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Why We're Fascinated by the Paranormal, Masonic Myths and Secret Societies

By making paranoia part of pop culture, writers like Dan Brown have made a fortune. Then again, maybe he belongs to a secret cabal.

The paranormal pops up everywhere these days. In the last week, two different people have warned me against Ouija boards. In a video posted on YouTube, Richard Heene—who pretended a few weeks ago that his son was trapped in a runaway weather balloon—ponders the question of whether Hillary Clinton is one of those bloodthirsty, shape-shifting, humanoid alien "reptilians" that conspiracy theorists believe are planning a global takeover. At least three different ghost-hunting reality shows are currently airing on cable, all of them featuring muscular dudes storming down hallways in deserted schools and jails clasping electronic recording devices and howling, "Did you hear that?!"

This is hardly the first time in history that people have suddenly started spouting prophecies and speaking with the dead. These fads come in waves, usually fostered in the wake of unbearable tragedy. What else to do about earthquakes, floods, epidemics, dictators and wars than wonder which demon or deity devised this living hell and why, and what sacrifice or sorcery might make it stop? It is always fear and despair that sets us on this train of thought. During a gold rush or when we've just been given a clean bill of health, we need not believe in magic.

In the Black Death-ridden Middle Ages, chilled and starved by a climate shift now known as the Little Ice Age, Europe became obsessed with the body parts of saints. Crystal-encased, gem-bedecked bones and hanks of hair and half-mummified fingers, heads and hearts were credited with curative powers. Pilgrims packed cathedrals housing so-called holy relics, sometimes trampling the sick and weak during stampedes. Centuries later, the occult became the next big thing again as World War I and the 1918 flu epidemic found seances filling entire auditoriums around the world. Yet another paranormal paroxysm crested in the early 1970s: Think Watergate, Vietnam and the post-'60s awareness—a tragedy for some—that nothing would ever be the same again. 

And now: Twin Towers. Financial collapse. War. Flood. The H1N1 virus is our plague.

Or is it? "In recognition of the continuing progression of the pandemic, and in further preparation as a nation," as he put it, Barack Obama declared a national state of emergency on October 23. This declaration allows the federal government to waive certain requirements regarding prevention and treatment procedures because "the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities," Obama said.

But the folks at would probably say this is just his latest step in "progressing the Antichrist system that is gathering pace after the recent world economic upheaval"—a system that "implicates not only Barack Obama but also Javier Solana of the European Union, Prince Charles of Wales, Queen Beatrix of Netherlands and Prince Hassan of Jordan," a "power bloc" that "will drive the Antichrist world government." The folks at call it "amazing stuff going on here, right before our eyes ... and it fits the pattern set out in Revelation 13."

Every paranormal paroxysm involves politics. That's only natural. We cannot help but brood about whomever rules the world. Is their might the result of keen diplomacy—or sigils chiseled into halls-of-power floors? Who's really in that entourage? We cannot help but wonder as, joking-but-not-quite-joking, we doodle cartoons of George W. Bush with devil horns.

It's all about control, as that's what wizards, angels, demons, gods and elected officials wield. Is it such a long  leap from superpower to supernatural?

Rumors of a secret cabal plotting to create a New World Order have been swirling almost ever since the Old World Order began. The nature of these shady puppeteers depends on who's doing the worrying. Jews have been evergreen suspects, whether it's the Elders of Zion or my penniless ancestors slogging through the Polish mud. Secret societies such as the Knights Templar and Freemasons stoke automatic fear: What are they doing in there?

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