Meeting "Dr. Daniel Rumanos" face-to-face can be somewhat of a letdown. He is, after all, someone who once claimed to cast Satanist spells so that 12-year-old girls would have sex with him and who, when setting up a meeting with a reporter, says, "I will be the one who resembles Rasputin."
While Rumanos' appearance may call to mind Grigori "Mad Monk" Rasputin, the oversized, hard-to-kill Russian Orthodox mystic who finally gave up the ghost in 1916, it's due only to Rumanos' wispy, graying beard and black clothes. As for the pedophilia claim, which he made on a Christian radio show in the mid-1990s, it was only "performance art," Rumanos explains. Turns out, Rumanos isn't really a Satanist but simply a gentle, thoughtful, open-minded deist.
Rumanos, who says he grew up in Baltimore Greektown neighborhood, hands over a business card for his "occult investigations" practice, which lists "demonology, exorcism, psychic research, UFOs, ghosts and hauntings, [and] spellcasting" as his areas of expertise. His chosen meet-up spot, the Pura Vida Organic Coffeehouse at Levering Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, plays to his tendency to suggest he's connected to the storied and reputable research university.
His Facebook profile, which lists more than 900 friends, gives his TinyURL as "JHUParanormal" and claims he's studied there. In fact, he explains, he hasn't. "I happen to live in the neighborhood, so I've kind of used it as a home base for a couple of years."
It's merely a rhetorical distinction, though, since Rumanos studies wherever he is, which, these days, happens to be in and around Hopkins. For a while he called himself "Archabbot Daniel" of the "Old Orthodox Hermitage of Saint Jerome" in Baltimore. Turns out, the "hermitage" wasn't a brick-and-mortar abbey where he gave himself over to religious study and reflection; it was, well, himself.
"That was the name of my hermitage when I was under the vows of an orthodox monk," Rumanos explains. "That's basically me." (During the fact-checking process, Rumanos added a wrinkle to this statement: "A hermitage is the residence of a solitary monk or hermit, not the monk himself.")
It'd be deeply unfair to call Rumanos a con artist, but he is a showman. In addition to doing radio-show appearances and performing a Satanic ritual onstage at the Ottobar in 2000, he was featured in 2007 on the television show Coast to Coast AM, with George Noory, talking about exorcism. If being a showman means exploiting slippery vagaries like one's real name and formal studies, well, no harm done.
His latest name, the one he says he prefers, is "Dr. Daniel Rumanos." It is one in a string of self-styled names. It appears he was born Ronald Lee Mershon Jr. and that he legally changed it to Daniel John Moran III in 2004, the year he says his mother passed away.
"I don't want to be too specific" about his names, Rumanos says, but "if you found out these things and believe them to be the case, then write it." He's also put himself forth as Ron Mephisto and Daniel Garguillio. So has he used more than five names? "Oh, at least," he says. "Probably much more than that. That's an occult thing-different names. I often joke, well, how many names does Satan use?"
He used his "Ron Mephisto" tag when, in the 1990s, he would go on Bob Larson's Christian radio show as a guest Satanist, holding himself out as the listeners' bogeyman-including one guest spot when he bragged about how he would have sex with underage girls.
"I basically told him what he wants to hear," Rumanos recalls, "and he put it on his show. I saw the show as performance art. Obviously if I did one-tenth of the things I allowed him to believe that I did, I'd probably still be in prison. He does round-the-country exorcism rallies, and I've been to several of them. He would interview me and then pass the collection plate around, and people basically would empty their pockets. I've probably made millions of dollars for Bob Larson. I got a little bit out of it, but he got a lot more."
Today, Rumanos says he doesn't "actually consider myself a Satanist. That's something I've been associated with, and it's a part of me, but let's just say I'm not going to limit myself to that. So while I do run a satanic group"-it's called the Order of Shaitan Satanic Embassy and anyone with $50 can join-"I consider it part of my continual freelance occultism, and I don't feel in any way bound to that particular belief system."
Rumanos also says he's "recognized as a priest in some of the independent Eastern Orthodox churches and also in the old Catholic churches, which are in both cases churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic and more mainline Eastern Orthodox denominations over doctrinal differences over certain things." For a while in the 1990s, he worked at an occult bookstore in Allentown, Pa.-the only day job he's ever had, he says-where the owner, a cabalistic rabbi, made Rumanos a rabbi too.
"Occultists seek to be ordained by the breakaway Judeo-Christian groups," he explains, "because they gain powers of priesthood that add to their magical repertoire."
"I've been into it all my life," Rumanos says of his paranormal and occult pursuits. "My mother was interested in the subject, and when I was very young, she used to take me to lectures by the occult and paranormal experts of the day, like Dr. Hanz Holzer, who was one of the first of the modern scientific-type ghost hunters. So I pretty much grew up on it, and she was always very supportive and always very much of an influence-and at the same time she was a sincere Christian, so I don't see much of a conflict in that."
Rumanos says he earns enough money doing occult and paranormal investigations, as well as conducting religious rituals like weddings and funerals, to make a living.
"I'm not making a fortune," he says, "but I don't really care to. I get by, and I live pretty frugally. My only indulgence these days is old books-I'm a pretty extreme book collector." Locally, he likes the occult sections of Salamander Books on Charles Street and Amazing Spirals in the Rotunda mall. "I look for any kind of oddities and, of course, anything on comparative religions, since I need to keep up with that for my own activities."
"I made up my mind a long time ago that a good healthy mind can see more than one viewpoint," Rumanos says, by way of explaining how he reconciles the apparent contradictions and conflicts inherent in embracing multiple religious traditions. "And I didn't see any reason to limit myself. I'm not going to look down on someone for seeing things differently than I do spiritually, and I never have."