Review of 'Modern Miracles' (revised ed. 2013) by Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson (EH)
Since this is necessarily a long critique, links to main themes below are given here:-
Downplaying the 'divine downfall' of 2000
How well did Haraldsson know Sai Baba?
EH's ineffective 'scientific investigation' and coverage of the materialisation issue
Haraldsson's lack of knowledge of India, Hinduism and esoteric practices
My exposure of Haraldsson's 'double-accounting'
Haraldsson's damage-limitation visit to Puttaparthi
Haraldsson's friendliness and endorsement of the Prashanthi Nilayam cultists
Haraldsson's original investigation (reported in 'Miracles are My Visiting Cards')
Peer review - the scientific reputation of EH's book
'Lingam regurgitation' undetected by EH!
Nineteen other issues, evidence or key witnesses Haraldsson signally failed to address
Haraldsson challenged by Professor Beyerstein and Basava Premanand
Parapsychological motivations and extra-scientific theorising
Summing up Haraldsson on Sai Baba miracles
When Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson's book 'Miracles are My Visiting Cards' first came out in the late 1980s, virtually all Sai Baba followers claimed its critical sections were untrue, unreliable and defamatory. I was naturally interested in it despite then being a believer in many of Sai Baba's claims, not least since it seemed to present overwhelming anecdotal evidence for the genuineness of Sai Baba's claims. In 1987 my wife and I found Haraldsson was staying in the same hotel (Ananda Bhavan in Bangalore) and we met. As academics in Scandinavia, he and I had some common interests, especially because there were so many exceptional claims of paranormal abilities which we both thought credible in Sai Baba's case, but also because I had realised that there were a great deal of impenetrable matters and secrecy surrounding Sai Baba which I then felt should be investigated (at that time I opted that it should be primarily in Sai Baba's favour).
In Haraldsson's 2013 revised version 2013 of his 1970's book 'Modern Miracles' (originally entitled *Miracles are My Visiting Cards), he claims that none of the alleged 'materialisation miracles' of Sai Baba have been proved to be fraudulent. In view both of the public reports from many of thousands who have left Sai Baba - of outright materialisation fraud uncovered and the many reliable testimonies and video clips of fraud - his assertion that Sai Baba was never apprehended in fraud, sleight of hand or the like is frankly amazing as well as being extremely serious and misleading.
Through the years since first I met him (1987) Haraldsson only visited the ashram for several periods (days at a time) prior to Sai Baba's death. He always asked me for news about Sai Baba because I was deeply involved on a near full-time basis while after 1980 he was only involved in very brief and infrequent visits to Sai Baba. When I became disaffected from 2000, he was not interested in following up the increasing number of negative reports from many persons about Sai Baba of which I informed him on his several visits to my home or other meetings in Oslo. As the scandals developed, he increasingly brushed aside virtually all the information I tried to get him to examine and did not even watch the widely-acclaimed BBC film 'Secret Swami' which I provided to him on DVD, at least until years later, if then. He relegated this most important exposure of Sai Baba's failed lingam regurgitation and reliably reported crimes to a mere footnote in his book's latest edition. He shows no more than a superficial and biassed look at the issues.
Downplaying the 'divine downfall' of 2000
Since 2000, thousands of devotees managed to break their dependency on Sai Baba and his fantastic promises (see here) largely as a result of exposure of his fraud and widely testified sexual abuses. After the flood of shocking revelations of Sai Baba's countless deceptions broke thanks to the Internet from 2000 onwards, I urged him on numerous occasions to investigate and to revise his opinions regarding fraud, but he always said that his time was far too precious for that. He would not read important documentation or contact a single one of the many outspoken dissidents. All in all, his access to Sathya Sai Baba and insiders at the ashrams was very limited and quite minimal compared to that of many mature persons, including academicians and professionals in various areas with a collective total of many hundreds of hours of interviews over decades with Sathya Sai Baba.
The frequency and length of close contacts with Sai Baba by a score of such 'privileged devotees' who have denounced him exceeded that of Haraldsson by a truly vast factor, estimated at many hundreds of times greater! Yet Haraldsson apparently considers his observations and the hearsay he collected were nevertheless superior to their first-hand observations. Being an infrequent foreign visitor who only observed Sai Baba without worshipping him, and having actually exposed some of his fraudulent claims (e.g. raising US millionaire Cowan from the dead), EH was an outsider kept at arm’s length by insiders and Sai students.
EH was in touch with Professor G. Venkataraman, Sai Baba's chief propagandist, who denied any sexual abuse taking place (against his better knowledge according to some who knew him). Therefore no student would inform EH of the fraud that a large number of them reportedly observed (even copying Sai Baba 'materialisations' for each other for fun, as posted in one video). He was unaware of the consequences for outspoken students, like vicious beatings, inexplicable accidents and murders, rejecting my assurances of the truth of this because it was not 'officially' proven in any court etc. (Supreme Court Justice Bhagwati, a confirmed Sai Baba protector), ensured that with the aid of India's PM and President who were also long-term devotees). So I had to warn students who contacted me thereafter to be aware that EH would likely spill the beans if they talked to him. In his latest revised book he asks people to contact him with information, but it is now highly unlikely that any victim or dissident of Sai Baba would trust him enough for that.
Haraldsson entirely ignored the main whistle-blower on Sai Baba, the concert pianist devotee David Bailey, who attended over 100 interviews with Sai Baba. The students of Sai Baba who he taught music begged him to try to stop Sai Baba's sexual abuses of them, which led to his discovering similar claims from many foreign devotees or their parents on his world travels to hold talks on Sai Baba. His eventual revelations started an increasing flood of dissidents, often founder members and long-term devotees in the organisation. David Bailey told of his subsequent unearthing of much evidence of fraud and worse in a long phone call on-line since 2001 (hear phone conversation or read the transcript). Bailey was a teacher of the British royal children William and Harry and was consequently interrogated by MI6 in connection with Sai Baba. Moreover, Prince Charles had plans to visit Sai Baba (who the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, did visit). Haraldsson was unwilling to follow up this lead or any others I recommended to him when I urged him to investigate it. He still sails on as if oblivious to the weighty and widespread testimony and revealing videos - much of it easily available via the Internet - though he well knew he could have contacted them through the exposé activists.
How well did Haraldsson know Sai Baba?
Haraldsson lays claim to having been a somewhat privileged observer of Sathya Sai Baba, even though he was not invited to more than a handful of interviews throughout his near 4 decades of interest in the guru. After he had concluded his extensive investigation of follower's opinions and the odd dissenter in the 1970s, EH did not stay at the ashrams for any continuous length of time, never more than a week at most, until his visit in 2013. The last interview he had with Sai Baba was back in 1989 during a visit in Puttaparthi where I saw him hand a copy of his then newly-published book (Miracles Are My Visiting Cards) to Sai Baba.
A few days later he was invited to an interview along with the once-famous journalist, V.K. Narasimhan, as interpreter. Later on, Narasimhan reported to me on what took place there. Sai Baba had exerted his usual charm, of course, even though he firmly rejected Haraldsson's report from doctors involved with Walter Cowan who they claimed had never died nor been resurrected. Sai Baba told him he had met the wrong persons. Narasimhan assured me that SB told him that the correct way to investigate was not to go into the 'marketplace' and ask questions of people there who were often ignorant, had bad memories, perceived wrongly and so forth but instead he should deepen himself in Sai Baba's true mystery, his divine nature etc. It is not hard to understand that Sai Baba did not want to alienate Haraldsson unduly as he was hailed as a 'scientist' and may therefore have succeeded in exposing the extensive fraudulence which later caused so many to leave Sai Baba. He had apparently charmed Haraldsson into becoming virtually impervious to the subsequent huge flood of irrefutable allegations.
Over 18 years I met Sai Baba many more times than Haraldsson did. My wife and I had 5 interviews in one decade (each ca. 2 hours long, also with private interviews in each case) and were present at Sai Baba walkabouts on ca. 800 occasions through 18 years, when he also occasionally talked to me. As the leader of Norway's Sathya Sai Organisation, I came to know much information that was limited to office-bearers. Above all, I also had access to several insiders and VIPs, especially the confidence and friendship of the once renowned journalist, V.K. Narasimhan, who lived in the ashram (mainly because of his wife's wish) and was a favourite of Sai Baba and his almost daily attendant through a decade. I had hundreds of hours of private conversation with Narasimhan through a decade and he confided much in me that he dared not speak about in public.
During the period 1999 to 2010 EH undertook only one investigation of Sai Baba, together with Richard Wiseman, to evaluate the widely-distributed copied video material which purported to show Sai Baba faking the materialisation of a necklace at an event in Hyderabad. They concluded that the film showed no evidence of fraud, though added that fraud could not be excluded. However, they did not equally emphasize that the apparent fumble could just as well have been due to failed sleight-of-hand and their verdict contradicted what a very large number of viewers world-wide, including journalists, had arrived at.
Haraldsson told me that on subsequent two visits to the ashram after 2000 to try to watch Sai Baba's 'holy' Shivarathri ritual, the 'regurgitation of lingams', as if he did not know this had long been a famous stage act. This technique was invented by Harry Houdini ref. Houdini, Miracle Mongers and their Methods, Coles 1980, (reprint), pp. 160-161. see excerpt and also widely performed in the 1920s by Waldo). Naively interested enough to travel to India on two brief occasions after 2000 to see this act, Haraldsson was treated somewhat as a VIP, put in front of the crowd, but he was not given any further access to Sai Baba. After the first visit he told me he had not been able to see the actual emergence of the 'lingam', which was claimed by SB to ensure that one will never have to be reborn!
Knowing the ashram set-up as well as I and my close associates came to do, one can safely say that his presence was made known to all who were always under instructions not to talk to him about any critical matters. This is not only standard in the draconian pursuit of any negative talk whatever by anyone in the ashrams, carried out by all trusted servitors and undercover informants, but especial care would have been taken as to Haraldsson, whose book also originally caused a disturbance for devotees because of the negative reports it contained on Sai Baba's resurrection claims. (Read excerpt)
EH did not show interest in the fact (well documented) that a greenstone and gold ring given to me in 1986 by Sai Baba (only apparently 'materialised') which he claimed to be "better than a diamond" was assayed by jeweller to Queen Margarethe of Denmark, Peter Hertz, and proclaimed a cheap synthetic sapphire set with tinfoil reflecting material in a golden ring. Exactly this kind of ring is on sale in many venues, from Kharwad in Karnataka and Hyderabad, plus Chetty's of Bangalore, Ashwan Narayanen (Owner of Sai Gold Palace). This has variously been testified by witnesses (such as Kamesh of USA). They are also widely on sale on the Internet (see http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/7/. EH had concluded that such rings as SB claimed to materialis were not found to be on sale and that it was therefore unlikely that he was supplied from anywhere. Sai_Baba_fakes). Not one of the many alleged diamonds given by Sai Baba have ever been shown to be genuine by any professional assayer, a fact that EH brushed aside as irrelevant. (See evidence). Haraldsson has apparently never even visited these outlets, of which I informed him, or tried to check that typical items are sold there, yet he makes the ill-advised claim that there is no evidence of any such places.
EH did not bother to try to interview Colonel Joga Rao, the closest person to Sai Baba for decades, who according to V.K. Narasimhan and others did not believe in Sai Baba miracles, though he was constantly at the side of SB for many years! A handkerchief was one of SB’s chief accoutrements in most situations. For many years, Col. Joga Rao used to hand him the handkerchief and carry the letters when required. Since Joga Rao is known among most permanent Sai ashram residents never to have believed in Sai Baba's miracles but to have agreed to help him nonetheless because of the social projects he had instigated, there is all reason to suspect he was a willing accomplice to fraud. Sathya Sai Baba could always easily find willing accomplices among his servitors and students.
Nor did EH contact the BBC, which carried out a major investigation of Sai Baba on three continents, or even consider the evidence of deception on the film 'Secret Swami' which I sent him not long after it was aired but which he later told me he had not watched. Nor did he examine the extensive video evidence of fraudulent 'materializations' or the reports of dozens of students and others who had access to SB. Though he had credited a great deal of testimony as to the genuineness of materialisations in his interviews and questionnaire, he never credited any testimonies of observed fraud, sleight-of-hand or misdirection of attention by Sai Baba, despite the many video clips available showing these things.
EH's ineffective 'scientific investigation' and coverage of the materialisation issue
A major failing of EH was not to attempt scientifically-controlled research on the vibuti or other 'materialising' phenomena. In the 2013 revision of 'Modern Miracles' EH he wrote: ”I have not had the opportunity to investigate the vibuti’s actual appearance nor witnessed it myself." but added that he visited about 20 places where it was seen on pictures etc. Remarkably he has not mentioned that, since the 1970s, this has been widely reported to occur at the famous shrine at the 'Thief's Temple' at Sri Ranga Patnam near Mysore where it was widely claimed that both vibuthi and amrit (nectar) continuously manifested. Like many others, I visited it and - though convinced of the genuineness at the outset - later learned much that caused me to judge it was fraud. With the help of others, I have since then publicly debunked and explained those particular phenomena. Haraldsson has avoided investigating this famous place, visited by countless Sai Baba followers. In his latest edition, Haraldsson added a few examples of vibuthi appearing on photographs (even in the ashram itself, 5 months prior to SB’s demise!), but apparently he did not see a need to investigate the substances, get samples analysed, as others have done. Fraud has been demonstrated in many cases (some detailed here below), sometimes even by top Sai Baba officials publishing denouncements in the journal Sanathana Sarathi in an effort to keep copyists from benefitting and drawing away donations from the Sai Central Trust.
I had also nearly always been at Erlendur's disposition when he visited Oslo because, since his book on Sai Baba had once enthused me, I hoped he would follow up critical investigations of the nature and extent of the fraud, cover-up of murders, innumerable sex abuses and other major deceptions. Our meetings became somewhat acrimonious at times since he showed minimal interest in my information.. he didn't really want to know anything that disturbed his belief that evidence of Sai Baba' s genuineness may somehow emerge some day. By 2011, I was thoroughly put off by his stubborn dissimulation and his ridicule as fools of certain well-meaning people who had sacrificed much time, energy and wealth to carry out Sai Baba's service works to help suffering people. He also knew that my wife and I had also constantly done such work through 18 years until 2000 and we had also previously given what for us were major financial donations. It is a fact that we had all been duped, but Haraldsson could not conceive of the fact that he too had been taken in thoroughly by the many subtle and disingenuous methods of Sai Baba and his cultist following. He has suppressed publicly most of the negative opinions he voiced or wrote to me about Sai Baba.
Haraldsson showed no sympathy whatever for the victims of Sai Baba's sexual abuses, but rather showed sympathy for Sai Baba (as some of his e-mails to me prove). But he who knows yet remans silent, is complicit! He showed no hint of duty of care, as one would expect of any respectable scientist after all this time. Further, he washes his hands of the knowledge that so many top professional and honest persons in the Sai Baba organisation left because of the fraud they experienced.
Haraldsson's account of his original motivation and attitudes is not in evidence. Having known him well and having previously researched the work and motivations of Nordic social scientists, I know him to have a standard Scandinavian academic training in experimental psychology, having mostly been a teacher rather than a noted researcher in that field. Though he has wanted to apply scientific methods to the investigation of paranormal phenomena tied to Sathya Sai Baba, he could not produce any reproducible data. His professed ignorance of negative instances to his hypothesis (or rather, his agenda) is unscientific. His general investigations, however, were rather successful in respect of the false claims about resurrection of dead devotees and he had similar revelatory results in the cases of Swami Premananda and Gyatri Swami.
By conforming outwardly to standards of academic correctness, Professor Haraldsson narrowed his investigation so strictly that the usual methods of exposing deceit and fraud were excluded. Though he thus gave the appearance of objectivity, he failed to state openly his fore-conceptions and relevant personal values which unavoidably affect all social studies. In this respect, it is highly relevant what the prominent Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal wrote:
"… specification of valuations (on the scientist's part) aids in reaching objectivity since it makes explicit what otherwise only would be implicit. Facts may be scientifically recorded and analysed with explicit value premises as well as without them, and this can actually be accomplished the better in the former case since the explicit value premises focuses the investigator‘s attention on the values which, if hidden, are the roots of biases, since they generally set a standard of relevance and significance. This is true also when the analysis proceeds to draw practical conclusions. The conclusions must simply be remembered to be only as valid as the premises, which is true in all science. In fact, only when premises are stated explicitly is it possible to determine how valid the conclusions are." ('Value in Social Theory' London 1958 p. 71)
In his disregard for anything but the paranormal phenomena of SB, EH reminds of an earlier widespread attitude among traditional scientists to over-specialise and ignore wider issues affecting their research. For example, doctors used to focus narrowly on single symptoms, ignoring or discounting other factors in the patient's situation like diet, social factors etc.
EH was clearly partly motivated by professional self-interest, very carefully writing nothing to upset critics of parapsychology so as to be 'politically-correct' in line with other scientists. Yet he provided no evidence of his systematically questioning the credibility of programmatic believers where the materialisation question arose. Had he done this properly, he would very likely have jeopardised the official welcome he got at the ashram.
Haraldsson's lack of knowledge of India, Hinduism and esoteric practices
In all the years I knew EH, I found his knowledge of Hindu religious scriptures and the long and diverse history of gurus and their countless esoteric practices was quite superficial. I was in a position to judge, having had a lifelong interest in all aspects of India. Though Haraldsson had some experience of the corruption in India, he was not very percipient as to the ingrained deviousness of many Indian ways. His conversation showed me time and again that he did not appreciate the tremendous 'double-accounting' nature of all that went on in Sai Baba's ashrams, which were places of power and manipulation, bribery, hidden fear and violence. His head in parapsychological clouds rather than in any extensive work that could discover such a major network of undercover fraud. He rejected earnest attempts by myself and others to open his eyes to the facts, as if they were 'mere conjectures' without doing us the favour of reading or studying the many materials we recommended.
Even after two decades 'investigating' Sai Baba, Haraldsson had to ask me to help him point out the essence of Sai Baba's writings and discourses so he could include it in an article he wrote to make it more interesting or well-informed. He knew relatively little of the Sai Baba hagiographies, well over a hundred of which books I had read.
From our many conversations it emerged that he knew less if anything of the highly relevant esoteric background of Sai Baba's beliefs, such as the extensive writings of Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Maharshi, Shivananda of Rishikesh to name but a few supposed 'masters' of scripture, yoga, and avatars whose teachings I knew well (not least Paramahamsa Ramakrishna). He was disinterested in authoritative literature describing miracles by saints, tantric magic, 'siddhi powers', and other related mysteries and rituals as analysed in Mircea Eliade's seminal esoteric works (e.g. 'Yoga, Immortality and Death') or the remarkable Tahir Shah (one most groundbreaking exposer of miracle makers who had learned their secrets through a most gruelling apprenticeship). Had he done so he may not have been so confounded by incredible stories from simple souls that he nonetheless recorded as testimony.
He apparently knows nothing of Bengali’s famous polymath and multi-linguist, Nirad Chaudri CBE, Honorary PhD, Oxon. and his many brilliant revelatory writings about all aspects of Indian culture and Indian mentality. Within his impressive scope, Chaudhuri frankly described the clandestine culture of Hindu nationalists, its bogus gurus and their trickeries, and of many caste and tribal factions in India. Knowing about such matters is intrinsic to understanding people like Sathya Sai Baba, what motivates them and how they operate. Nor did Haraldsson show much psychologically savvy as regards Indians, especially Sai Baba people, such as his valued contact, the ultimate true believer and nuclear bomb specialist Dr. G. Venkataraman - head of Sai Baba propaganda on-line - whom I also met.
My exposure of Haraldsson's 'double-accounting'
EH often accepted hospitality from devotees when on his travels, including in Washington DC, Holland and with us, always asking for news of Sai Baba, but showing no genuine interest in what did not fit with his purposes. Despite much frustration over this, I had agreed not to make public the critical views he had expressed to me. Because of the endorsement his writings and continued brief visits gave to Sai Baba, I eventually decided it was my duty towards / deeply misled devotees and the vulnerable public to make known his private attitude towards Sai Baba, backed up by some of our seventy-plus e-mail exchanges over 25 years (here http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/30/EH-Priddy_mail_exchanges_listed.html). I had urged him seriously to reconsider his standpoint. In a reply to a letter by my wife asking him to speak out in criticism of Sai Baba, he replied, "I am not hiding anything, but I do not write a new paper on Sai Baba unless it is based on personal research and giving new findings and I have neither. Besides my time is too precious for other things to do to waste on squibbles about SB who is dead anyway". This despite his e-mails that are evidence to the contrary (see here). That was the last straw, and so in 2012, after reading my account of his work on-line, he wrote me that he was shocked and asked me 'kindly to remove all of it'. This I did not do, of course, for I stand by every word. There I strongly criticised his work for lacking 'scientific' investigation and presumptions, backed up with documentary evidence (including his revealing e-mail evaluation of Sai Baba's pedophilia).
Like other academics who are challenged by new facts which undermine their publications and credibility, my challenge on the Internet (made after over a decade of not making known the facts he was concealing and/or refusing to confront) he has cut corners in his book's latest edition to the extent of virtually falsifying various issues raised with him. He chose not to research the very extensive exposé of Sathya Sai Baba on-line and petulantly avoided any discussion with dissidents including a number of outspoken academics of whom Brian Steel and I are the most prolific. He takes a pointedly opposite public standpoint on Sai Baba to all of us. He carefully avoided any reference to my name in his book in case his public would discover my exposure of his work, referring there to me disingenously as 'a Norwegian devotee', though he knows all too well that I have been the sheer opposite of a devotee since 2000.
In nearly all my meetings with him after 2000, he occasionally berated Sai Baba scathingly as a coarse person often showing a rude villager mentality and being totally untrustworthy as to most of his claims, and he regarded the official biography of Professor Kasturi, whom we both knew, as largely exaggeration or fantasy (with which I agree). Yet all he has published to this effect was that he and Karlis Osis regarded Sai Baba as 'a prima-donna'.
My wife was a witness, having heard plenty of what Haraldsson said and having discussed his visits and views in detail afterwards, when I also made notes. At the same time, he made clear that he was rather charmed and impressed by Sai Baba's personality and judged that he had a very positive effect on innumerable followers, disregarding the hundreds who have publicly testified very much to the contrary. He seemed too wrapped up in his own agenda to take in the enormous deception that was practiced in so many ways by Sai Baba and which were systematically and relentlessly enforced by his minions.
Haraldsson's damage-limitation visit to Puttaparthi
My on-line exposure - including Haraldsson's questionable amorality regarding his stated but carefully concealed views on Sai Baba and homosexual/pedophile abuses, - and his refusal to address serious unanswered questions in his investigations of Sai Baba's ‘miracles', has had the effect of precipitating him into reacting with a complete turnaround - the decision to write an up-date of his 'research'. Within months EH sacrificed three weeks of his 'precious time' to visit to Puttaparthi so as to meet people there, all of whom were still all believers in Sai Baba and his miracles. He later worked on editing his supposedly 'neutral' book, without having got any new data, and without qualifying or reducing the original over-positive second-hand reports of astounding miracles, which had caused it to sell very well, especially to devotees. With his studious avoidances of burning issues and out-of-hand rejection of the hundreds who have spoken out about Sai Baba's deceptions and fraud, including prominent film makers and journalists, and his view that sexual abuses were irrelevant to his judgement of Sai Baba as a genuinely spiritual person, he has undermined his earlier credibility as a neutral investigator.
He even seemingly forgot his own previous published negative judgements about Sai Baba where he wrote Of Indian God-Men and Miracle-Makers: The Case of Sathya Sai Baba: "In recent years the number of reported observations has increased which indicate sleight-of-hand. Some students in Baba’s schools and colleges, some of whom he often has as company, have made such allegations. Unfortunately most of these claims have only appeared on the Internet where a war has raged about the genuineness of his phenomena and about his sexual morality. These reports are generally not easy to assess and the author has not interviewed any of these persons personally. There seem, however, increasingly to be reasons to believe that Sai Baba is increasingly using sleight-of-hand." He also wrote there: "The author has detected fraud in three Indian swamis who claimed to produce physical paranormal phenomena" but failed to do so with Sai Baba (Haraldsson & Houtkooper, 1994; Haraldsson & Wiseman, 1995, Wiseman & Haraldsson, 1995).
EH's attempt to protect his legacy to the Sai Baba debate had originally made his name among the parapsychology fraternity. Evidently he did mostly not 'research' or probably even read the massed documentary testimony and evidence, rejecting it because it is mostly on the Internet, holding that one can write anything on the Internet, as if that fact invalidated it per se. One can also write anything in a book if one publishes, but in both cases one stands legally accountable for the content. EH show know this, he has web pages on the Internet himself). His former discretion in his publications went out of the window in overreacting with his 'revised' 2013 book to the revealing materials and criticism I posted about him.
Despite the Sai Baba's myth having begun its disintegration in the late '90s, EH's materials still lead people to draw false conclusions as to the genuineness of all Sai Baba's reported miracles (except resurrection and bi-location, which he did investigate well and thereby in effect proved to have been outright fraud by Sai Baba). The new version is not at all convincing after his definitive rejection of any more writing on SB due to lack of data etc.
He took with him to India his Dutch parapsychological friend, Dr Joop M. Houtkooper, who consequently wrote a preface to the 2013 book revision, as usual devoid of any critical questioning of the miracles or openness to the many well-qualified dissidents. There he told of a visit to Sai Baba with Haraldsson in 1979-80, writing "Seeing Sai Baba produce vibuti, holy ash, from a few metres distance, remains a puzzle for which I have no proper explanation." These two retired theorists had earlier tried in vain to discover the explanation, but failed to notice any of Sai Baba's many distractive techniques and varieties of prestidigitation, which latter are demonstrated clearly on numerous videos and testified as fraud by a considerable number of former close followers and not least Sai Baba students. Like Haraldsson, Houtkooper was already disposed toward accepting paranormal powers (which is no doubt part of the motive of adopting parapsychology in the first place). Houtkooper has contested the view that modern physics excludes the possibility of psychic phenomena, and claimed that minor experimental data proves that mind could and did directly influence matter (the puzzling phenomenon of retroactive precognition). He argues for a much less stringent empiricism than in natural science - a convoluted observational theory - as the solution to explaining supposed psi phenomena. (Arguing for an Observational Theory of Paranormal Phenomena. J. Houtkooper, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 171–185, 2002)
So Haraldsson and his confederate Houtkooper conferred with remaining (blind) believers in Prashanthi Nilayam, including deeply compromised persons. Houtkooper suggests that during their six weeks in PN, they had numerous encounters with devotees and non-devotees. Non-devotees are not specified as dissidents, critics or debunkers, for certainly none would have been there! EH well knew that I could provide contact details to many of these well-informed dissidents whom he pointedly ignored, even those former leaders in the organisation who testified to observing repeatedly Sai Baba's outright fraud. I had not believed that he would stoop to such a desultory investigation, consorting with highly discredited persons who have grabbed power and spread wall-to-wall disinformation and cover-up, backed up with bribery and death threats to Sai Baba's kin, as widely exposed by the Indian media. Does EH imagine that he obtained new data about materialisations by talking almost entirely to defenders of Sai Baba as God in their ashram stronghold of remaining 'true believers', many in denial and wholly dependent on the cult and the current administration.
Haraldsson's friendliness and endorsement of the Prashanthi Nilayam cultists
Haraldsson sustains his original attitude, that Sai Baba was 'an enigma', which conveniently helps him not to lose face and to sell his book to a mystery-seeking and intrigued public, plus innumerable people who have been involved with Sai Baba through the decades. Haraldsson blithely adopted portions of their propaganda and view of dissidents' motives by descending to calling the critics 'disgruntled', meaning persons who did not get from Sai Baba what they wanted! That is 'Prashanthi speak', a 'mantra of denial' - often posted by remaining devotees - which he blithely adopted, indicating thereby that all who rejected Sai Baba did so because they got from him what they did NOT want, including lies, diverse abuse of faith and criminal acts. Dissidents are not 'disgruntled' by utterly disgusted and disenchanted. Haraldsson's positive bias is a betrayal of the hundreds of those whose trust was abused by Sathya Sai Baba, some through sexual abuse, others through deceptions to obtain donations including their properties and testaments (not to mention loss of life and murders).
The traditional Indian hospitable front, which was always accorded to Haraldsson whom they imagined to be an important scientist, they would most certainly have handled him with kid gloves. Though Sai Baba overlooked EH''s exposure of his resurrections claims, there was a routine practice to monitor and control all visitors who could damage the reputation of Sai Baba and his ashram, while keeping them entirely in the dark by the same control and censorious techniques perfected through decades. All who spoke out about untoward facts could expect to get banned from the ashrams, 'excommunicated' or worse. The majority of those remaining in Prashanthi Nilayam or the Sai movement have long demonstrated their bias and denial in covering-up the crimes of their Lord and Master for the flow of funds to the coffers over which they had grasped control and upon which so many were still dependent one way or another. Apart from the fully indoctrinated devotees, many officials knew of the fraud and deceptions in which they partook and kept silent about them for their own benefit (i.e. not least the sex abuse and murder involvement of Sai Baba).
By updating his book on Sai Baba, claiming there that he had been unable to unearth evidence of fraudulent 'manifestations', its sales apparently increased among many devotees in great turmoil who were looking for some kind of reassurance. This Haraldsson gave them in rich measure as regards the issue of 'materialisation'. In short, to seek information exclusively at the very place where all the reliable outspoken witnesses had left long since for obvious reasons and where the cover up of fraud, massive deceptions and criminal activities are still the bread and butter of those involved is hardly worthy of any serious investigator.
Haraldsson's original investigation (reported in 'Miracles are My Visiting Cards')
EH originally based his book about Sai Baba on investigations carried out in the 1970s and partly in the 1980s in which he concentrated on testimony regarding alleged miracles of various kinds, especially materialisation, by Sai Baba.
Haraldsson had associated with devoted believers - mostly visitors to the ashram - while he met and questioned but a mere handful of sceptics and dissidents in the 1970s. His investigations through the years of his engagement was frustrated by Sai Baba (no controlled observations allowed) and his staff who privately obstructed and sidelined all of whom they were suspicious, then as now. Despite his background in experimental psychology, its methodology was not designed for nor suited to detecting clever fraud involving 'miracles', even had he been allowed to set up laboratory conditions, which he was repeatedly denied. As regards the materialisation claims, all he could do in the 1970s was to observe some few of these events, but without any control of the conditions or viable explanation of them.
Haraldsson had visited the ashram fairly frequently in the 1970s but relatively seldom after my wife and I first met him there in 1986, usually as whistle stop visits while travelling to other places on the sub-continent in his attempts to find evidence of reincarnation in Sri Lanka and Nepal etc. and investigate other supposed miracle makers in India. He was always treated as a foreign guest scientist and not made privy to any inside matters in the ashram, organisation or other Sai Baba institutions. He was always on the outside trying to look in, while I and other dissidents had been on the inside, having access to a vast amount of privileged information which they could now assess from both sides.
His first most trusted collaborator in paranormal investigation, Karlis Osis, who accompanied him to Puttaparthi in 1973, was like himself, an outsider to the closed and carefully guarded inner culture of Sai Baba's ashrams and organisations, while neither understood any Indian languages. They left their cards with the head of the ashram, Kutumb Rao, and asked for an interview explaining to him they were scientists wanting to investigate the phenomena. SB knew they were parapsychological 'scientists' since his ashram offices held detailed registers and SB always received early daily reports on any interesting visitors. Next day they received an interview, where SB waved his hand like a magician and produced a standard enamel 'Baba ring' for Osis and a 'double rudraksha' for Haraldsson. Both EH and KO were suspicious that it was a clever 'set up'. In the light of SB's devious methods so widely exposed by scores of followers, he most likely planned measures to deceive them so as to get - if possible - their endorsement as scientists. They wanted to carry out controlled experiments on Sai Baba's supposed 'miraculous materializations', but he firmly denied them. Nor was EH ever able to get SB to agree to any such thing later. So they had to rely on their own and devotees' perceptions through second-hand means like interviews with eye-witnesses etc.
In the above interview SB introduced what was probably a pre-planned mention of a 'double rudraksha' (i.e. a tree's nut held to be sacred, in this case a 'double nut' or freak formation). Haraldsson was then comparatively very new to India and its religious culture so asked what that meant. The reply was unsatisfactory so EH persisted in asking. (see further documentation). Sai Baba proceeeded to wave his hand and, opening it, a double rudraksha bead was seen. A likely explanation is that Sai Baba already had two double rudrakshas under his cushion (even devoted believers have reported his taking objects from behind his cushion) - the one an unadorned 'double' or twin-conjoined rudraksha nut, the other one being the bejewelled variant. By prestidigitation Sai Baba could easily have produced first the one, then drop it out of sight and produce the other after blowing on his closed fist. Sai Baba was a master of misdirecting attention, and all eyes would always follow his every facial expression, such was his command of his audience. Notably, Haraldsson told me that SB advised him not to show the double rudraksha to Indian devotees, for some unclear reason about its deep spiritual significance to them. This in fact ensured that EH was mystified about the ornamented bead and so, despite his investigations at botanical museums and the like, could not find out that such double rudraksha trinkets are not uncommon in Hindu religious circles and there has long been quite a market for them (now also on the Internet).
Thereafter, issued a questionnaire primarily among devotees about observed 'materialisation miracles', answered overwhelmingly by full believers in Sai Baba miracles, mainly because he was unable to contact more than a tiny percentage of the fairly large numbers who even in the 1970s had left Sai Baba and were then untraceable. His sample of respondents was arbitrary, anyone he could find, and was thus not statistically significant, mostly consisting in those persons at the ashram when he was there. He kept no record of the respondents for possible follow-up study in later years. Incidentally, when I asked if I might access his several tape-recorded interviews, he was unsure if they even existed, and could not make any of his original raw data available.
EH's self-defence for not taking the slightest pains to re-evaluate his views despite massive evidence that has emerged, mainly since 2000, is that the counter-evidence and sworn testimonies from scores of reliable former followers has not been academically tested by peer review, though he fondly asserts that his own book has passed that test by virtue of being printed and reviewed by a handful of persons interested in seeing proofs of paranormal phenomena. Apart from a misguidedly enthusiastic early review by Professor Hans Eyesenck, peer reviews of Haraldsson's published materials on Sathya Sai Baba are very few - some highly critical. (see under 'Sathya Sai Baba' at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erlendur_Haraldsson)
Peer review - the scientific reputation of EH's book
So as to try to validate his book's claims, EH dismisses the written output of the past 12 years as non peer-reviewed. He dismisses the large output of over ten years by many investigative writers thus:
“The thrust of their criticism was twofold. First, towards Baba’s morality, claims of his divine nature, omniscience and omnipresence, his wrong predictions, his mistakes regarding historical facts, and so on" (p. 322). This again shows that he has not bothered to read the extensive testimony of false 'manifestations' or study the considerable video evidence. That he could miss that shows how very superficial his 'research' into criticisms and testimonies was.
As to few and sparse positive peer reviews Haraldsson has received, they do not exactly herald his work as scientific or valid.
1) His effort was, at the time, the most balanced book on the subject, as David Lane once wrote, but that was long before the flood of revelations about his fraud and deciets became widely known from around 2000.
2) Stein Gordon, in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal (1996) wrote the book was a "generally sympathetic treatment of Sai Baba", which is hardly an endorsement of critical investigation and or a peer review. Wikipedia lists the following reviews:-
3) Philosopher Paul Edwards noted how Haraldsson did not come to any definite conclusion about the authenticity of Baba's miracles but regarded fraud as unlikely.
4) Psychologist Janak Pandey wrote that Haraldsson was impressed by Baba but could not get him to produce any paranormal phenomena under controlled conditions.
5) The parapsychologist Martin Johnson claimed Haraldsson had published some "remarkably naïve eyewitness-accounts of the Indian saint's feats" and was surprised Haraldsson was taking the possibility that Baba was not a fraud.
5) Daniel Bassuk, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida wrote "Haraldsson and Osis conclude that they were unable to detect any evidence of fraud, and were led to regard Satya Sai Baba's materializations as 'possibly paranormal'."
6) The prominent Indian rationalist Babu Gogineni - international lecturer and a U.N. Expert on Education who also was a victor at a Cambridge Union debate - found it credulous, saying Haraldsson was "more predisposed to believe than to investigate", concluding: "The only lesson one can learn from Erlendur Haraldsson is how not to study the paranormal events."
7) The Australian academic author and dissident, Brian Steel, wrote the longest 'peer review' in the Journal of Psychic Studies, where EH was a regular contributor. It is balanced but also highly critical of the basis for EH's conclusions. (Read his review here)
8) As a former social researcher, lecturer in philosophy and sociology, the present article can be regarded as a thorough peer review, though it is yet to appear in print.
9) Apart from those, EH receives an encomium from a Sai Baba devotee as a comment to his book on Amazon. However, the writer also warns devotees to ignore the exposure by EH of SB's claims of resurrection.
10) The Skeptics Society Forum is intensely critical of EH. They use various sources to refute EH views on Sathya Sai Baba, and also his belief in reincarnation and studies of reincarnational memories.
'Lingam regurgitation' undetected by EH!
However, Haraldsson visited Prashanthi Nilayam on at least two occasions after 2000 and before Sai Baba died hoping to see the so-called 'lingodbhava' (alleged materialisation of the egg-shaped Shiva lingam in his stomach, ejected through the mouth). He told me he saw it once from a distance and his view was obscured the other time. As a parapsychological researcher who claims to have been instructed by stage magicians, he has not reported on the failed attempt to regurgitate a lingam in 2002 in the BBC documentary, nor in numerous other video clips. It seems he was still not interested in seeing these. He never contacted the BBC research team (under director Eamon Hardy) nor the Danish TV documentary director Øivind Kyrø (Seduced by Sai Baba). Considering EH's repeated visits to view the Shivarathri 'lingam regurgitation' which SB reintroduced in 2000 after a lapse of many years to counteract the effect of the allegation storm against him, EH apparently did not know that Houdini first developed the trick of swallowing and regurgitating a large egg-shaped object (www.saibaba-x.org.uk/7/lingam.htm), a feat that is still performed by magicians and has been seen and also even filmed by fakirs on the streets in India? (see video clip of this).
As I have posted, an ex-student Kamesh whose identity I have checked wrote to me telling:-
"Apart from these experiences the most profound one I had was during shivaratri 2002. Here for the first time I saw swami bringing the lingam tucked under his robe. Later he switched it into a kerchief and the rest of the story is well known to all of you."
Further, EH has not in this connection commented on Swami Premananda's regular production from the mouth of Shivalingams during Shivarathri (link), even though he met him and concluded that this guru was faking the materialisation of 'holy ash'. There are even now schools in India for learning the tricks of the trade to materialize holy ash, linga and laddu, out of thin air! See here
In his book up-date Haraldsson defends his unchanged views as correct and vindicated by subsequent events. He claims that Sai Baba cannot be using pellets of vibuthi since he materialises larger objects. The naivety of this reasoning is transparent. How come he assumes as a default position that Sai Baba materialised anything, having already denied that there was any proof of this? It is possible - and according to testimony of many persons once close to him - that Sai Baba used different methods of palming vibuthi, but that he crushed pellets is undoubted.
It can be seen that he holds a pellet in the Danish national TV film exposing Sai Baba ('Seduced' by Danish Radio), and on occasion he has dropped vibuti pellets in front of people. Haraldsson could easily have discovered and confirmed the account of a prominent former Sai Baba leader, Terry Gallagher, a 'VIP verandah person' whose daughters attended Sai Baba's school and who wrote to David Bailey about his disillusion with Sai Baba, writing among much else:-
"I will never forget the look of anguish on Sai Baba's face when he came into the verandah of the Mandir early one morning and dropped two vibhuti pellets in front of me, as he attempted to accept a rose from a college student. There was no vibhuti materialisation during darshan that morning!
In the months that followed I observed how he transferred these vibhuti pellets from one hand to the other, using the letters he collects from devotees to disguise his movements. In the many interviews that followed I also observed more than thirty instances of rings, “diamonds”, japamalas, vibhuti containers etc, all being produced by sleight of hand and deception.
At first I kept this information to myself. I reasoned that if this was what made people come to see Sai Baba, resulting in them becoming more spiritual, what harm could it do! Eventually I told my wife and children, who also saw through this “materialisation” trickery." We returned to the ashram several times during the following years, making further observations and having these confirmed by college students and long term devotees living at the ashram. During this time I was the central coordinator for three years for the Sathya Sai organisation in Australia."
Or Hans de Kraker, also easily contactable, described how he came across several instances of outright fraud by Sai Baba (see below here)
Ninteen other issues, evidence or key witnesses Haraldsson signally failed to address
It has been shown indisputably that various 'manifested' objects by SB (usually claimed to be unique) are widely found on sale in various countries and even on-line. The following are some of many 'negative instances' affecting the EH hypothesis that Sai Baba was not a complete fraud. These include:
i) Transparent 'materialization' fraudulence on videos which Haraldsson does not even mention having seen (see overview)
i1) Sai Baba gave false gold watches: video testimony of an intimate Alaya Rahm, a main testifier in the BBC film 'The Secret Swami'.
iii) The alleged crucifix from original wood of the cross. http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/7/Crucifix_'materialised'_for_Dr._John_Hislop.htm
iv) Alleged 'green diamonds' produced from thin air. The stones are synthetic sapphires of low value and the rings with them are on sale at many jewellers in India, a fact that EH never discovered. Moreover, he showed minimal interest when I told him of how I had the alleged "green diamond" ring I was wearing, given me by SB at Christmas 1986, assayed at a top professional jeweller ca. 15 years later. (see full account)
v) The 'tiny Bible' SB claimed he materialised at Christmas (tiny bible fake exposed)
vi) Wrist watches including Seiko, Citizen and a large range of other known makes. Haraldsson did not take notice of the well-known investigations of the Seiko watch which SB claimed to have materialised and which was definitively proven by the efforts of Abraham Kovoor and B. Premanand to be untrue. http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/7/seikowatch.html
vii) The Swedish follower, Britt-Marie Andén, who started a Sai Baba school in Gothenberg left him in 2000 and closed the school. Among many other revelations of his deceit she wrote on exbaba.com in 2000:
"A talk amongst us who had been with Sai Baba since long though started. We found out that many of us had at some situations seen that he took things from the chair or had it in his hand before he “materialised” it. All of us had had the thought that he did so sometimes only to test our faith. We all started to confront that the materialisations were not always genuine. I never though doubted him to have the power of materialising, but I did not like him to not tell the truth, and did not know how to deal with these untruths in my own inner." (See source)
ix) Hans de Kraker of Australia can still be contacted, but Haraldsson chooses not to do so. His testimony of fraudulent manifestations is damning but EH chose to ignore it.
"In one particular interview, I saw him take a ring from under the handkerchief that was on the armrest of his chair. I thought not much of it. I never really attached much value to the materialisations and knew that the receiver was going to be an ecstatically happy person... Shortly after, one of my friends in the group said to me: "Gosh, what a test! Swami wanted to show me that he did not materialise the ring, but that he took it from under his handkerchief! Isn't he funny! He is really testing us!"
"…on one of our trips to India I remember bringing so much, we (had) thousands of kilos of overweight. Among the things the group brought were watches. These hundreds of watches were destined to go to the students. Not long after arriving we brought some of the things we had brought to the front door of the Poornachandra, in front of Sai Baba’s house. I very kind gentleman would be from who the offerings came and that Sai Baba was expecting them (especially after the attempt on his life there was a very strict security control).
Only a few weeks later, I encounter a student, who proudly tells me that his watch was materialised by Sai Baba! He was as happy as I was astounded. And again I decided to stuff the thoughts I had away, saying to myself that it was great that this boy was so happy and that the philosophy was what was important and not where this watch came from. I decided that which was instilled in this boy through this gift was going to help him in life to be the person that he aspired to be. In that same period a friend approached an another person of our group from Europe who had received that same watch. He had asked my friend why he got that watch…” (http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/6/de_Kraker.html)
x) Sai Baba's main whistleblower on his fraud and sexual abuse, concert pianist David Bailey, who had over 100 interviews, also sexually-abused Swedish Organisation leader Conny Larsson who exposed Sai Baba's fraud by lifting SB’s cushion in the interview room and revealing his store of trinkets for materialisations (Larsson had ca. 50 interviews). Further, sleight-of-hand on numerous occasions was reported to me by UK Sai Organisation leaders Aime and Sandra Levy (at least 28 interviews) leading to their defection, but it did not interest EH.
xi) EH has not investigated or contacted Janaki Ram, the former award-winning Indian CID Inspector and author of 'The Godmen of India', 2005, whose revelatory book covers his Sai Baba investigations. This most successful retired detective, holder of the President's Police Medal, had researched Sai Baba already long before EH came onto the scene and until the late 1990s. He exposes the widespread methods of deceit and corruption and the activities of gurus he had investigated over decades.
xii) Haraldsson has never even mentioned, let alone tried to contact, the outspoken exposer of Sai Baba miracles and more, Vir Sangvhi, columnist in the Hindustan Times
xiii) Haraldsson has not investigated reported cases of numerous devotees having regularly been exposed as having lied about being blessed by miracles - or having been given psychic powers by Sai Baba - often hoping to be regarded highly themselves. Among notable cases was that of the Swedish follower, Curth Örefjärd, who claimed in a book that Sai Baba had given him full healing powers, but Sai Baba instructed his editor V.K. Narasimhan to ignore this entirely and would not confirm it - on the contrary, he has made strong statemente against those who make such claims. Their testimony invariably rests on layers of uncertainty and subjective interpretation of perceptions. That a number of devotees have been caught out in blatant lies is of interest in assessing testimony of miracles?
xiv) The apparent 'materialisation' seen in a photo shows a standard Sai Baba ring with an enamel face showing himself. This photo is accepted by many devotees as proof positive that Sai Baba was actually materialising the ring. The original of the photograph cannot be seen to have been treated, air-brushed or altered in any other way. So far... But all this photograph actually shows is a ring underneath the hand, and it is held in place by the thumb! Haraldsson should have examined this along with much other similar evidence, for it amounts to an almost certain indictment of fraud, even had other of his 'materialisations actually been genuine.
xv) A former student surnamed Kamesh, who first met Sai Baba at Whitefield in 1996 and left him after graduating with a MA. moved to the USA, where his father is a known professor, contacted the exposé in 2005 to relate his confirmation of fraud and sex abuse and replied to questions asked by mail etc. His identity was fully confirmed, but his family demanded that he should not release his full identity due to fear of consequences to themselves, esp. those in India. Among other things, Kamesh wrote:
"….later I got to sit in the bhajan hall where the tabla player sits and this moment defined my approach towards swami. After the interview swami comes out and stands next to the pillar then he goes in. Luckily the interview door room is half open and I could see him going to the window. Then he picks a cover and takes out a vibhuti ball from it. He then realizes that the door is open and looks straight at me then winks and comes out to give that vibhuti pellet to Dr.Goldstein by crushing it.
Later during darshans I have seen him do this act several times and I have seen him carrying watches in Trayee, rings in kodai etc. Now I knew where it came from but I did not know the source. So I asked my buddies who lived inside the ashram and also in charge of security for swami about it. They said that baba has a small vibhuti pellet making machine. Also he gets his rings and fake jewelry from Kharwad in karnataka and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.
When shyam was in kodai (he is my good friend), he told me a very interesting incident. It was during darshan and he was inside the house doing some work in kitchen. Rest of the boys and guests have gone for walks. He was cleaning up some cabinets downstairs with dileep when he found a big box. He wanted to open it but Dileep stopped him and told him not to do so. Reason was that it is swami's and no person should touch it. Later dileep went out on an errand and shyam got a perfect opportunity to peek inside the box. He was shocked to see all kinds of diamond rings- 3dís,9dís and 1dís where d stands for a piece of diamond stone on the ring. Then during the rest of the trip he saw swami materializing the very same brooches, rings, necklaces ad what not. He was personally devastated."
Of three known student friends, Dileep, Satyajit and Prusthi, Kamesh also wrote: "They know all that’s going on inside swami’s room,central trust and in the interviews. These guys know of swamis needs and fulfils them out of fear. These guys started out as devotees. Their parents were devotees too. Then they applied to the college and became students and form boys. Their parents got interviews and swami asked them to settle down in the ashram. Then they were given (these) jobs. The boys on the other hand got jobs too and everyone fell into a trap. Now the boys have to do whatever swami/ trustees tell them too. Like hiding lingams in the big hand kercheifs. These boys are torn between loyalty to swami and also feel betrayed by him. They fear for their family name as banishment from ashram means social shame. They are afraid that their parents would be treated badly if they did not behave well. It is very complex situation. Then the last hope they have, that of youth fades away. Now these boys are old and have lost all hope of leaving the ashram. At their age who will give them jobs? Hope gone, hope which actually never existed. Now they will do as told." (SEE very-damaging-sai-student-testimony/)
xvi) Another former student, Menakshi Srikant, whose identity has been established formally by me, wrote a perceptive account of how he observed various of Sai Baba's sleight-of-hand tricks (read account)
xvii) EH failed to try to follow-up on this information: According to a mail I received from yet another genuine student (name suppressed for his safety), the rings and other baubles have been supplied to Sathya Sai Baba by a certain inconspicuous Indian 'gentleman' for many years who has been identified by students as the go-between to suppliers for SB… he was seen to walk regularly into the interview room through the crowd and depart later on! Another informant states that he was man of a middle stature - around 5ft. 6in. with a neatly combed bit of a curly hair and dark glasses, wearing white safari suits and a gold watch and bracelet. He was observed by one student I know well to go regularly into the interview room and would not talk with the people at all.
xviii) Vasudeva Shenoy, an electronics design engineer living in New York, USA, a former student at Sai institutions, wrote: "I did not believe SSB's materializations from very beginning as I could see all the fake vibuthi materializations happen daily during evening darshan. I kept this thing to myself and told few friends about what was happening and at first my friends were stupefied and could not believe what they were seeing. I could not believe it myself. Some of my friends told me that SSB does indeed fake some of the materializations…"
xix) A former friend of mine, now-deceased, Mr. Leo Boogaard (formerly National Coordinator of the SSO in the Netherlands and later a member of the Dutch Parliament), once received vibuthi in the darshan lines at Puttaparthi when I was with him, which was literally very wet. It slopped into his palm. This tends to support the claim made by some Indian magicians who have studied Sathya Sai Baba's methods, that he also sometimes concealed pellets in his mouth! (See here)
Haraldsson challenged by Professor Beyerstein and Basava Premanand
Not long after his first book was published, he had refused to continue any serious debate with critics who contacted him for lacking insight and failed investigatory methods (see e-mail exchanges with Premanand and Professor Beyerstein). Haraldsson did enter into some correspondence with major sceptics before the scandals broke in 1999. He broke off a discussion begun with Professor Dale Beyerstein before answering his critical points, so one must conclude he simply had no answers with which to defend his views. He entered a discussion with the Indian rationalist and sceptic, Basava Premanand, in 1988 but he soon broke off contact on the ground that Premanand posted his e-mail reply without permission. Premanand had raised heavy criticism of Haraldsson's research methods regarding miracles etc. Why the professor should have assumed that his reply would necessarily remain private is anyone's guess. Nonetheless, his reply states fairly well even today the status of his investigations into the 'miracles' - and his carefully mentioned reservations about them. He did not engage in any further serious investigative work on the subject (with the brief exception of their analysis of the 'fumble' video from Indian TV which went world-wide). He reported he was writing a second book on Sai Baba and refused all attempts to encourage him to set the record straight, until I finally challenged him in public by making his e-mails available etc..
Premanand had written to Haraldsson in 1988 saying:
"If you are a little observant and not blind with emotion and pseudo-spirituality, you can make a few simple observations. Lets take the creation of Vibhuti. Most of the senior hostel teachers know about how it is done but keep mum. As soon as Babaji comes out keep observing his left hand, it will be closed. In the hand are about 5-6 small balls of vibhuti which are made with the help of water or a mild gum and dried. This is done by Babaji personally upstairs. As soon as Babaji comes out of the interview room, immediately he takes a letter and holds it in the left hand which is now kept upwards, hence the balls do not fall. Now while talking he deftly shifts one ball to the right hand, faces the palm down and rotates the palm, the vibhuti ball is always kept between the 1st and the 2nd fingers; while giving the vibhuti he simply crushes the ball and gives it to the waiting Birthday Boy. Some students have actually found these vibhuti balls which fell down accidentally from Babaji’s hands. People like Mr. Khayaldas are well aware of how vibhuti is created and by experience they even know when and where Babaji will do so. Another place to observe is in front of Vinayaka, near the arch, just between the ladies and gents. Here Babaji almost always passes a bunch of letters to his right hand along with a ball of vibhuti. Experienced boys and old hostel staff members have dubbed his acts as “Changing the baton”. Now Babaji immediately ‘creates’ vibhuti for some VIP’s who are sitting there, this is very significant because a large number of people observe this ‘miracle’. You too can observe all this if you sit with a level head and sharp eyes and notice Babaji’s hand movements closely. Sometimes if you are lucky you can actually see the vibhuti ball being transferred to the right hand for creation."
In 1988, Haraldsson made replied to rationalist Premanand, as follows (my comments added on):-
“No one seems to have discovered SSB’s exact modus operandi. If we assume that objects are produced by sleight of hand, then they must be kept hidden until they are used. None of those around him seem to have discovered where."
My comment: Behind his cushion in his chair, as discovered by Conny Larsson and seen by numerous other informants.
"Who are the suppliers for the one or two dozens of objects he reportedly may produce most days? He would require a steady supply."
My comment: Some students reported to me that they all knew a slim, inconspicuous Indian elder who was seen every few weeks or so to walk unhindered into the interview room at various times, even during darsan, and it was known that he replenished the supply which some students who cleaned in this room at times were able to see in a cupboard, also one at Kodaikanal. There are countless cheap suppliers in Bangalore and South India generally, also some outside the ashram in Puttaparthi, where facsimile rings can be bought cheaply.
"How has he been able to keep them a secret for so long?"
My comment: As he became powerful in Puttaparti and environs, soon no one dared challenge him. Those who were young an ignorant of the wider world who shared his rooms in early days might well have been taken in by trickery that Sai Baba would have learned from his worldly-wise befriender, an uncle who practiced Tantric magic and in whose street troupe Sathya performed for a long period of his youth. Once he established an ashram, his staff were mostly in complete awe and fear of him, and even those who knew his fraudulence and supported it for diverse reasons would never say a word to anyone outside the inner circle. Chains, rings, lockets, talismans, sweets and so forth could easily be picked up while everyone's attention was purposely directly elsewhere - or when he went into the inner room - and later ‘created’ with a motion of hand in front of the highly preconditioned devotees, who were selected only after his officials investigation of them, or by reading their letters they offered to him at darsan etc.. A former security chief, Mr. Hari Sampath, reported this when he defected around 2000 and lodged a petition with the Supreme Court and the CBI, which were suppressed by the Sai Baba devoted and compromised highest Indian authorities, including th High Chief Justice and th Prime Minister).
"As there is considerable turnover in his “inner circle” he must have had several, if not many, accomplices during his 45 years of activity. There is for example no one with him now who was with him in the 1950s. Many of the attendants/associates interviewed - ex-devotees included - lived with him practically day and night, had free access to his room, took care of his things etc. However, all of them were equally puzzled and did not have a clue to SSB’s secret."
My comment: Anyone who demurred was immediately sent away. All were not so puzzled, just that they dared not tell what they knew (choosing the easy way out). For example, his very closest servitor through decades, engineer Colonel Joga Rao, who always had a room beside Sai Baba's with immediate access to all his rooms at any time, did not believe in any Sai Baba miracles. This he told various people, and it was known to most residents at his ashrams, as V.K. Narasimhan told me one day to my shocked surprise. Preparation of the interview rooms in advance by Sai Baba's series of trusted very close servitors who were dependent on him through they years, such as Colonel Joga Rao, Mr. Kalidasa, Kalkaka, Chackravati etc., would often come out of the interview room some time after SB began his daily darsan. Further, SB frequently went inside alone again before calling the group to enter.
"Has SSB perhaps some exceptional means to keep even his ex-devotees and critics from revealing how he operates? There are many questions. I have to admit that after eight trips to India during the years 1973 to 1983 and a total of over a year and a half of questioning witnesses and searching for evidence against him, I came out practically empty-handed."
My comment: Not at all surprising. It took me many years of regular visits with interviews and 18 years within his organisation before the facts were made indisputably known to me. There are thousands who eventually left after the scandals broke in 1999 and thereafter, but innumberable stayed as their lives were too dependent on the guru and their beliefs. This is simply what happens in cleverly-run cults. Consider the cover-ups in the entire Catholic Church and many other religious bodies and how difficult it has been for those involved to come to terms with the crimes.
"There is an enigma here and we may be fooling ourselves by not admitting it and coming to hasty conclusions based on mere conjectures. We do indeed need strong evidence to accept the paranormal hypothesis but we also need solid evidence for accusations of fraud. Of course there are lots of false rumours of allegedly genuinely paranormal phenomena and numerous distortions and exaggerations. For example, in the widely published case of the resurrection of Mr. Cowan we have clear evidence to show that the claims are not true. Still, much of the phenomena remain puzzling.”
My comment. Evidence of miracles is impossible to prove scientifically, especially 'divine miracles', while evidence of fraud is abundant. In Sai Baba's case it can be hard to access by persons who do not - or like Haraldsson, would not - enter into confidential and caring relations with the exposers. Their testimonies are absolutely not 'mere conjectures'. By claiming that, EH exhibits his avoidance of reading up on the available documents. Were all the scores of exposers lying, or had there been no privileged information, fraud is even then surely the most credible or default position when the total range of deceptions is considered). Excerpt from Haraldsson's 1988 e-mail
Testimony available from innumerable former devotees (1,500 who many who signed the Sai petition to bring Sai Baba to justice) roundly refutes many of the biased Sai Baba speculations EH is promoting in a vain attempt to defend against the reasons for defection of thousands of former followers world-wide, not least on a rapidly increasing scale within India.
Parapsychological motivations and extra-scientific theorising
Parapsychologists are almost invariably attracted to studying psychic phenomena with the agenda of attempting to find proof of their factuality, and continue to seek out the phenomena they hope to prove are genuine, or at worst expose them as fraudulent. With some notable exceptions, parapsychologists accept the likelihood of paranormal events and abilities being genuine is high, which is most probably the main stimulus for most to continue the struggle in vain to get insight into these phenomena. Their community is mostly an inward-looking and limited community, its small academic inner circle conducting promotions and peer reviews of each other's work, but receiving virtually no substantial recognition from the wide academic and scientific world community. (see for example http://www.expbeyond.org/research.html).
Largely because of the apparent unrepeatability of in situ psi phenomena (i.e. apart from within narrow laboratory settings), and no significant reproducible experimental data on the causes that may be involved, parapsychology is widely considered somewhat 'flukey' as a science. Parapsychologists do frame relevant questions and hypothesis, yet almost always fail to validate positive hypotheses or provide definitive answers of any demonstrable import. Failing proof positive - the most serious of them will publish about failures to prove such, and also on discoveries of fraud, as Haraldsson did in the case of two Indian swamis who claimed to 'materialise' things (Swami Premananda and Swami Gayatri). Their work, however, is cited mostly by all manner of esoteric writers and by spiritual or religious cults seeking to obtain some shreds of scientific credibility or 'cover' for their doctrines.
The major scientific community is sceptical of many parapsychologists agendas which on the assumption that consciousness can occur independently of brain activity, since this tends to lead on to assumptions about an afterlife, the existence of disembodied entities, souls or spirits, entities like angels or demons and intelligent design by some creator. Such beliefs clash with most basic science and especially with the indisputably known facts of evolution.
To be a scientist, one must recognise empiricism as the only gold standard, and this depends in every case ultimately on reproducible or re-observable physical evidence. To assume that non-physical paranormal phenomena occur and that this can be investigated by scientific method is self-contradictory. It would imply a return to alternative theories of metaphysical idealism - such as variants idealism mentalism, spiritualism and other speculative theories. Not unexpectedly, no consciousness independent of the brain has been scientifically proven to exist, which - were it possible - would challenge empiricism itself. Phenomena occur which suggest quite strongly that one can be simultaneously clinically dead (even perhaps 'brain-dead') and conscious, but there is no decisive proof, which implies that alternative explanations are required. The fact that those who report having had experiences after heart stoppage and zero brain activity were, after all, revived, which itself defeats the 'after-death' aspect, whatever the survivors appear to have observed and remembered.
Erlendur Haraldsson is also known for his continual pursuit of proof that so-called 'near-death' experiences are not merely that but prove continued existence of a conscious mind. Likewise, he has made huge efforts to follow-up testimony of children who remember past lives, but has held back from declaring this proven. Meanwhile, he has recently claimed to have proved that an after-death communication actually occurred. (The Departed Among the Living. An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters (Translated ed.). Guildford: White Crow Books. 2012. ISBN 9781908733290)
EH has consistently stated that his only interest was to investigate the alleged paranormal phenomena (or 'miracles'), but since SB has also definitively been shown to have practiced massive deceptions in many other respects (however one assesses his sexual and murder involvements), this narrowness of interest by EH does not wash. If a person lies and deceives to a huge extent, can one then trust his claims of performing miracles and moreover of being the Creator of the Universe, the Deity to whom all other deities bend, the reincarnation of former avatars like Rama, Krishna and much else fantastic besides? (see SB's megaclaims documented)
Devotees accepted Sai Baba's claim that he himself was the main figure in all of the scriptures about avatars. To collect as 'data' the accounts of such deeply religiously-indoctrinated sources, where massed devotion and an intense group pressure applied to all but the most cynical visitors to the ashrams, is hardly sound science. Despite this, Haraldsson claims a neutral stance at all times. However, it is patently obvious to me, who knew him well, that his unexpressed motivation has all along been to vindicate, wherever possible, claims that no fraud has been proven. Such was also his conclusion - together with Richard Wiseman, that the infamous video where Sai Baba was seen to fumble as if receiving an object beneath a tray, shortly afterwards making the circular movement supposedly materialising a golden chain. Their argument that no fraud was shown depended on how one interpreted what was seen. This ignores the fact that different observers saw different things, since sense perceptions by different observers can be very variable and be infuenced by preconceptions. Nor did they consider the major efforts taken by the Indian authorities and national Doordarsan television to cover-up the footage, which only survived at all in a poor copy. They weighted their argument in favour of no fraud, though they mentioned that fraud, could not be ruled out. One perceives there as elsewhere a bias towards whitewashing and against serious suspicions. The psychologist, Chris Dokter, has pointed out, "In 1980 Haraldsson lauded Sai Baba in a commemorative book called ‘Golden Age’, published by Sai Baba’s very own Trust to herald the dawn of a new era. Haraldsson called him a remarkable man on that occasion, a saint ‘true to his nation.“
The testimony is undeniable that Sai Baba defrauded and broke up families, separated parents and children through his manipulations and demands, contributed decisively to police murders, and contributed to numerous suicides through his broken promises. Being a psychological scientist, Haraldsson ignored any duty of care or mandatory reporting of sexual abuses. He expressed (documented in e-mails to me) his sympathy for those homosexuals like Sai Baba who he insisted are born with a genetic need to abuse others, even after I told him that I knew several minors were so abused. He would not credit this nor lift a finger to investigate, instead standing up for the good he perceived in Sai Baba. It was his own time and his interests that took priority over any effort to help protect the vulnerable public.
Summing up Haraldsson on Sai Baba miracles
From various of his open public statements about the genuineness of some paranormal phenomena, EH aimed to test whether the so-called 'miracles' were genuine and explainable real phenomena. He could not state this outright of Sai Baba, though he gets as close to doing so as possible. His ambition to sustain and prove his beliefs about many materialisations as observable fact conflicts with that of maintaining some prestige as being scientifically neutral so as not to damage reputation and readership. The figurative trees apparently obscured his view of the forest (i.e. his fascination for the claims concerning Sai Baba phenomena misled him into ignoring the overwhelming counter-evidence of all kinds, as well as ignoring the diverse moral issues of duty of care). So his persistent neglect of constantly emerging 'negative instances' to his hypothesis that there was no evidence of fakery is methodologically indefensible and his claimed scientific neutrality is clearly unsupportable.
A reasonable explanation of some of the alleged miracles is simply preparation of the interview rooms in advance: Sai Baba's various servitors, such as Colonel Joga Rao and Mr. Kalidasa would often come out of the main interview room door some time after SB began his daily darsan. Further, SB frequently went inside alone again before calling the group to enter. Next he turned on the lights from a switch within a wooden box (fuse box?) on the left just inside the door at head height. From the top of that box he could easily have picked up the capsules of vibuti he practically always ’materialized’ for the female devotees at the start of the interview. It is reported by students who cleaned for him that things to be “materialized” were kept in various places: behind a cushion or a curtain, on windowsills of the inner room, or in the sofa or an almirah (chest of drawers) etc. Chains, rings, lockets, talismans, watches, sweets could be picked up while devotes' attention was purposely directly elsewhere and ‘created’ with a motion of hand in front of the highly preconditioned devotees (who are selected only after investigation about them, reading their letters to Sai Baba etc.). Besides, Sai Baba often went into the inner interview room alone for some short while before devotees could enter, and more often he remained therein after he had sent out interviewees and called for the next candidates. He could pick up, swap and conceal the things he would then make appear by sleight-of-hand.
"If you are sharp you would have noticed that Babaji does not allow anybody in the interview room immediately after selecting a particular batch. He goes inside alone and spends some time before calling the group. If by chance some ignorant person happens to go in following Babaji, he is invariably almost literally pushed out by Babaji or pulled out by the obese Mr. Khayaldas, who knows what Babaji is doing inside. Actually Babaji spends a few minutes in keeping the things to be “materialized” ready; these are kept in various places, behind cushion, sometimes behind the curtain or on window sills of inner room or the sofa etc. These items such as rings, talisman lockets, necklaces, earrings, small idols watches and even sweets were later picked up and ‘created’ with an 'abracadabra-type' hand motion in front of preconditioned and almost awe-struck and hypnotised devotees.
Among facts which bear on the many different alleged 'miracles', never mentioned as a critical point by EH in any of his work, is that the same 'miracles' are repeatedly performed by numerous other gurus, especially since 2000 by gurus who replicate them in exact detail (and even strive to appear like Sai Baba and all he does). Photos of these acts, some of which show the guru in the same poses, clothing and camera angles, are widely distributed. " (see http://www.exbaba.com//shortnews/gurugallery)
This indicates that what believers report about miracles are the result of the same indoctrination and fraudulence with which Sai Baba was widely charged. Perhaps most imitative of these various lookalike and 'act-alike' gurus - apart from the deceased Swami Premananda who EH did partially expose - is Bala Sai Baba (who has an almost identical organisation to Sai Baba's, with the same activities and social projects). Had EH been far better acquainted with the huge literature on Indian mahatmas, tantrics, swamis, gurus, seers, godmen, 'spiritual masters', avatars, fakirs and the layer upon layer of their handed-down manipulative and deceptive techniques, he may not have been so transfixed on surveying the blind aspirants' accounts of miracles of Sai Baba.
However defensible his work on other extra-sensory issues, such as after-death experiences, reincarnation, communication with the dead and so forth may or may not be, it cannot obviate Haraldsson's repeated positive bias in favour of Sathya Sai Baba's materialisation claims.
Robert Priddy (Norwegian Magister - since authorised Ph.D) August 5, 2015