Before it was over, I made thousands of photos and maybe a hundred hours of video. I started a book called Mother River, choosing that working title because many of the Aghoris that I talked to called the Ganges River “Ganga Ma,” or Mother Ganga.
Despite my travels in approximately 65 countries (most of it unrelated to this research), and my long war slogs in Iraq and Afghanistan, my days and nights tracking the cannibals remain the most unbelievable and incredible journey that I have ever experienced. But then I got “dragged” into the wars and so most people who know me think that I am just a war correspondent with an increasingly bad attitude.
I never finished Mother River, but I knew that if I survived the wars that I would one day return to the manuscript. And so even now, every day, through Google Net Alerts, I read stories of Aghoris, cannibals, human sacrifice and black magic. Believe it or not, it happens around the world constantly.
And so when these latest cases popped up in Miami and Montreal, I just read the stories and I moved on. They sound like your normal psycho-cannibals. Nothing more, and nothing special, unless you are a victim.
Today, there is wild and nutty speculation about a zombie apocalypse, or about mass cannibal hysteria unfolding. Psychologists and cops and everyone else has opinions. Most are off-base. The possibility of copy-cat cannibals is real, of course.
My opinion on the zombie apocalypse: go to bed and pull the covers over your head if it disturbs you. Don’t sweat it.
Of course, I could be wrong.
I wrote this short article for a magazine during a break from the wars:
American Aghori: An Introduction to Kapal Nath
The fundamentals of Aghor—perhaps the most extreme religion in the world—are fantastically simple, though nonetheless repugnant to most. Repugnance, or rather the quest to overcome it, is in fact a central tenet of this belief system. Aghor is an extreme sect of Hinduism. Its adherents principally worship Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Aghoris live by a simple creed: 1. The gods are perfect. 2. The gods create everything: Every thought, every action, every bird and diamond, every birth and every death. 3. Since the gods are perfect, and everything is made by the gods, everything—everything—is perfect.
Since everything is perfect, being repulsed by anything or forbidding any behavior as taboo is tantamount to rejecting the gods. While this accounts for the willingness of more moderate Aghoris to work with lepers and other so-called untouchables, it also explains why some ardent Aghoris aim to overcome some of the more gruesome targets of revulsion. In my travels I’ve met Aghoris who would just as soon pluck an eyeball from a rotten human corpse and pop it into their mouths as eat chicken. He or she might carry a rotting dead dog over their shoulder for a week, or have sex with a dead cow (holy to other Hindus) or with a rotting human corpse. One Aghori in northern India ate part of the rotting penis of a bloated, vivisected corpse on the banks of the Ganges, engaging in this “sacred ritual” in full view of onlooking police. I’ve got pictures.
Aghor has murky roots. It most likely originated in India, which continues to be the sacred center for Aghor adherents worldwide, although that country has outlawed some of the more extreme rituals followers have engaged in, like human sacrifice. A good deal of Aghoris do, however, still practice human sacrifice. In India, some Aghoris are found in and around the cremation grounds in Varanasi. But there are Aghoris in America, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Australia. In fact, once I learned that Westerners were among the devout, I traveled around the world six times researching this strange belief system. I lived with Aghoris in their ashram in Sonoma, California, and visited with a sect in Mezzago, Italy.
The most severe Aghori I came across was born in Texas. A typical American kid from a typical if affluent family, Gary Stevenson’s life first veered off the normal path when he was stricken with polio as a child. A troubled youth and rebellious adolescence coincided with the Age of Aquarius and Gary set off on a spiritual path that took him to San Francisco, Hawaii, and finally into India and Nepal in an ever-deeper slide into the extreme. Along the way he shed his identity, legally changing his name to Giridas Rama Sitanatha as he sought a magical path to immortality and enlightenment. Eventually, he turned to Aghor and its dark tantric rites. As he studied and excelled at his new religion, his guru christened him “Kapal Nath,” and he became lost in a lifestyle of grave robbing and cannibalizing the bodies to consume the Shakti (life energy) of the dead. Today, Gary Stevenson is a free man—completely free as an Aghori.