when this skeptic lost his head…

September 23, 2009

Dear readers, I have a confession to make. Once upon a time I lost my rationality and fell prey to superstition during a crisis. When someone very near and dear to me was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was ready to try anything and everything if it had the slightest change of prolonging his life, even if it made absolutely no sense when you really think about it. Of course I didn’t subject him to alternative medicine or naturist woo and made sure he followed the orders of oncologists to the letter. However, in a crazy attempt to help the situation, I turned to a religious organization to help me get rid of something that I for some reason thought might be an unlucky object that could be making matters worse. Looking back, it was absolutely ridiculous, but when a person you’ve known all your life is slowly dying right in front of your eyes, you’re desperate to do anything…

black cat

When I was studying alternative religions, one of the people I interviewed for a project gave me a very unusual gift. It was a Satanic athame, a ceremonial dagger used in Occult rituals. It was old, with an ornate handle that was shaped to look like a dragon in a battle stance, the blade projecting out of it’s gaping mouth. To me, the athame was a collector’s item and nothing more. Despite reading through a thick stack of Occult literature, I’ve never really believed in any of it and dismissed concerns from other Occultists about keeping “an object which radiates negative energy in every direction” as good natured superstition. Three months after I got the athame, my relative started complaining of an odd pain in his side. After going to the doctor and a few scans, we were given the bad news. It was pancreatic cancer. The tumor hadn’t metastasized but the probability that it would, wasn’t out of the question. He was given the standard 6 to 12 months to live.

As the treatment began, things weren’t going well. The cancer started taking its toll very quickly and his body, already weakened by other conditions, just couldn’t take the stress even from the most gentle palliative care. Any aggressive procedure was totally out of the question. During that time I started becoming convinced that maybe, the athame might be bringing some sort of bad luck and it couldn’t hurt to get rid of it. So I called the local Catholic church and arranged to have the thing ritually disposed of. As you can imagine, it didn’t do any good whatsoever. His cancer was simply too advanced and aggressive. A month after the athame burial, he succumbed after surviving about as long as a person in his condition generally survived. For the next week, I walked around like a zombie and hallucinated that I saw him in his room, sitting in his favorite chair, watching TV and winking at me as I passed by the way he usually did.

Why did I think that taking a piece of metal and burying it in a white shroud under a full Moon would affect the extremely likely outcome? His cancer was growing for years before it was detected, the same way that most pancreatic cancers do. Exorcising a few pounds of stainless steel used by people who admitted to using an array of magic tricks to make their rituals look eerie for bystanders and even taught me a few, was an act of irrational desperation. An attempt to win or gain the upper hand in a very, very one-sided fight. Under duress, my logic and scientifically rich education were suspended and I understood exactly why people could turn to woo and the supernatural, hoping for some kind of outcome. And how after losing someone very close, their minds went haywire, playing bizarre tricks on their senses which could make their hearts skip a beat…

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  • I’m so sorry for your loss, but, yes, that’s exactly what happens to people. I think we, as humans, want control. And when things are out of our immediate control, we make sh*t up that will give us the illusion of control. Again, I’m sorry for your loss.

    (I would go dig up that dagger, by the way, sounds cool.)

  • Jypson

    “Like carnivores to carnal pleasures

    As are we to desperate measures.”

    – What You Live By, Harvey Danger.

  • Victor

    No one is rational all the time. Traumatic experiences will without a doubt hinder logical thoughts, and give way to our innate emotions, because it’s a way for the person to release themselves. From this standpoint, what you (and everyone else) went through is all too understandable.