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One Sunday evening in Dublin city centre, I happened to be at the bus stop waiting for my bus home. As seems all too common on Dublin bus schedules, the next bus was not due for about half an hour. A common remedy for my chunk of unused time is to go into Easons bookstore and browse the shelves. This shop alone is a testimony to humankind’s love affair with the unscientific and often outright ridiculous. Books and magazines from astrology to UFO’s await the eager minds of the scientifically illiterate. This particular evening went one step further in proving to me, the outright craving many have for all things superstitious. The claim to the book’s authenticity, on brazen display, was the sentence “Sunday Times Best Seller”. Of course everyone knows that Sunday newspapers go to every length to ensure scientific accuracy of all it endorses before giving it the seal of approval. All that know me will quickly note my sarcastic intent clearly on display. However on a serious note it is this profit driven media sensationalism that allows the purveyors of baloney to get a foothold in the market. This time the bunkum was written by Dublin born Lorna Byrne. Two different versions of a book titled Angels in my hair were on keen display. Needless to say such a title was hardly the product of a keen intellectual. I have to confess though, if the book were to be written as fictional chicklit, I would have had nothing but admiration for the writing. The pages ooze in the emotional porn of false hope, obviously designed with women in mind, a fact shown by the female content of the author’s facebook page.
Despite a reasonable literary acumen, I have no doubt that the book would not have been nearly as lucrative were it not for the incredibly narcissistic and near messianic claims made by its author. A quick look at her facebook page reveals the godlike esteem in which she is held, a fact that I find deeply disturbing. The story unfolds with Lorna as a child growing up in an impoverished Kilmainham house in a near state of disrepair. The author is never short at depicting the poverty that was the norm for many living in 1960s Ireland. From the onset she attests to psychic supernatural ability. In the early pages, she describes a visit to the Moore Street traders, where her mother decides to purchase apples from the famous Dublin street traders. She describes how an angel let her know that the trader deceitfully put some rotten apples into the bag and acted by letting the bag fall and foul fruit becoming visible for both to see. Her claims of the supernatural get a lot more fantastic from here.
The angels foretell that something terrible is about to happen to a young boy cycling his bicycle. He subsequently gets hit by a truck and she claims to have seen the boy continue cycling his bike into heaven, not known he had in fact died. How comforting indeed. But most incredible of all, is the claim that the Old Testament prophet Elijah showed her a vision of the man she would marry. Yes the forerunner to Moses in the Bible, and the one who is present with Jesus at the transfiguration decided to intervene in the affairs of a suburban Dublin woman. Not only is it important for this angelic figure to intervene in Lorna’s love life but she also claims that as an adult, Elijah searches the newspaper property pages and finds the couple a dilapidated cottage in Maynooth. What better PA to have than the angelic prophet of Judeo-Christianity?
Another one of Lorna’s proclaimed miracles is the power of invisibility. While in her first job at her father’s garage, angels tell her that someone will come in and steal something from the shop. They then make her invisible to the determined thief and he subsequently makes off with a cassette. The angels seem more interested in divine providence than any implementation of worldly law. They warn Lorna she must not say anything to her father about the theft. Upon taking an injured bird of prey under her wing and nursing it back to health, the archangel Michael appears and tells Lorna that she must endure the suffering of others so as to hand it up to god. Leaving the insane and messianic narcissism to one side, wasn’t Jesus supposed to have done this already?
In another chapter she is on a fishing trip with her father and they go to an old building. She describes encountering a supernatural beast that has no mouth or eyes. Her father is unable to see this, as he lacked the godly messianic powers of his heavenly daughter. He sees the chairs fly across the room and the fire explode into a great ball. They make a hasty exit, only for Lorna to declare she is being chased by the devil.
She describes the moment when the Angel Elijah’s prophesy comes true and her husband to be starts a job at her father’s garage. It is at this time she claims to be able to see sickness in a body before it is observable by medical science. The description of her visions include bones flashing, a greyness around organs or a moving forward of the heart.
One could rant indefinitely about the bizarre supernatural claims made by Lorna but two are strikingly crazy. She gives an account of a holiday in Mullingar where she asks to be left alone. While walking on a solitary Westmeath back road, she asks the archangel Michael to appear as a human, and he obliges. Hand in hand, the couple walk down the road until they come to an overgrown forest. Some might have said Joe Dolan was the biggest miracle Mullingar had ever seen but there is yet one more. The archangel Michael causes the overgrown thorn bushes to part and create a path for them both to walk. Where did we see this type of thing before in the Bible? Just as bizarre a claim is the fact she writes that someone in Mullingar saw the archangel Michael with her and thought it was a friend. She claims at least three people had seen the archangel Michael with her and had made the same mistake. Most disturbing, is the fact, in a later chapter, her husband Joe is dying of complications from diabetes. She describes a scene where the archangel Michael manifests himself in physical form, but this time as a feathered angel. She writes about how she was comforted by his feathery fingers around her. This to me is a pressingly urgent matter for psychiatric investigation, all the more important is the fact she is writing about the impending death of her husband which she claims was prophesised by one of heavens most senior angels Elijah.
An equal cause for concern is that she claims to have prophesised the death of a missing baby in Maynooth under a footbridge. She recounts how the angel Arabia appeared to her and told her she would connect her soul with that of another. That night, she writes that the spirit of a dead baby came into her house while she was asleep with her husband Joe. She goes on to say how afraid she was that she would wake up Joe, but nonetheless rolled over in the bed for the baby spirit to get in. She described how the spirit baby looked entirely human and she wanted to touch it.
Surely even the most devout believer should be sceptical of these claims. If they are untrue, then it only leaves two other options, either Lorna is a profoundly disturbed individual or she lacks emotional attachment to other people and is cynically manipulating the most vulnerable in society for money or to indulge in her own narcissism. She has been interviewed everywhere from RTE to CNN and has articles published in many newspapers. She has above thirty six thousand devotees on facebook. Quite frankly the history of such self-proclaimed holy people is not good. We can study the profiles of people from Satya Sai Baba to Christina Gallagher and glance at their track record. Belief in gods or angels or whatever story people gain comfort from is not the issue (although I actively wish for a more evidence based society) the problem is humans claiming supernatural ability. We have a long history of such people and again and again it ended in failure and the erosion of trust. If people proclaim these things as a result of psychosis they should be treated with sympathy, however it is often the case that the intention is much more sinister and these people are not stopped until great harm is done to many people. It should not be satisfactory for any wannabe guru to say I have this power and you will have to take my word for it. The litany of evidence is that this business is one of deception and trickery and is all too easy when dealing with vulnerable suggestible people. If gods or angels were to exist (I have great doubts) then they must do the business of providing the evidence for the miracles they wish humans to be witness to. Think about it for a second. If god wanted us to believe in divine intervention, why would he have sent such a long list of proven charlatans throughout our history?
I hope writing this will encourage more people to ignore Lorna and any other quack that makes miraculous claims. We must focus on corporate responsibility within the media and an attitude of educating as many people as possible. The scientist Carl Sagan once said everyone should have a baloney detection kit. The above story is a powerful example of Sagan’s immortal words.
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