The Willful Delusion of a Cannibal

This article may not be suitable for all readers.

square060As regular readers of this blog know, I suffer from Compulsive Skin Picking, a disorder which has left callouses on two of my fingers. A further confession follows: I sometimes pick at the callouses with my teeth (stronger) and nibble the tiny bits. Once in a tract of mixed state mania, I imagined myself digging my teeth into my father’s skull. And it scared the living daylights out of me! (I did not act on this. Even in mania I knew that this was dysfunctional. I kept it to myself until recently.)

But I have nothing on Houston-born Gary Stevenson (now known as Kapal Nath) who, as a member of India’s Aghori sect, practices ritual cannibalism for the purpose of extending his life and aggrandizing great powers unto himself. (It is not known if Gary is a member of the Republican Party.)

Stevenson was discovered by Hannah Thomas, a reporter for The Edinburgh Student. In January, Harper’s published a more complete version of Thomas’s interview. There he revealed his wickedest secrets:

I like the taste — it’s like pork. Younger flesh is better — babies taste really fresh. It’s the same with any kind of meat — old people hav a stringy texture, like wood, but babies are like lamb. It’s like the way most people prefer lamb over mutton. Also babies are pure, so their spirit is clean. When I eat flesh from older humans, it’s like their tainted spirit comes into me. It can be draining if they have negative energy.

I feel much safer now. Still, am I alone in hearing the twisted echoes of New Agey thinking? Stevenson hangs his beliefs on a spiritual meathook and dares us to rebuke him: a “many truths” argument waits somewhere behind his molars.

The best bit is the fingers, though. The police found this charred arm one day, and I wanted to eat the fingers — they’re the most tasty part of the body. It kinda smells like rawhide. It’s addictive, makes you want to do it more and more.

I can almost understand. Picking at my fingers comforts me. I’m not in it for the flavor, however, but for the relief of anxiety. I think. At least I don’t save the bits and use them to flavor a soup.

Thomas didn’t partake of any of Stevenson’s meals, but she did some research on him and came to a few unpleasant realizations:

Nath is currently wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with several missing backpackers whom the government suspect may have been ritually sacrificed and consumed by cannibals in India. Although relieved by my lucky escape, I felt somewhat offended that Nath was evidently not tempted to eat me. If only all the other men in India had as little carnal interest in me.

Stevenson’s “spirituality” bears much in common with survivalism. Both ideologies insist on a many truths path to self-justification, both are primarily selfish (the one seeks extended life and the other seeks to prepare for an apocalypse where they plan to shoot anyone who so much as thinks about eating one of their Coast Guard-approved survival bars), and both have a mobster-like violence streak to them:

I had a big right with some Aghorisin Varanasi — you know, they were jealous of me. I was on their turf. I wanted to kill one of them actually. He tried to kick me out, and I started to beat him. The others turned on me, and a policeman got involved. I actually stabbed him with this sword I carried. Got put into prison for awhile.

But, you know, that wasn’t the first time I went to jail. I went back to the Americas, and they had heard about me being a cannibal. Yeah, put me in some mental institution, tried to medicate me. Actually, I was really pissed off, as I had all my skulls and bones stolen by the guards — thrown away. I even had a skull with fangs, it was priceless, must have been from a retarded person or something. That upset me when they took that one.

Those who know little about the different varieties of mental disorders probably do not see what I see. Pundits who have little psychiatric understanding would rush to the conclusion that this fellow is mentally ill, perhaps bipolar or schizophrenic. I submit that he is neither. He invents his own morality as it suits him. Propelled by God-knows-what, Stevenson is not sick like me. There are mood swings or hallucinations here: he stands on proven spiritual ground. What we see here, I think, is a man who has thought things through. His hunger for long life and supernatural power suggest a very banal, pseudo-spiritual theme taken to a conclusion not normally seen in American life. Among India’s Aghori, a peculiar sociopath has found a niche in the caste system. And his rationale for eating his fellow human is profoundly influenced by American middle and upper class renegades who are not, I think, mentally ill, merely willfully delusional.

Unlike me, who picks at his skin because he is compelled, Stevenson eats human flesh because he has convinced himself of its powers. No drug, I think will cure him. And he does not want to change.


  1. Might it be approproate to class his wilful delision as madness?

    Although it does not manifest from a brain dysfuction, rather a learned behaviour, it is still deluded. I might be tempted to class it as mental illness. Having said that, I think blind faith in religion is deluded, could I classify followers of the worlds religions as mentally ill because I consider them to be deluded. No.

    Interesting post Joel.

  2. Here’s a “from the other side” statement, not because I necessarily believe it, but because it’s plausible. To be a wicked geek, I will quote Gil Grissom quoting The Big Chill (since I’ve never seen the movie I can’t quote directly LOL)…”…a basic
    fact of life — that rationalizations are more important to us than sex even.”

    Dahmer and Gein had perfectly rational explanations for why they ate people as well, neither of which were religious. Sociopathy is a disease and while it’s not a treatable disease, it’s still outside the person’s realm of control. They know they don’t care about people, or anything else but themselves for that matter. They feel the laws of society don’t apply to them because they don’t feel they are a part of society, they just don’t feel the connection. Which is why even though sociopaths know the difference between right and wrong, in a court of law they can still legitimately plead diminished capacity since they can’t form the requisite intent. No matter how much therapy or how many drugs they have they will never be able to see that right and wrong apply to them. In layman’s terms, they just can’t think like that.

    Anyway, not that I’m a great advocate for cannibals, but I’ve always found sociopathy a facinating pathology. In a way it’s like autism or Asperger’s. It’s a completely different synapse matrix than “normal” or even other “abnormal” people but one that we can’t really sympathize with because the very nature of the disorder precludes sympathy.

  3. “I imagined myself digging my teeth into my father’s skull” Have you read my zombie posts??

    Just kidding. I too am a skin picker-hate it. My arms are healing up and I’ve been treating the scars-they look a hell of a lot better than they did. They were downright horrible when I was un-medicated.

    You know, to each their own but ONLY if the people died of natural causes. If it was murder and then dining, that’s messed up.

    Interesting article in light of my post over the weekend…got me thinking!

  4. TP and Kimber: I think the distinction you both might be reaching for is that of personality disorders versus brain dysfunctions. Sociopathy, narcissism, and schizophreniform (dressing and acting weird for the sake of being weird — schizophrenic-wannabes) disorders fall under the personality disorder classification. These are thinking dysfunctions: the person learned or willed her/himself to be this way.

    What several of us have are genuine organic dysfunctions. Depression, bipolar, autism, PTSD, schizophrenia, OCD, and maybe borderline can be found to be due to damage or genetic tendencies in the brain. Give us a pill and we stop being so weird.

    Maggs: I’m embarking on taking Risperdol for my OCD. I’ll let you know how it goes. A side benefit might be that I won’t be so reliant on xanax.

    sera: I find the thought tasteless. :)

    Manica: Yoda! You seek Yoda!

  5. I gotta tell ya, this is one of the times I tend to disagree with the DSM IV. Recent studies have shown that environmental factors at a very young age can actually change the physical “wiring” of the synapses. I think it’s entirely possible that sociopaths don’t “choose” their pathology any more than someone “chooses” to be gay or depressed.

    PTSD, which I have, isn’t an organic pathology. The symptomology (anxiety and panic) can be decreased by meds but the underlying cause is just what it states. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, if the underlying trauma never happened, the symptomology wouldn’t manifest. Depression, which I have, is a chemical imbalance and therefore organic. Autism, which Ian has, is a nerological disorder involving structural defect. No amount of meds in the world will affect the autism, but as with the PTSD it will alleviate some of the co-morbid conditions, i.e. anxiety, OCD etc.

    I’m not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV but I’m going to see two of them tomorrow. :D

  6. Kimber: Actually, the organic effects of PTSD can be detected using an MRI. And they are reversible. (I learned this in a lecture by an expert in PTSD a few months ago.) Damage from mood disorders can also be reversed if you take the meds. (This is why people who take meds have fewer episodes as they get older while people who don’t take the meds get worse. And how!) It’s a matter of raising serotonin levels in the brain.

    I don’t doubt that people with personality disorders can get “tracked”. I was listening to a fellow bipolar talk about how her husband went out several times a day to see where the mailman was. His favorite retirement pastime is doing paperwork and he was an accountant. He counts her pills many times a day. He’s got OCPD written all over him.

    These affairs will come closer to settled when insurance companies allow psychiatrists and neurologists to run MRI scans for their patients as a matter of course. Then we’ll be able to see if there is brain damage or structural defects. Until, then we must wait.

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