A Controversial Religion Claiming Supernatural Powers? St. Louis Magicians Cry Fraud

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A meditative miracle, or something else? - Courtesy of Joe Mason
Courtesy of Joe Mason
A meditative miracle, or something else?

The first step of the demonstration requires two fuzzy pads the size of coasters, which the nine-year-old girl holds in place over her eyes. Enveloped in a floor-length gown of purple and gold, she seems to shimmer against the drab brick wall of the library's meeting room. A gold chain and pendant hangs against her forehead.

Behind her, the girl's mother, Mahant Ma Shivajnana, readies a blindfold. To her right, a cardboard cutout of a guru smiles beatifically toward the audience of 50.

Shivajnana, a stern-faced Indian woman dressed in a yellow sari, picks up a red scarf from a nearby table.

"Another layer," says Alice Kramer into a microphone. Kramer sports a flowing white robe and the red dot called a bindi between her eyebrows. Shivajnana places the blindfold over her daughter's eyes, and then ties the red scarf over the blindfold, followed by a white scarf.

The scene is filmed by Joe Mason. He zooms the frame into the girl's face, capturing her movements as she reaches up with both hands to reposition the padding beneath the layers of fabric. As Shivajnana asks the audience members for a business card, the girl again reaches up and slides the blindfold even farther left.

She's going to read the business card, even though she's blindfolded. That's the whole pitch — and it's apparently sufficient enough to gather a crowd at 2 p.m. on a Friday. "Witness Super Human Power Through Simple Meditation," the invitation for the event trumpeted. "Share something extraordinary which many of us would not have seen before — a nine year old girl has the ability to see and read books BLINDFOLDED!"

The layered scarves, the blindfold, the ritualized spectacle — none of this shocks Mason. A long-time magician, he knows the placing of multiple blindfolds is mere misdirection, a veil of authenticity to distract the audience while the performer (in this case, the little girl) readjusts the fabric to create a space between her nose and cheek. From this opening, she can easily read the text of the business card being held six inches in front of her face.

"Nine, eight, one, four..." the girl reads. It's the address stamped on the card.

Mason doesn't join in the audience's applause. He's here with an ulterior motive: to expose this "demonstration" as a fraud. And he's brought along help in the form of two legendary magicians, Hari Monti and John Apperson. Collectively, they share more than two centuries of magic experience.

Not that it's needed. Even a rank amateur could identify this parlor trick.

However, Mason's plans won't end in a Houdini-like triumph over these charlatans. Instead, he will soon find himself kicked out of the library and talking to cops.

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