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What on Earth is wrong with my country? There's an endless supply of idiots here. While I can take a curious interest in the vague ravings of cryptozoologists, I'm completely outraged about some of the madness that continues apace due to the belief in evil spirits.

Now, I only hear about the stories that are so stupid they end up in the news. The sobering truth is that there's probably a lot more of this going on. A medium was on television a few months back, and it was fairly clear that his clients were ordinary people who just wanted to talk to grandma one more time. I'm not talking about that sort of thing, frustrating though its existence might be. What I'm talking about is a strange insistence in the existence of evil spirits. The kind of malevolent entities that leave their victims thinking, "But I didn't eat the pea soup!"; and have only got bad things to say about people's mothers.

Possessed Highways
A few years ago a group of traditional Maori priests (which I am dubious about - since there seems to be a lot of crossover between traditional and colonial belief systems, how traditional is "traditional"?) blessed an entire truck full of water, which then set out to spray this holy water along a huge stretch of highway. The reasoning was that this would put any troubled spirits to rest and make the roads safe again. You see, there's always a few deaths on the road, and accidents cause restless spirits, and restless spirits might... um... vaguely be bad and cause more accidents. That's really all that was implied. As stories go, it was a bit poor.

Of course, this cost an insane amount of money for what could have been accomplished by muttering a few blessings in the direction of the clouds the next time it rained - and was, as you might imagine, completely stupid. The reality is, it was just an excuse to fleece money from the transport authority, and they fell for it. There aren't even any stories about ghosts wandering along the side of the roads. There are no ghost cars. Ghost cars do not exist even as folklore in the most stupid corners of this country. It was just a huge stretch of haunted asphalt.

Personally, if I die in a car accident and find to my amazement and then frustration that I've come back as a ghost, I'll go and find someone's house to haunt instead.

Possessed Houses
Every so often there will be a multiple murder, and after the bodies have been removed the house will be torched. The reasoning behind this seems to be that the evil emanations from the house are affecting people who live nearby. The way people talk (oh, the bountiful and endless opinions of people living down the road! What would the New Zealand media do without them?) implies that the house is now possessed and will be roaming the streets at night, looking for blood.

The house is inevitably burnt down before the police have time to finish scouring all the surfaces with a forensics expert. The recent instance of this involved one half of a double unit being set on fire because two bodies were found stuffed beneath the floorboards. The occupants of the other unit had fled earlier, and admitted they had done so because of their quite reasonable concerns about being burned alive while they slept.

The mayor of Christchurch proposed building some sort of memorial park on the site of the two dwellings, since no-one would ever want to live there again - obviously he does not read the newspaper, as people were writing letters to point out that they'd be happy to have the chance to buy a dwelling of their own, murder house or not, except someone thoughtlessly burned it down.

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
I knew someone who told me she was exorcised when she was a child. I wasn't sure if that was an entirely accurate memory, but I'm inclined to think that it's true. This was undoubtedly low-key, though. Thankfully she wasn't injured or killed.

In 2000 a woman was strangled by a lunatic pastor who had his cult of half a dozen people stand around and pray over the poor woman's corpse. Apparently the twenty demons would leave her only when she died - but it was quite all right, she would come back to life when they were gone. Only she didn't. After five days, someone thought they saw her finger move. What they were seeing was the corpse going through stages of decomposition. They ran to get an impartial witness - who immediately called the police. During the trial the exorcist fired his lawyer, and kept saying his victim would return to life.

By any standards of fanciful mythology regarding resurrection, she really wasn't coming back - apparently she had been cremated and the ashes scattered, by this point almost a year previously. The lunatic was sentenced to six years in prison, which he managed to appeal after five on the grounds that the woman he killed consented to the exorcism. He then fled the country before a retrial could be arranged, which was foolish - he probably would have gotten off Scot-free.

I say this because of the next example: In 2007, a woman was killed during a traditional curse-lifting ceremony. From all accounts it was actually a hybrid curse-lifting/exorcism/witch trial, and the procedures were probably made up on the spot. Possibly up to thirty people stood by while water was poured into the victim's eyes and down her throat, and they sang. She drowned. A girl of fourteen was also subjected to this ritual, and was lucky enough to survive and eventually recover the use of one of her eyes in time for the trial.

Only five people were convicted - and they were sentenced to community service.

Section 15 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 says the following:

Manifestation of religion and belief
Every person has the right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.

Apparently this is broad enough to include murdering people - Except that in this country, if someone is killed during an exorcism, it's likely to be ruled an accidental death.