As my awesome podcast Squaring the Strange (co-hosted by Pascual Romero and Celestia Ward) has passed its one year anniversary, I will be posting episode summaries from the past year to remind people some of the diverse topics we’ve covered on the show, ranging from ghosts to folklore to mysteries and topical skepticism. If you haven’t heard it, please give a listen! First, Ben looks at current failures of intuition and psychics. Then we take a skeptical look at tour guides! Tours straddle a line between entertainment and education, and tour guides happily embellish local legends and lore as time goes on. We welcome special guest Cindy Boyer from the Landmark Society of Western New York and chat about ghost tours. Pascual confesses to teenaged transgressions, and Ben recounts an egg-balancing lesson with a tour guide in Ecuador. You can listen HERE.
On the new episode of Squaring the Strange we talk music myths with special guest Kyle of the Bad Wolves, the heavy metal band currently topping the charts with their cover of the Cranberries classic "Zombie". You can check it out HERE! You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
In the latest in a series highlighting past episodes and archives of Squaring the Strange, here's a look back at a show you might have missed: To start the episode, Ben shares a tale from the road about being on the Oprah network’s Miracle Detectivesand stumbling upon a snack-food related miracle. Then in our main topic, the guys discuss Halloween scares of the past and present—not ghosts and ghouls but rather rumors and concerns that have terrified parents and the public. For instance, fundamentalists have long worried that Halloween has sinister links to Satanism and even mundane activities might pull kids into the Dark Lord’s influence. Halloween is linked to the pagan holiday of Samhain, which predates Christianity and therefore Satanism, yet the church has a long history of bristling at such competing traditions. And, ironically, many fundamentalists employ the very same recruiting tactics they accuse Satanists of using. The poisoned-candy panics seem to occur every year, flogged by the media, despite the fact that the only two cases of contaminated candy harming anyone involved the child’s own parent. Stranger danger in general is a concept to examine in light of actual statistics, and we should consider what harm we do to children by pushing a false notion of how much random people want to kill them. The poisoned-candy scares took on a racial tone when post-9-11 rumors circulated about terrorists turning to bulk candy purchases as a new tactic. Then, to wrap up, Ben and Pascual touch on sex offenders and their role in Halloween-related scares, and of course one of Ben’s specialties—scary clown panics! You can listen HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
In the latest in a series highlighting past episodes and archives of Squaring the Strange, here's a look back at a show you might have missed... Ben and Pascual begin with a nod to the band Shriekback, who provided our podcast’s theme music—see them if you can, they will be touring soon! Pascual examines an ad for the positive healing energy of “arumites” and discusses different types of actual frequencies and radiation. Then Ben reads feedback from a would-be ghost hunter and runs through a list of methodological problems, and an EVP sample prompts Pascual to explain what compression does to sound. In our main topic this week, the guys discuss the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. From the clinical descriptions (first classified as a type of seizure) to the folkloric explanations (succubus, “the old hag”) to ghostly experiences and alien abductions, sleep paralysis can be interpreted as any number of strange experiences. Ben and Pascual discuss the 2015 documentary The Nightmare and relate their own unsettling experiences with sleep paralysis. Ben recounts a recent study that categorizes three different types of sleep paralysis depending on what neural functions are impacted, and we find that sleep paralysis is something we all experience regularly as we drift into REM sleep—just, when something goes wrong, we end up consciously remembering it. Sleep paralysis is also often accompanied by feelings of dread and hallucinations, which by definition seem absolutely real to the person experiencing them. On that note, sweet dreams everyone! You can listen to it HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
In the latest in a series highlighting past episodes and archives of Squaring the Strange, here's a look back at a show you might have missed: Ben begins with a primer on what folklore is and how urban legends fit into that tradition. As apocryphal tales often passed off as true, urban legends can be scary, funny, sexual, xenophobic, or serve as some kind of warning or bravery test. From the anti-Semetic blood libel legends to the killing of albinos in East Africa and modern-day witch hunts, many urban legends have caused direct danger to particular minority groups by sowing distrust and rumors of criminal behavior. In certain cultural contexts, some of these legends seem almost inevitable due to social forces. In 2014, a social media joke that salt water could cure Ebola went viral and morphed into an urban legend that resulted in deaths. These false stories are often spread by well-meaning people who believe they are doing good by passing on the information. Rumors that doctors have hidden, nefarious motives have caused many to avoid healthcare or even to perpetrate violence upon medical personnel in some parts of the world. Another way urban legends can kill is when paranormal enthusiasts end up in dangerous circumstances, like when a woman was killed on elevated train tracks while seeking the “Pope Lick Monster.” Ben has written extensively on organ theft urban legends: travelers have been killed or beaten due to rumors that Americans kidnap South American children for their organs. Lastly, we discuss the infamous Slenderman attack, which was an “ostention” (or reenacting) of a popular story from the urban legend sharing site Creepypasta. You can hear it HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
Halloween is here, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats. But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday! 1) Halloween is Satanic While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent. Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book "Halloween and Satanism," explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children's spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena—and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it's not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about—they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books. Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism. 2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country, including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween. This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, "original" case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime. Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years—and in most cases the "victim" turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids' loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety. Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers. 3) Beware Halloween Terrorists After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America's children, and the FBI looked into the case. Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of 'large quantities' of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man's nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism. 4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling sessions. The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating. A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: “There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.” 5) Beware Scary Clowns In the wake of the recent scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties banned scary clown costumes and masks last Halloween. As one writer noted, "A Kemper County, Mississippi's Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban – which will expire the day after Halloween – comes at the request of the county sheriff... It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches." Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as "USA Today" reported, "The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks." Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media. Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids. The real threats to children don't involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can't see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.
In Ep. 20 of Squaring the Strange we explore how urban legends can sometimes turn dangerous, and even deadly, from Slenderman to ebola rumors. And Celestia opens another fun fortune cookie! Get it while it's fresh HERE! You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
I'm quoted in a new article about the "Blue Whale game" scare.: On the surface, Blue Whale has all the hallmarks of a moral panic similar to other "challenges" that often scared parents, such as the choking game, pharma parties, and the fire challenge. All of these were cases where parents, local authorities, and click-hungry media outlets took either isolated incidents or rumors and turned them into full blown scares, no matter how many people were actually doing them. Indeed, prominent skeptic Benjamin Radford wrote that Blue Whale shares many traits with classic moral panics, including "modern technology and seemingly benign personal devices as posing hidden dangers to children and teens, the threat [of] some influential evil stranger who manipulates the innocent, and an element of conspiracy theory." There's also more on this in a recent episode of Squaring the Strange.... You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
From Steve Terrell at The Santa Fe New Mexican: He’s written factual studies about the mythical chupacabra, about spooky New Mexico folklore like the tales of La Llorona, of monsters who live in lakes. But in his latest book, New Mexico author Benjamin Radford turns his attention to a subject that for some people is much scarier than any of those legendary creatures. You can read the rest HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
I recently appeared on 2 KASA Style and had a short but fun interview talking about my new book "Bad Clowns." You can watch it HERE! ALBUQUERQUE (KASA) – ‘Bad Clowns’, the phrase alone sends shivers down many people’s spines. Those malicious misfits of the midway who terrorize, haunt, and threaten us have been a cultural icon. But why are we so fascinated and terrified by them? We are making an attempt at answering that question by talking with authorBenjamin Radford to discuss his book “Bad Clowns”. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
My new article on KFC urban legends, and how a piece of chicken can look like a fried rat, is up at Discovery News, you can read it HERE. It's an interesting blend of psychology, folklore, and culture...
My new CFI blog on the bizarre, misogynistic mess that is Disney's "Into the Woods." You can read it HERE.
On Saturday Sept. 20 I'll be giving a free talk at the Taylor Ranch Library in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 2-3 PM. I'll be discussing my research into (and solving the mystery of) the Hispanic vampire beast El Chupacabra. I'll also be talking about and signing copies of my new book Mysterious New Mexico: Mirackes, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment. So stop by and check it 0ut!
I was recently a guest on the Edge of the Unknown radio show, talking about skepticism, investigation, and my new book Mysterious New Mexico! It will be rebroadcast at various times this week, and be archived, you can find it HERE.
A classic piece I wrote about my trip to Macchu Picchu, in Peru... Hard-headed types like scientists and skeptical investigators are often seen as dour debunkers, devoid of magic and awe. We are seen as eggheads and naysayers who don’t believe anything wondrous that we can’t put under a microscope. Yet I passionately disagree; as Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and others have eloquently pointed out, the skeptic’s world is not devoid of awe. Instead, we simply find wonder in the natural universe instead of a supernatural one. In 1997 I visited two of the great mystical “energy centers” of the world: the pyramids at Ghiza and the Peruvian ruins of Macchu Picchu in the South American Andes. The Peruvian ruins sit atop a steep verdant mountain, surrounded by lower hills emerging regally from cottony white clouds. The huge stone complex, which is a remnant of the Inca civilization, was rediscovered only recently (in 1911), having escaped the Spanish Conquest because of its remote location and rugged terrain. You can read the rest HERE.
A man fainted while holding his breath as he drove through a tunnel near Portland, Oregon, causing a head-on collision that sent four people to the hospital, possibly highlighting the ill effects of even common, and seemingly silly, superstitions. You can read more about it HERE.
For those who missed my appearance last week on the Rob Breakenridge show (Canada's NewsTalk 770) talking about urban legends and the Slenderman stabbing, you listen HERE. It’s only about 15 minutes, and you might learn something new and interesting about “folklore made real"...
My new article on a creepy Slenderman-inspired attempted murder by two 12-year-old girls is now up on Discovery News, you can read it HERE.
My article on a modern-day witch hunt that killed a woman in Brazil lats month is on Yahoo News; you can read it HERE. A woman suspected of being a witch was beaten by a mob and died last week in Guarujá, Brazil, near the country's largest city, São Paulo. The attack was prompted by suspicions the woman was involved in a kidnapping in the area, following a Facebook post by a local news outlet, according to a report from Folha de São Paulo, the country's largest newspaper.
An interesting article in Skeptical Inquirer magazine about demonology... I've met several self-described demonologists, and this rings pretty true to me. You can read it HERE.
Lunar eclipses are always interesting, though the “blood moon” is a much rarer event. Instead of a total eclipse, the moon is bathed in a red-orange hue of refracted light coming from around Earth. You can read more about it HERE.
A scary update on a tragic story I wrote about a few months ago: An Asian-American couple has been found guilty of killing their daughter to sell her organs. Belief in rumors and urban legends can have very bad consequences.... You can read the story HERE.
As officials from several countries, and dozens of planes and boats, scour the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal for the mysteriously missing China-bound Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people aboard, some people are wondering if there might be some connection to the Bermuda Triangle. My article appeared last week on Yahoo News and you can read it HERE.
Last month I appeared on the Edge of the Unknown Radio on the All 1 Broadcast Network, and talked about a wide variety of weird and non-weird things. It was a fun show, and you can listen to it HERE.
My Discovery News article on the top myths busted this past year is now up! This past year was a strange one, with a variety of popular beliefs being busted. Some were welcome news: Other myths left a funk like a fart-filled balloon when they burst.... You can read it HERE.
For your podcast pleasure: My recent guest appearance on the Project: Archivist show! Episode 101, Kidney Thieves and Urban Legends with Ben Radford. I return to the show to talk about urban legends. We talk about all the good ones from Disney’s frozen head, kidney thieves, Dead hookers under hotel beds and other urban legends... You can listen to the show HERE!
It is not hard to find sacred religious sites; churches, synagogues, shrines, mosques, and other such places dot the landscape, offering a place for followers of one religious faith or another to join with others and worship. There is another kind of secular sacred site that also involves respect for the dead, or at the very least respect for tragedy. Though not necessarily a modern invention, it is, I would argue, very much a product of the Internet age and its associated social activism.... You can read more HERE.
I wrote this for Halloween, but it's a classic urban legend year-round: The history and mystery of Bloody Mary! You can read my Discovery News piece on it HERE.
The second-largest hospital in the Southern African country of Swaziland may be operating a black market in human body parts used in magic spells, according to claims made by a reverend and others. Weird, creepy, and not really surprising if you understand the magical beliefs in the region. You can read my piece on LiveScience.com HERE.
Most people have heard of alchemy, but many don't know much about it... Alchemy is an ancient practice shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Its practitioners mainly sought to turn lead into gold, a quest that has captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years. However, the goals of alchemy went far beyond simply creating some golden nuggets. Read more HERE.
A “weird news” story circulated in June about a trend among Japanese schoolchildren licking each other’s eyeballs and supposedly spreading the highly contagious disease pink eye. But was it too good to be true? Find out HERE.
As you probably heard, Duchess Kate Middleton gave birth to a baby boy recently. But for the past weeks and months there have been countless predictions about the regal infant’s gender — much of it based on folklore and superstition. HERE's my look at the subject, on Discovery News.
I'm sometimes asked for insight into how my articles and columns come about, what the process is for assembling them. HERE's one recent example....
The decision made by expectant couples to have their births in water attended by dolphins has raised eyebrows; it's part of a New Age "natural birthing" trend, but it may be dangerous; you can read more HERE.
A Kickstarter campaign for my new board game, Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned, will go live in a few days. I've been working very hard on it, and I hope you'll support it, and/or tell your friends. Even if you're not interested, you probably have friends who might, so please let them know. I'll post a link to it once it's up. You can check out the nifty teaser video at the board game's web site, HERE! What's the game about? Well here's the scenario: The year is 2060. After World War III the people of Earth thought it couldn’t get any worse; they were wrong. The nuclear devastation was bad enough, reducing once-great cities to rubble and forcing hardy survivors to scavenge for resources. But soon—whether the result of radiation, toxins, or supernatural wrath—ancient evils long thought mere legend awoke and took hold in the real world. First it was vampires—bands of merciless undead who roamed the land, sucking the blood from whatever could not defend itself. Then came the relentless zombies, the rotten flesh-eaters who staggered through ruined cities in search of brains and other organs. Then savage werewolves suddenly emerged, springing from now-overgrown forests to feed on humans, zombies, and vampires alike. Leaders of each group arose—including half-human mutations with intelligence and feral cunning—to scavenge food and weapons, including chainsaws and machine guns, left behind in the wasteland. Though undead ravaged the Earth, hope for mankind was not lost: Clans of humans remained scattered around Europe in small enclaves, trying to rebuild civilization. While the fearsome monsters had brute strength and supernatural powers capable of transforming humans into their kind with a mere bite, human scientists developed a vaccine capable of transforming the undead back into living humans. Rumors soon spread of unholy grimoires—ancient magic books—hidden among the ruins that could be found and assembled to achieve even greater power. Using science and magic, these four groups are now engaged in the final war in Earth’s history. This would become known as the Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned.
I recently wrote about penis-theft panics for LiveScience.com. I'd written about it before, for example in the book I co-authored with Bob Bartholomew, "Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking," and I included it in a talk I gave last year on mass hysterias at a skeptics conference. It's an interesting subject that always gets people tittering... You can read my recent story HERE.