EXPLORING THE OUTER EDGES OF SOCIETY AND MIND

Hidden Pathways to Everyday Magic – Super Natural Living in the American Marketplace

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on September 24, 2019

Tickets are still available for the Strange Realities online conference where I will be giving an updated presentation focusing on Super Natural Living on Saturday, September 26th, 2020 at 1:25PM EST!

CLICK HERE for more information: STRANGEREALITIESCONFERENCE.COM
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‘It is the glory of the God to conceal a thing, but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.’ – Proverbs 25:2

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Entrance to the office at a tire shop just outside of Athens, Georgia

A flat on a rural highway and a closed tire shop in town had me wandering around northeast Georgia this week looking for an affordable solution to getting back on the road. Great reminder that when the regular patterns of our daily life are disrupted we get a chance to discover some of the hidden pathways of magic that exist all around us.

Frustration turned to fascination when I finally found a used tire shop a few towns over and walked in to discover that the owners had protective wards put up over every doorway in the place. The entrance to the office had a Gideon’s pocket New Testament, horse shoe and a pamphlet titled Conditions de Entrada al Cielo (Conditions for the Entrance into Heaven) secured to the frame. It was an immediate reminder of what I’ve been writing about lately in regard to the commonality of magico-religious practices.

The mediated image of folk magic presents an exotic appeal and mystery that is almost entirely missing when you dig in to its actual practice – for many people magico-religious beliefs and spiritual work are integrated fully into their every day lives in a way that is foreign to those who come to these practices from Neo-paganism, popular occultism, and other spiritual sub-cultures that are tied strongly to marketing, commercialism and identity politics rather than a continuation of traditional forms through contemporary means. (1)

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Grocery Store Grimoires

For the past few years I’ve been fascinating with the distribution of occult books in the seemingly mundane environment of the U.S. marketplace. (2)

If you poke around the magazine aisle – most grocery stores have books that give the basics for developing advanced intuition, out of body experiences, precognition, and similar human potentials. You may have missed them though, because they are almost always aimed at the Christian market – the most prevalent material is under the guise of  ‘spiritual warfare’ and ‘supernatural living’.

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One person’s Holy Ghost baptism is another person’s Kundalini awakening – some have prophetic dreams of Jesus and others call that precognition. The publication and mass distribution of Eben Alexander III’s book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, is a secularized example of the grocery store grimoire phenomenon. The book was widely available as a bestseller and gave a very public presence to the current state of the debate around Near Death Experiences. However, Secular examples like Alexander’s book don’t have the same staying power or continuous market presence as the spiritual warfare and supernatural living material.

303dce7d6701e82232198d08b25105b8.jpgThe books included in photos above, which I took at a local grocery stores over the years, may be framed within a Christian worldview but this does nothing to lessen their mystique. Remember that ritual magic in large part comes from exorcism traditions and it’s merely a flip of intention to change an exorcism into a conjuration or invocation.

Folk magic and Charismatic and ecstatic forms of Christianity have long been intimately tied. What we seen today in the grocery store aisle might not have the same patina of age worn respectability that an occult classic like the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses has, but when seriously applied a surprising amount of the practical use value remains intact.(0

As I was pondering these potentials I started to wonder how much of my speculation was a thought experiment, and how much was actually likely to occur. Were there really folks out there back engineering this spiritual warfare material and using it for more unorthodox purposes?

Apt to the research it was a ‘grocery store grimoire’ that gave me the answer:

“In the 1970’s a group of ministers who had experience dealing with demons began to hold lengthy conversations with them, seeking to obtain special understanding about things in the spirit realm. In the end this proved disastrous. The group went into serious doctrinal error and some of them died prematurely.”

– Derek Prince, end note in They Shall Expel Demons: What You Need to Know About Demons – Your Invisible Enemies (Chosen Books, 1998)

Ministers using allegedly possessed members of their congregation as mediums to channel discarnate spirits in order to gain forbidden knowledge – you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of unorthodox purposes.

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Santa Muerte at Walmart

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Grim Reaper T-Shirt at Walmart (Athens, GA)

In the course of my research into grocery store grimoires I was disappointed when the closest Walmart expanded their romance novel selection and nixed the Inspirational Books section. A set back more than made up for by the Men’s Clothing area – where la Santa Muerte still sits secure in the rotational display of discount t-shirts.

“But that’s just a cheap grim reaper shirt!”

Oh no my friend, it’s a gateway into supernatural living if you know anything about the popularization of Saint Death’s iconography in the black and grey market.

If you are a savvy entrepreneur in the Mexican market, looking to quickly capitalize on the growth of a popular tradition, or if you are an intent devotee looking to represent La Nina Bonita through your clothing, where would you start?

A few companies make Santa Muerte specific shirts, but these are not always easily acquired – so you grab the first thing that fits the bill within your environment. In Santa Muerte’s case this just happened to be shirts with illustrations of the Grim Reaper. Those outside the devotion see nothing more than a shirt from Walmart – those within know that here in the midst of the mundane la Madre Poderosa stands hidden in plain sight. (3)

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A Study in End-Times Biblical Prophecy

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Bible study invitation in the foyer of a local post office.

A trip to the post office can turn into an adventure in apocalyptic fervor when you encounter a delightful invitation to an End Times Bible Study.  In the hyper-textual landscape of popular religion you’re never far from the edge of the eschaton.

Flyers like this provide ephemeral strands stretching between the grocery store grimoires and the folks who read and practice them. The same cultural streams which focus on end-times biblical prophecy are very likely to be attentive to the import of spiritual warfare and exorcism.

Subtle markers on the boundaries of a secret landscape – these examples all hint at a interconnected, intwined and integral aspect within the daily lives of people who would balk at the idea that they are involved in some form of esoteric or occult practice. Secured by the othering of academic categories which ignore these living streams of mystery – they go about their normal days unseen.

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The House on Devil’s Pond Road

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The house on Devil’s Pond Road

I can’t tell you how many times I drove past this abandoned house thinking it was merely another one of the curious and crumbling memories that populate the landscape of rural Georgia. That is until a casual conversation with a local antique dealer about the efficacy of charms lead to a surprising revelation:

“Back in the 1930’s there was a woman practiced conjure a couple towns over. They say she held court from a throne formed by the twisted roots of an old oak tree down on Devil’s Pond Rd.”

The oak tree that the antique dealer mentioned is that sort of black vegetative splotch in front of the structure – it’s now broken and overgrown with vines – a striking symbol of how fragile these intimate traditions are. When the line of transmission is broken unless one is skilled in interpreting residual traces they drift away into rumors and forgetfulness.

After learning more about the site’s history I developed a series of sound pieces (available to stream above) to honor the conjure that once lived here – they are best enjoyed with ear phones while gazing at the photo to imbibe the residual transmissions of the house on Devil’s Pond Rd.

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Facts and Predictions for the Entire Year

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Lottery Dream Books at a convenient store just outside of Athens, GA

These simple manuals systematize a symbol set which can be slowly memorized and tied to intuitive responses. Once the supernatural cover story is dropped, what you essentially have is a folk version of the art of memory with the intention of accessing dream states and day to day synchronicities to heighten intuitive functioning. (4)

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Craigslist Conjurations

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Mother Powers advertisement from The Lucky Red Devil Combination Dream Book and Numerology Guide (Eagle Book Supply Inc, 2013)

Generalized psychic and metaphysical services are a mainstay in the Craigslist classified ads. Presenting an image reminiscent of the psychic hotlines that were promoted in commercials and infomercials during the 1980’s and 90’s the bulk of these advertisements offer standard super natural options for those seeking assistance from beyond the pale confines of everyday life.

With a bit of digging it’s occasionally possible to discover another class of advertisement, more rarefied offerings from a few unique individuals who have stepped outside of the common psycho-spiritual SEO. Ads like the ones I gathered back in 2014 from Miss Mary, who runs a number of advertisements in different cities.

To the uncritical eye they might seem to be repetitious – however, the true connoisseur of traditional spiritual work will recognize the poetic touches that make each ad unique. She uses a time honored formula that is reminiscent of older advertisements for such services. Miss Mary’s ad copy is similar to the Mother Powers advertisements in Lottery Dream Books, or the associated advertisements online for Sister Mary, here you can see the tradition carrying on into the digital world of Craigslist classifieds:

SPIRITUAL ROOTWORKER (BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA)

MISS MARY CAN HELP YOU ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD IN HOURS. ARE YOU IN HARD LUCK? DO YOU HAVE PROBLEMS THAT ARE WORRYING YOU? ARE YOU SUFFERING IN PAIN AND MISERY? DO YOU WANT TO GET LUCKY AND STAY LUCKY? IS YOUR HUSBAND OR WIFE SPENDING THE MONEY ON SOMEONE ELSE? HAS HE OR SHE LEFT YOU FOR ANOTHER? CALL MISS MARY NOW FOR HELP. ARE YOU HAVING TROUBLE WITH YOUR LEGS, BACK, STOMACH, HEAD, OR ARMS? IS YOUR HAIR FALLING OUT? MISS MARY WILL REMOVE BAD LUCK, EVIL, SICKNESS, PAINS AND NERVOUS CONDITIONS FROM YOU NOW. MISS MARY WILL TELL YOU HOW TO BE LUCKY AT HORSES, CARDS, BINGO, LOTTERY, DOGS, SLOT MACHINES, AND NUMBERS. CALL NOW FOR HELP. YOU WILL BLESS THE DAY YOU DID. MY WORK IS 100% GUARANTEED. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BE RID OF YOUR TROUBLES BY TOMMOROW.

MISS MARY POWERFUL ROOT WORKER (BRUNSWICK, GA.) 

MY POWERS ARE GUARANTEED. DO YOU HAVE BAD LUCK? NEED HELP? MISS MARY SOLVES ALL PROBLEMS. MONEY, LUCK, BUSINESS, HEALTH, NATURE, MARRIAGE, LOVE PROBLEMS, DRUG PROBLEMS, ALCOHOLISM. MISS MARY CAN REMOVE EVIL SPELLS OF ALL KINDS. VOODOO, ROOTS, HEXES. 100% SURE FAST RESULTS. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID. MY MAGICAL POWERS ARE BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION. CALL NOW FOR IMMEDIATE RESULTS.

POWERFUL ROOT WORKER (BRUNSWICK, GA.)

MISS MARY WILL READ YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WITHOUT ASKING YOU A SINGLE QUESTION. SHE HAS THE ABILITY TO HEAL BY PRAYER. ARE YOU SUFFERING? ARE YOU SICK IN ANY PART OF YOUR BODY? ARE YOU LOSING YOUR HAIR? HAVE YOU EVER STAYED AWAKE AT NIGHT THINKING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE? WELL THINK NO MORE MISS MARY IS HERE TO HELP YOU WITH ANY PROBLEM YOU MAY HAVE. MISS MARY WILL HELP YOU IN LOVE, MARRIAGE, ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE, LAWSUITS, EVIL, DIVORCES, ANY PROBLEM IS NOT TO BIG OR SMALL. I WILL GIVE YOU LUCKY NUMBERS TO PLAY LOTTO, BINGO, HORSES, DOGS, SLOTS. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BE RID OF YOUR PROBLEMS TOMORROW. MISS MARY SOLEMLY SWEARS TO HELP YOU. CALL MISS MARY  TODAY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID.

0RDAINED PSYCHIC READER AND ADVISOR (BRUNSWICK, GA)

HAVE YOU BEEN HOODOOED? ARE YOU SICK IN ANY PART OF YOUR BODY? MISS MARY HAS GOD GIVEN POWER TO HELP YOU OVERCOME YOUR PROBLEMS NO MATTER HOW BIG OR SMALL. I WILL TELL YOU JUST WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT FRIENDS ENEMIES OR RIVALS, WHETHER HUSBAND, WIFE OR SWEETHEART IS TRUE OR FALSE, HOW TO GAIN THE LOVE YOU MOST DESIRE, CONTROL OR INFLUENCE THE ACTION OF ANYONE EVEN THOUGH MILES AWAY. WILL GIVE YOU LUCKY NUMBERS, I HAVE HELPED THOUSANDS THROUGH ALL WALKS OF LIFE. I WILL ADVISE YOU ON LOVE, MARRIAGE, BUSINESS, HEALTH, DIVORCES, LAWSUITS, LUCK, ALCOHOLICS, DRUG ADDICTIONS, HAPPINESS,SPELLS, SUCCESS AND EVIL INFLUENCES OF ALL KINDS. I WILL TELL YOU WHO YOUR FRIENDS AND ENEMIES ARE. GUARANTEES TO REMOVE ALL EVIL AND BAD LUCK!!! WHY SUFFER WHEN YOU CAN BE HELPED AND FREED FROM ALL YOUR TROUBLES!!! DON’T FAIL TO CALL MISS MARY TODAY YOU WILL BLESS THE DAY YOU DID!!! CALL MISS MARY AND SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT MY POWERS CAN DO FOR YOU!!! DO NOT COMPARE ME WITH CHEAP, COMMON, ORDINARY INPERSONATORS MY WORK IS WITH GOD!!! CALL MISS MARY TODAY

SPIRITUAL READER AND ADVISOR (BRUNSWICK,GEORGIA) 

MISS MARY WILL READ YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WITHOUT ASKING YOU A SINGLE QUESTION. MISS MARY HAS THE ABILITY TO HEAL BY PRAYER. ARE YOU SUFFERING? ARE YOU SICK IN ANY PART OF YOUR BODY? HAVE YOU EVER STAYED AWAKE AT NIGHT THINKING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE? WELL, NOW YOU DON”T HAVE TO! THIS SPIRITUAL WOMAN WILL GUIDE YOU TO OVERCOME YOUR PROBLEMS NO MATTER WHAT YOUR PROBLEMS MIGHT BE. I CAN HELP YOU WITH LOVE PROBLEMS, MARRIAGE, OR BUSINESS PROBLEMS. I CAN GIVE YOU SURE HIT LUCKY NUMBERS. I WILL CURE ANY PROBLEMS THAT YOU HAVE. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED IF OTHERS FAILED YOU. MY WORK IS WITH GOD AND MY POWERS ARE GUARANTEED TO WORK. CALL ME AND FIND OUT FOR YOUR SELF HOW GREAT MY POWERS ARE. CALL MISS MARY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID.

MISS MARY ROOTWORKER (BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA)

LET MISS MARY REMOVE ALL EVIL SHADOWS AND SPELLS FROM YOU AND YOUR HOME. I USE LOVE POTIONS, SPELLS, DOLLS, HERBS, OILS AND CANDLES IN MY WORK TO REMOVE OR PLACE A VOODOO. DO YOU WISH TO CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF ANYONE YOU DESIRE MISS MARY WILL ADVISE YOU IN LOVE, MARRIAGE, BUSINESS, LUCK, HAPPINESS, AND MONEY. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BE HELPED AS THOUSANDS HAVE ALREADY DID. CALL MISS MARY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID.

Psychic Palm and Tarot Card Reader

I AM A LOCAL PALM READER HERE IN BRUNSWICK, GA. I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR OVER 30 YEARS I HAVE ALOT OF REPEAT CLIENTS THAT ARE VERY SATISFIED WITH MY READINGS I AM AVAILABLE FOR PRIVATE PARTYS IF YOU ARE HAVING A PRIVATE PARTY AND ARE INTERESTED IN HAVING A REAL LIFE PALM READER AT YOUR PARTY CALL ME FOR RATES MISS MARY

In ads like these we find spiritual workers who retain connections to long running traditions of folk magic and healing – reminding us again how common traditions of folk spirituality continue on despite the tendency to relegate these areas of human experience and expression to dead images of a curious past. (5)

For the full 53 page PDF – Craigslist Conjurations – Preliminary notes on Spiritual Services, Folk Magic and Digital Advertising – CLICK HERE

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Distributed by Keystone Laboratories

Gas stations and Craigslist ads aren’t the only place you can find these residual traces of conjure culture. Walking down the cosmetics aisle at a local Dollar General I ran into Ebony Glow, a soap from Keystone Laboratories that might look just like any other beauty product – however it turns out to be yet another gateway into supernatural living in the American marketplace.

The third picture shows a vintage Keystone Laboratories catalog from Tony Kail’s West Tennessee Museum of Southern Hoodoo History collection. As you can see the catalog features products familiar to anyone versed in American folk traditions such as our aforementioned Lottery Dream Books, votive candles, and conjure classics like the 6th and 7th Book of Moses. (6)

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Kali at the Gas Station

15844469_10154913417596670_8282549110676948160_oA quick stop a few years ago at the gas station in this photo lead to the discovery of a concealed Durga altar with representations of her maternal and wrathful aspects tucked away behind the counter and hidden from view by a box of blunt wraps and a display of energy supplements.

“Kali is often depicted in the posture called pratyalidha, with Her left knee advanced and her right leg drawn back. In this position Her left foot can prod Her Shiva into wakefulness. Pratyalidha and its opposite, the alidha stance (right knee advanced, left drawn back) both come from a Sanskrit root which means “lapped up, licked, tongue applied to, eaten.”

What She eats, with Her tongue, Her eyes, and Her very pose, is your Ahamkara Shakti, your energy of self. Since the chief expression of shakti in the physical body isprana, the life force, the power which keeps body, mind and spirit functioning together as a living unit, what Kali eats as you worship Her is your prana. Physical life, health and longevity require that ahamkara self-identify strongly with your organism to permit prana to enliven your body. Spiritual health requires ahamkara to relinquish most of this attachment, and Kali is happy to help you actively relinquish it.

The chief carrier of prana in the body is blood, so when you see blood dripping from Kali’s tongue you should see that blood as the prana of Her devotees, offered to Her to transmute. What She craves is your blood (your prana) that She may truly bring you to life. (7)

Unmediated and stripped of exotic framing this simple altar speaks to the powerful integration of applied spirituality in the every day lives around us.

The pure streams of magico-religious practice aren’t found in flashy packaging and artisanal facade – they’re found in hearts consumed by practices that reveal the presence of mystery in the midst of the everyday.

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View from the side of the road where a flat tire initiated today’s reflections on super natural living.

“The supernatural and occult imagination becomes the locus where the tension between the material world and the world of the spirit is realized and then dissolved.” – Peter Bebergal, Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural

All of the examples presented here represent a direct line of influence straight from folk traditions that have come to be popularized and mediated in the various occult revivals over the years.

Here in this varied selection of products and media we see ‘the supernatural and occult imagination’ become enlivened through empowered, contemporary and active traditions of belief that, despite their skeptical detractors, speak to the efficacy of supernatural living and demonstrate this efficacy with their subtle power and presence in the American marketplace.

Footnotes:

(1) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/for-our-readers-that-shop-by-mail-fast-cash-money-oil-and-the-old-farmers-almanac/
(2) https://modernmythology.net/satans-target-your-mind-supernatural-living-in-the-american-marketplace-c6c38c616778
(3) https://skeletonsaint.com/2013/05/01/selling-holy-death-from-grim-reaper-to-skeletal-virgin-a-brief-look-at-commercializing-an-emerging-iconography/
(4) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/gambling-with-psi-lottery-dream-books-and-other-money-making-mind-tricks-96622bcec051
(5) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/craigslist-conjurations-an-exploration-into-the-interstices-of-spiritual-services-folk-magic-and-bd210e3f22e6 – and – https://www.academia.edu/13615817/Craigslist_Conjurations_-_Preliminary_notes_on_Spiritual_Services_Folk_Magic_and_Digital_Advertising
(6) https://memphishoodoo.wixsite.com/museum
(7) https://archive.org/details/DeviMahatmyamEnglishTransiteration/page/n33

 

For Our Readers That Shop By Mail – Fast Cash Money Oil and the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on September 15, 2019

“Since 1792, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has spoken to all walks of life: planting charts for those who grow their own food; recipes for those who live in the kitchen; Moon and sunrise times for those who watch the skies; and forecasts for those who don’t like the question of weather left up in the air.” (1)

Image from iOS-99

Old Farmer’s Almanac display in the magazine aisle of a local Kroger supermarket (Athens, GA, 2019)

In most grocery stores across the United States you can pick up the latest copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “North America’s most popular reference guide and oldest continuously published periodical“(2) – a staple of life in the U.S. for over two hundred years.

These nondescript little books discretely resonate with the luxurious possibilities of supernatural living in the American marketplace and they always catch my eye – so, when a good friend texted a photo from the 2020 edition with an advertisement for the Luck Shop, the next chance I had to take a look I did.

Your Master Spiritual Goods Supplier

Luck Shop advertisements are a familiar sight in the back pages of the Lottery Dream Books I pick up at local gas stations (3) – however it was a bit of a surprise to find “your master spiritual goods supplier…the largest and most comprehensive Mojo Store in the Midwest- Specializing in selling Spiritual Supplies and Cultural Heritage products through…retail store and mail order catalog, for over 90 years,”(4) in a booklet sold at Kroger.

It shouldn’t have been surprising – but I’d come to expect that such a direct connection to conjure culture had been pushed to the margins of the marketplace and was now only available in places like independently owned gas stations and other liminal haunts – not right in the magazine aisle of the local grocery store next to the greeting cards and Sudoku booklets.

Flip to Page 247, and there it is:

Image from iOS-101

LuckShop.com display ad in the 2020 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac

One of the things that captivates me when I find these portals into the world of supernatural living is the business dynamics that go into an advertisement or product like this making it into the mainstream grocery market.

Our Products are Your Platform

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Media Kit website advises that:

“Our products are your platform.

As one of the most trusted brands literally in the world, the OFA brings instant credibility to, and interest in, its partners. When you work with us, we connect you to our community using the tools that suit your company, your product, and your message best.” (5)

When you apply this corporate copy to a mojo supply shop advertisement magic happens.

How many people pass by these booklets everyday without realizing Fast Cash Money Oil is just a phone call away?

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“The Old Root Man’s Formula for Fast Money Drawing gets evil off of you or out of your body. Kills all jinx and bad luck around you. Uncrosses your home and everyone in it. Returns all evil back to the sender who put it on you, no matter the situation!” (6)

How many readers of The Old Farmer’s Almanac are looking for Rev. Moses Triple Strength  ‘Old Root Man’s Formula’ Liquid Evil and Jinx Killer?

The Media Kit states that the publication is aimed at “a cross-section of North America itself. From the small farmer in the Midwest to the suburban family focused on sustainability and connection to the environment, our community members have one thing in common: They seek to lead informed  lives honestly, valuing innovation, durability, reliability and trustworthiness.” It’s incredibly intriguing to figure out where The Old Root Man’s Formula fits into that mix. 

Has the LuckShop.com misjudged their ad spend?

Has the Old Farmer’s Almanac misjudged their market?

Or is the question of occult spirituality in the contemporary United States a bit more complex than the picture we see framed by the popular media and sub-cultures that have emerged around these topics?

A Trip to Miller’s Rexall in 2018 disabused me of any remaining assumptions I had over what place spiritual work has in contemporary culture.

Run Devil Run

lsDespite its well known status as one of the long standing landmarks of folk magic in the southern United States, stepping past the threshold of Miller’s Rexall Drugs new customers were greeted with  a standard pharmacy located in downtown Atlanta (7).  The store itself and its general set up was similar to any other urban pharmacy, it even had the same discount bin of random items at the front – the only difference is that the ills and maladies Miller’s provides curatives for don’t stop at indigestion and the common cold.

This surface normalcy is one of the things you don’t get a real sense for unless you visit a shop like this in person – and as Jack Montgomery, author of American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healer (Busca Inc., 2008), pointed out in a Facebook post when he and Memphis hoodoo scholar Tony Kail visited Atlanta a few years ago – Miller’s is one of the last of the original spiritual supply stores left in the U.S. – making opportunities to visit few and far between for most folks.

The mediated image of folk magic presents an exotic appeal and mystery that is almost entirely missing when you dig in to its actual practice – for many people magico-religious beliefs and spiritual work are integrated fully into their every day lives in a way that is foreign to those who come to these practices from Neo-paganism, popular occultism, and other spiritual sub-cultures that are tied strongly to marketing, commercialism and identity politics rather than a continuation of traditional forms through contemporary means.

Just a Few Blocks from the Courthouse

These practices are often not learned first from books, but from family members and neighbors – they are drawn from the needs of the community and a cosmological and metaphysical understanding that is woven into the very identity of the social structure itself.

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When I visited Atlanta, Miller’s Rexall and neighboring spiritual supply shop Rondo Distributing were both just a few blocks northeast from the imposing Fulton County Courthouse – and fitting the proximity to the county court house and Atlanta’s municipal buildings many of the products offered for sale focus on resolving court cases, getting out of jail and of course the much lauded items intended to make the law stay away. All of the items were on ready display along with innumerable other spiritual supplies – packed onto shelves organized for use rather than marketing.

Democratizing Access to the Numinous

Clients come in with a need and are directed towards products by a helpful sales staff, including, at the time, Doc Miller himself – just as they would be if they needed advice on how to cure a urinary tract infection from their local pharmacist. It just happens that their requests might also include jinx removal, protection from the evil eye, curse breaking, and so on. 

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These aren’t walk-in tourist kind of places – even today they are an active part of the community, serving a specific set of cultural needs that aren’t addressed anywhere else. Whether it’s fast-luck or keeping cops away, the needs addressed highlight the day to day concerns of the marginal communities served by the shop.

Places like Miller’s Rexall also provide a functional role in giving these communities the tools necessary to formulate their independence from the strong currents of control which issue from the dominant cultural institutions – a function similar to what Hugh R. Page, Jr. ascribes to the works of Henri Gamache, which just so happen to also be for sale in these stores:

“One of the distinguishing traits of these works is that they democratize access to the numinous through the abrogation of power typically vested in institutional hierocracies. By making readily available biblical texts, Judeo-Christian hermeneutical traditions, and selected data on indigenous religious rituals from around the world, these books provide non-specialists with the practical knowledge and expertise to create personal liturgies for healing and canons for appropriating the Bible that resist hegemony and promote individual and communal self-empowerment. Interestingly, all appear to be, in fact, pseudonymous works. “(8)

The stores act to centralize communities outside of the mainstream and official domains, as well as provide them with tools to shape and rewrite the narratives of disempowerment that are maintained by the dominant social institutions – and their waning status in the culture is a sign of transition. Miller’s and Rondo are in a city district set for rehabilitation, which will likely challenge the organic culture that keeps them alive, potentially leaving them little room outside of becoming museum shops or tourist attractions to survive.

Magic always lives on the margins – and as those margins shift, so do the occult outlets that serve them. Thankfully, for our readers that shop by mail in these trying times, seems that you can always pick up some Fast Luck Money Oil from the back pages of an Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Notes:

(1) https://www.almanac.com/content/about-us
(2) https://www.almanac.com/content/history-old-farmers-almanac
(3) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/gambling-with-psi-lottery-dream-books-and-other-money-making-mind-tricks-96622bcec051
(4) https://www.luckshop.com
(5) https://www.almanac.com/sites/default/files/mediakit/20_21_almanac_media_kit.pdf
(6) https://www.luckshop.com/evil-and-jinx-killer
(7) Now under new ownership Miller’s Rexall has moved to a location in nearby Decatur.  See https://www.millersrexall.com
(8) Hugh R. Page Jr., Post-Imperial Appropriation of Text, Tradition, and Ritual in the Pseudonymous Writings of Henri Gamache –  from Esotericism in African American Religious Experience : “There Is a Mystery”, Eds. Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Guillory and Hugh Page Jr. (Brill, 2014)

For more insight into stores like Miller’s Rexall and the communities that they serve – the Shattered Reality podcast hosted an in depth conversation with Jason Mizrahi, manager of Original Products, a long running spiritual supply company located in the Bronx:

https://www.originalbotanica.com/

 

Lottery Dream Books and Other Money Making Mind Tricks

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on January 3, 2017

Selection of Lottery Dream Books at a gas station on the east side of Athens, Georgia

Scared money don’t make none — a fantastic meditational mantra that comes from the evocative mysteries of street level gambling and investment advice. When I lived in Monroe, Georgia I was overjoyed to find that a run down local gas station near by carried a wide selection of lottery dream books.

For those unfamiliar with them, these are small pulp print books that provide lists of common thematic elements appearing in dreams. Regarded as superstitious novelties by many, these books are a cornerstone of gambling culture with the promise of offering insight into what numbers to pick on your next bet, as well as more general interpretations for symbols found in dreams and synchronistic events.

What interests me about these simple manuals is their ability to systematize a symbol set which can be slowly memorized and tied to intuitive responses. Once the supernatural cover story is dropped, what you essentially have is a folk version of the art of memory with the intention of accessing dream states and day to day synchronicities to heighten intuitive functioning. Take Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey Kripal’s advice and re-write the ‘super natural’ cover story and you can access even greater potentials.

At the Society for Psychical Research’s 40th Annual International Conference held at the University of Leeds in September, 2016 researcher Keith Hearne presented a provocative paper titled The Alpha-Numeric Dream Code — A New Way of Obtaining Seemingly Significant Direct Messages from the Unconscious in Dreams. As you might imagine this ‘new way’ is remarkably similar to what regular folks have been doing for over a hundred years with these Lottery Dream Books.

The abstract for Hearne’s paper is available on the SPR’s website and provides insight into how these Dream Books function:

The ‘alphabet dream code’ was originally devised by a colleague, David Melbourne, who died in 2011. In this presentation I shall describe that method (which we found to be highly useful for participants), together with my later addition of the ‘numeric’ dream code.

David’s idea (which appropriately came to him in a dream) was that if you program your mind by reading a carefully constructed list of permanent pre-set keywords, based on the letters of the alphabet (with some positive and some negative aspects), and before sleep ask your unconscious for a meaningful message, what is likely to happen is that your knowledgeable and wise unconscious will select a relevant message from that fixed array and reveal it to you by showing several items beginning with the same initial letter — and then your unconscious will deliberately wake you so that you become aware of the message. You simply refer to the list of words. The particular aspect of the keyword ‘jumps out’ at you. It is an astonishingly simple and effective form of communication directly from the unconscious, which can for instance: warn you of something; encourage you; guide you; and help you make important decisions. It does not require any kind of interpretation procedure — the message is presented clearly and concisely.

If you look at the inside one of these Dream Books you have a very similar set up to what Hearne describes in his paper. The difference being that you’re not working with letters appearing in dreams — your working with images. Another difference is that the word lists in these Dream Books are usually rather extensive — which indicates that there may be an element of presentiment going on if the dream content truly does provide useful information when related to the numbers in the book (and yes I do know that this complicates things by adding another layer of supposedly unproven ideas with presentiment, but we’re already talking about folk magic infused gas station pamphlets so just go with it!)

Page 33 from the All New 2016 Red Devil Combination Dream Book (Double Red Publishing, 2016)

Awhile back some ladies visited the property I’m staying at to research their family history. The property is over 200 years old — with the original house, barn and sheds still standing — so it was a wonderful experience for them to be able to sit at the very dining table, in the very kitchen, that their ancestors had sat at. One of the nights while they were staying at the main house the younger sister had a dream in which a name was given to her — the next day while doing archival research on her family she discovered that the name (which was a rather unique name) was associated with one of her relatives that had lived on the property.

Discussing this over dinner lead to stories of how she and her sister were familiar with the lottery dream books — and used them frequently. When the dream ‘felt right’ they often won — her sister’s husband had won over $10,000 on a dream with the right feel. But they insisted that the only way to succeed was to follow with faith, because scared money doesn’t make money — you can’t hesitate when you’re on the right track or you might loose out.

Early Keystone Laboratories catalog listing various dream books for sale (The West Tennessee Museum of Southern Hoodoo History)

One of the keys that came out in conversation is a concept of resonance that goes beyond ‘fact’ — I showed them my collection of lottery dream books and lamented that they were a few years old. The older sister smiled and said “That doesn’t matter — they’re all the same anyway” and then pointed to a dream book from the early 20th century and said “now THAT one is particularly powerful!” It became apparent that their use of the Dream Books was talismanic — their favorite one was held with reverence and became a focal point of their dream practices. Magic isn’t about facts and causality — it’s about resonance and correlation.

In a pertinent blog post the author Malcolm Smith addresses the skeptical standard that comes up when topics like this are broached: if psychic functioning exists, why don’t psychics use their predictive abilities to win the lottery? Smith points out that some of the researchers involved in the United States government’s Remote Viewing program actually did proceed along these lines with a measure of success:

“After leaving the unit, two of the members, Targ and Harary formed a company called Delphi Associates to play the silver futures market. On a Sunday, Targ would pick two targets in the San Francisco area, and decide that, if the market went up on Monday, he would take his associate to (say) the Transamerica skyscraper. If it went down, he would take him to (say) Fisherman’s Wharf. Harary would not be told of these choices; he would just be asked to visualise where he would be on Monday. If, for example, he sensed salt air and seagulls, Targ would conclude it was Fisherman’s Wharf, and advise the client to bet on the market going down. Some clients made real money this way, but pulled out after a couple of false predictions. Just the same, Putoff and his wife tried the same scheme when they needed $25,000 to set up a private school. They trained a number of board members in remote viewing (see, anyone can do it!) and made the $25,000 in a month.”

He also briefly illustrates some of the insights they gained during their research:

“By and large, they were just ordinary (G.I.) Joes cultivating a potential probably inherent in all of us. An analogy is musical skill; some of us are woeful, a few are naturally gifted, but most people can at least hold a tune. Also, despite what experimental psychic research would lead you to believe, their powers did not wane with time. And, no, the U.S. spymasters were not so stupid as to rely on ESP as such. They treated it as merely another source of data for the big jigsaw puzzle, to confirm or be confirmed by other information, and to suggest leads.

They did have some remarkable successes, and in the process, made a lot of observations — unsystematic, to be true, and therefore not strictly speaking scientific — on the scope and limitations of the phenomenon. Although they did not say so, I would suggest the observations provide an illuminating glimpse at what an advanced technology may be capable of doing, and what, I strongly suspect, otherwordly technologies are already using.

“Once you discover that space doesn’t matter [one of them told a reporter], or that time can be traveled through at will so that time doesn’t matter, and that matter can be moved by consciousness so that matter doesn’t matter . . . well, you can’t go home again.”

The first constraint was the weakness of the “signal” or, more likely, the weakness of our senses to detect it. It was like attempting to piece together a picture from sudden pin-prick glimpses. The signal appeared to be largely subliminal, that is, it came in below the level of the conscious mind to detect. They learned to get around this by seeking to defer interpretation until the latter parts of the observation. Initially, they would concentrate on raw data, such as incoherent drawings of the image accessed, along with general impressions such as “dry”, “steep”, or “sharp”. Only towards the end, when several members of the team had pooled their impressions, would analysis begin.”

Having personally spent time with Russell Targ, Ed May, and Joseph McMoneagle, who worked with Stanford Research Institute during the government Remote Viewing project, as well as having spent time with the late Carol de la Harran, who held the position of President at the Monroe Institute, another organization that was central to the Remote Viewing project, I would have to disagree with Smith’s assessment that these programs were ‘unsystematic.’ The applied research into psychical function began with establishment interest in the work of J.B. Rhine during the 1930’s, continuing on through Andrija Puharich’s work with the Round Table Foundation in the 1950’s, Dr. Stanley Krippner’s work with dream telepathy at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn during the 1960’s, and into the work of multiple laboratories across the United States during the 1970’s and 80’s. Along with this were independent studies of applied psychical research from major corporations such as Boeing, Sony, and a number of others.

One of the psycho-kinetic studies conducted by Boeing’s Plasma Physics Labs in 1967 — New Correlation Between a Human Subject and a Quantum Mechanical Random Number Generator (Click Here for the abstract) — concluded:

“From the results, it is tentatively concluded that there exists a weak but significant correlation between the statistical processes operative in these experiments and the experimenter who initiates the processes.”

Due to the nature of this type of research, which touches on taboo subjects that many in the scientific community feel superstitious about studying, as well as the fact that much of the systematic research was conducted under the blinds of corporate proprietary restrictions and top secret clearance, it’s not surprising that many today look at the scattered evidence as representative of discoordination. However, a deeper look shows that this is most certainly not the case at all, and evidence exists for a very systematic and long term accumulation of evidence to support the potential for sustained psychic functioning.

What Targ and Harary did with setting up future signals to trigger Remote Viewing hits, is similar to what the Dream Books can potentially due to provide a simple code of every day symbols available through the unconsciously activated insights of the dream state. In his blog post Smith points out that, “the (psychic) signal appeared to be largely subliminal, that is, it came in below the level of the conscious mind to detect.” Which is one of the things that makes dream work one of the most potentially powerful pieces in the intuitive’s tool box.

llustration from the Kansas City Kitty Dream Book (Eagle Supply Company, Inc.)

The availability of much of the declassified and now public proprietary research from the 20th century, as well as the access to the rich history of folk practice that things like Google Books and various internet archives provide, makes these areas ripe for more rigorous amateur experimentation. Savvy researchers can easily create experiments that take advantage of over a century’s worth of material, and if the lottery finds its way into the experiment — if you already like to play, you won’t loose anymore than you already do laying down your dollars for a ticket. If you don’t already play it’s a cheap way to turn potentially positive experimental results into a profitable transaction.

Does it work? Why not try it and find out.

Rather than believing that psychism is just a superstition, follow Dr. Charles Tart’s advice:

“It’s not a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence…”

Scared money don’t make none —you’ve got to play to win and in order to find out about something as taboo as psychic functioning you’ve got to get your hands dirty and experiment with it!


Resources for further study:

Special thanks to Tony Kail and the West Tennessee Museum of Southern Hoodoo for the image of the vintage Keystone Laboratories catalog. Visit the museums website for more information on the cultural history of hoodoo and folk practices in the Memphis and Mississippi Delta region. https://memphishoodoo.wixsite.com/museum

Click Here to read more on Dr. Charles Tart’s thoughts on the ‘experimental counter-culture

Click Here to read more from Malcolm Smith’s thoughts on ‘Why Psychics Don’t Win the Lotteries…”

Click Here to read more about some of the corporate research into psychic functioning with Gene Semel’s article — “E.S.P. Exists: Inside Sony’s Corporate Research

For more info on the history of Lottery Dream Books Catherine Yronwodehas a nice piece up on the Lucky Mojo Curio Co. curio company site: http://www.luckymojo.com/auntsallys.html

Cyborgs, Psychics and Intelligent Plasmas – Speculative approaches to human space travel with Jose Canseco

Posted in > BLACK CADILLAC REVIEW by David on February 3, 2019

“Aliens have been trying to teach us how to time travel but first we have to change our body composition which we are not willing to do we have tried animals and it has failed…Our science is totally irrelevant to aliens” – Jose Canseco on Twitter (1)

On January 30th, 2019 six-time All Star former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco took to Twitter with a series of posts discussing time travel, alien subtle bodies, and the future evolution of the human species as it relates to space travel.

Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 5.07.04 PMI admit that this is an odd follow up to the preceding posts he put up on the same day promoting  Brute’s LUX series of custom golf drivers and it probably falls well outside his Major League prowess to tackle the issue of the migration of the human species into space. If you have questions, his follow up tweets offer a chance to hit the golf course with him and pick his brain on aliens and time travel – or if you want to sit that one out simply read on and we’ll  journey through a few of the weirder roads that have paralleled the space race and maybe we can illuminate the questions.

It’s easy to be dismissive, especially with tweets about aliens teaching us time travel, and the very real possibility that Canseco was trying to stir viral attention for his golf promotions, but for the moment why don’t we take a different track and rather than dismissing his curious statements let’s do a thought experiment and explore some of the avenues that he indicates in his tweets – we’ll quickly find that they lead down interesting paths of speculation if we let them and they can help us to consider the magnitude of our culture’s current quest for space travel.

For many of us the day to day seems tough enough without thinking about breaking the boundaries of earth’s atmosphere, but as Abraham Loeb, chair of astronomy at Harvard University , said in a recent article for Scientific American:

“There is no doubt that we will ultimately be forced to relocate as a result of a major catastrophe on Earth, such as the sun boiling off the oceans in less than a billion years, a giant asteroid impact within hundreds of millions of years, a technologically-inflicted climate change within thousands of years or a global nuclear war within tens or hundreds of years. The only uncertainty is the timescale over which such a migration will be forced upon us.”(2)

Future planning puts space travel in a primary spot on humanity’s to-do list, but before we get too excited let’s reacquaint ourselves with the harsh reality of space – take out the aliens in the tweets from Jose Canseco and we can see that he is essentially discussing the simple fact that the human body has a hard time adapting to high terrestrial altitudes and most certainly cannot endure the conditions we find in space. Going further we can add that the human body can’t endure prolonged exposure within an environmentally controlled craft while protected by the heliosphere of our sun – once we get beyond that we have very little idea what will happen to the human body or how fast it will happen and it doesn’t seem likely to get any better than the zero chances for long term survival we see closer to earth.

As NASA clearly outlines in a PR piece titled – The Human Body in Space:

“Space is a dangerous, unfriendly place.  Isolated from family and friends, exposed to radiation that could increase your lifetime risk for cancer, a diet high in freeze-dried food, required daily exercise to keep your muscles and bones from deteriorating, a carefully scripted high-tempo work schedule, and confinement with three co-workers picked to travel with you by your boss.” (3)

Straight from the horses mouth – space is not a happy place for humans. So what’s a space hungry homo-sapien to do with the odds being set against our free wheeling leap into the celestial spheres?

The 6 Million Dollar Man

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“Time travel puts 42, 651 pounds of pressure on a human skeletal structure…can you detach the brain from the body and equalize the pressure it could be done.”  – Jose Canseco on Twitter

Canseco is talking time-travel, but solving the problems of bodily stress in space alone is a no less daunting task – radiation exposure, oxygen deprivation, extreme temperatures, bone loss, changes in gene expression, and more all stand against humanities climb to the stars – one solution popularized during the early days of space exploration was advanced cybernetic development to integrate the human body/mind with machines in the hopes of enhancing its adaptability in space. Sci-Fi fans familiar with the television series The Six Million Dollar Man will recognize one of the most popular examples of marketing this approach to the public.

The series was based on Cyborg, a pulp novel from 1973 by sci-fi writer and aerospace expert Martin Caidin*. In the novel Caidin weaves the story of Lt. Col. Steve Austin, a test pilot who ended up on the wrong end of a crashed plane and became the subject of a top-secret interagency project to blend man and machine:

Steve Austin is a superhero in the television series – in the novel it’s a bit more complicated:

“He was a wonder of scientific perfection– but it was lonely as hell at the top. All the resources of NASA, the Pentagon, and Government Money put the pieces of Lt. Col. Steve Austin’s shattered body back together again. He came out of it more perfect than human. Better than new. A deadly, unstoppable weapon. Now all he needed was to find some human emotion in the tangle of plastic, wire and atomic metal that was fused to the remains of his flesh.” (4)

Before we look at some of the science behind this idea check out how it gets framed in the media. Compare the first edition cover from Caidin’s book and the cover from the edition released to coincide with the television series and we see a drastic change in framing:

What is clearly a sci-fi allegory and example of speculative fiction warning about technological overreach (notice on the 1st edition the novel is compared to The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man) becomes a muscled up promotional piece for cybernetic warriors once the broader popular market gets involved.

Another TV tie-in edition even has a bold evolution inspired promo line implying that the ‘Cyborg’ is a new breed of human:

“They had taken the wreck of a man and bionically created a superior being – a superman who might even be the first of a whole new breed!”

It’s difficult to blame the folks who really thought this was a solution to our survival problem in space and wanted to promote cyborg astronauts to the public. When you start reading the technical papers and popular science pieces that were coming out in relation to the actual science and medical procedures involved in melding human bodies with machine parts it’s a rather gruesome affair. Just consider the fact that this was the mid-20th century when computers were still the size of a filing cabinet or larger and we’d yet to discover nano-technology…and they wanted to merge that with the human organism.  ‘Nuff said.

Artifact-Organism Systems

“…we have to change our body composition which we are not willing to do we have tried animals and it has failed…”

CVQeTnvWEAAryeZ.png-largeDuring the mid-late 20th century, it seemed feasible that “altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space . . . Artifact-organism systems which would extend man’s unconscious, self-regulatory controls are one possibility.” (5) These alterations were seen within the context of evolution and as the inevitable next step in the development of humanity beyond our current state of existence.

As Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, from Rockland State Hospital, put it in an article published in the September, 1960 issue of Astronautics:

“Space travel challenges mankind not only technologically but also spiritually, in that it invites man to take an active part in his own biological evolution. Scientific advances of the future may thus be utilized to permit man’s existence in environments which differ radically from those provided by nature as we know it.

The task of adapting man’s body to any environment he may choose will be made easier by increased knowledge of homeo- static functioning, the cybernetic aspects of which are just begin- ning to be understood and investigated. In the past evolution brought about the altering of bodily functions to suit different environments. Starting as of now, it will be possible to achieve this to some degree without alteration of heredity by suitable bio- chemical, physiological, and electronic modifications of man’s existing modus vivendi.” (5)

They go on further to describe the requirement for these mechanical adaptations to operate seamlessly with the existing biological functions of the organism –  or the human artifact – ie. the person being grafted into a machine:

“What are some of the devices necessary for creating self-regulating man-machine systems? This self- regulation must function without the benefit of consciousness in order to cooperate with the body’s own autonomous homeostatic controls. For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously, we propose the term “Cyborg.” The Cyborg deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments.”(5)

All well and good until the human body says no – it’s hard enough to get an organ transplant to take, let alone a piece of metal or electronics. The reality of going from a speculative cybernetic ideal to real life application in living organisms put the whole cyborg thing on hold as our technological and bio-medical understanding advanced to meet up with our high sighted goals. Today we are much closer to having limited capabilities in this area – but nowhere near what it would take to develop a human-machine interface that could withstand the deadly atmosphere of space travel without the addition of an artificial environment.

Inner Space Astronautics

earthrise

Earthrise – On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to witness the Earth rising above the moon’s barren surface. (Photo/Caption: NASA)

“…the brain can physically travel without the body…” 

While science continued developing the possibilities of physical augmentation, other methods were theorized that flipped the view from outer adjustments to inner ones.

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell in his introduction to the 1975 anthology, Psychic Explorations: A Challenge for Science, in a chapter titled From Outer Space to Inner Space, defines the ideological impetus for noetic and transpersonal research into space travel when he says that we must “promote the process of metanoia, or a new awakening in which mankind can realize its self-produced dilemma and, through a change of awareness and an expansion of individual responsibility, reestablish the unity of man with man and with the environment,” because, “only when man moves from his ego-centered self-image to a new image of universal man will the perennial problems that plague us be susceptible of resolution. Humanity must rise from man to mankind, from the personal to the transpersonal, from self-consciousness to cosmic consciousness.” (6) During Mitchell’s experience on the moon he had a profound vision of the earth hanging in space that catalyzed a drastic change in his perspective  – as he told People magazine in 1974, “you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty.” (7) Viewing the earth from far beyond the boundaries of its atmosphere opened up a new vision of a unified humanity – a humanity capable and worthy to expand beyond the bounds of terra firma and into the mystery of the star swept depths of space.

This shift in perspective, both literal and mythopoetic, provided new ground upon which to understand humanity as a global organism, a biological system whose individual members made up a greater whole. We have to remember that during the Apollo 14 mission, Mitchell was also conducting a personal experiment in psychic functioning. As detailed in People magazine, “without NASA’s knowledge he had set up an experiment in extrasensory perception to be conducted during the mission with four men back on earth. The test involved the men on earth guessing the correct order of certain standard symbols as Mitchell “sent” them from space by telepathy and it was later judged to be a moderate success.

At any rate, in Mitchell’s new resolution, such psi techniques could include ESP, clairvoyance, telepathy and psychokinesis (the use of psychic energy to bring about physical changes, like bending forks with well aimed thinking). All these and more could be employed in the quest for greater realization of the power of the human mind. For this commendable purpose the Institute of Noetic Sciences (Mitchell coined the term “Noetic” from the Greek word for mind) was eventually founded, on a nonprofit basis.”(7)

-Audio BobIONS wasn’t the only organization that was moving in this direction. Robert Monroe, a cable executive from Virginia, had a similar vision of a greater humanity open up to him as he learned to travel within his mind and experiment with sound induced out-of-body experiences. In 1971 he published his seminal work, Journeys Out of Body, which collected his observations on his personal experiments and quickly lead to the development of a more formal organization for his program of exploration – as can be seen from his introduction to the 1977 edition where he celebrates the news that:

“a research facility was formed and became active in 1972. Our work has attracted the interest and co-operation of physicists, psychologists, biochemists, engineers, educators, psychiatrists, corporate presidents, statisticians, many of whom serve on our board of advisers.”

He also outlines how the book served as a tool for normalizing the idea that our conscious selves are not necessarily bound by the body.  “Among the eleven thousand plus pieces of mail received to date, many sighs of relief were reported. The secret could be talked about without the need for sanity hearings. Thus the book is serving its primary purpose.”

At the research facility he mentions that, “over seven hundred persons have participated in our research and experimental training program. Our first Explorer Team has six members. Some fifty more are waiting for our facility to handle their final indoctrination, and their number is growing daily. We hope to be able to expand shortly in physical space, equipment, and personnel so that we can absorb the backlog and the increase. This year, training programs at the Institute may qualify for credit at the college and university level.” (8)

The Monroe Institute, along with the Institute of Noetic Sciences founded by Edgar Mitchell, have played a vital role in organizing and managing the scientific investigation into humanity’s extended capacities and both organizations have been formative in evolving our perception of ourselves as more than the limits of our body. Further on in his 1977 update, Monroe celebrates this, saying:

“Our Explorer Team of six is bringing back data faster than we can process it, far more rapidly and diverse than I alone could accumulate. That which we have sorted is overwhelming in its import. The fact of consensus and agreement from six different explorers-each unaware of the other’s experiences except in joint operations-has had a formidable impact upon those who have examined the material. The details will be reported in another book which is in preparation.”*

This intensive data gathering was seen within the framework of an expanded awareness burgeoning on a global scale in which Monroe and his colleagues played their part. We see this evolutionary focus as Monroe reflects on, “A lot of action to pack into four years. It only strengthens the concept of accelerated change at work-especially the change in human needs.” This accelerated change has not stopped and today we can look back on how useful the tools of inner astronautics and psychical research are for adapting to the changes wrought by the cybernetic potentials of the inter web and our advances in genetics, bio-technology, mass communication, machine learning, climate change and so many other areas where a unified humanity is necessary to ensure our survival.

The Purpose of Dreams is to Prepare Us for Space

While IONS and the Monroe Institute represent organizations that were pursuing space travel through the realms of inner space, these ideas were also being developed by individual artists and researchers. One of the most dedicated being the American counter culture’s infamous Invisible Man, William S. Burroughs, whose entire corpus of work is based on using the techniques of inner space for outer space travel.

“We postulate that man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole. This postulate, agreed upon, gives us a standard evaluation. Is a proposed course of action conducive to realizing space conditions? Art, science, technology, what is it contributing to the space program? As for individuals, ask yourself – would I like to be in space with that person? Postulate that there is no privacy and no deceit possible in space: Your innermost thoughts, feelings and intentions are immediately apparent to those around you. So you want to be careful who is around you.”(9)

In this quote from his essay Civilian Defense, Burroughs is basically saying the same things as the NASA PR piece and mirrors the language in Clynes and Klines famous article on Cyborgs in Aeronautics right down to the evolutionary script – he always did make a point of reading the literature. Yet when he talks about the personality conflicts there’s that bit of added psychic context we need to consider – he’s not talking about being crammed in a box with bad neighbors, he’s saying that by the time we make it into space, if we make it into space, we will be a fully psychic species and may not even have physical bodies in the way we think of now. When he says, “your innermost thoughts, feelings and intentions are immediately apparent to those around you,” he really means it!

william-burroughs-in-suit

William S. Burroughs (Bunker, New York), May 1981. Foto: © Ulrich Hillebrand (kultur-online.net)

He further outlines his speculations on esoteric astronautics in a talk that he presented in 1980 at Naropa University, saying “I think that the purpose of dreams is to prepare us for space and this is why they are a biological necessity. Whether the dream body is able to exist separately from the physical one, that is something that needs to be studied”(10)

Burroughs also helps us to put Canseco’s time travel in relation to our journey into space:

“A Russian scientist has said that we will travel, not only in space, but in time as well, that is, to travel in space is to travel in time, and if writers are to travel in space-time and explore the areas opened by the space age, I think they must develop techniques quite as new and definite as the technique of physical space travel.” (11)

In all of this Burroughs is explicit about his vision for a bodiless evolution of the human species – in one of his most famous routines, The Last Words of Hassan i Sabbah from his novel Nova Express, he states:

“The” word of Alien Enemy imprisons “thee” in Time. In Body. In Shit. Prisoner, come out. “

Every element in this particular routine is directed as a critique against the system of Control that he saw as the inevitable driving force behind the illusory world designed by “board syndicates and governments of the earth,” who he labels as “Collaborators with Insect People with Vegetable People. With any people anywhere you offer you a body forever. To shit forever,” saying that “For this you have sold out your sons. Sold the ground from unborn feet forever. Traitors to all souls everywhere.” Here we see him identifying two forms of people that are against freedom – Insect People, or those functioning within a hive-mind system that lacks all individual personality, and Vegetable People, those existing in a system that is wholly focused on the body and bodily functions. These are ‘traitors to all souls everywhere’ and it is this elevation of the soul over the body which gives us a key to what he elsewhere explains in terms of lucid dreaming or psychic bodies. It also gives us our stepping stone to begin looking at what our future selves might look like.

Visitors at a Cabin in the Woods

“..these aliens are going to teach us how to try and travel…”

01486-1ioznbzhk6skk-xmv_ivjsaOn December 26th, 1985 something happened to the novelist Whitley Strieber that changed the way the world looked at the notion of ‘alien life forms’ – Strieber experienced transformative contact with the unknown, leading to the publication of his groundbreaking book Communion: A True Story in 1987. With this book the public was given a delicate, personal exploration of a contact experience that broke down the boundaries between inner and outer, past and future, perception and memory – we were given an initiation into communion with non-human intelligences that seemed to stretch our conceptual framework to the very limits.

” I have never seen an unidentified flying object. I thought that the whole subject had been explained by science. It took me a couple of months to establish the connection between what had happened to me and possible nonhuman visitors, so unlikely did such a connection seem. In the middle of the night of December 26 — 1 do not know the exact time — I abruptly found myself awake. And I knew why: I heard a peculiar whooshing, swirling noise coming from the living room downstairs.” (12)

Communion is a challenging work, written not to answer questions, but to reframe them in light of Strieber’s experience of contact with an intelligence or intelligences that seemed to exist within the shadows of his daily life and within the hidden pathways of his mind. Although it was quickly shoehorned into the mediated category of ‘alien abduction,’ the complex nature of the experiences introduced in Communion, and further fleshed out in later works, is closer to contact experiences described in religious histories from around the world.

As the scholar of religion Jeffrey Kripal explains:

“If I hear and read him correctly (and I am reading the written tradition off the oral one), what Whitley is proposing is his total body of work is the real presence of intelligent light forms or conscious plasmas in our shared cosmic environment, their long historical interactions with human beings, and their subsequent very real effects on human civilization, particularly through story and symbol, or what historians of religions call ‘myth’. He possesses no certainty about the source or nature of the lights and energies. He has learned instead to focus on their practical and spiritual effects on individual human beings and communities…

…His conception of human nature overflows any ordinary secular notions. He thus thinks of a human being as an ‘incredible inter-dimensional entity’ and suspects that what we normally think of as a person is only one form of human being.” (13)

This expansion of the human being requires an inner development that is just as radical as the development of the cyborg in terms of reconfiguring the human biological organism. However this expansion seems to entail an inner work that might be seen as a natural extension of human evolution, more easily than one could imagine that the natural order is leading us to surgical augmentation and strange acts of experimental butchery.

Reimagining of the human as an ‘incredible inter-dimensional entity’ also brings us back to long standing traditions of esoteric spirituality, providing a historical continuity that is more firm than those offered by the vivisectionists. While it’s unlikely that Jose Canseco had this in mind with his tweets – the underlying resonance with a very real conversation going on around these topics gives us the opportunity to explore areas that we would not normally look at in terms of space travel. In the book Light Changes: Experiences in the Presence of Transforming Light, Annekatrin Puhle Ph.D. points out that “experiences with unusual light confront us with the old pantheistic idea that spirits live everywhere, in everything and in every being in the world. In the past, according to magical thinking, ‘things’ were not dead, but alive and even able to act. The whole world was believed to have been filled with life-spirits. Humans, besides the physical body, possessed another mostly invisible body of a spiritual nature.” (14) Again and again we are confronted with a physical concept the soul and an expanded idea of what it means to be human – could it be here that the answer to humanities potential future in space ultimately lies?

What Strieber and the other inner space astronauts present is a scientifically pursued esoteric spiritual practice that mirrors the highest practices of ancient religions. Some would say that this is simply an atavism best left to the historical record – but there is evidence that this might not be the case.

UFOs and Intelligent Plasmas

“We are in communication with aliens with a very flexible body composition…”

One of the most difficult elements of Whitley Strieber’s experiential narrative is the fact that it flies in the face of the so-called ‘nuts and bolts’ hypothesis for contact with non-human intelligence. Although there are instances that seem to indicate some sort of physical craft – like so many experiencer reports these occasions fit within a wider experiential set that blurs the lines between inner and outer experience making it difficult to shoehorn them into any easy categorization.

It might surprise many readers that this ambiguity is also found in nearly all of the attempts to scientifically examine the UFO issue. There have been a number of serious scientific attempts to directly engage with the phenomenon and each of them has come up against the curious fact that while some of the data indicates a physical craft may be involved, what is far more common is an encounter with what appears to be psychoactive and self contained instances of electromagnetically activated ionized gases – or intelligent plasmas!

Take for example the research conducted by Harley D. Rutledge, former head of the physics department of Southeast Missouri State University:

51b5S3ZBsuL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_“While he was generally noncommittal on the nature of the UFOs his team recorded, (Harley) Rutledge did relate that the discs and lights observed in the daylight by the teams were obviously plasmas. In his summary he wrote, “The plasma balls seen in daylight certainly suggest remote control.”

Perhaps the oddest finding of all was that everyone on the research team was convinced that the objects responded to being observed. The project cites 32 cases where the UFOs directly responded to the ground station observers. Rutledge and his team concluded that the objects were aware of their presence and would interact with them, sometimes seemingly toying with them.

As the project began to wind down, Rutledge noted in later interviews that some balls of plasma, 2-6 inches in diameter, would actually follow him around and even appear inside buildings. He found, as do many people who become intrigued by the UFO phenomenon, that the deeper you go into it, strange things begin happening.” (15)

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Spartanburg Herald-Journal – Nov 23, 1977 (16)

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The Milwaukee Journal – Dec 28, 1973 (16)

A similar long term research project conducted in Hessdalen, Norway also points to the possibility of UFOs as some kind of unique plasma phenomenon:

“Hessdalen lights (HL) are unexplained light balls usually seen in the valley of Hessdalen, Norway. In this work, it is suggested that HL are formed by a cluster of macroscopic Coulomb crystals in a plasma produced by the ionization of air and dust by alpha particles during radon decay in the dusty atmosphere. Several physical properties (oscillation, geometric structure, and light spectrum) observed in HL phenomenon can be explained through the dust plasma model.”(16)

Italian astrophysicist Massimo Teodorani, who has actively worked with the Hessdalen Light phenomenon, expands on this through a speculative analysis in his book The Hyperspace of Consciousness where he discusses the possibility that this kind of coordinated plasma phenomenon could lead to intelligent or conscious plasmas, saying that:

“…it might be possible to hypothesize that if really plasmas too are able to become in certain conditions real Life forms, then a part of them might evolve towards forms of intelligence that is more or less sophisticated. The consequences of such an hypothesis would be really disruptive, because then for any life form (even intelligent) based on plasma a planetary atmosphere would be an almost irrelevant prerequisite to make them live, as there should be no need of a “habitability zone” for as we have conceived it until now in the ambit of canonical projects such as, in particular, the SETI Project. According to this scenario Life forms based on plasma might truly live everywhere in the Universe. If this were effectively the case all the planets of the solar system – even those with the most poisonous atmospheres – might indifferently harbor life forms of this kind. As it happens on the Earth the trigger – we could denominate it as a “midwife” – for the birth of such plasma forms starts from natural mechanisms due to the geophysical conditions of the soil or underground, to atmospheric mechanisms or to both.” (18) 

While we need to be clear that this is a speculative hypothesis, it certainly fits with experiencer narratives such as Whitley Strieber’s and others, and more so it fits with some of the developments we are seeing in attempts to outline the physics of information. By looking at both the theoretical work in this area along with more detailed analysis of the research conducted at Hessdalen and within Harley Rutledge’s work on Project Identification we may discover an entirely new way of looking at what it means to be human and more so what it means to be alive.

Those familiar with Dr. Diana Pasulka’s book American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology (Oxford University Press, 2019) will know that there is much more to this question – as she outlines additional research into alleged ‘UFO materials’ that complicates a simple reading of the phenomenon as psycho-active plasmas. These complications are a reason for celebration, however, as they help us to maintain the mystery that has lead us as a species through an incredible course of development. Our quest to understand our place in the universe – and more recently our quest to expand our domains into space challenge us to stretch our boundaries beyond simple binaries like physical and non-physical and into more holistic realms of investigation.

Physicist Paul Davies speaks to these possibilities in a recent Guardian article on his upcoming book,  The Demon in the Machine. As he puts it, “when you look at a living system, the way information is managed is very far from random. It will show patterns that could lead us to a definition of life. We talk about informational hallmarks and these might be used to identify life wherever we look for it in the universe.” (19) Is it possible that a deeper analysis of the UFO enigma could play a part in our understanding of this? From the implications we seen in the data related to psycho-active plasmas there is a very real chance this may be the case!

Our Science is Totally Irrelevant to Aliens

“The only people on Earth who might begin to understand an ‘alien‘ mentality would be those who distance themselves as much as possible from the realm of ‘human’ action, the better to see alternative perspectives.” – Peter Levenda, Sekret Machines: Gods – An official Sekret Machines investigation of the UFO phenomenon, p. 342 (To the Stars, Inc., 2016)

Jose Canseco’s alien non-sequiturs on Twitter provide a wonderful opportunity for us to take a very cursory and surface level look at a few interesting angles in the contemporary history of space travel. As I read over this piece there is so much more that could be said, so many other explorers, scientists and creatives who have in their own small way contributed to this process.

As we move further into the 21st century and become more comfortable stepping beyond our artificial and self-defined limitations we may finally come to a science and a spirituality that allow us some relevance to these hypothetical aliens. Aliens that in many ways may represent something far more human than we can conceive in our present state of awareness.

Footnotes:

(1) https://twitter.com/JoseCanseco
(2) Abraham Loeb, Our Future in Space Will Echo Our Future on Earth, Scientific American, January 30th, 2019
(3) https://www.nasa.gov/hrp/bodyinspace
(4) Back cover synopsis, Cyborg: A Novel by Martin Caidin  (W.H. Allen, 1973)
(5) http://www.guicolandia.net/files/expansao/Cyborgs_Space.pdf
(6) Psychic Explorations: A Challenge for Science, Understanding the Nature and Power of Consciousness, ed. Edgar D. Mitchell (Perigree, 1974)
(7) https://people.com/archive/edgar-mitchells-strange-voyage-vol-1-no-6/
(8) Robert Monroe, Journeys Out of Body (Anchor Books, 1977)
(9) William S. Burroughs,  from Civilian Defense in The Adding Machine, p. 105 (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2013 )
(10) http://www.faena.com/aleph/articles/william-burroughs-on-how-our-dreams-prepare-us-for-space-travel/
(11) William S. Burroughs, from an interview Recontre aver William Burroughs, Eric Mottram (Les Langues Modernes (Paris) Jan/Feb, 1965) and found in Conversations with William S. Burroughs (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1999)
(12) Whitley Strieber, Communion: A True Story (Avon Books, 1987)
(13) Jeffrey Kripal, The Secret Body, p 314 (University of Chicago Press, 2017)
(14) http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/feature/electric_light_phenomena_associated_with_a_dying_or_deceased_person_by_anne
(15) http://www.apmagazine.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1031&Itemid=53
(16) https://www.anomalyarchives.org/public-hall/collections/files/project-identification/
(17) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136468261000218X?via%3Dihub (17A) http://www.hessdalen.org/reports/hpreport84.shtml
(18) http://www.buzzwordbooks.com/hyperspace-of-consciousness.htm
(19) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/26/i-predict-great-revolution-physicists-define-life-paul-davies

91PPFoYr5tL*Notes:

Martin Caidin’s novel The Final Countdown features the now infamous U.S.S. Nimitz in a plot centered around trans-dimensional time-travel. Caidin was also featured in Loyd Auerbach’s book Mind Over Matter: A Comprehensive Guide to Discovering Your Psychic Power, which details his later experiments in Psycho-Kinesis.

In 2012 I had the opportunity to have dinner with the late Carol de la Herran, who was at the time president and executive director of the Monroe Institute. Our conversation completely changed the way I saw Monroe’s work and these areas of research in that Carol was one of the most stable minded and focused executives I’ve ever met – and yet she was also completely comfortable with the role that psychic development played in her daily life. As one of the original team members in Robert Monroe’s experimental groups she had spent a good portion of her life working in these modalities and had completely integrated them into her professional and personal life. It’s easy to dismiss these areas of experimental development until you meet and spend time with the researchers, executives and scientists that have been seriously working in them – after such a meeting one is forced to consider the implications that there might be more here than we would expect based on the public conversation.

Riding the Blurry Borders — The Evidence for Phantom Hitchhikers

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on October 31, 2018

Archer Avenue0
On 
a dark stretch of road outside of Chicago, in a town called Justice, Resurrection Mary introduced me to the ambiance of the phantom hitch-hiker. I was 16 years old, sitting in the backseat of my friend’s car as we drove down Archer Avenue at midnight. When we hit the darkest part of the road he turned off the lights and let up on the gas, dropping the car down 30 miles per hour under the speed limit. With experimental naiveté we were hoping that such peculiar behavior would increase our chances of meeting a world famous apparition.

The two police officers that pulled us over for reckless driving were less sure of our research methods. Confused, bemused and annoyed, they questioned us for over an hour with indignation at the allure she still held for legend trippers after so many years of her tale being retold. Weiser Books reissue of Michael Goss’ 1984 work, The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-Hikers, gives me the opportunity to pause and reflect on this formative moment in my involvement with applied investigation in the liminal realm. It’s a timely reissue too, as the influence of researchers such as Jeffery Kripal and my friend George Hansen brings greater focus on multi-disciplinary approaches to contemporary anomalistic studies.

Analyzing the phantom hitch-hiker phenomena through the interstices of psychical research and folkloristics, Goss’ methodology implies an important starting point for effective investigation into the night-side of nature. We often make assumptions about common categories like ‘ghost,’ but ask yourself, would you know a ghost if you saw one?

Let go of  believe or disbelieve

As Goss shows in his detailed examination of phantom hitch-hikers, there is a striking difference between folktales or urban legends and personal reports of anomalous experience. If seeing is believing, we should be careful when what we see fits the phantoms found in familiar stories. While there are superficial similarities in terms of experiential themes, i.e. something like encountering an apparition, folktales and urban legends rely on narrative structures and plot developments that are usually missing in reports of anomalous experiences themselves.

An anomalous encounter is, by its very nature, outside of the normal flow of things — they emerge into our view set against the habitual patterns that fashion the narrative of our lives. In Liminality, Marginality, Anti-Structure, and Parapsychology, a paper presented at the 2011 Academy Of Spirituality And Paranormal Studies conference, researcher and theorist George Hansen points out that:

…paranormal phenomena are more likely to occur under liminal and transitional conditions and around liminal and marginal persons than among more ordinary conditions and people.

Generally, those invested in established hierarchies find strongly liminal conditions unpalatable, irrational, and threatening. Thus liminal persons are often marginalized and viewed with some suspicion. (Marginality is a subcategory of liminality, and frequent consequence of it.)

It is not surprising then that catch valves for the maintenance of cultural continuity and status quo, such as academic scholarship and popular media, would foster normalizing approaches to anomalous phenomena like the phantom hitch-hiker, rounding these encounters off in explainable ways.

The mind creates continuity through root structures of information patterning. We see these same structures appear in the artifice of effective storytelling. Good stories stick because they work with the cognitive necessity of pattern recognition. They provide us with a smooth and comfortable movement from introduction of the theme to its conclusion — a person is traveling, encounters a hitch-hiker, they pick them up, hitch-hiker disappears from the car, puzzling over the encounter they later realize that they picked up the hitch-hiker where an accident had occurred, the narrative ends with this revelation which conforms to our need for sensible closure. This sense of closure allows the liminal nature of a liason with an apparition on a lonely stretch of road to be reintegrated into the structure of a culture’s shared worldview.

Anomalous Anomalies

The raw reports collected by researchers lack the strong internal cohesion necessary for this integration — it is only in the urban legend and folk tale that this kind of stock pattern emerges. Psychical researchers usually find that a person encounters an apparition, and…that’s the report.

Over the years it has been possible to collate these reports into specific categories, the apparition looked like a loved one that recently passed away, the apparition was solid, the apparition was misty, and so on, but for the most part no meaningful narrative structure fits the majority of what is reported. Anomalous experiences are just that, anomalous.

As Goss explains in terms of phantom hitch-hiker stories surrounding the Blue Bell Hill area near Chatham England:

the Blue Bell hill phantom may have been either relocated or regional variations on an old, received motif (folklore) or veritable apparitional encounters which, rightly or wrongly, became associated with the memorized fact of (a)1965 accident. What is more certain is that many of these episodes derived a species credibility or even respectability from the indisputably-real crash.

The discomfort of an anomalous encounter entices our curiosity into trying to explain it, and often coincidental events that occur in the area of the phenomena will be drawn in to help with this.

In the story of the Blue Bell Hill phantom a local accident becomes narrative ground to anchor what would otherwise be an inexplicable, and almost pointless, encounter. This pointlessness is a theme that researcher and writer Jacques Vallee covers extensively in his work, and is one of the things that frustrates serious researchers who delve into the field of apparitional appearances, be they ghosts, UFOs, goblins, or whatever else — although popular retellings (especially those sculpted for the media) put meaning to these events by attaching them to historical or pseudo-historical facts, the occurrences themselves are isolated by their often absurd incongruity.

In examining these accounts against the analysis of folklorists Goss differentiates the psychological needs fulfilled by folktales and urban legends and those which coincide with reports of actual believed experience. Citing the work of Aniela Jaffe, and her 1963 study Apparitions and Precognition: A Study from the Viewpoint of C.G. Jung’s Analytical Psychology, Goss highlights how story based and experiential based accounts differ in certain details. This is demonstrated in her analysis of the sole phantom hitch-hiker account found in the 1200 letters she received during her initial research:

Ms. Jaffe almost refuses to comment on this story. To her, it is devoid of significant, symbolic data and the style contrasts with the plain, monotonous tone of the other material she quotes. ‘The lack of archetypal features seems to be a criterion of the improbability of the ‘experience’. Another way of saying this might be to describe the thing as too artificial, too much so to even approximate the sort of account readers might concede as veridical. There is a clear credibility gap, then, between the artistically-devised ‘true story,’ which is fiction, and the real life experience it attempts to mimic.

Urban legends and folktales have their own unique set of archetypes whose artificial gloss differ from those manifesting in perceived experience. Through careful attention to the symbolic content of the story one can get a better idea for where it stands in terms of being a fictional story or a report where the person truly feels they are relating a real experience that they have had.

Breaking the Pattern

The picture of a ghost as an immaterial and spectral figure is a familiar tropeof popular media, accompanied by numerous other incidences that are associated with spirit manifestation — orbs, shadowy shapes, or some kind of purposeful, unseen force. However, as type categories these bear more relation to narrative cues than to actually getting to the heart of the experience itself. All of them fall under the category of ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit,’ yet experientially they are quite different. Stories surrounding anomalies often speak more to our concepts of life and death, and to our relationships with the social order and the natural world around us, than they do about the phenomena themselves.

When I ventured with friends to find Resurrection Mary part of the draw was that outside of the famed hitch-hiker, the area has actively accumulated numerous other urban legends. Stories circulate of mysterious lights over the waterways that converge there, strange monk like apparitions and a vanishing horse drawn hearse are said to have been seen at the St. James-Sag cemetery down the road. Even the old tale about the Devil appearing at a dance, discovered when his dance partner sees his cloven feet (in Southwestern variations his feet are sometimes those of a chicken), has found a home at one of the local ballrooms.

While my search for Resurrection Mary lead me deeper into ghostland, many years later a chance encounter one night with a fellow named Preston would continue to change my understanding of how these patterns emerge and relate to anomalous incidents.

Screen Shot 2018-10-31 at 9.34.33 AMBorn with a veil

Not long after I moved to Georgia I met Preston in an alleyway behind theLiminal Analytics office as he was walking home from work. He was a cook at a restaurant a few doors down and after a polite introduction, he asked me what I did. The question made me pause and consider the ramifications of revealing my obscure interests to a random stranger in an alley in the hyper-charged religious atmosphere of the Deep South, and finally said:

“I write about … weird things.”

“Oh, like what?” he asked.

“Well, peoples’ belief in the supernatural,” I explained with care. “How stories of the supernatural affect our sense of self.”

Much to my surprise, he didn’t flinch. Instead, he nodded thoughtfully and said, “I believe in the unknown, because to me, not to believe in the unknown is not to believe in God. I can’t see him, neither, but I know he’s there, and I can see him working.” I nodded, smiling to myself, his attitude echoed that of some of the early members of the Society for Psychical Research. It’s clear from correspondences among the founders, as well as the focus of much of their work, that proving anomalous experience was considered one way to shake things up for the philosophical hold of materialist mechanism that was becoming more prevalent during the late 19th century.

“Now, some people are afraid of ghosts,” he continued.

“They don’t like to talk about them none. I tell them, ‘Now I believe in the Lord too strong to be worried about any of that.’ I believe in ghosts because my daddy believed in them. He was born with a veil over his face. They say folks born like that can see things. He used to heal kids with the thrush.”

“Your dad was born with a caul?” I asked with excitement. A caul, as you may know, is a piece of the birth membrane that can cover a newborn’s head and face. Throughout history it has been popularly associated with second sight, and has often been taken as a sign that a child will have special abilities to heal as well. Preston was telling me that his father had been a local seer and faith healer, born directly into the tradition.

“Yeah,” he said, “some people call it that.”

He then proceeded to recount a number of stories about encountering “ghosts” with his father. But these were not the ghosts that I would normally have thought of. Some of them, for instance, were solid, as in his recollection of a “ghost” they met while waiting for a bus:

“One time we was at the bus stop, and he tells me ‘Look over there,’ pointing to a man standing across the street at the other bus stop. He was standing with his back turned to us so you couldn’t see his face. My daddy said, ‘That’s a ghost.’ And I said, ‘Now how in the world can that be a ghost? That’s a man standing there solid as me.’ He said, ‘Nah, that’s a ghost. You ain’t never gonna see his face. Watch.’ So we did. We sat there until our bus come. Whole time the man just stands there with his back to us. My daddy, he said, ‘Now wait, we’ll let this one pass, we’re going to sit here until his bus come.’ So we did, we sat there until his bus come, and still that man never did turn or move. My daddy say, ‘Now watch … ‘ The lights inside the bus was bright, you know, and I watched, but I never seen him get on the bus. When it drove away, he was gone. Now, I tell you, I ain’t seen him get on, but he was gone when it left.”

It was upon hearing this that I realized just how far popular and academic media had separated me from nearly every traditional tale of the “Other World” that I had ever heard or read. How many urban legends deal with very solid figures that are only later revealed to have origins other than the waking world? Preston’s account was quite different from the stories that had drawn me to Archer Avenue.

What exactly is a ghost in this sense? And what does it mean to encounter one?

There are ghosts, and then there are ghosts

In folktales and reported experience the phantom hitch-hiker is one of the more solid apparitions that people speak of encountering, at least in terms of the scholarly literature on the subject. Goss points out that, “one important aspect of Phantom Hitch-Hikers consists of their not being readily identifiable as supernatural entities, but as living, unexceptional human persons in need of a lift. Consequently, Beardsley and Hankey were convinced that ‘there is a modernity about the elements and the essence of the story…which sets it off sharply from the tales of the past. The most significant of the modern elements is the hitch-hiker’s successful masquerading as a human being.’ This element, they thought, is rare in European ghostlore and the few exceptions do not rely upon it for their impact. The ghost who is sufficiently real to pass for human — the kind most commonly reported in early psychical research journals — was not popularized until the end of the nineteenth century.” Goss systematically overturns these assumptions with clear examples from folklore attesting to corporeal ghosts.

There is even a name for this type of apparition –a revenant. Medievalist Claude Lecouteux has written extensively on European traditions of revenants and ghosts, and by drawing on court records, medical reports and other official period documents he too has shown how the veil between corporeal and phantasmal flesh is often rather thin.

While Victorian ghost stories and reality television often lead us towards the image of a misty immaterial phantom, traditions which include interacting with the spirit world almost always treat spirit manifestation in fleshy forms. There is a stark contrast between the kind of tropes associated with ghosts in folktales and ‘ghost stories’ and those we find in the living folk beliefs of people whose worldview includes interacting on a regular basis with the spirit world. We can see this very clearly in Preston’s account of his father’s practice as a traditional seer.

Narrative and belief

Screen Shot 2018-10-31 at 9.33.14 AMIf we seek other sources we find similar accounts appearing in the work of folklorists such as Harry Middleton Hyatt, who collected folk accounts without starting with a particular theme of interest. The folklorists that Goss references were all studying the narrative structures of folktales, and as such they discovered folk accounts with those narrative forms in place. On the other hand, Hyatt, in works like The Folklore of Adams County Illinois, survey’s general beliefs and comes up with many reports of spirit encounters that fit closer to the isolated accounts found by psychical researchers.

When we look for stories, we find stories, when we look for experiences we find experiences. Throughout Goss’ analysis one is given the opportunity to reflect on the nature of our experiential narratives and the effects of belief — as well as how the tools and paradigms used during our investigation help to shape the understandings that arise. Through the interplay of psychical research techniques with folkloristics we are given an interesting clue to how folklore studies, through the functional necessity of gathering and examining narratives, often moves outside the nature of folk beliefs as they are actually lived.

For instance, a local recounting a story told about a witch or faith healer, will be quite different than the experiential account of the witch or faith healer themselves. The vanishing hitch-hiker that we are given to observe in the book is a shadow filtered through popular media and correlated anecdotal reports, yet, as I learned from Preston, behind the blinds of literary leitmotiflays a living world of spirits.

Having gained more understanding since my foray at the age of 16, comparing the accounts that Preston related to me with the stories that lead me so many years ago into the darkness of Archer Avenue in search of Resurrection Mary I can clearly see the divergence of experience and legend. As Goss’ own examination shows, diving into first hand personal accounts we suddenly find that the tight categories which satisfy the needs of a good story are not necessarily those found in actual reports.

In future articles we will go ‘off trail’ and into the wild wood of history with our investigation. We’ll turn off the lights, drive a bit slower and focus on exploring with more detail what we can discover from phenomena such as the phantom hitch-hiker when we move away from the constricting atmosphere of categories like ‘urban legend’ and dance into the areas where experiential accounts fit with older understandings of the thinly veiled borders between the wide roads of the waking world and the darkened paths of ghostland.

Note: Special thanks to Red Wheel/Weiser for the opportunity to enjoy these reflections through Michael Goss’ book The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-hikers — for more information on the book, visit their website. This article originally appeared in a slightly modified form on the web-magazine Reality Sandwich and later Modern Mythology.