Cults, Narcissism and Digging Deeper

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  1. mockingbird

    mockingbird Silver Meritorious Patron

    Cults, Narcissism and Digging Deeper

    I just saw the recent podcast by Chris Shelton in which he interviewed Daniel Shaw. It was Sensibly Speaking Podcast # 159. I wanted to comment on some of the issues that they brought up and give some referral to other ideas that flesh out what they discussed. They took on a lot of essential ideas regarding cults, abusive relationships and totalitarian groups. I wanted to add a bit and give both context to what they discussed and references to supplement their discussion for serious students of cults and human psychology.

    I read the book by Daniel Shaw on Traumatic Narcissism and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand cults, cult leaders, abusive relationships, authoritarian regimes or psychology. It is expensive but worth the cost. It's truly excellent at focusing on many important aspects of the relationships between extreme abuser's like cult leaders and followers.

    I actually wrote several blog posts on narcissism and Scientology and the book Traumatic Narcissism in the past.

    I wrote Scientology's Parallel In Nature: Malignant Narcissism.

    Chris Shelton and Daniel Shaw bring up several points worth commenting on. They bring up the fact that all sorts of people are recruited into cults, unlike the common prejudice that only especially gullible or stupid or insane people end up in cults, which cult experts like Margaret Singer who interviewed over four thousand ex cult members debunked. She realized all sorts of people are recruited into cults. She covered it in detail in her book Cults In Our Midst.

    They also discuss narcissism and its origins. In his book Daniel Shaw covers the idea of narcissism resulting from abuse or idealization. It's important to understand the reality that some people appear narcissistic from an early age and never change and others develop narcissism after adulthood, either through abuse or excessive praise. Idealization involves treating a person as perfect or superior to others. It can be specific like telling a child they are better than one sibling or broader like telling them their race is superior or their religion or nation of telling them they are personally superior to everyone else in the world. In theory following this hypothesis or metaphor an adult can say become rich and famous and be surrounded by praise and late in life develop narcissism. Even after their twenties or thirties. Perhaps humans just should not be praised too highly.

    They discuss recovery from narcissism and I believe that it can be recovered from to a significant degree for many, maybe even most, people. People often develop extremely narcissistic personalities in cults and often but definitely not always are able to achieve genuine humility and regret for their misdeeds and even gain empathy and compassion for others and long term marked improvement in behavior after leaving cults and realizing the ideology they used as dogma to justify their past behavior was false and that they were simply wrong in their previous attitudes and actions.

    Shaw is correct in pointing out that some cult leaders are unsuccessful at adjusting to loss of power over others if they lose it. Charles Manson was observed to have gone insane in prison and Lafayette Ronald Hubbard reportedly has his sanity diminish severely near the end of his life, and it was not too good from the 1950s to start with. Numerous cult leaders go through a process Shaw described as florid decompensation. The leader of the Japanese cult Aum Shirikyo that pulled off the subway attacks Shoko Asahara was described as going through this process in court by Robert Jay Lifton. Lifton has written numerous books on cults and persuasion and is possibly the top living cult expert. If Margaret Singer were still alive I would say they are the top two in my opinion.

    The process is described by Shaw in detail in his book and is the worst fear of a narcissist. Some commit suicide to avoid it. It is a complete breakdown of the separate parts of the fractured mind of a narcissist. In theory they have repudiated the negative aspects of self they have and through continuous and pathological denial ended up with a split mind. They have feelings of worthlessness, stupidity, incompetence, helplessness, need, shame, built and imperfection held away from themselves.

    These feelings are externalized and projected onto others through narcissistic survival methods. They drive narcissists to be like ravenous beasts, knowing no mercy or compassion, only hunger. They hunger for narcissistic supply. That is something that will support and feed their delusions. Their delusions are the opposite of the repudiated aspects of self because in truth they are denials of them. Narcissistic supply is attention that supports the narcissistic delusions. Being able to dominate others serves to do this. Narcissistic delusions include feeling superior to ones that can be dominated, no matter how unethically or abusively. Power over others is proof to a narcissist of superiority and often the most desired supply. Sometimes dominance is not achievable but irritation is. Being able to annoy or upset people is proof of power to narcissists and is a form of supply. It's better than nothing.

    The lowest supply may be sympathy and pity. The narcissist who cannot control people through dominance or covert persuasion or even irritate people is called a collapsed narcissist. They cannot maintain their illusion. Perhaps a big strong bully has aged and in his fifties or sixties or seventies cannot threaten and harass people. Or the wealthy executive that was caught embezzling and convicted very publicly cannot hang onto his power and image or the member of a church publicly exposed having an affair or being forced out of the closet if he condemned homosexuality cannot maintain a facade of self righteous hypocrisy.

    It is often the man who pretended to be smarter and better than everyone else that arrives at old age and and has no record of success to support his boasts and is mired in mediocrity, undeniably. He may have has businesses fail, divorce, a poor career, financial failures or several of the above.
    When no one humors the lies and boasts of a narcissist or fears their wrath or even will let them annoy them or everyone simply ignores their attempts at all of the above they often collapse. They have one last tactic to hold off the worst of choices. They can play the victim. They tell a tale of everyone and everything being unfairly against them. They have never caught a good break or met a good person and that is their one flaw. They are betrayed everywhere. Like Hitler when he blamed everyone else for his failures in the war.

    Some narcissists fail even as collapsed narcissists and cannot get the sympathy they desire. They may then with no support or validation of any kind go through florid decompensation into schizophrenia or madness. Some sense that their fraying ends of sanity are about to be completely unraveled and rather than face this they commit suicide. It may be to escape the mental health consequences of their decline rather than any external ones.

    So it follows that their delusions are of perfection, infallible character, conduct and knowledge. They are of a guilt and shame free past and superiority to everyone else. The highest narcissists see themselves sometimes as perfect servants of God or even gods themselves or superior to God. Faith or its absence does not indicate narcissism. But faith may shape the expression of narcissism to fit the faith. Their delusions are an escape from unbearable self images, not even reality.

    Another issue that Shaw described is the method of a narcissist in denying imperfections and shame and projecting them onto others. This as pathological behavior becomes dissociation, a stronger separation mentally than denial. In denial the conscious mind is seen as not accepting or deceiving itself regarding unacceptable realities while the subconscious mind does not. Deep down a person knows what is being rejected but through self deception the conscious mind rejects the unacceptable. In dissociation the process is stronger and deeper.

    People dissociate from trauma to survive it. We understand a person can dissociate from experiences like rape and combat and torture but many more experiences involve dissociation. Often cult indoctrination involves trauma and dissociation.

    In cognitive dissonance theory conflicts between beliefs and reality create discomfort that can be confusion, blankness, reelingness, anxiety, panic, emotional discomfort like shame or self doubt. In any case it is unpleasant. ( An online article had this definition. · In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.)

    The reactions to this discomfort are often decisions or changes in beliefs, emotions or behavior intended to relieve the discomfort. In theory it is most important to protect the self or ego or if safe to pick a decision that validates the ego, it reinforces the self identity.

    So when a person has a conflict like belief in self as a good person that only does good things coming up against a conflicting reality like the knowledge that they were unethical in their conduct, perhaps they lied and blamed an innocent person for their own mistake to avoid consequences and see that as evil. They can feel discomfort as cognitive dissonance and have the distortion of denying the truth consciously and deciding the person they lied about is bad and deserved to be ruined anyway. That is a cognitive distortion.

    In cults members deny negative aspects of the cult and leader. This becomes habitual and these cognitive distortions result in dissociation. The cult members dissociate from the abuse and exploitation they suffer and the negative evidence against the leader. This accounts for why it is so extremely difficult to get people out of cults. Their own minds reinforce the prison of mind by merely thinking. Their own thoughts, emotions and behavior continuously create and bolster the elements holding them captive.

    Through using the human vulnerability to both cognitive dissonance and trauma and the methods of coping via cognitive distortion and denial and dissociation the cult leader exploits the blindspots in human beings to covertly enslave them mentally.

    The problem with telling them they are experiencing this is their mindset and habits. They will not see that they are being mistreated, that the cult leader is imperfect, or immoral that they are being abusive in serving the cult or that they are incorrect in automatically seeing enemies of the cult as doing what they accuse the cult leader of doing, including lying.

    So in a mindset of pathological denial of abuse by the leader and dissociation from the trauma caused by the cult and cognitive distortions that support the cult leader and cult ideology while also projecting the negative traits into cult critics it is very easy to remain in the cult and extremely difficult to reject or even question or doubt the cult. A severe divorce from critical thinking has occurred, a severe divorce from independent thinking has occurred. Protecting the mind from cognitive dissonance and trauma has become sacred. It has made avoiding certain unpleasant thoughts, ideas, emotions and behavior unbearable. By having things that cannot be faced the mind puts them outside the realm of being doubted,questioned or criticized. Anything that is in that state is automatically outside critical thinking.

    Cognitive Dissonance theory is a subject, not just a phrase or idea or paragraph. I recommend the book A Theory Of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festinger to get an introduction to the subject. I have written a long series of posts on the book and on and Cognitive Dissonance theory regarding Scientology.

    Festinger covered this subject in extreme detail and used very clear and concise information to explain the subject at length.

    Regarding charisma and cult leaders several questions came up. I think several important points regarding cult leaders should be brought up.

    The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.
    Hannah Arendt
    Hannah Arendt (1968). “Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism”, p.70, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

    “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”
    ― Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

    I want to close with a couple quotes from Robert Jay Lifton regarding charisma in cult leaders and the essential problem with the cultic mindset and any simplistic understanding or approach to cults. They are both from an interview with Bill Moyers done right after the 911 terrorist attacks. It is available free online.

    ROBERT LIFTON: Well, you start out with the term charisma. It’s widely used, but people don’t really think of what it really means what I this it means, someone has charisma when he or she offers you new meaning in your life and new vitality. And as well as that, also immortality. So vitality and immortality are offered. That’s a lot. And if people feel that these are available to them, they will follow someone, not only to the ends of the earth, but to the ends of killing, as you said. And the killing of large numbers of people is not perceived as murder, it’s perceived as carrying out a necessary act for a higher purpose. So they block out from their minds the deaths of actual people, and they see that higher purpose as more important. It’s always dangerous when you block out human beings that you’re harming. What I call psychic numbing, or not perceiving them as human beings, and that’s what you can do when you become a disciple of a charismatic person.

    ROBERT LIFTON: Well, I think the fundamentalist self is a combination of what I call followingism, all or none convictions, wanting to simplify everything and having little tolerance for nuance and for uncertainty, but also is past oriented. It imagines a past of perfect harm harmony that never was, that’s at the heart of the fundamental self. And it’s a very very dangerous mind set in the world, because this is a time when we need nuance, we have problems that we don’t understand. And that haven’t been ever presented to people before. And if you just close down with an absolute decision before you’ve even examined the problems, you have no chance of solving them.
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  2. Clay Pigeon

    Clay Pigeon Silver Meritorious Patron

    As to Hubbard in his closing days...

    I was in the Haight in 1985 when a roaring blazing psychedelic renaissance was fueled by calico cockamamie coterie of colorful bipeds and one of my favorites was a corpulent musician named David who often played a hauntingly beautiful classical guitar at Lexie Ahren's legendary Grand Piano coffeehouse. One day I ran into him at the halcyon Chattanooga Cafe and he was exceptionally brighteyed. He told me he was fresh back in town from playing a bar in Phoenix and with a melange of astonishment and eagerness said "Guess who I ran in to!" I said "Who?" He said "L Ron Hubbard!" I didn't press him for details but there was nothing in his description of their conversation to suggest he was talking to anything other than a cogent sequitur man in his right mind. This was within seven or eight months of Ron's death.
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  3. JustSheila

    JustSheila Crusader

    Birdie, what you wrote had nothing to do with Mockingbird's post, and his post was brilliant and he put a lot of time, study and thought into it. If you want others to appreciate your writings, then show other writers some professional courtesy. You obviously didn't even read it.

    Besides that, apparently your friend was mistaken or just telling you a tall tale. L Ron Hubbard was under constant care and supervision 7-8 months before his death (actually, more like 2-3 years before his death) and not anywhere out in public to run into anybody. Read Jesse's and others' firsthand accounts.

    Maybe your friend met L Ron Hubbard during one of those out of body experiences Scientologists have when they believe something so badly, they end up seeing it, too. :spacecraft:

    Mockingbird, that's a sensational write-up. It had occurred to me that narcissism could be a developed characteristic, but I'd never seen any serious research and writings on that before. It makes perfect sense and it's a fresh concept. I'm curious about the steps ex-cult members take to get rid of the false narcissistic concepts that were reinforced by a cult.

    It's also intriguing that there can be such thing as too much validation, or too much praise. For centuries the ego has been the bane of man. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins described by St. Thomas. Freud described the purpose of the superego as societal learned behaviors to keep the ego in check, and although Aristotle felt pride was a good thing, Plato didn't see it the same way and designed an entire society to avoid the pitfalls of personal egos.

    That Lipton description of charisma is spot-on, but the description of those who are followers of a charismatic personality is mind-blowing. :holycow:

    It's a great write-up; I'm still considering all the ramifications of the different concepts you've covered. You should write a book - what you've covered here can be extended to many different groups and situations.
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  4. mockingbird

    mockingbird Silver Meritorious Patron

    Thank you.

    I think the hypothesis of the idealized narcissist makes sense regarding Hubbard. He reportedly was treated as a perfect being by his grandfather and aunts.

    I recall several references in which he described generic hypothetical examples and I believe he was describing himself but dare not admit it.

    Hubbard described a child that was told he was special and better than everyone else having no end of trouble and advised having a boy describe a time he won a fight as a pleasure moment in auditing. He said if you are auditing a boy who never won a fight you will have your hands full as an auditor. I believe he was covertly practicing self pity here. In the Scientology doctrine Hubbard claimed to have beaten up neighborhood bullies as a child and pistol whipped grown men.

    The biographical evidence does not support his claims. It is more likely he was bullied and never won a fight but fantasized about being the victor.

    The boys he claimed to beat up actually lived but his victory against them as a six year old is unlikely. Jon Atack has covered this time in depth and researched it thoroughly.

    Regarding the idealized narcissist I wrote the earlier post Scientology's Parallel In Nature: Malignant Narcissism and in his book Traumatic Narcissism author Daniel Shaw describes it very well.

    The idealized narcissist suffers neglect. They are not accepted as flawed and vulnerable, they are not accepted as having doubts, fears and needs. They are not really accepted as who they are but treated as a perfect being.

    This neglect leaves them several bad options as a young child. Rebel against the caregivers and get ignored or rejected or abused or give into the delusions of the caregivers and take on a false self that is perfect and free from error, doubts and needs. If they take on the perfect self they still have the image that who they really were was insufficient. They have an inner self that they learned is not good enough to be loved.

    This is the favored child that is forced to do piano lessons or dancing or play football and told they will be the greatest ever despite having no interest in the activities the caregiver chooses. And they are never really listened to by the caregivers unless they agree with the delusions of the caregiver.

    Think about being a young child and seeing yourself as too weak, too needy, too unsure to be loved or accepted by anyone in this world.

    We want our caregivers to be good and loving and just. We want to deserve this love. If we are taught they cannot love and accept us we can try to lie and pretend to be someone they can love, even though it means denying our true nature and feelings. That can leave one feeling split or dissociated.

    The inner self is an image of a petulant, belligerent, worthless, evil, degraded and useless child, utterly bereft of decency or love and in order to escape this unbearable self image the opposite lie is created and forwarded. The perfect facade or outer self is an image of a being without failure or flaw, without weakness or need. It constantly seeks to dominate everyone and everything to deny the negative self image it holds and constantly projects the repudiated aspects of self onto others to escape them.

    I think Hubbard fit this perfectly. If we compare his affirmations to his public image it is clear. He was nothing like who he pretended to be but hated his true inner reality. ​
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  5. mockingbird

    mockingbird Silver Meritorious Patron

    Regarding getting rid of narcissism in one's own life I am not an expert. Not by far.

    I found realizing that the trait of thinking you are always automatically right is narcissistic is a start, as is reading the literature on narcissism and abuse and realizing what behaviors of your own are narcissistic and abusive can help.

    Without the justifications and excuses of Scientology lots of behaviors are clearly unacceptable. I think the motto changed behavior is the best apology has merit. If you can dig deep into descriptions of narcissistic and abusive behavior and realize how you yourself commit that behavior it is a huge step and then if you can change that behavior over the long term it can have a huge impact. But you should know not everyone will accept or even recognize changed behavior.

    If you were cruel or abusive for years sadly some people will not or can not recognize if this changes, even for years.

    Some apologies no matter how sincere are unaccepted or misinterpreted.

    I recommend books like The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout and Traumatic Narcissism by Daniel Shaw and even Take Back Your Life by Janja Lalich and Freedom of Mind by Steven Hassan to dig into how to treat people and how one may have hurt them. Stories in online groups on narcissism and predators also offer a lot of valuable insight.
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  6. phenomanon

    phenomanon Canyon

    The write-up is super. Tks,
  7. Clay Pigeon

    Clay Pigeon Silver Meritorious Patron

    No JS.

    The post is not brilliant

    L Ron Hubbard was NOT a narcissist, a psychopath or a sociopath.

    He was contentious and tempermental, he was irascible, cantakerous and at times perhaps a bit daft.

    This OP is a recitation of psychobabble and even those professionals who are trained in the things cited do NOT write such diagnoses of L Ron Hubbard nor of anyone who they do not personally examine

    Nor was my friend lying to me

    The people who are lying are those who will grasp at any straw to paint Hubbard black. People who SCREAM for the application of critical thinking to examination of his and brand as Troll anyone applies critical thinking to their assaults

    The myth of Narcissus was then and is now a marvelous fable which magnifies a common human flaw. "Narcissism" had little development in psychiatric/psychological literature until the mid Seventies when, unable to jacket Hubbard as psychopath or sociopath some of the empty holes began tooting the "New Narcissism". I was in Philly in '78 and my wife's mother who despised Hubbard gave her a clipping titled "The New Narcissism" which began with a general description of the "syndrome" and went on to point it directly first at Hubbard's work and then at Hubbard himself and the psychs have made a small growth industry of developing "the Narcissistic personality" and targeting Hubbard with it

    It's psychobabble garbage as is the entire OP. My apologies to you Mockingbird, I'm sure you are sincere but you are unqualified for making such diagnoses, you have never met Mr. Hubbard and there is a reason psychs are commonly known as "headshrinkers"

    Personally I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy
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  8. JustSheila

    JustSheila Crusader

    Hi Birdie,
    We're going to have to agree to disagree about Hubbard's final months and years. Some folks I knew were there and I trust and believe them. Your friend claimed he or she ran into Hubbard in public. That's a claim I've heard from many Scientologists over the years, in circumstances that were impossible. Some claimed it after his death, some claimed when he was documented elsewhere, many believed years after Scn that they and Hubbard had out-of-body experiences. That's fine you believe your friend literally, but it is also fine that I don't and his last years are documented.

    Thanks for taking the time to write about your views on MB's post. You've made some good points. In fact, I plan to put together my own evaluation and summary of it covering some of those points.

    It wasn't especially directed at Hubbard, btw, but cult leaders and cult followers in general, or those who follow narcissists or charismatic personalities.

    More later tonight or tomorrow.
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  9. JustSheila

    JustSheila Crusader

    I'm not sure I completely agree with everything here. High hormone levels could make most teens and young adults fit the definition of narcissists. Most are also unrealistically idealistic. Why wouldn't they be? They are at the peak of health and have their entire lives ahead of them. It's normal at that age to have an overblown concept of ability and high ideals for achieving them, and it's also pretty normal to ''try on" different ways to become socially accepted. That doesn't mean they exhibit sociopathic traits, though some might. I think young adults can become stuck in this time and feeling of glory and feeling on top of the world. How many people have you heard relaying their big football win in college, or other stories of their glory days? Some never mature out of it and young adults in this state of mind are a fertile source for cult recruitment.

    Cults have all sorts of ways of keeping a person in that immature state of mind, too.

    All people have difficulty adjusting to a loss of power, whether it was losing a management job, or as a financial controller or a cult leader or whatever. Some are better at it than others, but I can see how if a person has a delusional sense of self and believes they have some sort of god-like powers or believes he or she is a chosen messenger or some other delusional sense of self and the person is accustomed to having hundreds of followers around to reinforce that concept of self, that losing that could fracture the fragile, overblown, fake personality. This sounds like schizophrenia, though, not narcissism.

    You didn't detail how someone can become a narcissist through abuse. I suppose this would be the case when someone becomes a holy martyr for a cause and their abuse was the catalyst to bring this about; a time when the person's mind blocked out the abuse to enter a fantasy realm to explain and justify the abuse. This also sounds more like schizophrenia than narcissism, though.

    This is my favorite part. Very enlightening:
    "The process is described by Shaw in detail in his book and is the worst fear of a narcissist. Some commit suicide to avoid it. It is a complete breakdown of the separate parts of the fractured mind of a narcissist. In theory they have repudiated the negative aspects of self they have and through continuous and pathological denial ended up with a split mind. They have feelings of worthlessness, stupidity, incompetence, helplessness, need, shame, built and imperfection held away from themselves."

    I think these sorts of feelings could apply to many ex-cult members. It boils down to not accepting personal imperfections in themselves. Another term for this (though far less negative) is "overachievers." Overachievers cannot accept their own mistakes, failures or imperfections easily, either. They have lofty goals that might be unobtainable and think they are only as important or valuable as the progress they make toward these goals. Somewhere in the middle is a happy balance between ambition, tolerance of our own imperfections and those of others and loving ourselves and others despite those imperfections. Somewhere in the middle, we enjoy the journey and the journey itself and we set aside harsh judgements of ourselves and others and work together with love and compassion. That's the goal, anyway.

    Many times I've had feelings of worthlessness, stupidity, incompetence, helplessness, need, shame and/or imperfection. These are painful, but they are not feelings unique to me or to ex-cult members. Everyone who has ever failed at anything has these feelings at one time or another. It's all about keeping these feelings in perspective, taking a deep breath, learning from those feelings, trying again and moving forward beyond them with a more realistic, but still positive, sense of self and the world.
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  10. Clay Pigeon

    Clay Pigeon Silver Meritorious Patron

    I'm entirely confident in my friend's account. There was an authenticity to his manner the greatest actors would be challenged to match.

    Hubbard's last published work has some awfully weak passages but it's strengths are rather remarkable. Hubbard may have just more or less "gone to seed" when hanging out at the Creston property but that sonofabitch was one hell of a ballsy sonofabitch and unafraid to go out in public. He always kept a home in Phoenix and that's an easy jaunt in a Bluebird. No doubt the bar was a personal safe house whose owner and staff knew him well and long. Coryden mentions Rons ability to down seven or eight tumblers of rum and coke over ice mixed 3 to 1 w/o slurring his words. That sort of ability to hold your liquor can be very spiritual i.e. the horse gets drunk but not the rider and it is certainly evidence of cast iron will.

    Which not to say there is no truth in reports of incipient dementia praecox in his closing chapters but one who is not intent on total invalidation of any positive reports and leaps upon and bellows forth any and all negative reports regardless of how embellished, exagerated or fabricated they may be is unsurprised to hear of some roving and activity
  11. JustSheila

    JustSheila Crusader

    Thanks, Birdie. Well, who knows. He's dead now, anyway.
  12. Clay Pigeon

    Clay Pigeon Silver Meritorious Patron

    Ding Dong the Witch is dead!
    Which old Witch?
    The wicked Witch
    Ding Dong the wicked Witch is dead!

    Ding Dong the Witch is dead
    Stamp your feet get out of bed!
    Ding Dong the wicked Witch is dead!

    He's gone where the goblins go
    Heiegh-ho Heigh-ho heigh-ho!
    Ding Dong the wicked Witch is dead!
  13. phenomanon

    phenomanon Canyon

    CP, I met lrh.
    He was toadly "full of himself".
    I venture to opine that hisself was a"sociopath".
    But that's just me; I think Donald Trump is, too.
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  14. TomKat

    TomKat Patron Meritorious

    I heard Ron would appear taller some days than others. I heard he could move ashtrays by thought. The delusions of sycophants.

    I also heard there was a guy in Sydney who looked exactly like Ron.