Satanic Panic in Christchurch

There is a worldwide epidemic of satanic child abuse allegations. Are they true? Has satanic child abuse happened here in New Zealand?

The most extensive child sex abuse case to be heard in a New Zealand court was the Christchurch Civic Creche affair. Nor was this an ordinary sexual abuse case, for throughout the lengthy period of investigation and the initial depositions hearings, bizarre claims of ritual sexual abuse were made. There were several similarities between this case and a sexual abuse case which had first surfaced in the US ten years earlier in 1983 — the highly publicised McMartin preschool case in Los Angeles — which also dealt with claims of ritual sexual abuse. In both cases, claims were made of the existence of child pornography networks and satanic conspiracy.

Although New Zealand has frequently been judged a highly secularised society, claims of Satanism were widely accepted during the initial investigation into the Christchurch creche case, and were repeated during the depositions hearings. Indeed, the whole affair led to a moral panic concerning child sexual abuse which later spread throughout the country.

It is important to stress that a moral panic is not an entirely spontaneous public reaction to a perceived problem such as child sexual abuse. It is also a consciously planned course of action which involves one or a number of different interest groups. Panics concerned with sexual abuse cases in general often involve groups such as fundamentalist Christians, mental health professionals, social workers, law enforcement officers, and the media.

The events which led to this particular “satanic panic” in Christchurch can be traced to Christian fundamentalist groups and the direct import from the United States of the satanic ritual abuse scenario.

The Satanism scare in the United States gained momentum during the 1980s, in the aftermath of the religious cult scare of the 1970s. Christian fundamentalist interests — especially groups which subscribed to the belief that the “end time” had arrived and that satanic forces would be particularly strong during this period — were behind the moral panic which spread across the United States.

Additionally, some mental health professionals and law enforcement officers were prepared to disseminate the idea that Satanism was rife. Of these two groups, the former were often associated with adults who alleged that they were “survivors” of ritual sexual abuse.

Indeed, the origin of the modern Satanism scare can be traced to the earliest “survivor” account — the book Michelle Remembers, which was published in 1980 by Michelle Smith, co-authored by her therapist, later husband, Lawrence Pazder.

As the panic spread during the 1980s, the satanic scenario was broadened to incorporate such elements as large-scale child abduction, ritualistic abuse of children, human and animal sacrifice, and cannibalism.

Law enforcement officers, social workers, and mental health professionals provided the key secular network for spreading ideas of Satanism through their involvement in seminars and workshops aimed at combatting the satanic menace.

It was in this manner that the anti-satanic movement spread to Britain later in the 1980s, and eventually to New Zealand. American fundamentalist Christians, presenting themselves as “experts” in the field of ritual child abuse, were invited to speak at social worker and police seminars. One such “expert” visited Christchurch in August 1991 and was reported as saying that “satanic ritual abuse posed as great a threat to children as sexual abuse” (Christchurch Press, 27 August 1991).

Although the Satanism scare appears to cover a unique, if somewhat bizarre, series of events, it is in fact a development of earlier trends in the child protection movement.

Beginning in the 1960s with the “discovery” of the battered baby syndrome, by the late 1970s child protection became increasingly focused on sexual abuse. This was expanded during the 1980s when false claims were made (in the United States) that as many as 50,000 — or even 90,000 — children were abducted by strangers each year.

It was in the early 1980s that the first adult “survivor” accounts of satanic abuse began to emerge. Following such accounts, the child protection movement made claims that satanic cults were responsible for the majority of the child abductions. The most prominent claims came from an extensive network of social workers, police, and psychotherapists — groups which were already involved in the task of aiding child victims of adult exploitation. They assumed responsibility for this “new” form of child victimisation — satanic abuse — and thus were able to expand their organisational base.

It should also be noted that claims of satanic abuse incorporated psychological categories to explain victims’ behaviour. The psychological material is too complex to permit more than a brief summary here, but two important aspects should be mentioned.

First is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a term used in the diagnosis of patients whose maladaptive behaviour could be explained by supposedly traumatic past experiences. PTSD, it has been suggested, is often coupled with multiple personality disorder (MPD) and “occult survivors” were typically attributed with this condition. Indeed, the “expert” mentioned earlier was reported as saying that MPD was the usual damage caused to children by satanic ritual abuse. He also argued that “about half the children suffering [MPD] had been victims of satanic ritual abuse” (Press, 27 August 1991).

A major factor in the diagnosis of “survivors” with PTSD and/or MPD was that patients’ denial was proof; any denial of involvement with satanic ritual was dismissed as a typical symptom of the underlying disorder.

The media’s role in spreading the Satanism scenario cannot be overlooked, since in the United States, Britain, and New Zealand, popular newspapers and television talk shows were very much involved. The New Zealand media, in September 1991 (shortly after reports of the visiting American sexual abuse therapist), reported a workshop presentation which was given at the Family Violence Prevention Conference in Christchurch. The main theme of this particular workshop was ritual abuse and was a prominent feature of the conference.

As co-ordinators of this workshop, the Ritual Action Group (RAG) were concerned with presenting ritual abuse as a serious threat to children in this country. Their presentation drew on both anti-cult and anti-Satanist literature, detailing a definition of ritual abuse, the situations in which it was likely to occur, and the signs parents should be looking for to determine whether their child had been abused.

There was a period of intensified media interest in claims of Satanism following the September conference and the RAG workshop. This included reports that police were stepping up investigations into ritualistic cults, following bizarre claims coming from Australia which told of satanic cults there. These cults were said to have links with child pornography rings, but they were also reported as killing and eating babies.

It was also reported at this time that a “prominent New Zealand policeman” had spent time in the United States studying techniques for investigating links between child pornography and Satanism: the same policeman had earlier been linked with the RAG group. It was during this period of intense media coverage that allegations of ritual abuse in the Christchurch Civic Creche began to surface.

Following similar patterns in the United States and Britain, the links between child pornography, organised sex rings, and ritual abuse have been a prominent feature of the Satanism scare in this country.

Although the first reports of Satanism appeared in 1991, it was not until a year later that a moral panic which focused on the sexual abuse of children broke. From early in 1992, a former male worker from the Christchurch Civic Creche had been under investigation for indecent assault and sexual violation of children. Subsequent events further amplified the panic — the abrupt closure of the civic creche; the police investigation into a “major paedophile ring” operating in New Zealand and reputed to have links with an international network of child pornography dealers; the leader of the Centerpoint commune facing charges of child sexual abuse; and sporadic claims of abuse emerging from other childcare centers around the country.

All these events occurred within the space of two months during the latter half of 1992. Although the Department of Social Welfare began to express concern about their rapidly increasing caseloads of child abuse, it was not until the news broke that four female co-workers were also alleged to have committed indecent assault and sexual violation of children at the creche that the panic gained full momentum. The creche case now took on elements of “organised” abuse rather than being one involving a lone “predatory” male abuser.

It was at this stage that the media concentrated on the bizarre nature of the case, with its alleged elements of ritual abuse. In particular, one alleged incident known as the “circle incident” provided a vivid image which enabled the media to locate this case within an established stereotype of ritual abuse. However, it was not only the media who made links between this case and the ritual abuse scenario. During the depositions hearings the mother of an alleged victim had called for an overseas “expert” on ritual abuse to be brought into the inquiry.

As the events leading to the Christchurch case have shown, religious concepts still feature in the public perception of problem conditions such as child sexual abuse and the amplification of deviance thus generated. This is despite the increasingly secularised nature of New Zealand society.

Christian fundamentalists in particular have been relatively successful in having their ideas on issues such as child pornography and alleged satanic abuse incorporated into the rhetoric of secular agencies such as social work, counselling, and law enforcement. It is no coincidence that this moral panic has focused on children given that, in periods of rapid social change and uncertainty such as New Zealand has experienced in recent years, children represent the hope for the future. This is likely to prove a recurrent theme of perceived social problems.

Church Hit With Judgement

A jury which in August ordered the Christian Science church to pay $US5.2 million ($NZ9.6 million) in damages in the diabetes death of an 11-year-old boy followed this by adding a further $US9 million in punitive damages.

A juror told reporters after that decision that the issue was not one of freedom of religion, but whether the boy had any choice in determining medical care which could have saved his life.

The boy’s mother had turned to the faith healing teachings of the church instead of traditional medicine when he fell ill.

The Hennepin County District Court jury had considered the punitive portion of the damages for several days after the actual damages award against members of the church, following a trial lasting five weeks.

The case involved the 1989 death of Ian Lundman of Independence, Minnesota, who succumbed after a sudden four-day bout with juvenile onset diabetes.

The boy’s father, Douglas, sued the boy’s mother — his ex-wife Kathy McKown — and her current husband William, as well as a nursing home affiliated with the First Church of Christ, Scientist, as well as a nurse, a church practitioner and another church official, charging negligence.

Lundman’s lawyers said it was the first US civil action involving a death and the church to go to trial.

Reuter

Songs Skeptical

A selection of the song competition entries presented at the Skeptics Conference.

Amazing James

Tune: “Amazing Grace”

Hugh Young (idea by Eileen Bone)

Amazing James, at last he came
to inspire a wretch like me;
I once was cool, but now I flame
thanks to (Amazing) James Randi!

T’was James who bent a tablespoon,
melting the heart of Kim Hill.
He could change a watch from nine to noon
and teach us all his skill.

He tuned us in, to a healer odd
who knew more than he should know,
and the healer’s wide, “the Voice of God”
talking to him by radio.

He showed us how the psychics work
quackery in the Philippines;
sticking in his fingers, out he’d jerk
chicken’s guts and blood in streams.

Amazing James is in no way slack
to advance the skeptical art,
yet admires the Morning Glory’s knack
of opening at sparrow fart.

Amazing James, at last he came
to inspire a wretch like me
I once was cool, but now I flame
thanks to (Amazing) James Randi!

As anyone who attended one of James Randi’s lectures will attest, this is a true and accurate record.

An Alternative Hymnal

Tune: “Abide with Me”

Martin & Janette Wallace

Hymn for Homeopaths

Dilute with me
fast comes the magic field —
the molecules dis-
sperse and we are heal’d.
Doubt and disdain
in Skeptics round I see
O, you who still believe
Dilute with me.

Abiding with Acupuncturists

Press deep my flesh
with needlepoint so fine
Rotate the ends
and ease this pain of mine!
Oh pierce my toe
To ease distress and woe.
This hymn for you we sang
with yin and yang!

Chiropractors Chorus

Manipulate
And twist my tortured spine
The nerves are pinch’d
and twisted like the vine!
But please take care
my spinal chord to guard
and don’t forget to use
my credit card.

Aye, Aye, Iridologist Mine

Look deep into
my eyes and iris see!
Give me your thoughts
on what is ailing me!
There you might see
a fault or two or three
Oh, you that thinkest not
Eye ball with me!

Verses of this were lovingly sung at the conference by the Skeptical Trio of Tony Vignaux, Warwick Don and Bill Morris, abetted by Margaret Mahy, Phil Spencer, Vicki Hyde, Cynthia Shakespeare and sundry others.

Show Me

(with apologies to My Fair Lady)

Hugh Young

He: Minds have a power beyond comparing
When they are sharing knowledge from beyond!
Space and time easily unravel
When astral travel takes you to a –

She: – Gone, gone, where is your brain gone?
All your words are a pain, must I hear them again?
They’re all cloned from Shirley Maclaine!

Don’t talk of minds roving through time,
Tune in to mine, show me!
Don’t talk of worlds made in six days,
To coin a phrase, show me!

Anyone who’s ever bought a bargain at a stall
Knows talk is cheap, action is all.
When you get the gadget home, it doesn’t chop the cheese;
That’s when you know you’ve been fleeced!

Don’t talk of a-lien abduc-
-tions run amuck, show me! Show me!

Don’t talk of gods landing from space,
Talking in languages queer!
Show me here!

Don’t talk of see-ing through brick walls,
Don’t pull my curls, show me!
Don’t talk of hea-ling at a touch,
Let out your clutch, show me!

Sure, the world is full of wonders more than we can dream;
All things must be more than they seem!
But if we believe whatever anyone may say,
Our grasp on truth slips away!

Don’t talk of brea-king nature’s laws
Dig in your clause, show me! Show me!

Don’t tell me I have to have faith
In things that won’t take a bow!
Show me now!

The Easy Conclusion

In the years since the Skeptics’ beginnings in 1985 we’ve seen paranormal and pseudoscientific fads come and go. The Shroud of Turin was big back then, till carbon dating did it in (except in the minds of the hard-core Shroud Crowd, who now claim that rising from the dead involves an emission of neutrons which increases the atomic weight of the carbon in your winding cloth). Uri Geller is more feeble than ever, UFO sightings are in decline, and Bigfoot has made himself even scarcer than usual. But quackery in the name of “alternative” medicine still flourishes, and cold readers (such as the lamentable James Byrne) periodically meander on stage.

However, there haven’t been any significant new trends in the pseudoscience until the recent arrival of False Memory Syndrome (see reprint, “The New Victims of Sex Abuse”, p. 12). In a sense, this fad was a disaster waiting to happen. In the 1950s, hypnotic regression was used to help people discover their past lives. Harmless, perhaps, and a even comfort for someone to learn of having once been a rich courtesan in Atlantis or, better still, a Chinese Empress (but oh those aching feet!). In the 1980s, this same structure of therapeutic hypnosis was being used to help people remember how they were spirited to the planet Zork in a flying saucer in order to be subjected to medical procedures.

The sorry new development sets out from UFO abduction, but is much more sinister because it attaches itself to a demonstrably real social problem: sexual abuse. By incorporating the concept of hypnotic recovery of repressed memories into the current hysteria over sex abuse, the lives of thousands of families are being destroyed.

Consider a phone call I recently received. An articulate widow in her seventies, who with her husband raised five children, had seen my newspaper article on False Memory Syndrome and wanted to tell me her story. One of the children, a woman in her middle thirties, is a troubled soul who had been visiting a counsellor for the last year. The daughter’s therapy has “disclosed” that her mother and late father sexually abused her in her childhood. The abuse began before she was three (a remarkable memory to have, since the hard-wiring for long-term memory doesn’t even exist till after then). Her father had regularly raped her till she was seventeen. She had “forgotten” all this until just now.

Her brother says it’s rubbish, and the mother is shattered, but the daughter fully believes it, having been manipulated by her therapist to confabulate pseudomemories. The daughter has now denied her mother access to the grandchildren. This distraught old woman, who knew nothing about FMS or that others have had the same thing happen to them, had been contemplating suicide. (Fortunately, I’ve been able to get her some competent help.)

Hers is not a unique case, and if something isn’t done to bring the problem of FMS to public attention we will see many more cases in New Zealand. We’re working on it.

This issue of the Skeptic is coming to you a few weeks late because the last two months have been among the busiest in our history. The spectacularly successful visit of James Randi, along with a very well covered annual conference have helped us to boost Skeptics membership to about 350. Thanks to everyone who helped in organising those events.

One a per capita basis, we are probably the strongest national Skeptics organisation in the world. It would be temptingly easy to conclude from this that New Zealanders are simply more sensible and intelligent than people elsewhere. So why argue? For once, we’ll take the easy, tempting conclusion!

Hokum Locum

The sting

Following his own empirical observations that bee “treatments” helped his arthritis, a Levin bee-keeper is claiming that he is being ignored by the medical profession. (Press 3/8/93) Not surprisingly, his trial of 11 patients failed to impress skeptical observers. Two patients dropped out and the remainder reported that the “sting” was effective. Having paid for the privilege of being stung, a sensation to be normally avoided, they are hardly likely to say that the treatment was worthless.

In the middle ages, hornets were applied to the skin as a treatment for plague. Nothing appears to have been learned from such unpleasant, not to say dangerous, treatments.

Bogus professor

An unqualified woman who posed as a doctor and professor, was sent to prison for 6 months for fraudulently claiming that she could cure cancer and AIDS. Analysis of her product, Cancelle, or CH6, showed “it had no medicinal properties and contained toxic elements.” (BMJ 306 p1499).

It is ironic that the courts (in the UK at least) will move swiftly to deal with quacks, but the medical profession has failed to take action against registered medical practitioners who practice quackery such as homeopathy and EAV diagnosis.

Caesarean sections

Australia has a high rate (30-35%) of caesarean sections among private patients, and the introduction of a global obstetric fee that applied irrespective of the mode of delivery did not change the proportion of caesarean deliveries. (BMJ 306 p1218) The caesarean rate in Brazil is an amazing 50% on average, with the highest rates among the poor. Two reasons for this are a virtual absence of midwives and the belief (encouraged by obstetricians) that a vaginal delivery will permanently impair normal intercourse afterwards. Both of these examples demonstrate how doctors can develop bad practices when the socio-cultural environment allows this to happen. Only patient education with strong and ethical professional medical leadership, can prevent this kind of surgical abuse.

Low back pain

Readers will remember Denis Dutton reporting his experiences with an episode of low back pain, or lumbago (Skeptic 24). A Canadian study (British Journal of Industrial Medicine 1993; 50:385-8) found that the best treatment for uncomplicated lumbago was to remain active. The traditional treatment of bed rest was thought to encourage chronic invalidism.

This theme was continued by Robin McKenzie (Press 11/6/93) who attacked the current traditional approach to low back pain. Of physiotherapy, he said “it had for 75 years relied on unproven methods and `hocus-pocus’ electrical gadgetry” and he went on to say that “doctors should prescribe active rather than passive therapies.” Most controversial was his statement that “50% of workers on compensation were feigning illness.”

I am sure that there is an element of truth here. Physiotherapists use a wide variety of treatments and machines, many of which have not been adequately tested. It is too easy for people to refuse to accept responsibility for their own recovery and become chronically dependent on ACC. This applies not only to back injuries but other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and occupational overuse syndrome (OOS).

Work-related illness

Readers will be familiar with my position with respect to OOS, which has its roots in abnormal illness behaviour and psychological factors. It is interesting to compare it with the “sick building syndrome” (SBS), another new age medical invention. At last someone has done a trial of randomly increasing the ventilation rate while getting workers to report their perception of the indoor environment. (NEJE 328: 821-7)

To quote the authors: “Increases in the supply of outdoor air did not appear to affect workers’ perceptions of their office environment or their reporting of symptoms considered typical of the sick building syndrome.”

I would like to offer what I regard as a more likely explanation of the SBS which also relates to OOS. People crowded into a large building, working at VDUs and perhaps isolated from each other are always going to be vulnerable to a belief that the working environment is in some way responsible for vague and ill-defined malaise.

A report of a survey in the Christchurch Press (21/5/93) confirmed a high level of stress and dissatisfaction in the workplace. Half of the respondents said they would change jobs if they could and many felt that changes in conditions had resulted in more work for less pay. Most felt that they had less power to control their work environment.

Such surveys are extremely valuable because they provide a clue to the origin of conditions such as CFS, SBS, and OOS. I have no difficulty in accepting job-related stress, but I would prefer to see some honest acknowledgement of this by patients and doctors instead of the fraudulent collusion which creates mythical conditions as CFS, SBS and OOS.

Placebo controlled trials

Since such trials appeared in the late 1940s they have continued to be a valuable tool for investigating the efficacy of new treatments and drugs. Fish oil supplements were tested against placebo capsules for the treatment of psoriasis and there was no significant improvement in either group (NEJM — reported in GP Weekly 7 July 93). Refer also Skeptic 27 for an excellent review of the placebo effect by Dr Bill Morris.

Weight loss delusions

The diet industry is worth millions as women strive to achieve the impossible standards set by the fashion industry. Journalists have even invented a new term for fat, “cellulite”, which apparently looks and feels different from other body fat. (Marlborough Express 24 Sep 92) It can be removed by massage and body treatment products. Obese subjects can pay $180 to be blasted with water jets which “eliminate fat deposits and excess fluid” while hydrotherapy with miracle algae can “restore a balanced energy flow to the body”. (New Scientist 1 June 1991 p47) I hope this particular clinic has good grease traps in its drains.

Other researchers try and tell us that obesity is inherited and therefore nothing can be done. This ignores the success of weight-watchers and the obvious argument that if weight can be gained it must also be able to be lost.

A study (NEJM reported in Patient Management June 1993) found that diet-resistant patients under-reported their actual food intake by 47% and over-reported their physical activity by 51% and “diet-resistant patients were significantly more likely than control subjects to believe that they had a genetic or metabolic cause for their obesity, and to describe their eating behaviour as relatively normal”. This important work clearly demonstrates yet again the importance of patient beliefs in relation to illness behaviour.

While on the subject of over-eating, I note that a typical cat living in Britain is given twice as much protein a day as that eaten by a typical poor African.(BMJ Vol 306 p1078)

Homeopathy

In Skeptic 26 I offered to go into business with anyone prepared to join me in selling pure water labelled as “homeopathic preparations”. Two homeopaths were indignant about the use of active ingredients in the case of herbal medicine poisoning I described in Skeptic 28 and one went on to say “it is absolutely unethical for any medicine to be sold as natural and especially as homeopathic if it were to include pharmacologically active ingredients”. (Letters – BMJ Vol 306 p656)

I still think it would be a bit of fun to sell some pure water (labelled as homeopathic preparations), invite prosecution and argue it out in court. It could prove to be a more useful arena in which to examine the enduring scam of homeopathy. I could enjoy hearing homeopaths being cross-examined by a skeptical lawyer. At least selling pure water is honest!

Poached Tiger?

Not content with exterminating tigers in their own country, the Chinese have over 110 factories turning tiger bone into tablets, wine and various confections. Presumably the ingestion of such products is believed to confer some of the vigor and vitality of the unfortunate tiger. There are only about 6,000 tigers globally and trading in tiger products is banned by international convention. What a monumental folly that these magnificent and intelligent animals end up being turned into useless traditional medicines because of human stupidity and superstition. (Lancet Vol 341 p46)

Physical and Financial Health?

On Thursday, 19 August 1993, the Christchurch Press carried a full-page advertisement for the initial New Zealand opening of the “Matrol Opportunity”.

The product, Matrol-Km, was described as “a unique nutritional supplement comprised of a synergistic combination of 13 botanical ingredients that produces an unusually powerful bond at the molecular level”. It was developed over 60 years ago by Dr Karl Jurak (PhD, University of Vienna, 1922), originally for his own use.

We were told that the product “has been tested in the most demanding laboratory in the world — the human body — for over 70 years”. The goal of the company “is not to see how many distributors we can sign up. Our goal is to impact world health. [italics original] Matrol is unique in that its distributors are emotionally tied to its product. They are unwavering in their commitment to use the product daily and reap its health benefits on an ongoing basis. Which means that each distributor is his or her own best testimonial!”

In case the rather vaguely described health advantages of the product weren’t enough, the ad pointed out that Matrol offers “one of the most generous compensation plan[s] in the network marketing industry“. This seems to be 25-40% profits, plus additional 5% commissions on sales made by “supervisors”> under you.

I was intrigued enough by the claims of an unusually powerful molecular bond to attend the evening meeting. Unfortunately the nature of this bond was not mentioned at the meeting, although the herbal ingredients were.

Matrol-Km consists of a dark-coloured, admittedly unpleasant-tasting liquid, which you are supposed to take daily for at least a month to be assured of achieving health effects (although some persons respond inside a day), and which you can then expect to take for the rest of your life. This costs $NZ90 per month per person, unless in self-defense you become a Matrol reseller to obtain wholesale discounts.

The health benefits were not much specified at the meeting. Phrases used included “extra energy”, “better sleep”, “look younger, feel younger”, “clarity of mind”, “an insurance for good health”. I was impressed by the frequency with which speakers talked of having encountered Matrol-Km at financial and/or emotional low-points in their life. We were reminded that the product is for both physical and financial health, and there was to my mind considerable intermingling of the two concepts.

The bottles themselves (one month’s supply, 946 ml), give an admirably thorough list of ingredients, presumably in order of diminishing concentration: water, caramel, potassium citrate, glycerophosphate, calcium glycerophosphate, magnesium glycerophosphate, potassium hydroxide, potassium glycerophosphate, iron glycerophosphate, followed by 13 herbs, plus traces of clove and peppermint oil as flavourings. The mixture, which is non-alcoholic, is preserved by paraben and methyl paraben. Below, I’ve summarised the Matrol claims for each herb as given on a sales pamphlet, and the descriptions given by S. Talalaj and A.S. Czechowicz in their book Herbal Remedies: Harmful and Beneficial Effects.

(1) Chamomile flowers (Matricaria chamomilla).

Matrol: consecrated to the Egyptian Gods; used by Romans for nutritional properties; used to make a tea; high in calcium, magnesium, iron and trace minerals.

T&C: active ingredients are matricine, a volatile oil (1%) containing bisabolols and chamazulene… Also glycosides apigenin, apigetrin, rutin, coumarins, and flavonoids. Pharmacological action: anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic (“cramps”), carminative (anti-farting), sedative, antiseptic, vulnerary (promotes wound healing). A “therapeutically valuable remedy” with mild calming effect useful in treatment of nervous conditions, excitement, and restlessness… Harmless even if taken over a prolonged period.

(2) Saw palmetto berry (sabal, Serenoa repens).

Matrol: N American Indians made tea from berry, which contains many primary nutrients and elemental minerals.

T&C: Active constituents are oestrogen-like steroidal glycosides. Low-toxicity plant, but its use should be discussed with a medical practitioner because of the oestrogen-like effects. Has been used to treat chronic cystitis, might show beneficial effect in treatment of benign enlargement of prostate.

(3) Angelica root (Archangelica officinalis).

Matrol: regarded as holy plant, chewed regularly by Laplanders, rich in essential oils, calcium, vitamin E and vitamin B-12, which is rare in vegetation.

T&C: Active constituents are volatile oil, furanocoumarins, resin, bitter principles, and triterpenoids. Relatively safe in moderate curative doses. (“Fresh root is extremely toxic and is used as a homicidal poison among Canadian Indians.”) Pharmacological action is to increase gastric secretions, antispasmodic, diuretic, sedative. Has mainly been used in treatment of indigestion and flatulent colic… stimulates the appetite in anorexia nervosa, also used for treatment of cystitis and urinary inflammations. Decreases muscular tension and exhibits a mild sedative action….

(4) Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

Matrol: Signifies graceful elegance in Greece, bravery in European chivalry. Abundant in thiamine, also B-complex, vitamins C and D, and trace minerals.

T&C: Active constituents volatile oil (2-3%)… Also tannins (10%), saponins, flavonoids. Harmless when used in a low dose (oil highly toxic when digested in ml quantities). Pharmacological actions are antiseptic, anthelmintic (intestinal worms), astringent, expectorant, carminative. Has been used in treatment of cough, whooping cough, bronchitis, dyspepsia and stomach disorders, occasionally as anthelmintic.

(5) Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).

Matrol: cultivated and used by Indians of Virginia (US). Plentiful in nutrient complexes, especially calcium and magnesium.

T&C: Active ingredients indole alkaloids (0.1%) including harmine, harmaline and harman. Also flavonoids, steroidal substances, cyanogenic glycosides and saponins. Harmless if used in a low curative dose, but should only be used under medical supervision. Reputation of being an effective sedative.

(6) Gentian root (Gentiana lutea).

Matrol: popular in Europe as mid-day tea. Rich in B-complex nutrients, vitamin F, niacin, inositol and many trace elements.

T&C: Active constituents are bitter glycosides, also alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins and mucilage. Harmless in low therapeutic doses, but should be avoided in cases of acute gastritis, stomach ulcer, and haemorrhages in gastro-intestinal tract, also by patients with excessive number of red blood cells. Not advisable in breast-feeding women because breast milk may become bitter. Popular bitter gastric stimulant, used as appetizer, to increase gastric secretion in dyspepsia, and to relieve flatulence, also useful for gall-bladder dysfunction and liver problems.

(7) Licorice root (Glycyrrhzia glabra).

Matrol: used anciently in China, Greece. Contains vitamin E, B-complex, biotin, niacin, pantothenic acid, lecithin, manganese and other trace minerals.

T&C: Active constituents are triterpenoid saponins… also flavonoids, oestrogen-like steroids, coumarins, tannins and volatile oil. No adverse effects in low curative doses. Pharmacological action as anti-inflammatory, expectorant (loosens phlegm), anti-spasmodic (cramps), demulcent (eases irritation of skin and lining of digestive tract). Popular remedy mainly for gastric ulcer. Shows beneficial anti-inflammatory effects, reduces gastric acid secretion and promotes ulcer healing. Also used for cough, bronchitis and allergic skin disease.

(8) Senega root (milkwort, Polygala senega).

Matrol: valued by N American Indians for its refreshing mint-like flavour and for many nutrients. Rich in magnesium, iron and other trace minerals.

T&C: Active constituents are triterpenoid saponins (up to 10%) including senegin… Also sterols, resin, and methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen). Toxic when used in an excessive dose, may cause vomiting diarrhoea, vertigo, visual disturbances, and inflammation of the oesophagus. Should be avoided during pregnancy and G-I inflammation or stomach bleeding. Mainly used to treat cough and chronic bronchitis, often in combination with ipecac, or in combination with other plants as an asthma remedy.

(9) Horehound root (Ballota nigra).

Matrol: member of mint family, praised 4 centuries ago by Gerard for its usefulness. Rich in Vitamins A, E, C, F and B-complex, also contains iron and potassium.

T&C: Active ingredients are flavonoids, “bitter principle” and volatile oil. No adverse effects reported. Used for dyspepsia, flatulence and anti-emetic in pregnancy.

10) Celery seed (Apium graveolens).

Matrol: in use for centuries from Central Europe to East Indies and South America. Seed contains a group of useful organic compounds called phthalides, also vitamins A, B, and C, and iron.

T&C: Active ingredients are volatile oil (3%) containing mainly limonene and selinen, also flavonoid glycoside apiin. A low toxicity plant, but excessive doses should not be used during pregnancy. Mainly used to treat inflammation of urinary tract and cystitis, regarded as an effective urinary antiseptic. Also used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, asthma and bronchitis.

(11) Sarsaparilla root (Smilax officinalis).

Matrol: used by early Americans as “spring tea”. Spanish Conquistadors recorded its [unspecified] legendary qualities. Contains vitamin C and B-complex.

T&C: Active ingredients are steroidal saponins… and parillin. Also tannins, resin and sterols. A low toxicity plant, but excessive dose or prolonged internal use should be avoided. Should not be used in cases of kidney disorder. Pharmacological action is carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic (causing profuse perspiration), antirheumatic. Once had a great reputation in the treatment of rheumatism and skin disease, especially psoriasis.

(12) Alfalfa (Medicago sativa).

Matrol: revered by ancients as “King of Plants”, an excellent source of easily assimilated vitamins and minerals. Contains 14 of the 16 principal mineral elements and all known vitamins, but is especially rich in some amino acids and vitamins A, D and K, and iron.

T&C: Active constituents are oestrogen-like isoflavonoids, alkaloids, carotenoids (provitamin A), and vitamins B1, B2, K, C and D. Also coumarins and mineral salts of calcium, potassium, iron and phosphorus. Excessive doses taken internally can cause flatulence and diarrhoea. Long term application can produce reactivation of systemic lupus erythematosus and produce skin ulceration. Excessive doses can also produce an oestrogen-like response. Pharmacological action as anti-anaemic, nutritive. Mainly used as a nutrient for convalescent patients.

Note that this is just about the only case where the Matrol literature agrees with Talalaj and Czechowicz.

(13) Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale).

Matrol: Rich in vitamin complexes, choline, a B-vitamin, and a main component of lecithin. Also contains vitamins A and C, and essential linolenic acid.

T&C: Active ingredients are taraxacin, inulin (a fructose polymer), potassium salts, and vitamin A. Harmless. Used for liver ailments and gallstones.

The remarkable thing about the Matrol descriptions is that they concentrate, rather boringly, on the mineral and vitamin contents of their herbal ingredients.

Minerals and vitamins are easily obtained, in relatively cheap multi-purpose vitamin pills, if not in our ordinary diet. In any case, Matrol-Km must contain more potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron in the form of a glycerophosphate complex than would be contributed by the tinier amounts of herbs. What is special about herbs is their content of pharmacologically active ingredients. I would be flabbergasted if the grossly impure (oops, “complexly formulated”) mixture of chemicals in a given herb is optimal for a particular treatment.

Why doesn’t the Matrol literature mention the pharmacology of their herbal ingredients? Perhaps that would amount to making medical claims. Does Matrol-Km contain enough herbal content to have a pharmacological effect? If so, the foregoing list suggests there could be something beneficial for everyone, although the bitter stomach-stimulating actions of gentian would seem to be fighting the stomach-soothing actions of licorice.

One might be concerned at the oestrogen-like properties of a number of ingredients. Since oestrogens are used in hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, could this account for some of the beneficial effects of Matrol-Km? Is it safe for a man to take it? Where is the medical study that shows this mixture is safe for lifelong ingestion? (I’m not even asking for evidence about efficacy!)

After studying the list of ingredients, I’m personally convinced that the original mixture of Dr Jurak might have been useful. In fact I’m going to pick up most of the herbal remedies at the health-food section of the supermarket next week, just to have on hand as cheap try-it-and-see remedies in case mild episodes of the pertinent illnesses arise, say, on a weekend.

I dare say it will cost far less than $90, and I’ll use just the herbs that seem appropriate to a given requirement rather than a shot-gun mixture.

New Age Internationalist?

The New Internationalist Review, a magazine not normally known for gullibility beyond the political, decided not all that long ago to examine the paranormal. Our intrepid reporter Peter Lange decided to have a look.

Last year the New Internationalist gave over an entire issue (November) to the subject of the paranormal in what seemed to be an effort to keep readers’ interest over 12 months of fairly heavy political going — a bit like the cream buns halfway through bible class. It seems to be a good-hearted publication, and in this case under the editorship of Chris Brazier it has attempted to research several popular aspects of the paranormal and tried to sum up without favour. The result is disappointing.

The journalistic approach goes like this… set the scene with a cloyingly cute question-and-answer dialogue with an imaginary reader, add one solitary article by a skeptic (the excellent Susan Blackmore), then a series of ten articles supporting the paranormal, and end with a statement by the researching journalist Brazier: “Something happened, I just don’t know what. And I’m afraid that could serve as an adequate summary of human understanding of the paranormal”.

The photographs include: a levitating mystic (India, 1936), two of Einstein (one before and one after discovering relativity, and you can see the difference), Uri Geller looking aghast at a bent spoon, two African women studying bones they have just dropped (maybe the spoon carrying them had bent), and a woman in Algeria grimacing with pain while the head of the Virgin Mary materialises out of the side of her neck. And I don’t blame her for feeling out of sorts. Why do such undignified phenomena always involve the Virgin Mary and never Groucho Marx? He could carry it off so much better.

Susan Blackmore’s article is strong — it offers (unfortunately) mundane explanations for a variety of strange experiences — out-of-body travel, coincidence, memory tricks, near-death-experiences — all the areas that create so much interest and confusion.

The next article is by the editor and is a slightly humorous account of trying to induce an out-of-body experience by following a set of commercial instructions. He fails, and of course blames himself rather than the nonsense put out in the best-selling book.

Next, a European woman describes sleepwalking in darkest Africa: “My friend Femina was found running through the village one night naked, with teeth marks on her cheeck and neck — she wouldn’t tell me what happened to her”. I’m not surprised. Her car’s headlights mysteriously go out while driving between two haunted rocks, she finds a dead chicken in a closed hut with its feet inexplicably removed, and so on. All serious evidence of forces outside her comprehension.

Next, an article on shamanism (written by a shaman) ingenuously explaining the taking of the hallucinogenc “yakoana” (“which produces effects like the spirits coming with huge machetes, cutting out your tongue, and putting your head upside down inside your body”) and then declaring the whole business an inexplicable mystery. Most Sixties children would find it fairly easy to explain.

Then follows an article on CIA remote viewing or “psychic spying” by a director of an American Institute of Parapsychology. It seems to work well as long as the enemy uses only a house, boat or tree for military purposes. A series of small text blocks is next, on everything from astrology to levitation to dowsing to incombustibility among the Maori people of New Zealand. All of them without exception support the paranormal claims, and there is evidence to show that if Winston Peters is sentenced to burning at the stake for heresy, it will be a waste of good firewood.

The most hilarious one is by Nina Silver, a New York channeller, who channels not through the normal dead characters like Winston Churchill or Egyptian kings, but through “a particle of gold light” — a female light, incidentally, and a committed feminist particle. She found herself on the outer with other channellers, who felt threatened by her liberated, often raunchy, luminous girlfriend who obviously didn’t fit into the staid and patriarchal Association of Channellees.

Chris Brazier then completes his investigation by attempting to meet his “spirit sister Marie” whom Nina has located, and then spends three hours working on it, culminating in a surge of energy coming down through the top of his head as the spirit enters his body and possibly his wallet. Having got in, the spirit fails to perform. Still in New York (could this be relevant?) he repeats the incoming spirit experience, but back in England the effect fails to recur.

Brazier is entirely convinced by the research of J.B. Rhine and his followers purporting to show that ESP and psychokinesis are possible, but admits that the evidence for the paranormal is anecdotal. “One thing is clear”, he says, “science can offer no explanation … except … when science itself becomes almost mystical”. Ahem.

The magazine is worthy, full of good political and environmental intentions, but in this case journalistically suspect and unbalanced, and inclined to put the sensational case before the rational. It sinks to the level of the National Enquirer for one of two reasons — an almost endearing ingenuousness or a cynical need to titillate and retain readers.