 2008), he is still listed as a guru and leader ( and holds seminars on international krishna gatherings (Radhadesh, 2006). For a passive member, Jörgen Sundvall is very active. And respected among the krishna members, almost a legend.

So how involved has Sundvall been in the systematic child abuse in the Hare Krishna movement? The sexual child molesting aside, there is the child labor, the systematic malnutrition, the disintegration of families, the concentration camp conditions at the movement's schools for children, the kuru-gulas, that were aimed at keeping the children as far away from the parents as possible (Essén, 2008). Did Jörgen Sundvall look the other way or did he take active part in it? To me, both alternatives disqualify him from coming anywhere near my children and the fact that his religious beliefs, as dictated by the founder Prabhupada, states that women are inferior to men (Essén, 2008) probably makes me want to keep my wife away from him too.

So now, finally, would you choose Jörgen Sundvall or Zoe D. Katze?

Essén, C., (2008). Sektbarn. Stockholm: Bonniers List of leaders. Web document:

Lindahl, S., (2005). Angående ansökan om tillstånd för scenhypnos. Web document:

LYHS, Lag om yrkesverksamhet på hälso- och sjukvårdens område, 1998:531. Web document:

Perry, C. Key Concepts in Hypnosis. Web document:

Radhadesh Newsletter, (2006). Web document:

Whalley, M., (2008). Finding a clinician. Web document:

Wheeler, J., (2008). Hypnotherapy Training and Qualifications. Web document:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My name is not Susan...

For as long as I've been active in internet discussions regarding charlatans and the paranormal, my true identity has been of some concern for both psychics and their followers. They want to know my real name. Why? I don't know. But since they have been so eager, I have found it best to stay anonymous. Some of the louder followers seem to be psychologically unstable, so you never know...

Lately, several psychics have declared that they actually know who I am. One of the contestants in Psychic Academy (the Swedish version of Psychic Challenge), Mr Johan Lundberg, approached me at the Swedish Skeptics forum,, and declared that he had identified me. Apparently, I had made some sort of mistake somewhere that lead him on the right track. He didn't want to post the name out in the open forum, so we agreed that he would send it in a private PM and I would answer truthfully. I did. And I also posted the name on the open forum for all to see. Mr Lundberg was totally wrong. But he doesn't trust me so he probably still thinks my name is the one he suggested.

But wait a minute! This self-deluded man thinks that he receives information from spirits, that he can speak to the departed! How come he is dead wrong on such an easy task as finding out my real name? And isn't his way of finding it out superfluous when he could take a shortcut and ask the Other side? I had to make a mistake first!? Psychic, my ass... Mind you, Mr Lundberg gets all cranky when you call him "psychic", you have to call him "psychic in training". Anyway, he got thrown out of Psychic Academy, failed in his attempt to put together a Swedish Psychic Association, and now keeps a low profile. But it won't be long before he is fully "trained", I guess, and busy ripping people off.

Another charlatan who claims to know my name is Mrs Elisabeth Lannge. She has "seen" it, whatever that means. But she won't say what it is until I decide to announce it in public. Yep, she knows it but I have to say it first... Remember the arguments you used to hear in Kindergarden? Smells just the same, doesn't it? But this old bag claims superior insight and contact with the dead - are the spirits not able to tell her that she is displaying the rhetoric capacity of a five-year-old? It is truly amazing that there are grown-ups who take Mrs Lannge seriously. She's not even house-broken -- when she abruptly left the judging panel of Psychic Academy and left her fellow swindlers gasping, she clearly demonstrated that it's her way or the highway. You'd better rub her up the right way or you're in for a verbal frenzy.

Next in line is Mrs Elisabeth Johansson, an upcoming tarot-tart who claims that she has seen me at the entrance of some psychic demonstrations, so she knows who I am. What makes this pathetic liar hilarious is that she actually has met me once, but in a totally different context and setting. But isn't it educational to see how she, and her peers, so easily make things up in order to gain prestige in the eyes of the gullible mob that flocks around her?

Perhaps it's time to announce the Garvarn Challenge; any psychic who claims to know my identity is hereby invited to e-mail me his or her suggestion and if it is correct, I promise to post a full declaration here on the blog with due credits to the psychic who made it. Nope, no money award this time -- just the glory. And Torbjörn Sassersson, the ravin lunatic "editor" of, is invited too. His wisdom always cracks me up...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The psychic can of worms

Don't you just love the way woo-woo people glorify psychics and other charlatans? Oh, besides having access to the wisdom of spirits, psychics are so kind-hearted, altruistic and understanding! They give so much that whatever they gain is nowhere near enough to compensate for the emotional and spiritual distress they suffer from their "work". Bordering to outright worship, this idolatry is of course aimed at rendering the psychic untouchable - any allegations of fraud or moral misconduct will bounce off someone that is closer to divinity than to fellow humans. And for every benevolent trait the woo-woo worshipers ascribe to a psychic, they add a little bit of confirmation that their trust and faith haven't been badly invested.

Although serious investigative journalism seems to make exception for psychics, we sometimes come to know that there is something ugly behind the varnish. If you scratch the surface of Sylvia Browne, you find grand theft and investment fraud (Lancaster, 2006). If you scratch the surface of Mervyn Johnson, former president of the International Spiritualist Foundation, you find a rapist and child molester (Garvarn, 2007). Of course, psychics are swindlers as such. But if you go beyond the explicit deceit of their "trade", you may very well find that the immorality is not restricted to messing with people's memories of deceased loved ones and charging for services they cannot provide -- the apple tends to be bad all the way through.

In December 2004, I visited the website of one of our more "prominent" Swedish psychics, frequently featured on psychic shows televised nationwide. As I browsed through the posts in the guestbook, I noticed one poster who was criticizing the psychic for the way the "training courses" was being managed. The psychic's answers were of course evasive empty phrases and since the upset poster didn't settle for that and continued with detailed accusations, the guestbook was soon shut down by the psychic. In addition to the critique, one post had stated the e-mail address of the poster, so I decided to make some further inquiries. I found out the following.

An associate of the psychic had started to question some of the psychic's doings, suggesting they were dubious and wrong. In response, the psychic promptly ended the collaboration, claiming that the associate had broken a vow of silence. When asked for specific reasons, the psychic told the associate that the spirit world had strictly forbidden any disclosure in the matter.

I was able to get in touch with some more of the psychic's former associates and regular sitters. Some of them were reluctant to tell anything about their time with the psychic and those who were willing to talk explained why. Threats is one of the common tools of this charlatan. The psychic is in the habit of threatening people, in dislike for major or minor reasons, with the spirit world. In the comfort of the inner circle of people around the psychic, the "happy messages" conveyed during public seances and TV shows are substituted with warnings of forthcoming suicides or fatal diseases. Scare tactics is the glue that holds this particular little psychic group together. And the psychic expects everyone to submit to any little whim, at any time -- be it administrative work or household duties. There is really no limit to what this voice of the dead may require from the sheep in service.

Another tool is lying. The image this psychic paints of the business conducted has no resemblance with the actual state of affairs. Claimed successes turn into disasters when scrutinized. Reasons for relocation turn out to be more evasive than strategic when checked. In essence, this character is a genuine conjurer.

The funny thing is that the truth about this scumbag is only a couple of phone calls and e-mails away. So when I see this psychic on television, being lead through a haunted house by the major Swedish promotor of these fraudsters, Mrs Caroline Giertz (who claims to be a journalist!), smiling and acting all "sensitive", I rest assured that some day the bubble will burst. Some day one of these women, scared to silence, will realize that "the spirit world" really doesn't pose any actual danger and she will be the one who teaches this sociopath psychic that people are not be juggled with. Hopefully she will display the lesson in public but if not, a court of justice will do.

Make no mistake, this and other psychics are sociopaths. James Randi expresses their line of thinking eloquently: "If it's good for me, it's good" (Skepticality, 2006). They just don't care about other people at all. People are just means to their ends. And they know exactly what they are doing, they know that they are fooling people. Randi again:

"It's lika a violinist. He didn't just pick up that violin and started playing. He took lessons. And he has to concentrate on what he is doing." (Skepticality, 2006)

And don't make allowance for the psychics who doesn't charge for the "services". We have at least one of those in Sweden too, Elisabeth Lannge. She doesn't need to charge money because she is married to it! Her currency is social acceptance and "being someone". Those who don't understand the value of that has little understanding of human nature. Her fraud is just as severe, or perhaps more so.

Are the psychics to blame for the gullibility of their worshipers? No, they are not. But it isn't immoral to be gullible. To exploit the gullibility is. Is it silly to feel threatened by the wrath of made up spirits? Of course it is. But being silly is not immoral. Exploiting the silliness in order to rule a semi-cult is. And for some people, the spirit world is far from imaginary. Psychics know this, and they feed on it.

All psychics suffer, to some extent, from personality disorder. The psychological faculty that restrains sane people from messing with people's most sacred thoughts and emotions are non-existent in psychics. They just don't give a damn.

So, for your own enjoyment and other's benefit, open a can of worms -- pick a psychic of your choice and do some background checking. I'll bet something nasty will crawl out...

Garvarn, (2007). Psychic rapist sentenced to five years. Garvarn's blog. Web document:

Lancaster, R. S., (2006). The People vs. Sylvia Brown(e). Web document:

Skepticality, (2006). Podcast, September 24.