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Innocent on death row: How I survived 18 years
Meditation with a mystical edge? Don't knock magick 'til you've tried it.
Damien Echols: The true crime stuff I think it has good points and bad points; Good points because it is literally saving people's lives. When you're talking about cases where you have innocent people sentenced to death, you have innocent people doing life without parole, and it happens way more often than people have any idea. A guy named Bryan Stevenson who works with the Southern Poverty Law Center, I was talking to him one time and he said that they now estimate that maybe as many as one out of every ten people executed are innocent. Now if one out of every ten planes crashed nobody would fly anymore. Everybody would demand that something be done before they got on another plane. But most people don't know anyone and they're not connected in any way to the death penalty. So it's sort of just being swept under the rug in a lot of ways.
So the true crime stuff is bringing stuff like that into mainstream attention. It's saving people's lives. On the other hand you have the other stuff, the really tawdry—and I can't think of a case right off the top of my head—but just people like to sort of wallow in the darkness of humanity a little bit. Say people who want to read stuff about Richard Ramirez, the night stalker guy, stuff like that. That sort of goes the other route. I think whatever you focus on is going to sort of dictate the direction that your life moves. If you focus on things that inspire you, that uplift you, that raise you up, you're going to be a happier person. If you're focusing more on the basest, just bottom dregs of human activity then you're probably not going to be a very happy person. It's going to manifest in depression and despair and things like that.
So I see the good points of true crime and I see the bad points of true crime. For me personally I tend to stay away from it. I honestly have not even seen the Paradise Lost documentaries. I tried to watch them, I made it through 15 to 20 minutes of the first one, and I could understand why it had such a big impact on people because when I was watching it, it felt like being in the courtroom. It was like experiencing it again. And, for me, that was the last thing in the world that I wanted. That was—it ate up 20 years of my life, so the last thing I wanted to do was go back there. At the same time I'm grateful that so many other people did watch it and were affected by it and came to our aid, because it saved my life. But that doesn't mean I want to watch it.
The hardest parts of being in prison, the worst parts to deal with were just the sheer brutality of it. You know, there were times when I was beaten so bad that I started to piss blood. They're not going to spend a lot of time and money and energy taking care of someone they plan on killing. So it's not like you're going to see a real doctor or a real dentist. At one point I'd been hit in the face so many times by prison guards that it had caused a lot of nerve damage in my teeth, so I was in horrendous pain. Your choices are: live in pain, or let them pull your teeth out. I didn't want them to pull my teeth out, so I had to find techniques that would allow me to cope with the physical pain. That was probably the biggest thing that kept pushing me forward to learn more and more and more about magick, because I had to find ways just to survive.
Magick, spelled with a K at the end, M – A – G – I – C – K, the reason it has a K is to differentiate it from sleight of hand, you know, sawing assistants in half, pulling rabbits out of a hat, things like that. The entire point of high magick it is a path that leads to the same things that Eastern traditions refer to as "enlightenment," which is the dissolution of the self. The form that I practice derived, for the most part, from the late 1800s in London. You had a group of people, they called themselves the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—some really intelligent people, the beloved poet W.B. Yeats was a member. What they set out to do was look into all religious traditions in the world and get to just the practices, you know, strip away the dogma, the belief systems, things like that, and get to just the practices. And they wanted to figure out what works, why it works, how it works, and how we can make it work better. And it's ideally suited to people in the West because it uses like I was saying Christian, Judaic, things of that nature iconography. So it's things that are really deeply ingrained in our psyches already.
When I was in prison I actually also received ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition in Japanese Buddhism. It was a tradition that used to train the Samurai in ancient Japan. So I sat Zen meditation for years, and I still feel like I got more out of ceremonial magic in months than I did Zen in years just because it is more—it deals with things that are more deeply ingrained in the Western psyche than Eastern traditions do.
One of the goals of high magick is to achieve the same thing that in Eastern traditions they call enlightenment. Think of it, for example, think of yourself as a cup of water. Now if you just leave a cup of water sitting somewhere for a long period of time it starts to stagnate. It's going to accumulate debris, maybe it's even going to start to clot up over a long enough period of time. What ceremonial magick tries to do is invoke certain energies into your system. Now if you were to take that cup of water, that stagnant cup of water, and just hold it under a running faucet and just let it run until it spills over the rim and hold it there and just let it spill and spill and spill, eventually what's going to happen is all that debris, all that stagnation is going to be washed out. The same thing happens to us on an energetic level when we're constantly invoking all these energies. The reason they're planetary, astrological, elemental, they're still all variations of a type of energy that we have a name for in every single culture in the world except ours. For example, the Chinese call it chi. The Japanese call it ki. The Hebrews call lit ruach. The Indians call it prana. In the West we're the only ones who don't really have a name for it, so that's kind of why I prefer just the generic term of "energy."
You know, when it comes to resiliency I think the thing that saved my life in there was: I found what I was supposed to be doing in life. As crazy as it sounds, there were entire weeks would go by when I didn't even think about the fact that I was in prison because I was so focused on magick. You know even now people will come up to me, people who have been through horrible things, people who suffer from depression of some sort, and they say, "What got you through that? What would bring you through these things?" And the honest answer is there are only two causes of depression. One is a chemical imbalance, in which case the only thing that's going to correct it is medication, something of that nature to correct a physical problem. The other cause in one way or another is you're not doing what in magick we call your "will." In Buddhism they call it dharma. It's the thing that you're put here to do. Nature, the universe, is not going to waste a lot of energy making duplicate people, making cookie-cutter people. We're all here for a specific purpose. Now your purpose may be similar to someone else's, but it's not going to be exactly the same. Because like I said the universe isn't going to waste that energy. The cause of happiness and the cause of depression is figuring out what you're supposed to be doing in this life and then dedicating yourself to it, one hundred percent, to the best of your ability. For me that was doing magick. When I started to devote every minute of every day to doing magick while I was in prison, by the time I got out I was doing it eight hours a day. Once I started to do that everything else took a backseat. I still went through horrendous things like beatings or starvation or whatever it was, but once it's done I'd get right back up and I'd go to doing magick, because it was what I loved.
It was, you know, when I started to figure out what was possible because of this and how it was affecting me on a mental level, on an emotional level, on a physical level, I was so excited about it that everything else just faded into the background, and I was happy. Even in prison, even on death row, for huge chunks of time I was happy, because I was doing what I was supposed to be doing in the world. And still to this day the example I always give to people is Michelangelo. Whenever they asked him, "How do you create these sculptures?" he said, "Well, I just look at the block of marble and I carve away anything that's not part of the figure." That's where happiness comes from. You look at your life and you start carving away anything that's not pertinent to your life's mission. So for me for example I don't go to parties, I don't go to clubs, I don't go to concerts, I don't chitchat. For me anything that is not directly connected to magick I have gradually carved away from my life and it has made me a much, much happier person. Social media I honestly now I try to stay away from it as much as I possibly can. I think it can be useful for really down-to-earth practical things like letting people know, for example, I'll use it to let people know where I'm going to be doing a meditation class and things of that nature. But at the same time I think it is incredibly detrimental as far as what we're putting our energy into. Part of what magick is is containing our energy, containing our chi, because we disperse it constantly. We disperse it in everything we think about, everything we talk about. And I saw a study come out about a week or so ago where scientists were pretty much saying we are now practically one generation away from the extinction of humanity due to climate change, global warming and all this sort of stuff. Yet the only thing that people were talking about on social media was Kanye West at the White House!
So it really can be detrimental to our development if you let the meaningless things or if you just spend hours and hours a day combing through Instagram photos of people taking selfies and things like that. I think you really have to be careful with everything you consume, and not just in a physical way but mentally and emotionally as well, as well as everything that you put out; I always try to be as mindful as I possibly can about whatever I take in through the Internet and whatever I put out through the Internet.
- Damien Echols was a member of the West Memphis Three, a group of young men who were wrongfully convicted of murdering three children. He served nearly 20 years on death row before being exonerated and released.
- Some have described his plight as exploitative, in that the case became a media circus first and a murder case second.
- While in prison, he practiced High Magick, a form of theurgical ceremonies and rituals, much in the tradition of Eastern spirituality, but retooled for the Western psyche. He credits it with helping him survive 18 years on death row.
Join The Daily Show comedian Jordan Klepper and elite improviser Bob Kulhan live at 1 pm ET on Tuesday, July 14!
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".