I know there are a lot of reasons why people believe weird shit. It's tempting to settle on the self-congratulatory solution of "Because they're dumber than I am," but I always hesitate to go there because (1) there are lots of inherent biases in our cognitive systems that you can fall for even if you're perfectly intelligent, and (2) I know all too well that I fall for those same biases myself if I'm not careful.
That said, I was sent a link by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia describing something apparently some people believe that left me saying, "Okay, that is incredibly stupid."
The link was to a story by Brent Swancer over at Mysterious Universe called "The Bizarre Tale of the Haunted Website." You should check out Swancer's article, which goes into considerable detail, but the bones of the story are as follows.
In the eighteenth century, there was a little girl whose name was "Repleh Snatas." Repleh had a birthmark on her face that the locals said was the mark of the devil, and people started looking askance at the entire family. The dad became convinced that his daughter was possessed, and locked her in a room full of mirrors to drive the demons out (as one does), but every morning when he'd check on her the mirrors were all cracked and she was as evil as ever. Ultimately he killed the girl and his wife and finally himself. The locals refused to give any of them a proper burial, but tied the three bodies to a tree all facing in different directions and let 'em rot right there.
Once again, as one does.
But Repleh was not so easily vanquished. She disappeared into mirrors, and if you look into a mirror at night sometimes it will crack and in the fractured reflection you'll see her standing behind you. Then someone started a website about her, and it does weird stuff like not loading properly or actually crashing your computer. Even if it loads it's still freaky, with collages of scary photographs of creepy children and hair-raising horror-movie-style background music. And if you go there, you risk getting Repleh's attention, because she's still hanging around apparently, and if she thinks you're getting too curious she might kill you.
Reading this elicited several reactions from me:
- "Repleh Snatas" has to be the least convincing fake name I've ever seen. A third-grader could figure out that it's "Satan's Helper" backwards.
- The whole girl-in-the-mirror thing is just a variation on the old kids' game of "Bloody Mary," wherein you stare into a mirror at night and say "Bloody Mary" five times, and nothing happens.
- A website not loading properly wouldn't indicate much of anything to me, because my computer does weird things like random slowdowns and page crashes pretty much all the time. My guess is that it has nothing to do with mirrors or creepy ghost kids, but it may mean that I need a new computer.
I went to the website, which is (unsurprisingly) www.replehsnatas.com, and got the following message:
Before going to replehsnatas.com, there's one more step. By clicking the button below you'll go through a standard security check, after which you will be redirected to Chrome store and will be given the option to install Secured Search extension. This extension will offer you a safer web search experience by changing your default search provider.
And my response to that was, "How exactly stupid do you think I am?" I closed the window, meaning that I never got to see the actual page, but was better than getting whatever malware or virus this was pointing me toward, which would undoubtedly result in my computer running even worse than before.
Despite all this, apparently there are tons of people who think Repleh Snatas is real. Over on Reddit there's a whole discussion of Repleh and how you shouldn't mess around with her website because she's eeee-vil.
Even though I wasn't successful at getting into her website, I was able to find a couple of photographs that are said to be of the wicked Repleh Snatas. (Yes, I know she supposedly lived in the eighteenth century, before the invention of photography. Stop asking questions.) Here's one of them:
This week's Skeptophilia book-of-the-week is about our much maligned and poorly-understood cousins, the Neanderthals.
In Rebecca Wragg Sykes's new book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art we learn that our comic-book picture of these prehistoric relatives of Homo sapiens were far from the primitive, leopard-skin-wearing brutes depicted in movies and fiction. They had culture -- they made amazingly evocative and sophisticated art, buried their dead with rituals we can still see traces of, and most likely had both music and language. Interestingly, they interbred with more modern Homo sapiens over a long period of time -- DNA analysis of humans today show that a great many of us (myself included) carry around significant numbers of Neanderthal genetic markers.
It's a revealing look at our nearest recent relatives, who were the dominant primate species in the northern parts of Eurasia for a hundred thousand years. If you want to find out more about these mysterious hominins -- some of whom were our direct ancestors -- you need to read Sykes's book. It's brilliant.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]