How People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It by Gary Leon Hill

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: How People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It

Author: Gary Leon Hill

Why I Consider This Book Odd:
There are many reasons, but initially it was the title. It won the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title in 2005. It tries to hide, putting only People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead on the cover and spine, but the title page and a deep cultural knowledge of the weird will prevent this odd book from passing as normal.

Type of work:
Memoir, new age, bad science

Availability: Published by Weiser Books in 2005, you can get a copy here:

I have been a cranky Oddbooks as of late. I may or may not be detoxing from strong, prescription substances in a process that gives me the attention span of a gnat. I definitely am wilting in the searing Texas heat. But neither explain really why I have hated everything I have read recently, normal, odd, informative and just plain whacked. However, despite my sense of humor’s death and my meh tendencies, I do not blame my utter distaste for HPWDKTDATTUBAWTDAI on anything but the book itself. Despite its utter insanity, I took no pleasure in any of it.

I fully admit that aside from a grudging admission that I sort of believe in certain paranormal things, sort of, I am not a fan of the New Age aside from its entertainment value to me. However, I tend to cut those who believe in New Age teachings a lot of slack. Unusual beliefs make the world more interesting. But there are times when bad, bad writing combine with bad, dangerous information, and I am left with nothing but snark. If Penn Jillette read this book, he would shit blood.

It’s not like I came into this book expecting to have what little I do know about science validated by New Age squick. This book is supposed to be about combating spirit possession, which defies science too, but you can prepare yourself for a such scientific suspension when you know you are going to have the YES! of something fun, like expelling unwanted human spirits. That didn’t really happen because the book doesn’t live up to its title in any way. But before I spew bile over some of the stupid science and dangerous information contained in this book, let me give you the quick lowdown. The horribly long title would lead you to believe this book is about spirits who don’t know they are dead and take up residence in hapless humans. If only life were that easy. If, out of 182 pages,  30 have anything to do with spiritual possession, I would be very surprised.

When not discussing holistic parapsychology in depth, it discusses the boringly endless wonders of the author’s somewhat demented Uncle Wally. It confuses the hell out of the reader with who is whom and why they are there (it took three re-readings to understand that Ruth and Wally, the main perpetrators of this unique worldview, were brother and sister, that Ardis was Wally’s wife and that Vic and Lorraine were no relation but were introduced to Wally and Ardis by a pastor – if this sentence seems confusing to someone who has not read the book, just bear in mind that the author throws names at the reader with horrible and irrelevant frequency). While the book was completely misunderstanding science and making assertions that make James Randi write entire columns, it also, interestingly, refused to spell Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ name correctly – umlauts were clearly too good for this book.

If you want a book about spiritual possession, this is not it. If you want a book that mashes together Kirlian photography, a breathless belief that Uri Geller is NOT a con man, vibrational explanations for why Lutherans like to hang out together, astral planes, a complete misunderstanding of human genetics, self-affirmation, a sampling of world religion, multiple personality disorder, using ghosts to explain why capital punishment is a bad idea, and horrible, dangerous exhortations for the very sick to treat themselves, peppered with a few pages of actual possession, then get yourself over to Amazon now.

I am not kidding. This book is that bad. I find this book so troubling because  there are actual five-star reviews of it on Amazon.  Given how much really frightening information is online these days, it is far more likely that someone with cancer will read on the Internet about the wonders of pendulums for locating cancer in the body and find more faith in such bunk than in PET scans than they read that same information in this book.  But that doesn’t change the fact that this book exists at all, and I hate it when the bizarre has the potential to be so damaging.

This book has bad science out the wazoo. For example:

For decades, Kirlian photographs have made visible the human aura through interfacing ultra-low electrical current with the body’s biological life field. Dr. Valerie Hunt’s EMG machines display the electrical activity that exists around our chakras and throughout the human meridian system.


As do Sufis and theoretical physicists, Drunvalo [Melchezidek] believes that everything in the universe vibrates. Hence everything in the universe can be described by its wavelength.


The genes in our body are equivalent to software programs on a disk in a computer. But the behavior of our cells is not programmed by our genes.


Say your perception is that the world is toxic, dangerous and a threat. “Genetic engineering genes” will rewrite the other genes to respond not to the actual environment (which may not be toxic, dangerous and a threat), but to your perception of it.

Bad science doesn’t offend you? How about a really questionable approach to mental illness:

Take Charge: A Guide to Feeling Good is a book Wally wrote and published in 1987. In it he considers, among other things, the likelihood that suicides for which there seem to be no cause may in fact result from the kind of spirit attachment we are talking about.


“It seems likely that today’s still-controversial use of electroshock, or electroconvulsive therapy, for the treatment of acute depression, may prove effective, when it does, for the unacknowledged reason that it drives possessing earth-bound spirits out of the magnetic aura of the subjects being shocked.”

I can’t bear to type it out, but the book quotes Edith Fiore on page 74, listing all the major signs of depression and calling them “common signs of spiritual possession.”

General Batshittery

“Keys were bending in people’s pocket’s,” Wally told me. “Geller had twelve hundred people chanting: ‘work, work, work, work.’ These are words – that change reality.”


For instance, Timestream’s facilities are located in the third plane of the astral world on a planet named Marduk. [Timestream is a spirit group of dead scientists the author claims includes Marie Curie and Albert Einstein.]


The problem with affirmations is that sometimes they work, and more often, they don’t. Robert Williams, who teamed up with Bruce Lipton for the videotape The Biology of Perception, the Psychology of Change, says he knows why this is. We have been talking to the wrong mind.


William James said through Susy Smith “On the astral plane man makes his own environment.”

But worst of all it its dismissal of Western science and its treatment of disease based on Hill’s Aunt Ruth and Aunt Ardis and the people who sold them snake oil. Both had cancer, both refused treatment other than surgery, and both managed, in the luck that the divine lavishes on the feckless, to survive.

From his Aunt Ruth comes this complete over simplification and misunderstanding of cancer and its myriad treatments:

“Cancer is an immuno-suppressive disorder,” she told me. “The treatments they were offering me suppressed the immune system. To deliberately do something that would suppress the immune system when you’re already about to succumb to an immuno-suppressive disorder makes no kind of sense.”

It goes on from there to tout the sort of information that kills people.

Ardis had refused chemotherapy and radiation following her surgery in 1974… Then she and Wally discovered Getting Well Again, a book by O. Carl Simonton, a medical doctor and Air Force Major, who had previously been a salesman whose success he attributed to Napoleon Hill’s classic book, Think and Grow Rich. Simonton’s techniques were based on Positive Prosperity Visualization.

So, after surgery, “I employed his tactics of visualizing at the time PacMan, the TV game? Just visualizing PacMan eating up all those cancer cells,” said Ardis.


Next she (Ruth) and Wally went to Topeka for a conference for the effects of megadoses of Vitamin C on terminal cancer.

At that conference in Topeka, Ruth discovers pendulums and learns to “read” them and diagnose what was wrong in her body. This is discussed on pages 83-84. She later, on page 122, decides she got breast cancer because of mercury in the fillings of her teeth.

“…when I learned about the relationship about the meridians and the relationship between teeth and the mammary glands, I don’t think there is any question that the amalgams in the teeth that related to the left mammary gland had something to do with that cancer.”

Then Ruth’s luck ran out, though she did last 16 years, and her cancer spread all over her body, even into her bones. She died of cancer in 2002, hopefully not in as much pain as it seems she was when in she consulted her pendulum.

Several nights before she’d had excruciating pain in her liver – couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, finally at 5:00 in the morning, Ruth asked her pendulum: “Is this a message?” And it swung wide, yes. “And if I get to understand the message, will the pain go away?” It said yes. “And so I started interviewing my liver.”

It is tempting to comment to each of these quotes, but they speak for themselves.  Note also that only three of them had anything to do with spirits invading the body.

I think if one is going to read New Age and books of a religious theme, especially those that are clearly going to be utterly insane, the least they can do is concern themselves with the topic their title says the book is about.  In bizarre non-fiction, one does not expect the best of writing, or even a coherent narrative.  That is why, to the right mind, odd non-fiction can be so fun.  I do not fault this book for wandering around and using two word sentences in awkward places hoping to connote a depth that is not there.  Rather, I loathe this book for pulling a fast one and tricking readers into thinking they are going to read the non-Catholic version of Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil, a truly interesting book about spiritual possession, and for cramming the book full of inappropriate, at least to the stated topic at hand, bullshit about science, health and peace of mind.

My only consolation that this book exists at all is that those who are truly mentally and physically ill will likely not stumble across it in a weakened state and believe they are spirit infested, that Vitamin C can cure and pendulums help treat terminal cancer, or feel morally responsible for their illness because cells can, somehow, mutate to reflect a negative thought.

4 thoughts on “How People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It by Gary Leon Hill

  1. Hi, there. I liked your site, and it’s nice to see someone else who is interested in odd and bizarre books, although I can’t say that I am as well-read as you are. Also, I had never heard of the Diagram Award before either.

    I’d be very interested in exchanging sidebar links to your site, so if that’s possible feel free to get in touch.

  2. Oh yeah, we totally have to do a sidebar link exchange. I checked out bookfail and what was the first thing I saw? Hiroyuki Nishigaki’s How to Good-bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?

    Of course that is on my Amazon wishlist. I’ll leave you a comment over there when I have added you to my sidebar and hopefully you’ll do the same back.

  3. I found ‘People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead’ entertaining, generally, but I have to admit you have several good points. I would add this: The book states “fear causes the immune system to shut down.” I tossed the book across the room at this one. “Oh, yeah? Tell that to someone in the middle of a cytokine storm!” (I am reading ‘The Great Influenza’ by John M. Barry – just in preparation for this fall, you understand).

  4. Oh man, Fred/Farree! Do I ever love books on disease. I have not yet read the Barry book you reference but suspect I will be leaving in a moment to Amazon it and see what’s what. Laurie Garrett, Richard Preston – nothing like a good plague read. Thanks for mentioning a potential new read!

    I think my main issue with this book, other than the bad, bad science and medicine was the fact that I really wanted a good possession read. Lack of spirit infestations in this book left me with a cranky disposition.

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