Sometimes, the most gullible person in a cult is its leader. When a man sweeps a whole crowd up in the idea that God has declared him His prophet and blessed him divine powers, it’s not always because he’s a con man. Some of these people just genuinely believe they have magical powers.
And that’s when it can be really dangerous. Because when they put those powers to the test, it can lead to absolute disaster.
10 The Prophet Who Slit A Man’s Throat And Promised To Bring Him Back To Life
In 2014, Muhammad Sabir convinced a whole crowd of followers in Pakistan that he was a prophet of God with miraculous powers. He got them to believe that he had power over death—and he was so persuasive that he even convinced himself.
So, when he asked for someone in his congregation to experience death and rebirth, his follower, Muhammad Niaz, was only too eager to volunteer. While a whole crowd watched, Niaz let Sabir tie him down to a table. Then Sabir slit Niaz’s throat.
Sabir chanted the sacred words while the crowd watched with bated breath, waiting to see Niaz spring back to life. Finally, Sabir commanded him to rise, and nothing happened. For a long moment, everyone watched, trying to understand what was happening. Then Sabir, who apparently clicked in that he didn’t really have magic powers, turned around and started running as fast he could.
An angry mob ran Sabir down and handed him over to the police, who arrested him for murder. But somehow, Niaz’s family’s faith in Sabir remains unshaken. “Why should I mourn when I know that my brother is in heaven?” Niaz’s sister has said. “He will be rewarded for his services for the spiritual leader in the afterlife.”
9 The Tantric Who Tried To Kill A Man With Black Magic On Live TV
Pandit Sharma called himself India’s most powerful tantric. He claimed he could use black magic to make nearly anything happen, and he really believed it—so much so that when skeptic Sanal Edamaruku challenged him to use his powers to kill him on live TV, Sharma agreed.
The two stood in front of a live studio audience while Sharma chanted magic words and sprinkled water on Edamaruku’s face. When that didn’t do anything, Sharma started moving a knife around his body, pressing his fingers on his head and writing Sanal’s name on a paper and burning it, but all he could do to Edamaruku was make him laugh.
Edamaruku thought he’d exposed a fraud, but when it was all over, he spotted Sharma sitting in the corner of the room looking dejected and confused. Sharma, he began to believe, really didn’t think he was a fraud. “Perhaps he really believed,” Edamaruku wrote later, “he would be able to kill me.”
8 The Preacher Who Thought He Was Immune To Snake Venom
Kentucky preacher Jamie Coots believed that God had given him divine protection from snakebites. He made it a big part of his act. He would stand in front of his congregation with snakes in his hands, telling them that the Bible commands all Christians to “take up serpents.”
The snakes didn’t exactly leave him alone. He got bit nine times, but each time, he survived because of what he believed was God’s divine intervention. He was so sure God was protecting him that when a woman in the congregation got bit, he insisted that nobody take her to the hospital, which didn’t exactly pan out because she died on the church floor.
Coots, though, chalked that up to her lack of faith—until he got his tenth and final snakebite in 2014. He was again so confident that God would heal him that his congregation chased away the ambulance that came to help him. But this time, God didn’t come through. Within an hour, Coots was dead.
Coots’s congregation’s faith remains unshaken. Today, his son Cody has taken his father’s place, and like his father before him, he insists on toughing it out whenever a rattlesnake bites him, insisting, “It’s the word of the Lord.”
7 The Pastor Who Crushed A Woman With A Speaker
In 2016, a self-proclaimed prophet in South Africa told his followers that if Jesus could walk on water, they, too, could do anything with faith. And he was going to prove it.
He ordered a young woman in the praise team to lay down in front of the congregation and then got his ushers to put a heavy PA speaker on her chest. She would not die, he promised, because God would not allow it. Then he climbed on top of the speaker himself and sat atop it, inviting the church to marvel at how the woman wasn’t even letting out so much as a peep of complaint.
When they took the speaker off her, they found out why she wasn’t fussing: She was dead. Her ribs had been crushed under the weight of the speaker, and she had died almost instantly.
The pastor, though, insisted it wasn’t his fault. The woman died, he told the police, because she had “little faith.” It was her fault, he insisted, for not being able to “withstand a very simple task.”
6 The Preacher Who Trusted God To Cover His Taxes
William Miller was pretty sure the the world was going to end on October 22, 1844. The colonists of America, he believed, had been sent to the New World to prepare the new kingdom of God, and Jesus would soon return. And he wasn’t the only one who believed it. He had a whole cult of people behind him.
The world, of course, did not end in 1844, but one of Miller’s followers, Peter Armstrong, refused to lose faith. He became convinced that the only reason Jesus hadn’t returned was because the Americans had failed to prepare an earthly sanctuary for Christ’s return. So, he spent every penny he had to buy 181 acres of land in Pennsylvania and invited Jesus to move in.
To make sure the land was truly God’s land, he signed the title over to “Almighty God, who inhabiteth Eternity, and His heirs in Jesus Messiah.” When the US government came to collect property taxes, though, God didn’t pay up—and they didn’t really buy into Armstrong’s argument that God didn’t need to pay.
The government ended up forcing Armstrong to sell the property to pay the money he owed in back taxes. The Holy Land went back on the market because God hadn’t covered His taxes.
5 The Prophet Who Challenged A Pride Of Lions To A Fistfight
Alec Ndiwane, a South African preacher, is said to have been visiting Kruger National Park in 2016 when he suddenly became convinced that the Holy Spirit had filled him the strength of Samson. He had been given the power, he declared, to kill a lion with his bare hands—and he was going to prove it.
Ndiwane supposedly spotted a pride of lions eating an impala and announced that he was going to take them out. Then he is claimed to have opened up the car door, stepped outside, and started charging straight at the lions.
The entire pride of lions simultaneously stopped eating and charged at Ndiwane, who, in what was apparently a brief moment of lucidity, changed his mind and tried to get back into the car. Lions, however, are faster than South African preachers, and they tackled him.
Ndiwane probably would have died if it wasn’t for a park ranger scaring the lions off with warning shots. Still, Ndiwane was seriously injured and shaken. When it was all over, he was more confused than anything.
Struggling to understand what had gone wrong, he allegedly told the press, “I thought the Lord wanted to use me to show His power over animals.”
4 The Bishop Who Paid A Man To Play Dead
Nigerian bishop Emmanuel Esezobor, according to an allegation, accidentally killed a man in 2016 by trying to fake a miracle. The man’s family says that Esezobor offered him 500,000 Nigerian nairas to climb into a coffin and play dead until Esezobor gave him the word. Then, the man would rise up in front of his congregation and prove that Esezobor had power over life and death.
The man signed on for the deal, but things went wrong when they started planning a little too far in advance. The coffin Esezobor put him in was airtight, and while he waited for his cue, the man ran out of oxygen and suffocated inside.
When the big moment came, and Esezobor ordered him to rise, the man didn’t move—because he was actually dead.
3 The Mutt Chief Who Thought He Would Be Resurrected
Ganeshyogi Maharaj of Mayurshwar, India, believed that he had death-defying powers. As far as his followers were concerned, he’d proven it. While they watched, he’d drank poison and let snakes bite him—and every time, he had defied death.
In 2014, though, he declared that he would perform his ultimate miracle. Before their very eyes, he would die and pass over to the afterlife. Then, after three days, he would return to them, alive once more. The crowd watched as he drank 200 milliliters of insecticide and fell dead in front of them. Then they stayed up all night praying and waiting for him to return.
He didn’t. They kept waiting, but Maharaj stayed dead, and pretty soon, his body started to rot.
The followers still wouldn’t let the police bury him. They had to have doctors run ECG tests to prove that Maharaj really was clinically dead and wasn’t coming back before they could get the followers to finally put him under the ground.
2 The Prophet Who Buried Himself Alive
In 2015, Zimbabwean prophet Shamiso Kanyama believed that one of his follower’s homes was cursed by evil spirits. The family that lived there had fallen on hard times. The only way to fix them, Kanyama believed, was if he died. Kanyama would cross over to the underworld, where he could exorcise the evil spirits from the home.
He ordered five of his followers to dig a pit in front of the house and bury him alive inside. Buried under the earth, he promised them, he would “gain power to drive away the evil forces” and heal their home.
The family’s neighbor, who was actually sane, tried to stop them from burying the man alive, but Kanyama yelled at the man who was trying to save his life until he gave up. He told the man he was disturbing his angels and insisted his followers bury him alive, no matter who tried to stop them.
Which they did. The men buried their prophet alive and then waited for him to complete his mission in the afterlife. Then they dug the pit back up, and sure enough, they found Kanyama’s dead and motionless body at the bottom.
1 The Faith Healer Who Pretended He Could Cure Polio
Jack Coe was an American faith healer. He went around the country setting up tents, preaching, and claiming he could heal the sick with the power of faith. And for years, people believed him—until he nearly killed a three-year-old boy in 1955.
The little boy’s parents had brought him out to see Coe in Miami, hoping Coe could heal the child’s polio, and Coe was pretty confident he could. He told the boy to take off his leg braces and walk. Then he told his congregation to rejoice. The boy had been cured!
Except that he hadn’t. The boy still had polio, and struggling to walk without braces made it much worse. The boy was now in constant pain and was sicker than ever.
Coe was arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license, but the case was dismissed because in Florida, faith healers were exempt from the law. Coe nearly got away scot-free, until something happened that’s hard not to chalk up to divine intervention.
Nearly immediately after the suit was dismissed, Coe contracted polio himself. Within a few weeks, he died of the very disease he’d pretended to heal. Maybe miracles really do happen after all.