Alongside the episode on witchcraft in Vanuatu, Safran explores the Los Angeles gang that has become a favourite boogeyman of Fox News and Donald Trump, MS 13; discovering that even its own members can’t agree on the origin story of the group. Back in Melbourne, he explores the “hidden scene of Muslim exorcism”, Ruqya healers who believe they can expel “jinn”, a form of evil spirit that can possess bodies. Says Safran: “It’s essentially the same idea as Catholic exorcism, just with different textures to it.”
Safran has been known for a gonzo style of storytelling; for his SBS series John Safran vs God, he allowed himself to be cursed in an early episode, and then had those demons exorcised in the hard-to-watch finale. But for this podcast, Safran steps back.
“The thing about getting involved in the story is it’s only great if it’s going to come across as sincere, if there’s a reason to get involved. [These stories were] working much better [without me stepping in].
“I’d got such a rare voice [speaking with a survivor of a Ruqya healing], and this woman only agreed to talk to me because she trusted me, and I thought, this is such an unheard of thing that I’m going to put all the focus on that rather than try to get involved myself. I just got out of the way and let the story tell itself.”
After a slight pause, Safran laughs and continues.
“I didn’t overthink it at all. I would have happily been chased around an island with curses thrown at me if that’s what rolled out but you know, you’re not always that lucky.”
John Safran vs The Occult is available on Audible now.