Category Archives: Religion

Stitches brew: A brief look at self-harm lip sewing

In previous blogs I have examined both self-harming behaviour (such as cutting off one’s own genitals, removing one’s own eye, removing one’s own ear, self-asphyxial risk taking in adolescence, and religious self-flagellation) and extreme body modification. One area where these two areas intersect is lip sewing. According to the Wikipedia entry on lip sewing:

“Lip sewing or mouth sewing, the operation of stitching together human lips, is a form of body modification. It may be carried out for aesthetic or religious reasons; as a play piercing practice; or as a form of protest. Sutures are often used to stitch the lips together, though sometimes piercings are made with needle blades or cannulas and monofilament is threaded through the holes. There is usually a fair amount of swelling, but permanent scarring is rare. Lip sewing may be done for aesthetic reasons, or to aid meditation by helping the mind to focus by removing the temptation to speak. BMEzine, an online magazine for body modification culture, published an article about a 23-year-old film student Inza, whose quest for body modifications was very varied. She spoke about her experiences with lip sewing as a form of play piercing”.

My reason for writing this blog was prompted by a case study published by Dr. Safak Taktak and his colleagues in the journal Health Care Current Reviews. (I ought to add that I have read a number of papers by Taktak and his colleagues as they have reported some interesting other interesting case studies including those on shoe fetishism, semen fetishism, and fetishes more generally – see ‘Further reading’ below). In this particular paper, they reported the case of a male prisoner who had continually sewed his lips together. Although they were aware of cases of sewing lips together as a form of protest, they claimed that there had never been any case reported in the medical literature.


The case report involved a male 37-year old Turkish (imprisoned) farmer, father of two children, with only basic education. After sewing his lips together, the man was brought into the hospital by the police, along with a handwritten note that read: “My jinns imposed speech ban to me and they made me sew my lips unwillingly. Otherwise, they threaten me with my children. I want to meet a psychiatrist urgently”. (Jinns I later learned are – in Arabian and Muslim mythology – intelligent spirits of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms and are able to possess humans). Not only were his lips sown together with black thread but he had also sewn both of his ears to the side of his head (these are also photographed in the paper and you can download the report free from here). This was actually the fourth time the man had sewed his lips together (but the first that he had sewn his ears). Each time, the doctors took out the stitches and dressed the wounds. The authors examined previous documentation about the man and reported that the man had been in prison for four years after injuring someone (no details were provided) and had been diagnosed with both anxiety disorder and anti-social personality disorder. On a prison ward comprising ten other prisoners, he had attempted suicide when trying to hang himself (in fact, you can clearly see the marks on his neck in the paper’s photographs). The authors reported that:

[The man] had blunted affect. He wasn’t able to stay in the [prison] ward because of the directive voices in his head. He declared he needed to stay in the ward alone. He heard all the words as swearing and he was punished by some people as well as some entities. He also said that some jinns in the form of animals threatened him not to speak and listen to anyone; otherwise they were going to kill his kids. He wanted to protect his children [and] he stitched his lips not to speak anyone and stitched his ears not to hear anyone. In his family history, he stated that his uncle committed suicide by hanging himself and saying ‘the birds are calling me’; his father was schizophrenia-diagnosed”.

The authors then reported:

“The patient stated that he sewed his lips with any colour of thread he could find. He had approximately fifteen pinholes on his upper and lower lips. He tended to suicide with directive auditory and visual hallucination (sic) and reference paranoid delirium. As he was imprisoned, he wasn’t able to use drugs. The patient who was thought to have a psychotic disorder was injected [with] 10 mg haloperidol intramuscularly and he was sent to a safe psychiatry hospital”.

As I have noted in my previous blogs on self-harming behaviour (and as noted in this particular paper), there are many different definitions of what constitutes self-destructive behaviour. This particular case was said to be suited to the psychotic behaviours characterised by Dr. Armando Favazza’s three self-destructive behaviours (i.e., compulsive, typical, and psychotic) outlined in his 1992 paper ‘Repetitive self-mutilation’ (published in the journal Psychiatry Annals). In their discussion of the case, the authors noted:

“The cases like sewing one’s own lips which we observe as a different type of destructing oneself in our case are mostly regarded as intercultural expression of feelings. The ones, who sew their lips in order to protest something, show their reactions by blocking the nutrition intake organ to the ones who want to continue their superiority. It can be expected in psychotic cases that the patients or his beloved ones might be harmed, damaged or affected emotionally. Thus, the patient who is furious and anxious might react by [attempting] violence as a reaction to these repetitive threats. Auditory hallucinations giving orders can cause the aggressive behaviours to start…In our psychotic case, this kind of behaviour is a way to prevent the voices coming from his inner world, not to answer them and hence making passive defending to world which he does not want to interact. By this means, he may harmonise with the secret natural powers which affect him and he may protect himself his children…[also] there can be a relief through sewing lips and ears or strangulation against the oppression created by the person not being able to adapt the prison…It should not be forgotten that the prison is a stressful environment and stressful living [increases] the disposition to psychopathologic behaviour that the living difficulties in prisons can affect the way of thinking and the capacity of coping and it may cause different psychiatric incidences”.

As noted at the start of this article, lip sewing is typically attributed to religious reasons, reasons of protest or aesthetic reasons. In this particular case, none of these reasons was apparent (and therefore notable – in the medical and psychiatric literature at the very least). The addition of sewing his ears appears to be even more rare, and thus warrants further research.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Favazza, A.R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation. Psychiatric Annals, 22(2), 60-63.

Taktak, S., Ersoy, S., Ünsal, A., & Yetkiner, M. (2014). The man who sewed his mouth and ears: A case report. Health Care Current Reviews, 2(121), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(276), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakuş, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S. M. (2015). Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Ünsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

Wikipedia (2016). Lip sewing. Located at:

Meditation as self-medication: Can mindfulness be addictive?

(Please note, the following blog is an extended version of an article by my research colleagues Dr. Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon (that was first published hereand to which I have added some further text. If citing this article, we recommend: Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation as self-medication: Can mindfulness be addictive? Located at:

Mindfulness is growing in popularity and is increasingly being used by healthcare professionals for treating mental health problems. There has also been a gradual uptake of mindfulness by a range of organisations including schools, universities, large corporations, and the armed forces. However, the rate at which mindfulness has been assimilated by Western society has – in our opinion – meant that there has been a lack of research exploring the circumstances where mindfulness may actually cause a person harm. An example of a potentially harmful consequence of mindfulness that we have identified in our own research is that of a person developing an addiction to mindfulness.


In a previous blog, the issue of whether meditation more generally can be addictive was examined. In a 2010 article by Michael Sigman in the Huffington Post entitled “Meditation and Addiction: A Two-Way Street?”, Sigman recounted the story about how one of his friends spent over two hours every day engaging in meditation while sat in the lotus position. He then claimed:

“There are those few for whom meditation can become compulsive, even addictive. The irony here is that an increasing body of research shows that meditation – in particular Buddhist Vipassana meditation – is an effective tool in treating addiction. One category of meditation addiction is related to the so-called ‘spiritual bypass’. Those who experience bliss when they meditate may practice relentlessly to recreate that experience, at the expense of authentic self-awareness. A close friend who’s done Transcendental Meditation for decades feels so addicted to it, she has a hard time functioning when she hasn’t ‘transcended’”.

Obviously, this is purely anecdotal but at least raises the issue that maybe for a very small minority, meditation might be addictive. In addition, empirical studies have shown that meditation can increase pain tolerance, and that the body produces its own morphine-like substances (i.e., endorphins). Therefore, the addictive qualities of meditation may be due to increased endorphin production that creates a semi-dissociative blissful state.

Being addicted to meditation – and more specifically mindfulness – would constitute a form of behavioural addiction (i.e., as opposed to chemical addiction). Examples of better known forms of behavioural addiction are gambling disorder, internet gaming disorder, problematic internet use, sex addiction, and workaholism. According to the components model of addiction, a person would suffer from an addiction to mindfulness if they satisfied the following six criteria:

  • Salience: Mindfulness has become the single most important activity in their life.
  • Mood modification: Mindfulness is used in order to alleviate emotional stress (i.e., escape) or to experience euphoria (i.e., a ‘high’).
  • Tolerance: Practising mindfulness for longer durations in order to derive the same mood-modifying effects.
  • Withdrawal: Experiencing emotional and physical distress (e.g., painful bodily sensations) when not practising mindfulness.
  • Conflict: The individual’s routine of mindfulness practice causes (i) interpersonal conflict with family members and friends, (ii) conflict with activities such as work, socialising, and exercising, and (iii) psychological and emotional conflict (also known as intra-psychic conflict).
  • Relapse: Reverting to earlier patterns of excessive mindfulness practice following periods of control or abstinence.

In modern society, the word ‘addiction’ has negative connotations but it should be remembered that addictions have been described by some as both positive and negative (for instance, Dr. Bill Glasser has spent his whole career talking about ‘positive’ addictions). For example, in separate clinical case studies that we conducted with individuals suffering from pathological gambling, sex addiction, and workaholism, it was observed that the participants substituted their addiction to gambling, work, or sex with mindfulness (and maybe even developed an addiction to it, depending upon the definition of addiction). In the beginning phases of psychotherapy, this process of addiction substitution represented a move forward in terms of the individual’s therapeutic recovery. However, as the therapy progressed and the individual’s dependency on gambling, work, or sex began to weaken, their “addiction” to mindfulness was restricting their personal and spiritual growth, and was starting to cause conflict in other areas of their life. Therefore, it became necessary to help them change the way they practiced and related to mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a technique or behaviour that an individual can choose to practice. However, the idea is that the individual doesn’t separate mindfulness from the rest of their lives. If an individual sees mindfulness as a practice or something that they need to do in order to find calm and escape from their problems, there is a risk that they will become addicted to it. It is for this reason that we always exercise caution before recommending that people follow a strict daily routine of mindfulness practice. In fact, in the mindfulness intervention that we (Shonin and Van Gordon) developed called Meditation Awareness Training, we don’t encourage participants to practice at set times of day or to adhere to a rigid routine. Rather, we guide participants to follow a dynamic routine of mindfulness practice that is flexible and that can be adapted according to the demands of daily living. For example, if a baby decides to wake up earlier than usual one morning, the mother can’t tell it to wait and be quite because it’s interfering with her time for practising mindfulness meditation. Rather, she has to tend to the baby and find another time to sit in meditation. Or better still, she can tend to the baby with love and awareness, and turn the encounter with her child into a form of mindfulness practice. We live in a very uncertain world and so it is valuable if we can learn to be accommodating and work mindfully with situations as they unfold around us.

One of the components in the components model of addiction is ‘salience’ (put more simply, importance). In general, if an individual prioritises a behaviour (such as gambling) or a substance (such as cannabis) above all other aspects of their life, then it’s probably fair to say that their perspective on life is misguided and that they are in need of help and support. However, as far as mindfulness is concerned, we would argue that it’s good if it becomes the most important thing in a person’s life. Human beings don’t live very long and there can be no guarantee that a person will survive the next week, let alone the next year. Therefore, it’s our view that it is a wise move to dedicate oneself to some form of authentic spiritual practice. However, there is a big difference between understanding the importance of mindfulness and correctly assimilating it into one’s life, and becoming dependent upon it.

If a person becomes dependent upon mindfulness, it means that it has remained external to their being. It means that they don’t live and breathe mindfulness, and that they see it as a method of coping with (or even avoiding) the rest of their life. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to see how a person can develop an addiction to mindfulness, and how they can become irritable with both themselves and others when they don’t receive their normal ‘fix’ of mindfulness on a given day.

Mindfulness is a relatively simple practice but it’s also very subtle. It takes a highly skilled and experienced meditation teacher to correctly and safely instruct people in how to practise mindfulness. It’s our view that because the rate of uptake of mindfulness in the West has been relatively fast, in the future there will be more and more people who experience problems – including mental health problems such as being addicted to mindfulness – as a result of practising mindfulness. Of course, it’s not mindfulness itself that will cause their problems to arise. Rather, problems will arise because people have been taught how to practice mindfulness by instructors who are not teaching from an experiential perspective and who don’t really know what they are talking about. From personal experience, we know that mindfulness works and that it is good for a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. However, we also know that teaching mindfulness and meditation incorrectly can give rise to harmful consequences, including developing an addiction to mindfulness.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further Reading

Glasser, W. (1976). Positive addictions. Harper & Row, New York, NY.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Behavioural addiction: The case for a biopsychosocial approach. Trangressive Culture, 1, 7-28.

Larkin, M., Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Towards addiction as relationship. Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 207-215.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 63-71.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mindfulness as a treatment for behavioral addiction. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5, e122. doi: 10.4172/2155- 6105.1000e122.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Are there risks associated with using mindfulness for the treatment of psychopathology? Clinical Practice, 11, 389-382.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction. New York: Springer.

Sigman, M. (2010). Meditation and addiction: A two-way street? Huffington Post, November 15. Located at:

Sussman, S., Lisha, N., Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professionals, 34, 3-56.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Mindfulness in mental health: A critical reflection. Journal of Psychology, Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Brain Stimulation, 1(1), 102.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 5, 363-372.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Ontological addiction: Classification, etiology, and treatment. Mindfulness, 7, 660-671.

Selective memories: Charles Darwin, obsession, and Internet dating

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘obsession’ as “(i) a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal; (ii) someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently, [and] (iii) an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing”. By these definitions my good friend and work colleague Dr. Mike Sutton would himself admit that he has had (for the last three or four years) an obsession with the work of English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Scottish landowner and fruit farmer Patrick Matthew (1790-1874). Dr. Sutton is a criminologist and we have published various articles and book chapters over the last 15 years on various topics including emails with unintended consequences, far right wing groups on the internet, and (most recently) the crime substitution hypothesis (which I’ve covered in a previous blog).

Over the past few years, I can’t think of a single conversation that we have had that both Darwin and Matthew’s didn’t get talked about at some point. In 2014, Sutton published his book Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret (“Nullius in verba” is Latin for “on the word of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it”) and as a result of it has experienced a torrent of verbal abuse on social media. So why has Dr. Sutton been the victim of such abuse? In a nutshell, Sutton has asserted that Darwin is a fraud and that his main thesis on natural selection was stolen from Matthew without any acknowledgement. Furthermore, using a new methodological technique that Sutton developed, he believes Darwin lied about his knowledge of Matthew’s work.

Over the last few years, I have read over a dozen of Sutton’s online articles about Darwin and Matthew, and I was also one of the first people to read Sutton’s book before it was published. Sutton’s work is meticulous, rigorous, and fully referenced. Most of his critics have never read (or simply don’t want to read) his book. Instead they appear to take potshots at his research and reputation without bothering to read the original source.

The first thing to note concerns Sutton’s methodology. His method – sometimes referred to ‘internet dating’ in his articles (but nothing to with people meeting up online, so apologies if the use of the words ‘internet dating’ in my article lured you to read this blog on false pretences) but called ‘Internet Date-Detection’ (ID) in his book – relies on the 30+ million books and documents that the Google Books Library Project has digitized and dating back centuries. Using the ID method, Sutton has used a search engine to track down obscure books, articles, and letters (and short phrases within these documents) to work out who published what and when with pinpoint accuracy. (For instance, back in the 1990s, I thought I had first coined the word ‘screenager’ but Sutton used his ID method and proved that others before me had used the word in print prior to my own articles).

The second thing to note is that all Darwinists concede that the process of natural selection was first written about in Patrick Matthew’s 1831 book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (written 28 years before Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection). However, Darwin claimed he had never read the book (which might be the case) but also claimed in 1860, 1861, and in every edition of the Origin of Species thereafter, that no other naturalist, and no one at all, in the preceding 28 years had read Matthew’s original ideas on macroevolution by natural selection because it was buried away in the book’s appendix. Darwin claimed he had independently formulated the theory of evolution through natural selection. At around the same time as Darwin, the naturalist Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) also (independently of Darwin and supposedly of Matthew) developed a theory of natural selection and together their papers were read on their behalf before the Linnean Society, and then published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London in 1858.

Using 21st century search engine technology via his ID method, Sutton originally discovered that – as opposed to the various claims of Darwin and the world’s leading Darwin scholars that no naturalists (or no one at all) read Matthew’s (1831) original ideas before 1858 – in fact Matthew’s book was cited 25 times before that date, seven of whom were naturalists, four of whom were known to Darwin and Wallace, and three that played major roles and had major influence on the exact same topic (botanist Prideaux John Selby, publisher and geologist Robert Chambers, and botanist John Loudon).

Like Sutton, a number of recent scholars – most notably the microbiologist Dr. Milton Wainwright – have researched some of the same historical ground as Sutton (arguing that Darwin and Wallace were beaten to a theory of macroevolution by Matthew). Whereas Wainwight wrote his papers after reading some of the original key texts from the early 1800s, Sutton used the ID technique to collate every single book, article and letter written by anyone in the period up to 1859 that had been digitized in the Google Books Library Project. What Sutton found is fascinating and does seem to indicate that Darwin lied about his knowledge of Matthew’s work. Darwin certainly lied after 1860 by claiming that no naturalist had read Matthew’s ideas because Matthew had twice written to inform Darwin that the opposite was true. Using the ID method, Sutton conclusively demonstrated that:

  • Matthew’s original (1831) theory concerning the “natural process of selection” was only slightly different to Darwin’s (1859) the “process of natural selection”. Darwin also used the same analogy as Matthew had written in the opening chapter of Origin of the Species when discussing artificial versus natural selection, but claimed the analogy as his own without citing Matthew.
  • Matthew’s prior-published conception of macroevolution by natural selection was not unread by naturalists and biologists before Darwin and Wallace replicated it. In fact, seven people cited the book in the pre-1859 literature, and Darwin and Wallace (and their influencers) knew four of these people well.
  • Matthew’s conception of natural selection was not just contained solely in the appendix of his 1831 book but was also in the main text. In fact, Matthew even referred Darwin to some of the relevant extracts in the main text of his book (something that Darwin admitted in a letter to his closest friend Joseph Hooker [1817-1911], the botanist and explorer). In short, Darwin lied when he asserted that Matthew’s ideas were only contained in the appendix of his book.

Sutton has been trying to get the Royal Society to acknowledge Matthew as the originator of the macroevolution by natural selection. Sutton notes in his essay on Rational Wiki:

“As Robert Merton (1957) made clear in the classic and authoritative text on priority in science, the Royal Society has not officially changed its position on the rules of priority since those rules were established in the first half of the 19th century. Since that time, the Arago Effect (Strevens 2003), is the rule that has always been seen as a totally inflexible principle and has been followed as such in all other disputes over priority for discovery in science, except in the Matthew, Darwin and Wallace case. The Arago Effect, described by Merton, and also by Strevens, as a norm in cases of scientific discovery, is that being first to publish to the public, and most importantly in print, is everything when it comes to deciding who has priority for an idea or discovery in cases where one scientist claims to have made the same discovery independently of another”.

In the same essay, Sutton then discusses Richard Dawkins‘s reasoning for not giving Matthew priority of scientific discovery (i.e., that his work went “unnoticed”):

“Totally ignoring the Arago Effect convention of priority for scientific discovery, Richard Dawkins (2010) has built upon prior rationale for denying Matthew full priority over Darwin by creating a new, unique in the history of scientific discovery, ‘Dawkins’s Demand Rule’. Effectively, Dawkins demands that Matthew should not have priority over Darwin and Wallace based upon the recently proven fallacious premise (Sutton 2014) that Matthew’s unique views went unnoticed. Moreover, Dawkins demands also that Matthew should have ‘trumpeted his discovery from the rooftops’. However in making this post-hoc demand, Dawkins does not, as other writers (e.g. Desmond and Moore 1991; Secord 2000) have done with regard to the fears and difficulties of writing on natural selection at this time, which faced Darwin and Chambers, explain that the first half of the 19th century was a time of great social unrest, tension and violent rioting, which made writing on the topic of natural selection a great threat to the social controlling interests of natural theology. Is Dawkins willfully ignorant of the fact that in the year 1794 Pitt passed his notorious Two Acts against ‘Seditious Meetings’ and ‘Treasonable Practices’? In particular, the former curtailed topics of discussion at institutional scientific societies by requiring them to be licensed and proscribing discussion of either religion or politics (Sutton 2015). Perhaps it is for reasons of historical ignorance that Richard Dawkins, whilst holding forth as an expert on the history of science, fails also to address the issue that Matthew’s Chartist political ideas were in his book and that he linked these seditious ideas quite clearly to the implications of his heretical natural selection discovery. Consequently, it should go without saying, that this meant his unique ideas were especially both seditious and heretical in the 1830s and 1840s. How then was Matthew meant to trumpet his discovery when he had effectively silenced himself from doing so under the scientific conventions that followed in the wake of the laws of the land? Matthew explained this very fact to Darwin in 1860, in his second letter in the Gardeners’ Chronicle”.

My own reading of all Sutton’s work is that there is no good reason for Matthew not to be credited with being the originator of the theory of macroevolution by natural selection and that Matthew has full priority over Darwin and Wallace.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Darwin. C.R. (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London. John Murray.

Darwin, C.R. & Wallace, A.R. (1858) On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London.

Dawkins, R. (2010). Darwin’s five bridges: The way to natural selection. In Bryson, B (ed.), Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society. London: Harper Collins.

Desmond, A. & Moore, J. (1991). Darwin. London. Penguin Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2013). Proposing the Crime Substitution Hypothesis: Exploring the possible causal relationship between excessive adolescent video game playing, social networking and crime reduction. Education and Health, 31, 17-21.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2015). Screen time and crime: The ‘Crime Substitution Hypothesis’ revisited. Education and Health, 33, 85-87.

Matthew, P. (1831) On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; With a critical note on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting. Edinburgh. Adam Black.

Matthew, P. (1860). Nature’s Law of Selection (Letter). The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 7 April, pp. 312-313.

Matthew, P. (1860). Nature’s Law of Selection (Letter), Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 12 May, p. 433.

Merton, R.K. (1957) Priorities in scientific discovery: A chapter in the sociology of science. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 635-659.

Secord. J.A. (2000). Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Strevens, M. (2003) The role of priority in science. Journal of Philosophy, 100, 55-79.

Sutton, M. (2014). Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret. Thinker Books.

Sutton, M. (2016). On knowledge contamination: New data challenges claims of Darwin’s and Wallace’s independent conceptions of Matthew’s prior-published hypothesis. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Aspects of Origin), 12: Located at

Sutton, M. (2016). Patrick Matthew: priority and the discovery of natural selection. Located at:

Sutton, M. (2016). Darwin’s Greatest Secret Exposed: Response to Grzegorz Malec’s De Facto fact denying review of my book. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Aspects of Origin), 13, 1-10. Located at:

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Far Right Groups on the Internet: A new problem for crime control and community safety? The Criminal Lawyer, 123, 3-5.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Emails with unintended criminal consequences. The Criminal Lawyer, 130, 6-8.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Emails with unintended consequences: New lessons for policy and practice in work, public office and private life. In P. Hills (Ed.). As Others See Us: Selected Essays In Human Communication (pp. 160-182). Dereham: Peter Francis Publishers.

Wainwright, M. (2008) Natural selection: It’s not Darwin’s (or Wallace’s) theory. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, 15(1), 1-8

Wainwright, M. (2011). Charles Darwin: Mycologist and refuter of his own myth. FUNGI, 4(1), 13-20.

Occult figure: David Bowie and living life at the extremes

Since David Bowie’s death earlier this year, I’ve already written two articles on the psychology of Bowie (which you can read here and here) but this article takes a look at the more extreme aspects of Bowie’s life (excluding his various addictions which I briefly examined in my previous pieces). As a long-time David Bowie fan I’ve been meaning to write this particular blog for a long time but just never got around to it. I had made lots of notes taken from various Bowie biographies (see ‘Further reading’ below) but Dr. Dean Ballinger (University of Waikato) recently beat me to the punch by publishing a similar article to the one I had planned in the March 2016 issue of the Fortean Times.

During Bowie’s five decades in music he has been interviewed on almost every conceivable topic but it’s always the interviews about his most extreme and esoteric subjects that have caught my eye whether it concerned his religious and spiritual beliefs, his political views, or his moral philosophy. I’ve always looked for hidden meanings in his lyrics and taken the view that his lyrics provide an insight into his personality as much as anything else that I have seen or read about him in the print and broadcast media. Like most other hardcore Bowie fans, I have been poring over the lyrics of his final studio album Blackstar now knowing that he wrote and recorded it while suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. The album is arguably his most cryptic and mysterious since the classics of the mid- to late-1970s (Station To Station, Low and “Heroes”) – although I also love 1.Outside and Heathen both lyrically and musically.

Looking back, it was probably the Station To Station title track that really made me wonder what was going on in Bowie’s head. Although Bowie says he was “out of his gourd” on cocaine at the time (and has little recollection of recording the album), the lyrics (as a teenager) made no sense to me at all (Here are we/One magical movement/From Kether to Malkuth/There are you/You drive like a demon/From station to station”). I had no idea that Kether (“the crown” – divine will or pure light) and Malkuth (“the kingship” – the nurturing receptacle of the light) originated from Kabbalah (an esoteric school of thought rooted in Judaism) representing two of 10 sephirots (sometimes spelled ‘sefirots’ and meaning ’emanations’ or ‘attributes’) in the Tree of Life.

During his cocaine-fuelled days, Bowie rarely slept and filled his time reading books. Not only books about Kabbalah but also books on the occult (a number of books by Aleister Crowley; Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians; Israel Regardie’s books on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), on the symbolic obsessions of Nazism (most notably Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny), and defensive magic and tarot cards (Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense) as well as more general books on the secret history of Christianity, UFOs, political conspiracies, and numerology. It’s also worth noting that Bowie’s 1976 persona (‘The thin white duke’ in his ‘Station To Station’ lyric) is almost certainly taken from Crowley’s erotic poetry (“The return of the thin white duke making sure white stains” from the 1898 book White Stains).

It’s been claimed by Chris O’Leary (author of the excellent Rebel Rebel and founder of the Pushing Ahead of The Dame website) that “Bowie’s immersion in Kabbalah was part of an overarching spiritual quest that took him from Tibetan Buddhism (he almost joined a monastery in the late 1960s, until his teacher told him that he’d make a better musician than monk) to Christian mysticism, occult worship and a flirtation with neo-Nazi imagery that nearly derailed his career when it was discovered that he collected Nazi memorabilia”. I hadn’t realised that Bowie had made reference to the occult in earlier songs such as ‘Quicksand’ (The Order of the Golden Dawn – a late 19th/early 20th century organisation devoted to the practice of occult, metaphysical, and paranormal phenomena, and the root of more traditional modern day occult practices such as Thelema and Wicca) as well as Tibetan Buddhism (more specifically his use of the word ‘Bardo’ in the song – the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth).

Bowie’s interest in Buddhism and Tibet dates back to the 1960s as evidenced by songs such as ‘Silly Boy Blue’ (first demoed in 1965). In an interview by Bowie with the Melody Maker (24 February, 1966) notes:

I want to go to Tibet. It’s a fascinating place, y’know. I’d like to take a holiday and have a look inside the monasteries. The Tibetan monks, Lamas, bury themselves inside mountains for weeks, and only eat every three days. They’re ridiculous—and it’s said they live for centuries…As far as I’m concerned the whole idea of Western life – that’s the life we live now – is wrong. These are hard convictions to put into songs, though”.

Chris O’Leary also noted that:

“Bowie’s interest in Tibetan Buddhism wasn’t a sudden trendy affectation—he had begun exploring the religion when he was in his mid-teens, first inspired by reading Heinrich Harrer’s 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet, and he eventually met and befriended the Tibetan lama Chimi Youngdong Rimpoche, who was exiled in London. Bowie even fantasized about becoming a Buddhist monk – cropping his hair and dyeing it black, wearing saffron robes and even changing his skin color (he’d have to settle for becoming Ziggy). Buddhism was an early influence in his songs: he had meant for the backing chorus of his single ‘Baby Loves That Way’ to sound like chanting monks.”

Bowie didn’t appear to have strong religious beliefs. In an interview in 1997 he noted that there was an “abiding need in me to vacillate between atheism or a kind of Gnosticism…what I need is to find a balance, spiritually, with 
the way I live and my demise” but in relation to thoughts on his own mortality he said “I believe in a continuation, kind of a dream-state without the dreams. Oh, I don’t know. I’ll come back and tell you”. In addition to his spiritual leanings, Dr. Ballinger in his 2016 Fortean Times article goes as far to say that occult and paranormal themes constituted an “integral dimension” of Bowie’s career. Bowie clearly had an interest in aliens, science fiction, and the paranormal as reflected in many of his singles dating back to ‘Space Oddity’ (1969) through to ‘Loving The Alien’ (1985) and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ (1996) (as well as many album tracks and his acting breakthrough as an alien in Nic Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell To Earth). Dr. Ballinger also argued that:

“Bowie was also reading upon esoteric subjects and alternative ideas in a relatively in-depth way beyond fashionable name dropping is made clear by the songs 
on his fourth album, Hunky Dory (1971).
 The jaunty pop of ‘Oh You Pretty Things!’ is belied by lyrics that evoke a rather sinister picture of spiritual evolution, in which the listener is asked to ‘make way’ for ‘the coming race’ of ‘homo superior’ Nietszchean super children…The ‘coming race’ is also a probable nod to the Bulwer-Lytton novel of the same name that became a staple of the ‘Vril’ mythos associated with occult-minded Nazis, a subject that would have a rather negative influence on Bowie in the near future. More overt is the ballad ‘Quicksand’, in which Bowie expounds a New Age manifesto – ‘I’m not a prophet or a Stone Age man/Just a mortal with potential of a superman’ – with reference to the Western magical tradition (‘I’m closer to the Golden Dawn/Immersed in Crowley’s uniform/of imagery), [and] The Tibetan Book of the Dead (‘You can tell me all about it on the next Bardo’)”.

Bowie wasn’t the first musician to use The Tibetan Book of the Dead as inspiration for lyrics. More famously, John Lennon used it for The Beatles classic ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the final track on the 1966 Revolver album (something I forgot to mention in my previous article on Bowie and The Beatles). However, John Lennon based his lyrics after reading The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead written by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. (And while I’m going off on tangents, I just wanted to mention that Alpert’s most well known book Be Here Now just happens to be the title of (Beatle-loving) Oasisthird album).

Dr. Ballinger also makes the argument that in Bowie’s 1972 breakthrough LP The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars there were “evident resonances between occultism and his musical career” and that he drew inspiration from a wide range of esoteric cultural influences to source “stimulating ideas and imagery to explore in lyrics, costumes and videos”. Ballinger also claims that Bowie’s work at this point of his career had a more integral relationship with the theory and practice of magic and occultism:

“Parsing Crowley’s legacy, one of the key aspects of magic is the transformation of the self (and, possibly, the wider social reality) through acts that focus the imagination/will towards such change, such acts including sex, drug consumption, meditation, and creative performance (i.e., rituals). In this vein Bowie can be considered a distinctly magical musician whose whole career revolved around the transformation of the self and the wider culture through the ‘ritual performances’
of rock music, such as concerts, recordings, and videos. In his most influential period
 of the 1970s, Bowie created personae (such 
as Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke) and undertook musical experiments (the ‘plastic soul’ of Young Americans and the avant-garde/krautrock/funk synthesis of the ‘Berlin trilogy’) that in turn transformed rock culture by inspiring scores of other artists. The gender-bending that was a notable aspect of Bowie’s personae in this period (for example, the androgynous cover photo for The Man Who Sold The World (1970) or the 1979 video for ‘Boys Keep Swinging’), and the cultivation of bisexual overtones in his lyrics and performance (‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ as an account of bisexual angst), are also interesting to consider in relation to Crowley’s emphasis on sexuality as a core component of magical transformation”.

Like some of the best music by The Beatles, some of the best music made by Bowie was while he was using drugs excessively (often described by his biographers as a ‘cocaine-induced psychosis’). Bowie himself claims that in 1975 he was in poor mental and physical health but ironically he was producing some of the best music (and acting) of his career. However, Bowie’s cocaine addiction has also been used as an excuse for his behaviour during the 1976 period where he flirted with Nazi occultism and made the claim that the UK would benefit from a fascist leader (“I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler. I’d be an excellent dictator. Very eccentric and quite mad”). Many musicians have said they are interested in Nazi imagery and fashion (e.g., Bryan Ferry) and others have collected Nazi memorabilia (e.g., Lemmy) but these interests do not mean such people are Nazi-loving or fascists.

Bowie’s esoteric and occultist interests appear to subside as his career progressed and it wasn’t until his final album that Bowie appeared to be using music (and the accompanying promo videos) in a symbolic way for people to re-interpret his music as a cryptic death note to all his hardcore acolytes (of which I would include myself). Unless Bowie left any explanation for his final seven songs, we can only speculate. However, I’ll leave you with the thoughts of Dr. Ballinger who has done a better job than I could ever do:

“The Blackstar album has seen Bowie go out with a distinctly occult bang…As every prior Bowie album cover has featured a portrait, the five-pointed ‘black star’ of 
this one is presumably meant to represent Bowie too – perhaps in his ultimate persona as spirit (the five-pointed star being a classic Hermetic/Gnostic symbol of ‘man as microcosm’, with the contradictory image of a ‘black star’ also evoking a koan or the alchemical union of opposites). The creepy atmosphere conjured up by the lyrics of the title track – “In the villa of Ormen/Stands a solitary candle/On the day of execution/Only women stand and smile” – is successfully evoked in the video for the song. Bowie 
is depicted as preacher of some dark 21st century faith, brandishing a Blackstar bible among acolytes whose spasmodic ‘dancing’ suggests a state of possession. A reading of the imagery here as analogous to Crowley and his Book of the Law is perhaps apt; director Johan Renck, who designed the videos with Bowie, has mentioned Crowley as a reference point. Some kind of Hermetic/Gnostic subtext about eternity, spirit and the flesh is further implied in the imagery of the video’s other ‘storyline’, in which the shade of a dead astronaut – Bowie himself, in his formative Major Tom persona? – floats up into a ‘black star’ of eternity, before, in a possibly Orphic reference, leaving behind his bejewelled skull for ritual veneration by a sect of mutant women. Where the esoteric overtones of the ‘Blackstar’ video are eerie, those of the video for ‘Lazarus’ are poignant. Bowie plays himself as a patient in a hospital bed, whose closet is a portal from which appears a double who is seemingly meant to signify his essential spirit. This figure is not garbed as Ziggy, the Thin White Duke
 or any of Bowie’s most famous personae, but in the striped black jumpsuit in which he undertook the famous occult photo shoot for Station to Station, in which he is depicted drawing Kabbalistic symbols on the wall. That Bowie chose this costume for his valedictory performance suggests he was giving a subtle nod to the deep, lasting metaphysical significance that this period had upon the rest of his life”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ballinger, D. (2016). The mage who sold the world. Fortean Times, 338, 28-33.

Buckley, D. (2005). Strange Fascination: David Bowie – The Definitive Story. London: Virgin Books.

Cann, K. (2010). Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years (1947-1974). Adelita.

Doggett, P. (2012). The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970s. London: Vintage.

Goddard, S. (2015). Ziggyology. London: Ebury Press.

Hewitt, P. (2013). David Bowie Album By Album. London: Carlton Books Ltd.

Leigh, W. (2014). Bowie: The Biography. London: Gallery.

O’Leary, C. (2016). Rebel Rebel. Alresford: Zero Books.

Pegg, N. (2011). The Complete David Bowie. London: Titan Books.

Rogovoy, S. (2013). The secret Jewish history of David Bowie., April 16. Located at:

Seabrook, T.J. (2008). Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town. London: Jawbone.

Spitz, M. (2009). Bowie: A Biography. Crown Archetype.

Trynka, P. (2011). Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography. London: Little Brown & Company.

Stick in the Buddhism: Mindfulness in the treatment of addiction and improved psychological wellbeing (Part 1)

Over the last year I’ve been receiving a lot of emails (well, about nine or ten to be honest but it seems like a lot) expressing surprise at the increasing numbers of papers on mindfulness that have been appearing on my Research Gate and webpages. This research program is actually being led by my friends and Nottingham Trent University research colleagues, Dr. Edo Shonin and Willliam Van Gordon. Given this increasing level of interest, I thought I would use my next two blogs to briefly overview some of these publications. My research colleagues and I are happy for anyone interested in these papers to contact us at the email addresses below. We also have a new book on the topic too (Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction).


Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 806–823.

  • There is a paucity of interventional approaches that are sensitive to the complex needs of individuals with co-occurring schizophrenia and pathological gambling. Utilizing a single-participant design, this study conducted the first clinical evaluation of a novel and integrated non-pharmacological treatment for a participant with dual-diagnosis schizophrenia and pathological gambling. The participant underwent a 20-week treatment course comprising: (i) an initial phase of second-wave cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and (ii) a subsequent phase employing a meditation-based recovery model (involving the administering of an intervention known as Meditation Awareness Training). The primary outcome was diagnostic change (based on DSM-IV-TR criteria) for schizophrenia and pathological gambling. Secondary outcomes were: (i) psychiatric symptom severity, (ii) pathological gambling symptom severity, (iii) psychosocial functioning, and (iv) dispositional mindfulness. Findings demonstrated that the participant was successfully treated for both schizophrenia and pathological gambling. Significant improvements were also observed across all other outcome variables and positive outcomes were maintained at three-month follow-up. An initial phase of CBT to improve social coping skills and environmental mastery, followed by a phase of meditation-based therapy to increase perceptual distance from mental urges and intrusive thoughts, may be a diagnostically-syntonic treatment for co-occurring schizophrenia and pathological gambling.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

  • Recent decades have witnessed a marked increase in research investigating the etiology, typology, symptoms, prevalence, and correlates of workaholism. However, despite increasing prevalence rates for workaholism, there is a paucity of workaholism treatment studies. Indeed, guidelines for the treatment of workaholism tend to be based on either theoretical proposals or anecdotal reports elicited during clinical practice. Thus, there is a need to establish dedicated and effective treatments for workaholism. A novel broad-application interventional approach receiving increasing attention by occupational and healthcare stakeholders is that of third-wave cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs). Third-wave CBTs integrate aspects of Eastern philosophy and typically employ a meditation-based recovery model. A primary treatment mechanism of these techniques involves the regulation of psychological and autonomic arousal by increasing perceptual distance from faulty thoughts and mental urges. A ‘meditative anchor’, such as observing the breath, is typically used to aid concentration and to help maintain an open-awareness of present moment sensory and cognitive-affective experience. The purpose of this case study was to conduct the first evaluation of a treatment employing a meditation-based recovery model for a workaholic.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 63-71.

  • In the last five years, scientific interest into the potential applications of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) for the treatment of problem gambling has been growing. This paper reviews current directions, proposes conceptual applications, and discusses integration issues relating to the utilisation of BDIs as problem gambling treatments. A literature search and evaluation of the empirical literature for BDIs as problem gambling treatments was undertaken. To date, research has been limited to cross-sectional studies and clinical case studies and findings indicate that Buddhist-derived mindfulness practices have the potential to play an important role in ameliorating problem gambling symptomatology. As an adjunct to mindfulness, other Buddhist-derived practices are also of interest including: (i) insight meditation techniques (e.g., meditation on ‘emptiness’) to overcome avoidance and dissociation strategies, (ii) ‘antidotes’ (e.g., patience, impermanence, etc.) to attenuate impulsivity and salience-related issues, (iii) loving-kindness and compassion meditation to foster positive thinking and reduce conflict, and (iv) ‘middle-way’ principles and ‘bliss-substitution’ to reduce relapse and temper withdrawal symptoms. In addition to an absence of controlled treatment studies, the successful operationalisation of BDIs as effective treatments for problem gambling may be impeded by issues such as a deficiency of suitably experienced BDI clinicians, and the poor provision by service providers of both BDIs and dedicated gambling interventions. Preliminary findings for BDIs as problem gambling treatments are promising, however, further research is required.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W., Slade, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness and other Buddhist-derived interventions in correctional settings: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18, 365-372.

  • Throughout the last decade, there has been a growth of interest into the rehabilitative utility of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) for incarcerated populations. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the evidence for BDIs in correctional settings. MEDLINE, Science Direct, ISI Web of Knowledge, PsychInfo, and Google Scholar electronic databases were systematically searched. Reference lists of retrieved articles and review papers were also examined for any further studies. Controlled intervention studies of BDIs that utilised incarcerated samples were included. Jaded scoring was used to evaluate methodological quality. PRISMA (preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis) guidelines were followed. The initial comprehensive literature search yielded 85 papers but only eight studies met all the inclusion criteria. The eight eligible studies comprised two mindfulness studies, four vipassana meditation studies, and two studies utilizing other BDIs. Intervention participants demonstrated significant improvements across five key criminogenic variables: (i) negative affective, (ii) substance use (and related attitudes), (iii) anger and hostility, (iv) relaxation capacity, and (v) self-esteem and optimism. There were a number of major quality issues. It is concluded that BDIs may be feasible and effective rehabilitative interventions for incarcerated populations. However, if the potential suitability and efficacy of BDIs for prisoner populations is to be evaluated in earnest, it is essential that methodological rigour is substantially improved. Studies that can overcome the ethical issues relating to randomisation in correctional settings and employ robust randomised controlled trial designs are favoured.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Mindfulness meditation in American correctional facilities: A ‘what-works’ approach to reducing reoffending. Corrections Today: Journal of the American Correctional Association, March/April, 48-51.

  • Throughout the last decade, there has been a growth of interest into the rehabilitative utility of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) for incarcerated populations. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the evidence for BDIs in correctional settings. MEDLINE, Science Direct, ISI Web of Knowledge, PsychInfo, and Google Scholar electronic databases were systematically searched. Reference lists of retrieved articles and review papers were also examined for any further studies. Controlled intervention studies of BDIs that utilised incarcerated samples were included. Jaded scoring was used to evaluate methodological quality. PRISMA (preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis) guidelines were followed. The initial comprehensive literature search yielded 85 papers and but only eight studies met all the inclusion criteria. The eight eligible studies comprised two mindfulness studies, four vipassana meditation studies, and two studies utilizing other BDIs. Intervention participants demonstrated significant improvements across five key criminogenic variables: (i) negative affective, (ii) substance use (and related attitudes), (iii) anger and hostility, (iv) relaxation capacity, and (v) self-esteem and optimism. There were a number of major quality issues. It is concluded that BDIs may be feasible and effective rehabilitative interventions for incarcerated populations. However, if the potential suitability and efficacy of BDIs for prisoner populations is to be evaluated in earnest, it is essential that methodological rigour is substantially improved. Studies that can overcome the ethical issues relating to randomisation in correctional settings and employ robust randomised controlled trial designs are favoured.

Contact details

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input by Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon

Further reading

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents, Education and Health, 30, 94-97.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 194, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 63-71.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 617, 654-654.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness and addiction: Sending out an SOS. Addiction Today, March, 18-19.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A tool for spiritual growth? Thresholds, Summer, 14-18.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Practical tips for using mindfulness in general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 624 368-369.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Meditation Based Awareness Training (MBAT) for psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849–863.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Mindfulness meditation in American correctional facilities: A ‘what-works’ approach to reducing reoffending. Corrections Today: Journal of the American Correctional Association, March/April, 48-51.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Does mindfulness meditation have a role in the treatment of psychosis? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 48, 124-127.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-137.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mindfulness and the Social Media, Mass Communication and Journalism, 4: 194. doi: 10.4172/2165-7912.1000194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016), Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction. New York: Springer.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W., Slade, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness and other Buddhist-derived interventions in correctional settings: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18, 365-372.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Are there risks associated with using mindfulness for the treatment of psychopathology? Clinical Practice, 11, 389-392.

Van Gordon, W. Shonin, E.S., Skelton, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Working mindfully: Can mindfulness improve work-related wellbeing and work? Counselling at Work, 87, 14-19.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 12, 806–823.

Ghost modernism: Should parents worry about their children playing supernatural games?

(Note: A version of this article was first published in The Independent)

Supernatural games have been played for decades by children and adolescents all around the world. The most popular games – often played on Halloween – include holding séances and playing on a Ouija board to summon up the spirit world, playing hide-and-seek in the pitch black dark, ‘Bloody Mary’ (staring into a mirror, alone in the dark and saying “Bloody Mary” three times to summon up a ghoulish woman), and ‘Candy Man’ (again staring into a mirror and saying “Candy Man” five times to summon up the ghost of a black slave covered in blood and where thousands of bees emerge from his mouth).

The latest game that has done the rounds is the ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ (also known as ‘Charlie Pencil’ and ‘The Pencil Game’) and viewed by some as a rudimentary Ouija board. Both of my younger children saw the game on social media although neither has played it. The game is very simple to play and like ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Candy Man’ is played to invoke a spirit (this time a dead Mexican called Charlie). The game simply involves placing two pencils on a piece of blank paper in the shape of the cross with the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ written on either side of the pencils. Players say the phrase “Charlie, Charlie can we play?” in order to connect with the demon. Players then ask questions of the demon and the pencils move to indicate his answer.


There has been no academic research into the playing of supernatural games by children but there is anecdotal evidence that such games are popular. For instance, according to one news report in the Daily Mail, the sales of Ouija boards increased by 300% in December 2014 and are marketed for children and adolescents as they are sold in places like Toys R Us.

The obvious questions to ask is why our children like to play these scary games in the first place and is there is any harm that children can experience from playing such games? Although there has been no research on the playing of supernatural games there has been a little research on why we like watching scary supernatural films. Psychological research has shown that when it comes to the supernatural the three main reasons we watch supernatural horror films are for tension (generated by the suspense, mystery, terror, etc.), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second reason) unrealism (i.e., being so far removed from our day-to-day existence). However, the research that has been carried out tends to be on student populations rather than younger children and adolescents. The reasons why school-aged children may want to watch or engage in supernatural practices are likely to be far more mundane such as teenage bravado to try and impress others around them or as a ‘rites of passage’ activity (i.e., engaging in an activity that is normally done by adults and makes the child feel more grown-up).

Although I don’t subscribe to the theories forwarded by the psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung, he believed the liking for supernatural horror films tapped into our ‘primordial archetypes’ buried deep in our collective subconscious. However, as with almost all psychoanalytic theorizing, such notions are hard to scientifically test. Another psychoanalytic theory – although arguably dating back to Aristotle – is the notion of catharsis (i.e., that we watch and engage in frightening activities as a way of purging negative emotions and/or as a way to relieve pent-up frustrations).

When it comes to whether playing supernatural games are harmful for children, there are two schools of thought but there is no empirical evidence to support either position. There are those that emphatically claim that the playing of such games is not a dangerous activity. Opposed to this view are those (often religious) people that claim that using Ouija boards and playing supernatural games are dangerous. For instance, Father Stephen McCarthy, a Catholic priest claimed the ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ was a demonic activity. In an open letter to students he said:

“There is a dangerous game going around on social media which openly encourages impressionable young people to summon demons. I want to remind you all there is no such thing as ‘innocently playing with demons’. Please be sure to NOT participate and encourage others to avoid participation as well. The problem with opening yourself up to demonic activity is that it opens a window of possibilities which is not easily closed.”

As both a psychologist and a father of three adolescents, I have yet to see any evidence that the playing of such games does any psychological harm although it’s not an activity that I would actively encourage either. As a teenager and as a university student I playfully engaged in séances and at one party used a Ouija board and it never did me any harm. Some may even argue that such activities are ‘character building’. However, there may be children and adolescents of a more sensitive disposition where such games might have a more long-lasting negative detrimental effect. The truth of the matter is that we simply have no idea about what effects of playing games like the ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ have on the psyche or behaviour.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Hess, J.P. (2010). The psychology of scary movies. Filmmaker IQ. Located at:

Hoekstra, S. J., Harris, R. J., & Helmick, A. L. (1999). Autobiographical memories about the experience of seeing frightening movies in childhood. Media Psychology, 1, 117-140.

Johnston, D.D. (1995). Adolescents’ motivations for viewing graphic horror. Human Communication Research, 21(4), 522-552.

O’Brien, L. (2013). The curious appeal of horror movies: Why do we like to feel scared? IGN, September 9. Located at:

Blood discussed: A brief look at haematophagia

Haematophagia usually refers to the practice of animals feeding on the blood of another species. However, the term has also been applied to humans that consume blood (something that I have referred to in previous blogs on clinical vampirism and menophilia). Most writings on human haematophagia usually refer to the practice in some sexual and/or vampiric capacity (e.g., some individuals in China and Vietnam believe certain types of snake blood are aphrodisiacs and are drunk with rice wine) but haematophagia can also occur for other reasons.

While I working was in Spain, I was taken to one of the best Castilian restaurants, and as part of the starter I was served morcilla sausage. Morcilla sausage is basically a Spanish version of black pudding (aka ‘blood pudding’) and made from pig’s blood. I absolutely loved it. It did make me wonder what other ‘blood’ foods I might enjoy. I did a bit of research into the making of blood sausages and found out that variations of this dish exist in cultures all over the world (e.g., Europe, Asia, and the Americas), and that all kinds of different animals’ blood can be used (including pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, and ducks). According to the Wikipedia entry on human haematophagia:

“Drinking blood and manufacturing foodstuffs and delicacies with animal blood is also a feeding behavior in many societies. Cow blood mixed with milk, for example, is a mainstay food of the African Massai. Some sources say that Mongols would drink blood from one of their horses if it became a necessity. Black pudding is eaten in many places around the world. Some societies, such as the Moche, had ritual hematophagy, as well as the Scythians, a nomadic people of Russia, who had the habit of drinking the blood of the first enemy they would kill in battle…Psychiatric cases of patients performing hematophagy also exist. Sucking or licking one’s own blood from a wound is also a behavior commonly seen in humans, and in small enough quantities is not considered taboo. Finally, human vampirism has been a persistent object of literary and cultural attention”

There a numerous YouTube videos of the African Massai (in Tanzania) drinking blood directly from the necks of live cattle (such as here and here). Cattle blood drinking typically occurs after special celebrations (such as births, ritual circumcisions, etc.), but the special occasions are not compulsory for blood drinking to occur. The cattle are never killed and the cuts made to drink blood from appear to heal quickly. One report on the Environmental Graffiti website described the practice:

“Half a dozen Maasai warriors wrestle with the struggling cow. Another waits with his bow drawn, arrow at the ready. Finally, they have the straining animal in position. The warrior with the weapon shoots straight for the bovine’s jugular. Warm blood gushes into a waiting bucket, pumped out by the animal’s still-beating heart. The blood keeps flowing, almost filling the container, before the cow is released – its punctured neck sealed with a dab of cow dung. It will live to see another day. Its’ blood-donating job is done, at least for another month. The Maasai men who perform this blood-draining ritual do not intend to kill, or even harm, the animal. They merely want some of its nourishing crimson fluid to drink”.

Another Wikipedia entry focusing on blood as food notes that in addition to blood sausages, animal blood has also been used to thicken, colour, and/or flavour sauces and gravies, and for various types of blood soup (such as ‘czernina’ in Poland, ‘papas de sarrabulho’ in Portugal, and ‘svartsoppa’ made with goose blood in Sweden). Although blood is a taboo food in some cultures, in others it is perfectly acceptable – particularly in times when food has been scarce. Other cultures have other blood foods including blood pancakes (in Scandinavian and Baltic countries), blood tofu (China, Thailand, Vietnam), blood cake (Taiwan), blood potato dumplings (‘blodpalt’ made with reindeer blood in Sweden) and blood bread (‘paltbrod’ in Sweden). Additionally, Wikipedia noted that:

“Blood can also be used as a solid ingredient, either by allowing it to congeal before use, or by cooking it to accelerate the process. In Hungary when a pig is slaughtered in the morning the blood is fried with onions and is served for breakfast. In China, ‘blood tofu’ is most often made with pig’s or duck’s blood, although chicken’s or cow’s blood may also be used. The blood is allowed to congeal and simply cut into rectangular pieces and cooked. This dish is also known in Java as saren, made with chicken’s or pig’s blood. Blood tofu is found in curry mee as well as the Sichuan dish, maoxuewang. In Tibet, congealed yak’s blood is a traditional food”.

The Tanzanian Massai people are not the only culture to consume uncooked animal blood products. For instance, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle consume seal blood and believe it to have health and social benefits. According to a paper on consuming seal blood in a 1991 issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, seal blood is “seen as fortifying human blood by replacing depleted nutrients and rejuvenating the blood supply, [and] is considered a necessary part of the Inuit diet”. Another academic paper by Dr. Edmund Searles in a 2002 issue of the journal Food and Foodways reported that in relation to the drinking of seal blood: Inuit food generates a strong flow of blood, a condition considered to be healthy and indicative of a strong body”. Historically, there are accounts of Irish people bleeding cattle as a preventative measure against cattle diseases. The Wikipedia entry on blood as food claims that the Irish mixed the drawn blood with butter, herbs, oats or meal” to provide a “nutritious emergency food”.

During my research I also came across a story in The Atheist Times (with photographic evidence) of Hindus engaged in the practice of decapitating and drinking goat blood directly from its body (a blood sacrifice). The report claimed the practice was widely prevalent throughout India and Malaysia. These Hindus believe that the Hindu goddess Kali descends upon those drinking the goat’s blood.

Staying on the religious theme, there are (of course) many (arguably ‘mainstream’) simulated acts of haemotphagia – most notably in various religious ceremonies and rituals. The most obvious is in the transubstantiation of wine as the blood of Jesus Christ during Christian Eucharist (where religious followers believe they are drinking the blood of Christ). Various religions engage in such pseudo-haemotophagic practices including the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, some Anglican, and Lutheran churches. (Other religions are the exact opposite and consider the drinking of blood taboo such as Jewish and Muslim cultures).

As this brief review demonstrates, non-sexual and non-vampiric human haematophagia and pseudo-haematophagia appear to be common and widespread in many cultures and countries. Academic research on the topic appears to be limited although it certainly warrants further investigation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Borré, K. (1991). Seal blood, Inuit blood, and diet: A biocultural model of physiology and cultural identity. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 5, 48-62.

Davidson, A (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Searles, E. (2002). Food and the making of modern Inuit identities. Food and Foodways, 10(1-2), 55-78.

Wikipedia (2013). Blood as food. Located at:

Wikipedia (2013). Hematophagy. Located at:

Hooked on pain: Inside the world of the Corn Tryb Rituals

“Devotees at Kerala’s Aaryyankavu Bhagwathi Temple have devised a new way of performing the banned ancient Thookkam, or body-piercing ritual. In the original Thookam ritual, the back of the person willing to perform the ritual is pierced with sharp hooks and lifted up to a height of over 30 feet on a scaffold, before the bleeding victim is brought down and hooks taken out. However, the new method doesn’t require the devotee to be hung or lifted. ‘After a court put a ban on the ancient ritual of multiple body-piercing and hanging from rope, now only single piercing is done in the body and the person just stands still and does not hang. The devotees also fast for 41 days’ said Shiv Raman, a temple committee member. In 2004 – following a widespread protest by social activists and even Hindu priests – the practice was banned by a court. The legend behind the ritual goes back to the ancient days. Legend has it that even after slaying the demon Darika, the Goddess Kali remained bloodthirsty. Hindu god Lord Vishnu then sent his mount, the giant bird Garuda, to Kali. Garuda gave the goddess some drops of blood, which pacified her thirst. The ritual is performed based on this belief” (News Track India, March 31, 2010).

Last year I was the resident psychologist on a 12-episode series for the Discovery Channel called Forbidden (which is now airing in the UK). Each episode examined four cases of extreme human behaviour from around the world (in fact, when I started filming, the series was called Extreme Worlds and only changed names at the eleventh hour). One of the stories we covered featured people that hung and suspended themselves from hooks that were pierced into their flesh. Although some people appear to carry out the practice as part of sexually sadomasochistic practices, the opening story highlights that some people carry out such ritualistic behaviour for religious and/or spiritual reasons.

In Forbidden, the story concentrated on what were called the ‘Corn Tryb Rituals’ (CTRs). These originated in St. Louis (Missouri, USA) when a small group of friends formed a group that would meet to engage in bloodletting rituals and ‘flesh pulls’. These practices then evolved into regular ritualised ‘suspensions’ that strove to connect to ancient ways. As one CTR participant interviewed said: “We give back to the earth and universe parts of us. Usually blood, sometimes flesh…We burn sage and sing songs to the gods. We send out positive energies”.

In researching CTRs, the documentary makers found out that there were strong Mayan threads running through the group in St. Louis, the foremost theme being the myth of creation, i.e., the Mayans first created man out of mud, then wood, and then finally corn (and where the CTR name derives). All the St. Louis CTR members had a scarification or tattoo of day glyph, a symbol of the Mayan calendar. (A glyph is an element of writing – an individual mark on a written medium – that contributes to the meaning of what is written).

The CTR’s founder is Ricardo H. (a professional piercer by trade) who formed the group with 12 ‘core’ members comprising seven men and five women (although there are more individuals on the periphery). The members claimed that the female members had a higher pain threshold (although there was little evidence to back up this claim). The documentary’s production notes reported that:

“[The St. Louis CTR group] is one of few crews is the US that does suspension the tribal and ceremonial way. Other groups are more hardcore and punk, kind of like ‘F the World’, Ricardo says. CTR members say for them it’s about loving the world and forging a connection to Mother Earth. There are a few people in the Tryb that practice Druidism and several Wiccans, even a Catholic guy who believes that doing suspensions (especially things like the crucifixion suspensions) help him become closer to God. Then there are the atheists who just like to suspend because it gives them a high that tops any drug they’ve ever touched. Even for those who have never done drugs, it’s still a high for them. Being safe is their No. 1 priority. It took nearly three years before they had all the necessary equipment, especially considering mountain equipment is very expensive. In general, most suspension groups work with the same materials that are used by climbers and professional riggers. If people think they sloppily insert hooks and try dangerous procedures on a whim, they would be wrong. The procedures behind the suspensions are specific and everything is well planned out. The hooks are specialized for suspension and can cost from $15 to $75 each. And they are sanitized in a similar way as for piercing tools: cold sanitation scrub, soak, scrub, autoclave”.

During CTRs, the hooks are usually placed into parts of the body where the skin is soft and stretches easily (so called ‘sweet spots’). This includes hook placements in the upper to middle back, chest, hips, calves, forearms, and knees. Even for those that have participated in many suspensions, the initial piercing hurts (“the hooks sting”) like any other piercing but the pain lasts longer because the needles and hooks are longer and bigger than those involved in typical ‘everyday’ body piercings. As one of the female group members said:

“Getting pierced sucks…But once you’re off the ground it’s just a big endorphin rush like how marathoners get runner’s high. Once the pulling starts though it’s not so bad, just pressure. I can deal with pressure pain better than stingy pain. When it gets too intense, I just zone out, but I try not to because I like to be able to selectively ‘zone,’ which is something I’m working on with scarification”.

Each time the group carries out a ritual suspension there are between five and eight people present all with a specific job they have to do to make the process as safe as possible for the person undergoing the actual suspension. According to the show’s production notes, the different roles include:

  • The ‘rigger’ that installs and monitors all the suspension equipment such as cable and ropes.
  • The piercer (in charge of ‘hook placement’) who also monitors the person for flesh ripping.
  • The ‘bio’ (short for ‘biohazard’) who keeps an eye on the hooks throughout the suspension, and removes bubbles and/or patches up any holes that form. They also make sure that not a single drop of blood hits the ground.
  • The ‘rope director’ that hoists the suspended person up and controls the slackness of the rope. There are also one or two others that control the rope line going up and down (a ‘puller’ and/or ‘holder’).
  • The ‘anchor points’ that oversee where the cables and chains are stationed and anchored and oversee the pulley system.

The ceremonial aspect is fundamental to the whole process with spiritual and fasting components. One interviewee reported:

“When you are suspended you are in a state of meditation. You feel connected to everything, all the energy of nature, my Tryb, the love that’s there. We often fast, offer offerings, play drums and other things. It’s pretty amazing”.

At the time of filming, the CTR members were about to have their ‘End of the World’ party (December 21). The date is significant as this is when the ancient Mayans marked the end of an era that would reset the date to zero and signal the end of humanity. The CTR members don’t see this as the literal ‘end of time’ but as the end of the cycle, with the re-alignment of planets and the beginning of a new, exciting cycle. I’m sure most of you reading this can’t imagine being subjected to such a extreme bodily experience (I certainly can’t) but the CTR members stress that the experience for them is not abnormal. Ultimately, they claim the ritual is a way of coping and understanding pain. They also stress that no-one in the groups is a masochist. They do it because it’s a challenge and a way to test the boundaries of their bodies.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

News Track India (2010). Body-piercing ritual at Kochi Temple. March 31. Located at:

Hook Life (2011). Corn Tryb Ritual., September 28. Located at:

No pain, no gain: A brief look at religious self-flagellation

In previous blogs, I have looked at various aspects of sexually masochistic behaviour. However, some masochistic behaviours have religious (rather than sexual) motivations. Many people’s first awareness of religious masochism might have been Paul Bettany’s portrayal of the self-flagellating albino Catholic monk (Silas) in The Da Vinci Code film (based on Dan Brown’s bestseller). Silas was a member of Opus Dei, a branch of the Catholic Church that has a reputation of being highly secretive. The inflicting of pain upon oneself by Opus Dei adherents is one of a number of self-initiated behaviours involved in the practice of mortification. According to the Wikipedia entry on Opus Dei:

“Mortification the voluntary offering up of discomfort or pain to God; this includes fasting, or in some circumstances self-inflicted pain such as self-flagellation. Mortification has a long history in many world religions, including the Catholic Church. It has been endorsed by Popes as a way of following Christ, who died in a bloody crucifixion and who gave this advice: ‘let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me’ (Lk 9:23). Supporters say that opposition to mortification is rooted in having lost (1) the ‘sense of the enormity of sin’ or offense against God, and the consequent penance, both interior and exterior, (2) the notions of ‘wounded human nature’ and of concupiscence or inclination to sin, and thus the need for ‘spiritual battle’, and (3) a spirit of sacrifice for love and ‘supernatural ends’, and not only for physical enhancement. Critics claim that such practices that inflict pain are counterproductive given modern advances. As a spirituality for ordinary people, Opus Dei focuses on performing sacrifices pertaining to normal duties and to its emphasis on charity and cheerfulness. Additionally, Opus Dei celibate members practise ‘corporal mortifications’ such as sleeping without a pillow or sleeping on the floor, fasting or remaining silent for certain hours during the day”.

According to a BBC news story on why Catholics engage in self-flagellation the article asserted that such behaviour is acted out for symbolic purposes during penitential processions (typically in Mediterranean countries during Lent – to remind devout believers that Jesus was whipped before he was crucified). It was even alleged that Pope John Paul II (who was made a saint by the Catholic church earlier this week) possibly engaged in self-flagellation. Other devotees in other countries (such as the Philippines, and some South American countries) participate in ‘Passion Plays’ where people will engage in painful practices that draw blood.

Last year, I was interviewed about religious self-harm as part of the television series Forbidden – a program on which I was the resident psychologist. The documentary focused on a man from Brazil (Adriano Da Silva) who was totally devoted to God. However, weekly praying wasn’t enough to prove their dedication and faith. As the production notes reported:

“They are hardcore penitents who feel to get closer to God you need to endure the literal suffering of Jesus Christ – you need to cut yourself with razor blades…[Adriano is a] very spiritual man, he prays many times a day, reads his bible, and attends church. However, Adriano is about to take his faith to a completely new level. He’s about to undergo the biggest change of his young life. He is about to become the leader of a group of hardcore and extreme religious penitents, The Brotherhood of Canindezinho. He’s been in training for this moment for a long time, self inflicted punishment is what being a penitent is all about. He’s gone without food for days, walked for miles and miles in the desert to get closer to God. But before he can become leader he must do something he’s never done before. He must make a leap of faith he’s observed for years but always been too frightened to go ahead with. On the biggest day of their religious calendar, Adriano will self-flagellate for the first time, cutting himself with blades until the blood runs down his back and drips to the street below”.

Adriano was taking over as the leader of the ‘Brotherhood of Canindezinho’ (Chico Varela). In fact, Chico was the person that taught Adriano how to attach the razor blades to the string and mentored him through the process of how to psychologically prepare himself for the self-inflicted harm he was about to undertake. His first self-flagellation took place in front of his fellow penitents in the resurrection ritual – the largest religious event of the Brotherhood calendar:

“This is a mass self-flagellations event where The Brotherhood of Canindezinho join up with a neighbouring group of penitents – The Brotherhood of Varzea Alegre [led by Antonio Viera]. They will meet up in the local town square and then drag a giant cross through the town till they get to the cemetery. It is here that they will then begin to cut themselves. Chico will be performing a vital task during the event. He’ll be monitoring Adriano and the other penitents to ensure their safety so that they don’t lose too much blood. ‘When consumed with the passion of the Christ it is easy to lose yourself in the pain, your own safety becomes secondary, this is why it’s important for us to look after our fellow Brothers’. The sun goes down over the cemetery and still the penitents continue to lash themselves…As blood drips down, the penitents report feeling no pain or withstanding the pain for a higher purpose: ‘Jesus gives me the power’, says a penitent”

For the Brotherhood of Canindezinho, the purpose of self-flagellation ritual is to (i) purify their soul and redeem them on unholy acts, such as women and alcohol, as a step to be closer to God; and (ii) thank God for granting them graces they previously petitioned for (e.g., somebody recovering from a serious illness or somebody that got themselves out of a serious financial situation). The television production notes also reported that:

“The selected penitents take their shirts off, at once, and go at it. They self-flagellate for 20 minutes, approximately, hitting their backs with sharp razor blades attached to the end of a string relentlessly. Children, from age 10 up can also participate in the ritual. Women, on the contrary cannot, since they are already believed to be ‘sufferers’. Once the self-flagellating is over, the penitents put their shirts back on – as if nothing just happened, and go home to cleanse the wounds”.

Other articles on religious flagellation (such as one by Geoffrey Abbott in the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica) also claim that self-flagellation is used as a way to drive out evil spirits, to purify, and “as an incorporation of the animal power residing in the whip” but that none of these reasons encompass the whole range of the religious custom. In fact, Abbott claimed:

“In antiquity and among prehistoric cultures, ceremonial whippings were performed in rites of initiation, purification, and fertility, which often included other forms of physical suffering. Floggings and mutilations were sometimes self-inflicted. Beatings inflicted by masked impersonators of gods or ancestors figured in many Native American initiations. In the ancient Mediterranean, ritual floggings were practiced by the Spartans, and Roman heretics were whipped with thongs of oxtail, leather, or parchment strips, some being weighted with lead”.

During my research for this article, I came across numerous academic papers that noted religious and cultural factors may influence self-harm but none of these papers indicated how prevalent religious self-harm was (but I am assuming it was rare given the lack of statistics). Given that we know little about the incidence or prevalence of such behaviour, this is certainly an area worthy of further academic research.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abbott, G. (2013). Flagellation. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, June 6. Located at:

Babiker, G. & Arnold, L. (1997). The Language of Injury: Comprehending Self-Mutilation. Leicester: British Psychological Society Books

BBC News (2009). Why do some Catholics self-flagellate? November 24. Located at:

Walsh, B.W. & Rosen, P.M. (1988) Self-Mutilation: Theory, Research and Treatment. New York:Guilford Press.

Wikipedia (2014). Mortification of the flesh. Located at:

Wikipedia (2014). Opus Dei. Located at:

Hopelessly devoted to you: The Church of Maradona

“Our Diego/Who art on earth/Hallowed be thy left foot/Thy magic come/Thy goals be remembered” (excerpt of The Lord’s Prayer, Church of Maradona)

For some people, football could arguably be described as a religion. However, I discovered earlier last year while being interviewed for a television documentary that for some people, there is a football-related religion with Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona as its deity (arguably an extreme form of celebrity worship that I examined in a previous blog). I thought this was a joke or hoax, especially as a Wikipedia entry claimed that:

“The Iglesia Maradoniana (English: Church of Maradona; literally Maradonian Church) is a parody religion, created by fans of the retired Argentine football player Diego Maradona, who they believe to be the best player of all time. The Iglesia was founded on October 30, 1998 (Maradona’s 38th birthday) in the city of Rosario, Argentina. It could be seen as a type of syncretism or as a religion, depending on what religious definition one chooses to use…Supporters of the Maradonian Church, supposedly from all parts of the world, count the years since Maradona’s birth in 1960… [D10S] is popular, among the followers of this religion (and also among other football fans), the use of the neo-Tetragrammaton D10S as one of the names of Maradona: D10S is a portmanteau word which fuses 10 (diez in Spanish), Maradona’s shirt number, and dios, the Spanish word for god”.

Most football fans here in England generally accept that Maradona was a footballing genius and the best player of his generation. However, our abiding (if not the most painful) memory is his goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Finals (where he scored with a clear handball but was not spotted by the referee). After the match, Maradona described it as the ‘Hand of God’.

However, many Argentinians say the Church of Maradona is not a joke or parody but a “serious celebration of their love for the soccer legend”. In the home to the church (Rosario), Maradona worshippers frequently gather for mass, and sing songs to honour and venerate Maradona. Alejandro Veron who runs the Church of Maradona website says: “Our religion is football and, like all religions, it must have a god. We will never forget the miracles he showed on the pitch and the spirit he awoke in us, the fanatics”.

The church also has its ten commandments: (1) The ball must not be stained, as D10S has proclaimed; (2) Love football over all things; (3) Declare your unconditional love of football; (4) Defend the colours of Argentina; (5) Preach the words of ‘Diego Maradona’ all over the world; (6) Pray in the temples where he preached, and to his sacred mantles; (7) Do not proclaim the name of Diego in the name of a single club; (8) Follow the teachings of the Maradonian Church; (9) Let Diego be your second name, and that of your children; and (10) No ser cabeza de termo y que no se te escape la tortuga (that translates to “don’t be a hothead and don’t let the turtle escape you”). [I ought to add that some online versions of these ten commandments omit the final one and split the ninth commandment into two separate commandments].

It is estimated that the numbers of members of the Church of Maradona is 15,000 worldwide (although the church founders claim the number of followers is 200,000). In the TV programme that I was interviewed for, two people were interviewed (Pamela, aged 22 years, and Ivan, aged 23 years). They met and fell in love in 2009 at an event on Maradonian New Year (October 30, Maradona’s birthday), and were planning to get baptized and married at the Church of Maradona. Pamela says: “For us this will be a traditional wedding, contrary to what people think. We’ve been dreaming to make this happen for years”. They had asked Maradona himself to marry them but he was ‘otherwise engaged’. According to the television program’s research team:

“The baptism is a joint event, which will gather around 15 fans of all ages…Called in to the altar, one by one, each will try to do the most accurate simulation of Maradona’s prolific ‘Hand of God’ goal…Once ‘admitted’ into the group, Pamela and Ivan take the equivalent of the host – Napolitan pizza – Maradona’s favorite. They’re now ready to get married. Instead of an ordained clergyman, Hernan Amez, church founder, will be getting them married – wearing a football shirt…Their families won’t be present, because they find the notion of Pamela and Ivan getting married through the Maradona Church ridiculous. For the young couple, it doesn’t matter. Other friends and Maradona followers will join the celebration…The bride’s dress is carried by two children with D10S t-shirts…They will promise their love for each other in front of the Maradonian bible – Maradona’s autobiography”.

There are some other interesting journalistic accounts of members of the Church of Maradona. One of the most detailed is a 2008 article by Jonathan Franklin for The Guardian who was there to cover the Church’s tenth anniversary after being founded in 1998. Franklin reported that the “Iglesia Maradoniana does not yet have its own building. It is a travelling display of love and affection, whose icons and statues visit all corners of Argentina”. Franklin gives his account of his time at the Church’s ceremony:

“I walk up to the stage, take off my top, and the crowd screams as I slip on the No 10 shirt and remember my rehearsals. Just one shot. Do it right, I tell myself. The baptism ceremony aims to recreate the sacred moment during the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Maradona scored his famous mano del Dios (hand of God) goal by swatting the ball into the England net with his fist. Match officials stuck with a poor angle assumed Maradona had used his head, but replays clearly show Maradona punching the ball away from the England goalie, the startled and then indignant Peter Shilton. At a press conference after the game, Maradona would not admit his hand had touched the ball. ‘The hand of God’ sent it into the net, he claimed. I move over to a life-size poster of Shilton jumping at Maradona. In this version, Maradona and the ball have been Photoshopped out of the frame. This is where the baptism ceremony begins. I prepare to leap. As the ball is tossed in, I jump, trying to shield my hand with my head, then ‘pow!’ I punch. It works! My re-creation is worthy of a certificate and now I am signed into the register, an official member of the Church of Maradona”.

Franklin also notes in his article that Maradona’s fans from all around the world have come to celebrate the Church’s tenth anniversary including people from the Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and USA. As Franklin reports:

“Some take pictures; others simply toast their god. A pile of gifts and tokens piles up – old photographs, sports cards, even an oil portrait of Diego with brushed curls and a yellow halo. The Maradona Bible lies near the altar – a worn copy of Maradona’s bestselling biography ‘Yo Soy El Diego’ (I Am Diego)”.

Parody or not, the Church appears to have some genuine believers including Jose Caldeira, the author of La Iglesia Maradoniana, a book that recounts the Church of Maradona’s first ten years. I don’t think the Catholic religion in Argentina has anything to worry about in terms of competition, but at least the Church of Maradona can claim their deity actually exists. As another article by Johnny Chadwick in The National Student concludes:

“No footballer inspires such devotion and unconditional fandom. Diego Maradona transcends his status as merely the most talented footballer of all time. He provides an example of someone who made countless mistakes and errors of judgement, yet still managed to rise from the streets of Rosario to world champion and international icon. While the obsessive following is extreme, it is in part understandable for a man who is at once a heavily flawed human being and a God”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Chadwick, J. (2012). What people believe: The Church of Maradona. The National Student, August 13. Located at:

Franklin, J. (2008). ‘He was sent from above’. The Guardian, November 12. Located at:

The Offside (2007). Worshipping at the Church of Maradona 10 years on. October 25. Located at:

The Original Winger (2013). The Church of Maradona. February 6. Located at:

Wikipedia (2013). Iglesia Maradoniana. Located at: