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94 – Bizarre Magic: The Weird Adventures of Daniel Rumanos

The world of the paranormal and the world of entertainment are intrinsically bound together. From Moses and his Burning Bush to Valerie Bertinelli getting Touched By An Angel, we tell stories to each other about the things that might sound crazy if they would happen in our regular life. But those stories help us believe.

Really, would The Exorcist have been so scary if it wasn’t Roman Catholic priests battling a demon who serves a master that fifty-seven percent of Americans believe exists? That’s not The Creature From The Black Lagoon or even George Romero’s zombies (who I thought might be real after a particularly traumatic Night Of The Living Dead viewing as an easily impressionable six-year old), we’re taking about The Devil, baby.

daniel rumanos
Daniel Rumanos in the flesh

But we’ll get back to Ol’ Scratch soon enough (we always do). First, let’s talk about this week’s guest. Daniel Rumanos is a Baltimore-based entertainer who performs bizarre magic. Okay, that’s a pretty cool name, but what is bizarre magic all about?

Rumanos describes it as story-based magic, you tell a tale to go along with the tricks. Part of the performance is creating a greater magical “outside” world with which to tell the story and then the tricks serve to spice up the performance. In our Houdini & Doyle episode, we talked about how some magicians in the Houdini era deliberately told their audiences that they had supernatural powers, and that set an atmosphere of wonder during the performances. While most modern mainstream magic shows use comedy to set the mood, Bizarre Magic uses the power of a supernatural or horror story to evoke an air of mystery. But today’s audiences don’t believe that these modern bizarre magicians actually have supernatural powers.

If David Copperfield makes an elephant disappear right before your eyes, you don’t really think that David Copperfield is a sorcerer who is invoking a supernatural power Gandalf-style to make the elephant disappear. It’s still wondrous and amazing, but you know that it’s a carefully constructed man-made illusion. If someone told you that David Copperfield is actually a wizard, it might flash as a possibility before your eyes for a second (how did he make that German goddess Claudia Schiffer fall in love with him after all?) but then you’d have a laugh because we all know that stage magic is an illusion and it’s great, but it’s not supernatural.

So, now let’s go back to the Devil and this is where it intersects with Daniel’s life. While a bizarre magic show might create a Lovecraftian world of sorcery and monsters which the tricks and stories take place in, there are events that take place all the time where someone’s faith has prepared them their entire lives for an atmosphere of wonder and paranormal experience.

When people go to a traveling religious revival event, their Christian faith has already done the groundwork to set the mood. If a majority of Americans believe that there is an actual Satan who is actively trying to deceive, seduce, and tempt humanity to do horrible things to each other, well, then you’ve got a pretty good setup for a traveling stage show where the magician (preacher) does battle versus the Devil and his minions (sinners in the audience.)

Bob Larson is a former radio host and present-day exorcist had been doing these types of shows, traveling from town to town in what Daniel Rumanos calls the “carnie” tradition. It’s a religious revival show where as the character, Ron Mephisto, he was one of the sinners planted in the audience to say the horrible things that he’d done in the name of Satan. Dressed up like whatever Goth culture was in at the time, Ron Mephisto would get up onstage and his soul would be healed by Bob Larson The Exorcist.

Daniel describes these events as being more about the show and downplays the religious aspects a bit. He said that while they would make the lights flicker at appropriate times, the audience saw many more things in the performance than they actually created and that it was their imagination that filled in most of the paranormal blanks. Collection plates would fill up when people saw the power of the Lord channeled through his faithful servant Bob Larson.

Now, imagine if you were in a Catholic Mass and Jesus came right off the crucifix and transubstantiated into the communion wafers and wine right before your eyes. That would make you believe wouldn’t it? That would make you cough up a little more cash that week when the ushers bring around the donation baskets.

That was the essence of what they were doing, a Bizarre Magic show where the audience’s faith created the suspension of disbelief. And after a few years of that, Daniel eventually wanted to be the exorcist instead of the sinner and started performing as one himself.

This led to a Coast To Coast AM interview in 2007, where his credentials as an exorcist weren’t vetted nor were his claims. While I almost always enjoy George Noory and his show, this kind of thing is the perfect reason to take the guests’ claims with a grain of salt. And to listen to all of the claims on paranormal “reality” shows with caution. Bob Larson had his own special on the Sci-Fi Channel called The Real Exorcist and well, we know how real that is.

Houdini was a magician that knew the tricks used by Spiritualist mediums to fool people who wanted desperately to believe in their loved ones’ souls surviving death. Rumanos does some of his own paranormal debunking and that’s gotten him into trouble with paranormal reality superstars like Zak Bagans who threatened to sue Rumanos a few years back.

Daniel Rumanos grew up loving stories of the macabre and now he writes his blog, Weird Adventures, where he creates the world in which he performs his bizarre magic shows. The stories on the blog are creepy and in a Lovecraft-meets-The Dresden Files sorta way and it’s a lovely fiction.

While the magician and writer says he’s seen some things that he cannot explain, he also says that since he cannot explain, he prefers not to try. The stories that he weaves on his blog and in his shows are entirely his own.

While the character that Daniel Rumanos has created for himself seems to be shrouded in a little bit of mystery, he seems to me like a paranormal trickster. He’s a showman who’s seen Oz behind the curtain and blends his love of classic horror and fantasy stories with illusion and magic. I try not to judge the beliefs of people who are on the show (they might all be right for all I know!) but it’s a little refreshing that he doesn’t make any fantastical claims of his own.

That gave us the idea for this week’s song about how sometimes we all feel like impostors, like we’re making it up as we go along. This Sunspot track is called “In Plain Sight”:

I’ll sit and listen to the worst things in your life,
I’ll be crying on the outside but I don’t care about your plight.
Looking side to side to find a mask to emulate,
when the camouflage wears off, you’ll be the first to run away.

The wheels spin and the lies begin,
I’ll confabulate a feeling,
to learn the tricks I need to fix,
to keep everyone believing that,

Nothing’s broken,
in my emotion.
I must be cracked,
cuz I’m not right.
Some kind of monster,
just an impostor,
a freak that’s
hiding in plain sight.

Observing close and keeping notes, of the right way to behave,
To infiltrate and analyze, maybe one day invade.
I’ll shake your hand, I’ll nod my head, pretend to give a damn,
I’ll respond to every cue, but never understand.

The wheels spin and the lies begin,
I’ll confabulate a feeling,
to learn the tricks I need to fix,
to keep everyone believing that,

Nothing’s broken,
in my emotion.
I must be cracked,
cuz I’m not right.
Some kind of monster,
just an impostor,
a freak that’s
hiding in plain sight.