The Witch Trial of Thomas Looten, a Man Accused of Cursing Plums


Depiction of a Witches’ Sabbath

Although a lot of people complain that nobody knows their neighbors anymore, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. All too often, neighbors play their music too loud, steal garbage cans, and if they’re old and bored, spend all their time watching you from their windows. Historically, at the least, neighbors appear to be improving. Very few of us, for example, are accused of being witches by the people who live next door. For centuries, some neighbors dispensed this charge rather freely, as in the tragic trial of a 17th century merchant named Thomas Looten.

Local intelligence had it that Looten, a 60-year-old man who lived in the parish of Meteren in French Flanders, was a sorcerer. When Looten gave a boy some plums, and the boy died a month later, his neighbors put two and two together and realized that Looten must have cursed the fruit. Disturbed at the accusation, Looten trusted that the authorities of his community had enough sense to clear him of any wrongdoing. In September 1659, the concerned cattle merchant turned himself in to bailiff (and prosecutor) Jacques Vanderwalle, asking for a trial. Vanderwalle agreed and put Looten under arrest.

After two days of inquiries, Vanderwalle had made up his mind. Looten was obviously guilty of the charge,and twelve witnesses who could confirm it were willing to testify against him. Following a raid on Looten’s house for ointment and potions, the trial dragged on for another three weeks before Vanderwalle was thoroughly convinced that all evidence pointed toward the sorcery theory. While Looten was visited by two judges later that week, he declined to get a lawyer or provide any counterevidence. His fellow citizens, he was still convinced, would make the right call. 

Indeed, a call was made, but it was answered by Jan Noorman, an executioner from Dunkirk who was passing in the area. Noorman examined Looten in jail, poking him with a pin in search of the Devil’s mark, a personal marking by Old Nick that was said to be left on witches and other diabolical lackeys. As a veteran who executed some five or six-hundred witches in his day, Noorman had no problem finding the necessary spot on the prisoner’s back. Now that a pin prick had confirmed Looten’s Satanic connections, the judges believed it was high time that he was tortured for a confession.

During the first session, Looten was bound to a wooden chair. His neck was strangled with a garrote, and Looten told his torturers that he’d first heard the rumor that he killed the plum-eating boy while hanging out at a tavern. When Looten was tormented during a second interrogation, he was forced to take off his shirt. Looten was dabbed with holy water by a friar, and to ensure more holiness, sat on a blessed chair and wore a new blessed shirt. As the torturers attacked him with a garrote again, Looten was made to finally give the admission the community wanted.

In his confession, Looten confirmed his neighbors’ suspicions that he was a sorcerer. His relationship with the Devil, whom he dubbed “Harlakyn,” stretched back eight long years. At night, Looten participated in the usual rowdy sabbaths, drinking booze, feasting on veal, and having sex with beautiful women. His financial success, his cattle and houses, were also owed to the Devil. Harlakyn gifted his friend plenty of money, along with some magical ointment that granted Looten the ability to fly. For handing that neighbor boy some cursed plums, Looten earned a total of five coins.

From here, like in so many other witch trials in early modern Europe, Looten’s punishment would proceed to an execution. The morning after his confession, however, Looten was discovered dead in his cell. While it would be reasonable to deduce that the poor merchant had his neck broken from the garrote, the authorities attributed his death to the Devil. Seeing to it that justice would still be served, the judges dutifully ordered Looten’s body burned and placed on a gibbet for public display.

Outrageously, in the aftermath of the trial, Looten’s cattle were sold to cover the legal costs. Records indicate that Looten was charged for everything from the raid on his own house to the paper used to record information during the trial. Given Looten’s economic standing in the community, one has to wonder whether some of his neighbors had a financial interest in getting the old merchant killed.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes such sweet tales as “The Society for the Preservation of Vice,” in which a group of decadent artists attempt to pull off a human sacrifice, and the heart-warming “A Gourmet’s Confession,” in which a glutton resorts to cannibalism after he can’t eat conventional food anymore. The book is available on Kindle, and can be purchased for the price of five bewitched plums (or $4.99).  


The Idiot’s Guide to Psychic Self-Defense


British occultist Dion Fortune, pictured with her husband.

Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you have moments where you inexplicably feel afraid and oppressed? Do you find yourself sniffing in rancid odors without a clear source? Has your body suffered mysterious bruises, sometimes in the shape of a goat’s hoof? Are you a white person? If the answer to all or any of these questions is a resounding yes, then according to British occultist Dion Fortune, you’re very likely the victim of a psychic attack. Before ascending to a plane higher than our own in January 1946, Fortune was benevolent enough to leave behind some two dozen books, one of which includes the indispensable 1930 manual Psychic Self-Defense.

In her day, Fortune was one of the best-known occultists in the United Kingdom. Born to a wealthy English family in Wales under the name Violet Mary Firth in 1890, Fortune became interested in the Theosophical Society while working at a psychological clinic. After quarreling with her friend Moina Mathers, Fortune quit Mathers’ Alpha et Omega group and established her own society of quacks, the Fraternity of the Inner Light. (An organization you can find on the internet and still join today.) Fortune claimed to have visions and psychic powers, so naturally, she was a perfect candidate for writing something like Psychic Self-Defense. She was even the target of an attack herself once.

When she was 20-years-old, Fortune worked for a nasty boss who terrorized her employees “by means of her knowledge of mind-power.” When this woman, Lillias Hamilton, suddenly fired an employee without paying him, the man took her to court. Hamilton tried to manipulate Fortune into supporting her case, hypnotizing the poor young woman and using her psychic powers to force Fortune to take her side. After one interrogation, Fortune felt so mentally and physically drained that she slept for fifteen hours.

When Fortune got tired of Hamilton’s abuse, she confronted her boss and told her that she was going to quit. In retaliation, Hamilton managed to keep Fortune in place for four hours, telling her several hundred times that she was incompetent and had no self-confidence. Having these words drilled into her head put Fortune into a daze, and she mindlessly laid in bed for over thirty hours before a housekeeper started to keep an eye on her. She lost her appetite, and had no desire but to stay in bed.

This aimlessness lasted for days, until finally, Fortune’s family came and took her away. In the preface of Psychic Self-Defense, Fortune wrote that, during the attack, she had “physical symptoms of intense fear. Dry mouth, sweating palms, thumping heart and shallow, hasty breathing. My heart was beating so hard that at each beat a loose brass knob on the bedstead rattled.” At the time, Fortune had no idea she was suffering from a psychic attack, and it wasn’t until she became involved with occultism years later that she fully recovered and became aware of what had happened to her.

Fortune didn’t believe that her boss was the only one who could use their psychic powers for evil. “I am of the opinion,” she confessed in the preface, “that psychic attacks are far commoner than is generally realised, even by occultists themselves. Certainly the general public has no conception at all of the sort of things that are done by people who have a knowledge of the powers of the human mind and set to work to exploit them.” Throughout the book, she gives examples of other supposedly real psychic attacks, tying the phenomenon in with vampires, witches, and hauntings. It’s absolute nonsense, but quite fun, and some of the cases she discusses are pretty bizarre.

In a chapter entitled “Vampirism,” for example, Fortune discussed an episode she heard from a student at the psychological clinic where she once worked. After a young man called Z. became roommates with the student, dogs in the area would bark and howl at the same time every evening. A specific window in their apartment would then fly open, and the apartment would become cold. On one occasion, an invisible being flew into the building. After getting rid of the thing, Z. admitted a peculiar relationship with his cousin D. This particular man was a World War I soldier who was discharged after practicing necrophilia on the battle-field. It was believed that D. was psychically attacking Z., and that the war veteran himself was also under the influence of a vampire.

But I digress: How do you actually defend yourself against a psychic attack? For starters, Fortune recommended that victims get as much sunlight as possible. They should avoid the countryside, large bodies of water, and walking alone, because solitude can increase the risk of suicide. Important “psychic centres” such as the head and solar plexus should be kept closed, since they’re easy entry points for psychic influence. But most importantly, ” the bowels should be kept freely open while facing a psychic attack, because there is nothing that puts one at so great a disadvantage as the accumulation of effete matter within the body.” Such measures won’t entirely protect a person from a psychic attack, but they’re great methods of resistance, and can help a victim endure until the attacker runs out of energy.

Another technique is to take a bath in consecrated water. Meditation can also be useful, along with creating magical circles, which can protect the victim’s sleep-place. Alternately, there’s a kind of “mystic superconsciousness” or “Higher Self” that Fortune thought could be activated as a kind of guardian angel in the crisis of a psychic attack. A person’s Higher Self can guide them to safety, away from the site of the psychic attack. In Fortune’s words, “…in times of spiritual crisis the man that has faith in the law of God can rise up and invoke its protection and a seeming miracle will be performed for his benefit.”

Follow these guidelines and you should be fine. To reiterate: when you’re out having fun this weekend, don’t walk alone along a lake in the countryside under any circumstances. Keep your bowels open. Be sure to meditate every once in a while. And last, but not least, keep your Higher Self on the ready in case any wizards, vampires, or New Age cat ladies attempt to telepathically beat you up.

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The Girl Who Ate Fairy Food


Drawing of Ann Jefferies and her fairies, from Robert Hunt’s “Popular Romances of the West of England.”

In 1696, the English printer Moses Pitt wrote a peculiar letter to Edward Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester, detailing the old case of a woman named Ann Jefferies. Some five decades earlier, when Moses was a boy, Ann worked as a servant girl for the Pitt family. At the age of 19, Ann allegedly came into contact with fairies and developed healing powers. While she had her supporters, Ann’s claims caused a scandal, and ultimately led to trouble with the law.

According to Moses, the story began on a day in 1645, when Ann sat knitting in the Pitts’ garden in the little village of St. Teath. As Ann sat there, minding her own business, six little fairies dressed in green suddenly flew over the garden hedge. I’d imagine most people would be delighted to spot fairies, but Ann was so frightened by the sight that she fell into convulsions.

These convulsive fits lasted for months. While the Pitt family nursed her back to health, Ann kept the fairy sighting a secret. She was so weak that she couldn’t stand on her feet, and the Pitts had to be careful not to upset her, because the slightest annoyance would send Ann into another fit.

By harvest-time, Ann had recovered a little strength. One afternoon, she was alone in the house with Mrs.Pitt. Mrs. Pitt had an errand to run, but didn’t want to leave Ann unattended, in case she might accidentally set the house on fire. (How or why Ann might have accomplished such a feat in her illness isn’t explained in Moses’ letter.) For the safety of all, Mrs. Pitt moved Ann into the garden, where she waited for Mrs. Pitt to come back.

While coming home from her errand, Mrs.Pitt accidentally slipped and hurt her leg. The pain was very bad, so a neighbor on horseback had to take her home. Once Mrs. Pitt was back, a servant was called to fetch a horse and ride eight miles away to get a doctor. Just then, Ann came in and insisted on seeing Mrs. Pitt’s leg.

Cautious that refusing would send the girl into a fit, Mrs. Pitt showed Ann the injured limb. With her eyes on the leg, Ann rested it on her lap and stroked it with her hand. Amazingly, Mrs. Pitt’s pain began to go away. The mere touch of Ann’s hand, in fact, worked so well that Mrs. Pitt called the doctor off.

After demonstrating these new healing powers, Ann confessed the cause of her fits: the fairies. Ever since that day in the garden, Ann was constantly attended by fairies who always showed themselves in even numbers. Since Ann was forced out of the house against her will, six of the fairies decided to teach Mrs. Pitt a lesson, deliberately causing her to trip.( Evidently, Mrs. Pitt was too satisfied with Ann’s new powers to be angry that her servant’s fairies had conspired to break her leg.)

The fame of Ann and her magic touch spread across Cornwall, and soon all sorts of sick people came to her to be healed, some of them coming from as far away as London. Ann never asked for money for these services. It was said that she could also predict who was coming to visit her, before the actual guest arrived.

At the same time, Ann stopped eating human food. For six months, Ann persisted on fairy food, gifted to her by her friends. Moses Pitt had the good fortune to try this food. While visiting Ann in her room, Moses was given a piece of fairy bread. In his letter, he remarked that “I think it was the most delicious Bread that ever I did eat either before or since.”

Naturally, all this hullabaloo about healing and fairy food attracted the attention of the authorities. Some magistrates and ministers visited Ann at the Pitts’ house and questioned her about her little friends. The ministers were convinced that the fairies were evil spirits sent by the Devil. They advised Ann to ignore them and have nothing to do with them.

Later that night, Ann was sitting with the Pitts at a fire when she said the fairies began to call her. The family pled with her not to go, but on the third calling, Ann retired into her room. When she came back out, she held a Bible in her hand. The fairies, Ann said, recommended that the magistrates and ministers read the following Bible passage: “Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God. Because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Even though the good fairy folk were clearly virtuous Christians, quoting scripture wasn’t enough for the powers that be. One of the cruelest magistrates of the day, Jan Tregeagle, got wind of Ann’s stories. Tregeagle was a notoriously vicious man; some claimed he sold his soul to the devil, and after his death, his spirit was said to haunt Cornwall.

Tregeagle issued a warrant for Ann’s arrest, and she was jailed eight miles away in Bodmin. During her imprisonment, Tregeagle starved Ann. Mrs. Pitt and Moses were called in to testify, and Moses was questioned to make sure that he didn’t bring Ann any food. Eventually, Ann was moved to Tregeagle’s house and then let go after a time. She was forbidden, however, to live with the Pitts.

From here, Ann went to live with Mr. Pitt’s sister, a widow named Francis Tom. Ann apparently demonstrated healing powers here too. Later, she went to live with her brother, and then she married a man named William Warden. The historical record isn’t very clear about her fate, but Ann was still alive when Moses wrote his letter in 1696. By that time, it seems the elderly Ann had come to regret the whole affair. When Pitt’s brother-in-law reached out to her in 1693, Ann refused to talk about the fairies. She said that even if her own father were alive, she wouldn’t say a word about them to him.

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6 Infamous Cases of People Committing Seppuku

Typically, a good seppuku performance would consist of the samurai driving a tanto sword into his abdomen and disemboweling himself by slashing the part from left to right. A second man attending him, called the kaishakunin, would then swing a sword down the samurai’s neck and decapitate him. By Edo times (1600-1867), seppuku had become an elaborate ritual performed in front of spectators. Although certainly a painful and violent way to die, many people saw it as an honorable and even romantic act. Incidents of seppuku decreased as Japan modernized in the late 19th century, but as we shall soon see, there are even records of people committing it in the post-WWII era.

6. The Byakkotai


Poster for a recent drama series about the Byakkotai. (Image source/credit here.)

For decades, anime and action movies have been casually throwing their teenage protagonists into such dangerous occupations as assassins, ninjas, samurai, vampire hunters, and angst-ridden robot pilots. This idea is awesome on screen, but actually tends to be far more terrifying and confusing in real-life. Case in point: the Byakkotai, a military unit of 305 samurai entirely composed of teenagers.

The Byakkotai, whose name meant “White Tiger Force”, participated in a year-long (1868-1869) civil war in Japan known as the Boshin War. On February 7, 1869, during the Battle of Tonoguchihara, the Byakkotai hid themselves in bushes and shot at approaching government troops. The young samurai underestimated the number of enemy soldiers, and as they tried to withdraw, a squad of them led by 16-year-old Shinoda Gisaburo became separated from the main group. With little time to think, Shinoda and the 19 other separated Byakkotai members retreated from the battlefield and fled to Iimori Hill.

What little safety they might have felt quickly evaporated when they looked down and saw that smoke was coming from their town of Aizuwakamatsu. Panic-stricken, they believed that the town had been destroyed and set on fire, meaning that the castle that held their families and lords must have burned down too. Seeing no reason to live anymore, the 20 young samurai committed seppuku on the spot. Only one of them, Iinuma Sadakichi, would survive.

In a cruel Shyamalian twist of fate, the castle hadn’t actually burned down after all. Only the surrounding town, in fact, had been set on fire. The 19 young samurai perished for nothing.

5. Takijiro Onishi

Takijiro Onishi, (Undated)

Picture of Takijiro Onishi (Image source/credit here.)

How does one make amends for helping advocate a military strategy that led to the loss of thousands of young men who took on suicide missions to crash their planes into enemy soldiers? (Pay attention, Al Qaeda.) According to Takijiro Onishi, one of the Japanese military leaders who helped get the kamikaze program off the ground, you disembowel yourself.

Although Onishi originally opposed the kamikaze attacks, he eventually relented and gave the strategy his blessing. Japan sent out its first batch of kamikaze pilots on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. A few days before, Onishi addressed the pilots himself and gave a speech praising their bravery and sacrifice. “Regrettably,” admitted Onishi to what must have been a great shock for the volunteers, “we will not be able to tell you the results.”

Before Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, almost 4,000 kamikaze pilots would lose their lives. After hearing the news, Onishi wrote a suicide note and decided to commit seppuku the next day. In his note, he apologized to the dead kamikaze pilots and their families, offering his own death as atonement. Lastly, to further consolidate his posthumous reputation as a good guy, Onishi urged the young people of Japan not to avenge his death with a nuclear Third World War, but to instead promote peace and rebuild itself.

4. Chujiro Hayashi


Picture of Chujiro Hayashi (Image source/credit here.)

Chujiro Hayashi was a disciple of Mikao Usui, the founder of the spiritual therapy known as Reiki. Unlike Usui and most of the world of alternative medicine, Hayashi was a real doctor, and would sometimes perform Reiki on his patients. One of the biggest practitioners in his day, Hayashi is credited with developing modern Reiki and spreading it outside of Japan.

Hayashi started studying Reiki in 1925, a year before Usui’s death. With the hope that Hayashi could develop his quackery with real medical knowledge, Usui requested that his student establish a Reiki clinic. Hayashi obliged and went one step beyond, going on a tour in Hawaii with his daughter for a few months in 1937. Hayashi gave a series of Reiki lectures and demonstrations there, and he returned to Japan in February 1938.

In May 1940, the Japanese government demanded that Hayashi give them information about military targets in Honolulu, presumably because they weren’t planning anything evil. Although Hayashi was once a naval captain, he was now a pacifist, and so refused to talk. The authorities suspected that Hayashi was a spy. They accused him of treason, and afraid that the honor of his family was being threatened, Hayashi committed seppuku in the presence of his wife and students on the 11th.

3. Yukio Mishima


Picture of Yukio Mishima. (Image source/credit here.)

The genius behind such classics as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima was arguably post-war Japan’s foremost midget novelist. He was a wildly talented and prolific man, writing 34 novels in two decades, in addition to outshining his contemporaries as an actor, bodybuilder, model, playwright, poet, and radical far-right fanatic.

Due to a misdiagnosis of tuberculosis, Mishima couldn’t serve in World War II. Although upset that Emperor Showa renounced his claim of divinity, Mishima saw the unholy meat-bag as the physical essence of the Japanese nation. In October 1968, Mishima founded the Tatenokai, a private militia of attractively muscular young men who swore to protect the emperor.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four of his Tatenokai boy-toys seized a military building and attempted to launch a coup to restore Emperor Showa to his former power. After tying the head of the building up to a chair in his office, Mishima went out to the balcony and gave a speech of the Tatenokai’s demands to a crowd of 1,000 soldiers. Being 25 years too late, however, the soldiers only laughed and ridiculed Mishima. He then returned inside, and in the spirit of his half-assed coup, sloppily commited seppuku. With several slapstick slashes of mild tragicomedy, Mishima’s first kaishakunin repeatedly failed to lop his head off. After a few moments of painful agony, the task was given to another henchman, and Mishima was at last decapitated.

2. Nogi Maresuke


Picture of Nogi Maresuke. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Nogi Maresuke was an army general who served in the Satsuma Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War. The son of a samurai, Maresuke was seen by many as a model of traditional Japanese values like loyalty and self-sacrifice. Even 100 years after his suicide, people pay their respects to what they see as a great patriot.

In one notable incident, after suffering staggering losses in a battle during the Russo-Japanese War, Maresuke asked Emperor Meiji for permission to commit suicide. The emperor refused, telling Maresuke that he wasn’t allowed to die until the emperor himself did. While internet Freudians might easily interpret Maresuke’s devotion to Meiji as some repressed form of intense homo-eroticism, this sort of obedience was only to be expected by any good old-fashioned samurai.

Following the end of the war, Maresuke was granted the title of count and made the head of the prestigious Gakushuin, a school for the children of the Japanese nobility. He also embarked on several philanthropic projects, giving money to hospitals and memorials set up for both the Japanese and the Russians. When Emperor Meiji died in July 1912, Maresuke naturally thought the e̶r̶o̶t̶i̶c̶ honorable thing to do was to kill himself and his wife by seppuku. After the emperor’s funeral, Maresuke slashed his stomach three times and then tossed himself onto his sword for a grand finale. His wife followed him after, although not exactly into the same national veneration.

  1. Oda Nobunaga

Painting of Oda Nobunaga. (Image source/credit here.)

Oda Nobunaga was indispensable in putting an end to Japan’s Sengoku period, a chaotic time from 1467 to 1603 in which Japan was plagued with social upheaval and military conflict. Although he wasn’t the one who ultimately united the country, he’s one of the most admired historical figures in Japan, and has even had the distinction of appearing in a critically-acclaimed strategy RPG with global superstar Pikachu.

Sadly, Nobunaga didn’t live to see Japan’s unification in 1603. Before his suicide, he succeeded only in capturing the eastern side of the country. It would be Tokugawa Ieyasu, his old ally, who would be the one to unite Japan and establish a government that would last more than 200 years.

Some two decades before that would happen, Nobunaga was staying at a temple in Kyoto when he was betrayed and ambushed by Akechi Mitsuhide, a general and vassal of his. Realizing that he was surrounded, and practically powerless without his partner Pikachu, Nobunaga committed seppuku. His last words, reported to his page Mori Ranmaru, were said to have been “Don’t let them in.” The page then loyally set the temple on fire. Interestingly, only Ranmaru’s body was recovered. Nobunaga’s body was never found, which suggests that he was either consumed by the flames or faked his death. (Most historians, chiefly the duller sort, say it was the former.)

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The Black Magic Murders of Ahmad Suradji

Picture of Ahmad Suradji. (Image source/credit here.)

Picture of Ahmad Suradji. (Image source/credit here.)

Ahmad Suradji, also known as Nasib Kelewang, was a self-proclaimed black magic master who ritualistically killed 42 women and girls over an 11 year period.

 A cattle breeder by trade, he lived in Medan, in West Java, Indonesia, where many women would make the journey to his house seeking guidance and assistance in matters of health, love and finance.

Suradji would generally charge between $200-$300 for his services, with most of his female clients longing to be wealthy or attractive and some asking him to perform black magic rituals to keep their significant others from cheating. As a Dukun, or Shaman, they believed, just as the vast majority of the Indonesian population does, that black magic could help them.

Ahmad Suradji on trial. (Image source/credit here.)

Ahmad Suradji on trial. (Image source/credit here.)

A revered position, many Dukuns make a living with this occupation, and although primarily healers, they are used for a variety of reasons; some are exorcists, some perform blessings on new businesses, and farm lands and on individuals, and some can see the future through spirits. Some Dukuns even offer a darker service of casting curses and hexes and spells for revenge.

Suradji was something of a sorcerer, and between the years of 1986 – 1997 he murdered 42 of his clients in ritual slayings that he believed would ultimately make him more powerful.

Inspired by a dream he had in 1988, in which his deceased father visited him, Suradji would lead the woman and girls out to a sugar cane plant on the outskirts of Medan, and bury them up to their waists in earth before strangling them with a cord. Once dead, he would strip the bodies of the women naked and bury them facing in the direction of his house.As instructed by his father in the dream, he would also consume the victim’s saliva.

His objective was to kill 70 victims in this way, but he was caught at just over half way through his mission at confirmed victim number 42, after the discovery of a body, later identified as Sri Kemala Dewi, by a local man at the sugar cane plantation.

Picture of Ahmad Suradji. (Image source/credit here.)

Picture of Ahmad Suradji. (Image source/credit here.)

Investigators found clothing linked to over 20 women who had been reported as missing in and around the local area. All of the victims were between the ages of 11-39 years old. If Suradji was running low on clientele, it was said that he would also kill local sex workers to get closer to his goal.

Despite the official recorded body count of 42 victims, it is possible that the actual number could be almost double that.

Suradji was convicted, along with one of his three wives (all sisters) who had helped him hide the bodies.

Despite protests by Amnesty International, he was executed by firing squad in 2008.

This article originally appeared on Real Life is Horror, a blog about the unexplained, the creepy, and the unsolved. It has been reposted with the author’s permission. 

Gonzalo Guerrero and Geronimo de Aguilar, Two Spanish Men who Were Captured by the Mayans

Statue of Gonzalo Guerrero. (Image source here.)

Statue of Gonzalo Guerrero. (Image source here.)

Gonzalo Guerreo was a soldier from Spain who had come to the New World in hope of becoming a conquistador. His life, however, ended up taking a completely different turn when he became stuck on the Yucatan Peninsula after a shipwreck in 1511. Guerrero and the rest of the survivors, including a priest named Geronimo de Aguilar, were captured by a Mayan tribe and forced to become slaves.

Eventually, all of the captives except Aguilar and Guerreo died. Both of the men assimilated into the local culture and learned the Mayan language, although Aguilar was reluctant to abandon his Spanish roots. He continued to practice his priestly duties, and refused to marry or sleep with any Mayan women. The tribe’s leader, amused by the faithful priest’s chastity, put Aguilar in charge of his harem.

Picture of Geronimo de Aguilar. (Image source here.)

Picture of Geronimo de Aguilar. (Image source here.)

Guerrero, on the other hand, was eager to adopt every aspect of Mayan life. He was well-respected by his captors, and especially impressed their leader Nachan Can. After Guerrero became a free man, Nachan Can made him an army captain and gave Guerrero his daughter’s hand in marriage. The couple had three sons, possibly the first mixed-race children born in the Americas.

Hernan Cortes, while passing through the area in 1519, learned about the two white men and sent them a letter. Aguilar was eager to leave and reached Cortes’ ship by paddling a canoe. Because he was wearing Mayan clothes, Cortes was skeptical that Aguilar was a Spaniard. In a language he hadn’t used in years and years, Aguilar suddenly shouted in Spanish and was then let on board. To avoid any conflict, Cortes bought Aguilar off the Indians for only a couple of glass beads.

Gonzalo Guerrero meeting with Hernan Cortes. (Image source here.)

Gonzalo Guerrero meeting with Hernan Cortes. (Image source here.)

Guerrero, content with his new life, refused to go back to the Spanish forces. He said that he was happy living with the Mayans, and loved his children and wife far too much to leave them. When his fellow Spaniards started their conquest of the Americas, Guerrero fought against them in several military campaigns and ultimately died on the battlefield. His former countrymen condemned him as a traitor, and he languished in obscurity for several centuries until he was reappraised by Mexican intellectuals in the late 20th century.

With the help of Geronimo de Aguilar, Cortes now had the service of a translator. Shortly afterward, to add to his luck, he was given a young female slave named Malinche by the Tabascan Indians. Malinche could speak both Mayan and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire. She could translate what she heard in Nahuatl into Mayan, which Aguilar could then translate into Spanish for Cortes.

After the Conquest of the Aztecs, Aguilar finally gave in and married an indigenous woman named Elvira Toznenetzin. They had two daughters, and Aguilar is believed to have died sometime in 1531.

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The Sect of Indian Ascetics who Eat Human Flesh

Picture of Aghori man taken by Italian photographer Cristiano Ostinelli.

Picture of Aghori man taken by Italian photographer Cristiano Ostinelli.

The Aghori are a small Hindu sect that worships the god Shiva. They are, however, reviled by orthodox Hindus for their use of alcohol and their meat-eating, which includes consuming the flesh of both animals and humans. They typically go naked or thinly-covered, but they also smear their bodies with cremation ashes. Like many other Hindu holy men, they are required to renounce life and earthly pleasures, so never marry and practice celibacy, although some Aghori have been known to engage in ritual group sex with menstruating prostitutes. In addition to their practice of cannibalism, they also drink urine and eat feces, no less from bowls made of human skulls.

Somewhat less sensationally, they don’t actually kill any of the humans they eat. They usually take bodies from the Ganges, a sacred river notoriously polluted with trash, industrial waste, and the bodies of poor Hindus whose families couldn’t afford to cremate them. (Most people in India are cremated.)

In their corpse-eating rituals, intoxicated by alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs, an Aghori first sits on the decomposing corpse, meditates for a while, and then dedicates the meal to a deity before eating it. They believe eating dead bodies will prevent aging and give them supernatural powers, like being able to fly or control the weather. These rituals aren’t believed to be a constant thing; some sources say they are only a once in a lifetime event. Because of the sect’s obscurity and secrecy, nobody is exactly sure, although they have allowed some filming of their rituals the past 10 years.

Another picture by Cristiano Ostinelli.

Another picture by Cristiano Ostinelli.

While they were recorded as having a population of 5,580 in the Indian Census of 1901, their number is far fewer today, some sources estimating only several dozen or so members. Little is known about their historical origins, although they trace their founding to a late 18th century ascetic named Kina Ram. There are some English accounts of the Aghori in the 19th century, including an incident in 1887 in which a nude gang of angry Aghori who had been denied some goats stole a corpse from a crematorium and ate it on the spot in the city of Ujjain.

Gallery of Cristiano Ostinelli photos: