EXPLORING THE OUTER EDGES OF SOCIETY AND MIND

Keeping the Hearth Fire Burning — On Imbolc, Appalachia and traditions hidden in plain sight

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on February 1, 2019

1*S1uOiMBT6VjaMsc92bzuCAIn Gaelic communities the beginning of February is marked by the festival of Imbolc, Christianized as the feast day of St. Brigid. This celebration is held in the honor of the first appearance of spring, represented in Gaelic myth as Brigid, the Bride.

“She is goddess of the household fire; her position is that of the hearth goddess Vesta, as much as that of Minerva, for evidently she is primarily a fire-goddess. Her name is probably from the same root as the English bright, Gaelic brco. The British goddess, Brigantia, is doubtless the same as the Irish Brigit Mr Whitley Stokes picks out the following instances in proof of her character as a fire-goddess; she was born at sunrise; her breath revives the . dead; a house in which she stays flames up to heaven; she is fed with the milk of a white red-eared cow; a fiery pillar rises from her head, and she remains a virgin like the Roman goddess, Vesta, and her virgins — Vesta, whom Ovid tells us to consider ” nothing else than the living flame, which can produce no bodies.” Cormac calls her the daughter of the Dagda. “This Brigit,” he says, “is a poetess, a goddess whom poets worshipped. Her sisters were Brigit, woman of healing; Brigit, woman of smith work; that is, goddesses; these are the three daughters of the Dagda.”

Celtic Mythology & Religion, Alexander McBain

Fire is a potent traditional symbol of the eternal spirit, and the hearth fire is, in some ways, a continuation of this symbol in the domestic setting. Here the house becomes a temple to the eternal, an outward manifestation of the temple built within the faithful.

Those who rely on a fire for warmth and for cooking know well what it takes to properly tend and keep the central fire alive. Constant attention within the home, and constant work without to find fuel that’s fit to burn. No different, really, than keeping the fire at the heart of a tradition alive –

“When a traditional form is on the point of becoming extinct, its last representatives may very well deliberately entrust to this aforesaid collective memory the things that otherwise would be lost beyond recall; that is in fact the sole means of saving what can in a certain measure be saved. At the same time, that lack of understanding that is one of the natural characteristics of the masses is a sure enough guarantee that what is esoteric will be nonetheless undivulged, remaining merely as a sort of witness of the past for such as, in later times, shall be capable of understanding It.”

– Symbols of the Sacred Science, Rene Guenon

Appalachia, as the center point of migration for the remnants of so many traditional cultures, became a storehouse for these traditional forms. The manifestations of the Holiness Churches, of hoodoo and conjure, and Deutsch Pow Wow among the Amish and Mennonite, show that even when these transmissions were weakened by forgetfulness their manifestations still continue to hold the powerful impetus of true tradition, that “rock of ages” that can never be destroyed.

There are even vestiges of more recent esoteric traditions, such as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, whose outer head for the Americas and France, the Scottish born Dr. Peter Davidson, kept his home in Loudsville, Georgia, until his death in 1915. Members of Davidson’s family still live in Georgia, and memories of him and his utopian commune still exist in the rural climes of north Georgia. The fire of life may burn out of the body, but the fire of tradition lives on mouth to ear for those who listen.

“Minerva is the fifth and last deity mentioned by Caesar as worshipped by the Gauls — their goddess of arts and industry. A passage in Solinus, and another in Giraldus Cambrensis, enable us to decide, with absolute certainty, what goddess answered among the Gaels to the position of Minerva. Solinus (first century A.D.) says that in Britain, Minerva presides over the hot springs, and that in her temple there flamed a perpetual fire, which never whitened into ashes, but hardened into a strong mass.

Giraldus (12th century A.D.) informs us that at the shrine of St Brigit at Kildare, the fire is allowed never to go out, and though such heaps of wood have been consumed since the time of the Virgin, yet there has been no accumulation of ashes. “Each of her nineteen nuns has the care of the fire for a single night in turn, and on the evening before the twentieth night, the last nun, having heaped wood upon the fire, says, ‘Brigit, take charge of your own fire, for this night belongs to you.’ She then leaves the fire, and in the morning it is found that the (ire has not gone out, and that the usual quantity of fuel has been used.” This sacred fire was kept burning continually for centuries, and was finally extinguished, only with the extinction of the monasteries by Henry VIII.”

Celtic Mythology & Religion, Alexander McBain

1*22uO0YzbXmFUVeM9xZtMnQBy 1850 the U.S. census shows that there were 961,719 Irish living in the United States, stretching from Illinois to the east coast. By this time they had already spread into Appalachia, taking with them the traditions they had kept alive at home. Each time the secular authories (whether by government or religion) sought to divide the people, within their hearts and homes many continued to quietly pursue the truth.

When the community temples are destroyed, the eternal flame is taken home by the faithful. The Divine presence in the famed European cathedrals exists in the very measurements used to create them, sacred mathematics that contain secrets of the eternal fire. In the most material understanding these are manifest in the allegorical and symbolic statues and stained glass that adorn the cathedral, but the heart of the secret lies in the very roots of the cathedral’s construction.

When these truths are displaced from the fine edifice of monuments like the cathedrals something as simple as a hearth fire keeps the secret alive among the people who await the purification of the community’s heart and the return to traditions that more closely reflect the harmony of nature and being.

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

Carmina Gaelica, Alexander Carmicheal (1900)

Alexander Carmichael collected the folk traditions of the Gaelic people of Scotland in the late 19th century, and discovered that despite institutional attacks from the organized church to stamp out “pagan” practices, in secret the people still carried many of their ancient traditions.

Brigit, the Bride, symbol of wisdom and fire lived on in the people’s hearts, prayers and blessings, awaiting the day when those would come who could hear her again. Just as her release from the Crone of Winter is celebrated in the first days of Spring, her memory sleeps in the Winter of a fallen culture.

“The mystical truth which is realized in the sage is virtual in the folk. If the folk are the field, the sage is the fruit of the tree which grows in the center of it, a fruit which, even as it takes its place in the eternal domain of God’s attributes, also cyclically returns to the field from which it grew, via its seed, to propagate wisdom. The folk correspond to the Aristotelian materia, that which receives the imprint of forms, and the sage to forma, that which shapes or “informs” the material which allows it to appear. And the tree corresponds to Tradition in the sense employed by French metaphysician René Guénon: that body of spiritual Truth, lying at the core of every religious revelation and a great deal of folklore and mythology, which has always been known by the “gnostics” of the race since it is eternal in relation to human time, representing as it does the eternal design or prototype of Humanity itself. A traditional culture permeated by half-understood mystical lore on the folk level is a fertile matrix for the full development of the gnostic, the sagacious individual, who, by means of his darshan, his willingness to allow himself to be contemplated as a representative of spiritual Truth, returns the seed of wisdom to the folk who venerate him.”

– “Fair Nottamun Town”: Mystical and Alchemical Symbolism in an Appalachian Folk Song, Charles Upton

51198125_749106825471750_3051775513090588672_o

St. Bridget’s Eucharistic Vision Late 14th century, from St. Bridget of Sweden, Revelations and other texts, in Latin, Morgan Library MS M.498, fol. 4v.

In folk etymologies there are hidden secrets that dance around the investigations of scholars. In the Sanas Cormaic, a 19th century collection of Gaelic etymologies, Brigit’s Gaelic name, Breo Saighead, was said to mean “the fiery arrow.” Academic etymologist’s scoff at such an attribution and miss the line of truth that it transmits.

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”

– Therese of Avila

We so often seek the flame in those that reflect the outward power of our culture. In celebrities and scholars, in political leaders and religious figures, we put our expectations in these socially acceptable shells to bring us some shred of light in the hope that they will clarify the way forward towards the truth. Often we are simply feeding the wolves who wait for easy prey.

All the while in quiet homes in rural Appalachia and around the world in places where tradition has been pushed to the wilds the true fire burns bright, awaiting those who can see it. When it is found by a sincere and searching heart, it is hard not to rejoice at the herald of the upcoming Spring.

(For Dr. Peter Davidson, who lived here in the beautiful rural atmosphere of north Georgia where I now write, waiting for the daylight to dawn.)

Advertisements

Project Blue Book and the Priming of Paranormal Belief – On the effects of history and its re-presentation

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on January 2, 2019

maxresdefault-1

“I was the arch enemy of those ‘flying saucer groups and enthusiasts’ who very dearly wanted UFOs to be interplanetary. My own knowledge of those groups came almost entirely from what I heard from Blue Book personnel: they were all ‘crackpots and visionaries.’ My transformation was gradual but by the late sixties it was complete. Today I would not spend one further moment on the subject of UFOs if I didn’t seriously feel that the UFO phenomenon is real and that efforts to investigate and understand it, and eventually to solve it, could have a profound effect — perhaps even be the springboard to mankind’s outlook on the universe.”

J. Allen Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report, p. 26 (Dell Publishing Company, 1977

We’ll get to the UFOs in a second, first bear with me as I reminisce…

Back in college I had an early morning multi-cultural musicology class that was always met with a very sleepy mind. One day the professor was discussing Irish music and asked if anyone had ever been to Ireland. Half asleep I heard the question and my memory glitched – instead of referencing the physical reality that I’d never left the country, for some reason my head was filled with imagery from a childhood and adolescence spent reading everything I could get my hands on about medieval history – including Irish history. In that brief moment, with my cognitive mind drifting dreamily, my arm shot up and the professor called on me to talk about my experience.

I was shocked awake by the request and sat there somewhat stunned. She repeated her request and asked if I had in fact been to Ireland. With my mind clear I had to admit that no, I’d never been out of the country. It was a rather embarrassing moment – thankfully the rest of the class actually was asleep or so bored they weren’t even listening so there wasn’t much repercussion. However, that experience provided me with incredible insight into just how easy it is for memory, imagination and behavior to blur into a strange and seamless whole.

Since my area of study was and is cognitive philosophy this turned out as a useful bit of personal experience and it’s become even more useful as my current focus hones in on how popular belief is mediated by technology. Surprising enough it’s even come into play in anticipating History’s upcoming Project Blue Book series!

Just take a look at this:

“Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and rising Atomic Era, each episode will draw from the actual Project Blue Book case files, blending UFO theories with authentic historical events from one of the most mysterious eras in United States history.”(1)

b080d5c543ab4b17878c7adcf16c74aa_1d3a8a60b2f440359d967db7ad0f1a08_1_original

August 3, 1965 — Santa Ana, California (Photos: Project Blue Book files, National Archives) (2)

That’s from History’s About page for the series. Seems like an innocuous marketing statement when you read it and I’m sure most people will pass it over without much thought beyond perhaps excitement or critical disgust at the fictional element implied. The thing is, this simple sentence actual lays out a complex form of ‘social technology’ and the implications of this are impressive, especially in the context of a catalytic topic like UFOs.

In her paper The Fairy Tale is True: Social Technologies of the Religious Supernatural in Film and New Media, Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka, chair of religion and philosophy at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, outlines a fascinating aspect of how our memories interact with media. This paper provides a framework that makes this brief promotional sentence come alive in surprising ways.

When faced with a media product like Project Blue Book, our conscious minds might react with a response that is neutral, excited or dismissive, (yes, there are more options, but let’s keep it simple for this thought experiment) however as Pasulka illustrates in her work the conscious mind might not be where we should be looking,  “it is in relation to the unconscious self that cinematic social technology must be reconsidered. The early suspicions articulated by cinema theorists about cinematic deception are correct on many levels. Current research in cognitive science reveals that even as spectators are consciously aware that they are watching a movie, unconsciously they are not. Unconsciously, they are making memories that they  will fuse with memories from their own lives, and they will have a difficult time separating history from its re-presentation and from fictionalized versions of historical events. This process is exaggerated when a spectator is immersed in virtual environments.”(3)  When we look at History’s promo blurb in this light we see that there is something incredibly powerful happening here with a television series that’s about to hit a channel that launched Ancient Aliens into a continuing run which has lasted close to a decade.

If we want to see what that means in terms of the culture all we have to do is look at the Chapman University Survey of American Fears – right here in a nice bar graph we have evidence that this level of media penetration into the culture has profound effects:

2018-Fear-Campaign-Paranormal-Bar-Graph-1-1600x1236
At the outset we can see that the two largest categories are related to the most successful popular media dealing with the ‘paranormal’ – ghost hunting shows and alternative history/ancient aliens – while this could be an indicator that the viewing public is simply very in tune with these areas, if we look at Chapman University’s analysis of the changes from 2016 to 2018 we see that the largest increases are in beliefs related to the idea that ‘Ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed‘ and ‘Aliens have visited Earth in the ancient past,’ both of these topics correlate rather well with the most popular show in this arena, Ancient Aliens:

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 9.15.32 AM

This little bit of data gives us a nice seed to begin working on a testable hypothesis regarding the effect that the Project Blue Book series will have on popular belief patterns, especially in the atmosphere created by all of the the other media that will be coming out and has come out recently in this area – the Rendelsham Forest documentary, Tom Delonge’s sci-fi series, Jeremy Corbell’s Extraordinary Beliefs series, and so on.

Now let’s be adventurous and add another element into the mix – that contemporary obscure object of desire for so many pundits – the Religious Nones.

Chapman University’s survey indicates that “paranormal beliefs have become the norm in the United States, if we examine how many such beliefs a person holds. Using the seven paranormal items included on the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 5 (2018), we find that only about a fourth of Americans (24.1%) do not hold any of the seven beliefs. What this means is that more than ¾ of Americans believe in at least one paranormal phenomenon.” Statistics are a thorny tool to use, so we have to be careful in how much weight we give this, but indications are good that close to 75% of the U.S. population believes in at least one area covered by the survey.

If we look at data from the American Family Survey (5) the percentage of ‘Religious Nones,’ or those reporting no affiliation with an organized religion, is about 34-35%:

47687751_10156880432506670_41990374834569216_n

That 35% is higher than the 24.1% of the population that the Chapman University study indicates hold no reported beliefs in the areas of paranormal belief that they surveyed. Evangelical and mainline protestant dismissal of supernaturalism means that some portion of that 24.1% reporting no belief probably includes individuals that would identify in the American Family Survey as religious.

So somewhere in this mix is a large portion of the population whose spiritual life rests on the paranormal with no mediation from an affiliation with any organized religious system – and with the growing trend of people stepping away from organized religion this indicates there is something very curious happening in the culture. This decentralized spirituality is being shepherded by direct experience, corporate and independent news organizations, entertainment and other cultural communication mechanisms.

When we consider the implications of Pasulka’s research on the mediated cultivation of supernatural belief, the blending of fact and fiction in products like Project Blue Book becomes a key area to keep an eye on. Carefully designed media products like this present experiential narratives and reframed historical imagery that embeds in the cultural memory and augments the reception of the historical record in the popular culture.

It also bears implications beyond just belief as it directly affects our perceptual reception of exceptional experiences themselves. As the novelist and experiencer Whitley Strieber has said:

“What we need to do now is make better sci-fi movies so that we can have better contact experiences.” (6)

And he should know – Communion: A True Story, his bestselling autobiographical account of the terrifying experiences that beset him in the mid-80’s, helped to break down the barrier of silence around these topics in the mainstream culture and initiate a healing process for thousands of individuals who were faced with experiences that they had no context for or support system to deal with.

Project-Blue-BookWhere will Project Blue Book fall into our quest to uncover the truth behind the UFO enigma?

Will it obscure or open these areas?

We won’t know for sure until it’s had a some time to cook in the culture. One thing we can be sure of is that our culture’s spiritual infrastructure is going through a massive shift and it’s probably a good idea to have all the tools at hand we can gather to try and understand what’s going on lest we loose our mooring through the misplaced enthusiasm of a hyper-connected commercial media in this precarious moment in human history.

(1) https://www.history.com/shows/project-blue-book/about
(2) http://www.archives.gov/research/military/air-force/ufos.html
(3) https://www.academia.edu/24878653/_The_Fairy_Tale_is_True_Social_Technologies_of_the_Religious_Supernatural_in_Film_and_New_Media
(4) https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2018/10/16/paranormal-america-2018/
(5) https://www.deseretnews.com/american-family-survey/2018
(6) https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/80216

For more on the merging of technological culture, contemporary belief and the UFO question, see Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka’s American Cosmic – UFOs, Religion Technology (Oxford University Press, 2019) https://www.americancosmic.com

For another personal reflection on memory and exceptional experiences see Encountering the Super Natural – An Experiential Review: https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/encountering-the-super-natural%E2%80%8A-%E2%80%8Aan-experiential-review/

Special thanks to Dave Leech, former host of KZSU Stanford Radio’s Thermonuclear Bar, for drawing my attention to History’s Project Blue Book series About page. 

Images from the Project Blue Book series © History, 2018

Salient Sleight of Hand – On Illumination and the Proper Use of Stage Magic – a brief study of possibility, the placebo effect, and respecting mercurial messengers

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on December 27, 2018
picmonkey-collage1

Image courtesy of Donna Seger/Streets of Salem

Like the progression of many arts the Art of Legerdemain, or sleight of hand, suffers a slow drift  from its origins as a spiritual technique into an abused form of popular entertainment.  Although these days specialization holds court – once upon a time the full expression of science and philosophy encompassed all aspects of life. A relationship with Wisdom was thought to be the basis for everything that follows.

In this light something such as sleight of hand, or the ability to manipulate perception at will, is a powerful psycho-spiritual technology when given the right spin.

Experimenter Effect

One of the laboratory results that is commonly reported in parapsychological research is the experimenter effect and the benefits of positive reinforcement and belief on gaining results. As the researcher John Palmer explains in an article for the Psi Encyclopedia:

Parapsychologists have come to believe that success or failure in psi experiments has as much to do with the experimenter conducting the experiment as with the subjects themselves. These ‘experimenter effects’ may occur simply because certain experimenters are better than others at motivating subjects to produce psi. However, a more serious possibility is that experimenters unconsciously influence the results, according to whether or not they themselves are psi-conducive.(1)

Something similar to this phenomenon can also be observed in the placebo effect, where belief becomes, in some ways, the basic correlative factor in success.

When seeking an explanation for this odd phenomena, some kind of straight materialist cause/effect scenario, it’s proven difficult to develop a proper scientific model. However, if we  seek to understand and utilize these factors in our lives no model is necessary, merely a grasp of the situational and atmospheric requirements to induce the phenomenon.

The fact that devotees of Elvis report miraculous healing shows the power of a charismatic stage presence goes a long way. When that presence is guided by sound philosophy and spiritual insight that power can be used to move beyond selling albums into more refined realms of social change.  Imagine the ability for a full expression of Art, one which moves beyond the separate practices of visual arts, music, poetry, dance and combines these with a mastery of perception.

The Miracle of Sugar

Harlan Tarbell

As a member of the audience we are left with wonder at a magicians performance, rarely thinking of the master of mind and body required to practice this rare art. During the early 20th century, Harlan Tarbell, a close friend of Harry Houdini, wrote one of the most enduring courses on the art of stage magic.  A unique aspect of Tarbell’s course was it’s focus on physical exercises to encourage greater body control. Similar to preset routines practiced in the martial arts or formal dance practice, these exercises prepare students for future situations and allow muscle memory to take over when the magician’s focus is required elsewhere to direct their performance.

As with any repeated physical exercise these routines also aid in a deeper understanding of our interconnection between body and mind, and if extended further, of the spirit. In some ways Tarbell endorsed a sort of Yoga for practicing illusionists.

To understand the effect mastery in this domain can engender, we need only look at accounts from a visit that Tarbell made shortly after World War I to Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis in the north of France:

“”Il y a quelques années, un Cagliostro vint au château des Husson. C’était un étranger, personne ne l’avait vu avant, ni ne savait exactement d’où il venait et où il allait. Mais il fit des miracles. Un jour, Madame Husson avait des invités à dîner ; elle dit qu’elle regrettait de ne pouvoir servir du sucre avec le café. Alors cet homme étrange, Cagliostro, se leva et trouva dans l’air, assez de sucre pour tous les invités. Ensuite il alla au Monastère et pris de pitié pour les Soeurs, les orphelines et les blessés, il leva les mains et produisit encore du sucre. Ensuite une centaine de livres de sucre arriva chez les Soeurs qui purent conserver tous les fruits. Le sucre était apparut dans l’air, Monsieur, matérialisé dans l’air. Oui, Monsieur, matérialisé dans l’air. Oui, Monsieur nous avons vu un miracle”.

“”A few years ago, Cagliostro came to Husson Castle. He was a stranger, nobody had seen him before, nor knew exactly where he came from and where he went. But he did wonders. One day, Madame Husson had guests for dinner and she said she regretted not being able to serve the sugar with the coffee. Then this strange man, Cagliostro, got up and found in the air, enough sugar for all of the guests. Then he went to the monastery and had compassion for the nuns, orphans and wounded, he raised his hands and  produced sugar. Then a hundred pounds of sugar arrived so they were able to retain all the fruit. The sugar appeared in the air, sir, materialized in the air. Yes, sir, materialized in the air. Yes, sir, we saw a miracle. “  (2)

As Master Magician Jeff McBride teaches, the principles of stage magic require a thorough knowledge of optics, psychology, body control, set and setting. To perform sleight of hand one must truly be on intimate terms with the ways in which the physical world interacts with the mind.

Krishna-and-KaliyaGoing farther with this, to achieve truly lasting results and reach towards the realm of the Adept, one must have mastered the very illusion of the world that surrounds us. Mcbride puts it succinctly when he says “To make magic, one has to have experienced magic,” mirroring advice given by the famed Italian Hermeticist Giordano Bruno in his writing on ritual magic.(3)

Like Krishna dancing on the cosmic serpent Kaliya, one who has mastered the art of perception gains the ability to create effects in the world by altering the perception of witnesses. Comparing a stage magician to Krishna may seem grandiose, but the use that this knowledge has played in debunking fraud and exposing hoaxes shows that such an understanding can be used as a powerful tool for exposing the truth.

As much as a knowledge of performance magic can expose lies and misdirection, it can also foster a connection to the truth. When we think of the full potential of this it becomes obvious that the path of legerdemain leads into very interesting spiritual territory.

Bitter Misdirection

The bitterness of fundamentalist skepticism has kept the understanding of these curious areas from reaching their full potential as cultural tools. When accounts of traditional healers using sleight of hand are retold it is usually with disdain for the practice. Similarly when we think of sleight of hand it’s often in the context of annoying party tricks, or an older relative whose abusive coin materialization lost it’s charm on the 100th go round.

ARCHIVIO_FRANCO_ROL_L11r

Gustavo Rol

Gustavo Rol, an Italian enigma whose admirers included the filmmaker Federico Fellini, stated that the purpose of his ‘abilities’ was to foster belief in something greater. Rol’s psychical demonstrations have provided ample fodder for skeptics, but what is continuously missed is the atmosphere of possibility that his demonstrations engendered.

The storyteller brings the story to life through controlling an audiences’ perception. This can encompass the entire spectrum of perception and needn’t include only words and sounds. By using sleight of hand and other techniques to induce phenomenon the audience is not only allowed to imagine the possibilities of the story, but to engage with them directly as they break into mundane reality through materialization, precognitive revelations, and other outre events.

Whether this is done through a magic trick or through innate ability, the result in the life of the observer is the same unless they choose to discount their feelings based on some skeptical sense of propriety.

Within the dominant religious groups we can see traces of this connection between Illumination and Illusion. There is the austere Moses of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but there is also Moses the Conjurer from the African Diaspora traditions. The ‘Hoodoo’ Moses gains his abilities not through some vague notion of Divine intervention, but through a practical connection to Divine Wisdom which works on all levels of reality.

Stage Magic and Manipulative Priests

In the apocryphal text Bel and the Dragon we find the Prophet Daniel playing a part very similar to a psychical investigator or occult detective, employing a sound understanding of stage magic to overcome the machinations of manipulative priests:

“23 And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped.

24 And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him.

25 Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God.

26 But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave.

27 Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder : and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship.”

– Bel and the Dragon 1:23-27

There is no mysterious Deus Ex Machina here, no visionary solution shining through to illuminate the truth, Daniel simply uses an understanding of mechanics and incendiary devices to expose the fraud. Earlier in the text when he is confronted with Bel, another construct that uses innovative manipulations to ‘eat’ it’s offerings, he uses flour spread on the floor to expose foot prints leading to hidden doors in the temple used to produce the effect.

Beyond Divisions

Image from D.A. Freher’s Paradoxa Emblematica (18th century)

The Master Magician Eugene Burger has written extensively on how some of the most common magic tricks explore greater truths in profound ways. One example that he gives is the Ring Trick in which rings are manipulated to appear as if they are able to join and disjoin without breaking the circle of any one ring.

As a common trick this has been used for centuries, however Berger points out that it also resonates deeply with the nature of reality, separate parts uniting in a whole while maintaining their individual divisions.

The rejection of sleight of hand and the various techniques of stage magic as legitimate tools for revelation represents a failure of the dualistic mindset embedded in our culture. We are lead to reject what we experience when the means of that experience are shown to be something unexpected. That small moment of possibility that could open up a life time of deeper union with reality is thrown out by our antagonism towards the methods used to invoke it.

As a tool for engendering the ground of belief these techniques provide unique opportunities to encourage the sense of Mystery necessary for the opening of any spiritual quest. Beyond illusory phenomenon lies the root of truth, and confronting these illusions in an active way we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we share.

The Place of Mystery

“Will you turn to ridicule the experience I have acquired with so much dilligence?”

– from Paracelsus’ Credo

mysterium_magnumThe place of Mystery in the development of culture is too often something that is passed over in a world immersed in the marvels of μηχανή (mekhane), a word which has both the meaning of machine and trickery, from the root word magh which means to be able, or to have power.

“”Everything that occurs in conformity with nature, but of whose cause we are unaware, provokes astonishment; as does everything, that when it occurs in a manner contrary to nature, is produced by technique (tekhne) in the interest of mankind.

For in many cases, nature produces effects that are contrary to our interests, for nature always acts in the same way, and simply, whereas what is useful to us often changes.

Therefore, when an effect contrary to nature must be produced, we are at a loss because of the difficulty of producing such an effect; and the cooperation of tekhne is required. This is why we call the part of tekhne intended to help us in such difficulties “trickery” (mekhane). For the situation is, as the poet Antiphon says, “Through tekhne, we master the things in which we are vanquished by nature.”

– from Problemata mechanica (2nd Century BCE) quoted in The Veil of Isis, by Pierre Hadot

Western medical practitioners have debated the validity of handing someone a sugar pill in order to facilitate healing knowing that for certain conditions the placebo effect would be just as likely as standard medicine to bring about a cure.  Since this wouldn’t be effective if the person knew they were being handed a sugar pill it would entail having to lie to the patient in order for it to work.

In the current medical mindset the linear development of a disease is seen as inevitable. It would be contrary to this linear development to cure the disease, thereby requiring the use of ‘trickery’ or some mechanical means, such as drug therapy or surgery, to bring about healing.

This mindset engenders the necessity of thinking of something like the placebo effect as a lie; what doesn’t have a basis in the technical exists outside of the assumed truth and therefore is false.  Traditionally, however, the disease itself was seen as the deviancy and healing it was seen as a return to the natural order of life and health, in this context the mystery of the placebo effect is seen as a natural occurrence, nature returning to it’s proper state. Healing in this worldview is as simple as water running downhill.

To facilitate this process ritual, herbal remedies, meditations, prayers, dream incubation and a whole host of centering practices were put to use. A person subjected to a disease was seen as having moved out of alignment with the natural order and therefore needed to be returned. There is a certain respect that this way of thinking has for the greater Mystery of life lacking in current Western medical practice.

Where There is Possibility for More

As the magician and illusionist Jeff McBride points out, sleight of hand can be used to break a person out of their habitual patterns and bring them to a place where there is possibility for something more. In a ritual context this can then be directed to return the person to a more holistic position in regards to life.

This is what the shamanic use of sleight of hand is for, to distract and unmoor the ‘evil’ spirits (those patterns that have caused a misalignment in a person’s life) and allow an opening where the traditional healer can bring in new patterns.

We have to remember that spirit in the traditional sense is thought of as the motivating life force connected to the whole, the soul being that point of connection between the individual and the spirit of the whole.  An evil spirit is then a false motivator and not a superstitious bogeyman as the hard line rationalists would like to deem it.

Paracelsus, and most traditional healers, distinguish between diseases caused by physical maladies and those that are caused by spiritual misalignment. Knowing the difference was key to being an effective healer. So long as Western medicine sees all things in line with a wholly mechanistic and fundamental materialist perspective there is no chance for full healing to take place.

Western Medicine

This is not to call on the supernatural, this is to point out that to a large extent the philosophy and direction of Western medicine, and science, has been deeply flawed. Like an unfaithful spouse Western medicine shrinks from Mystery and gives no credence to anything that isn’t predicated by technical power or scientific proof, even if the results prove the treatment as in the case of the placebo effect.

“”If a man rules over other living species, if he delves unremittingly and without respect into the venerable earth, if he has created shelters for himself, and cities with their own laws, it is thanks to all kinds of mekhane.”

– from the chapter In Search of Mechanics in the collection The Greek Pursuit of Knowledge

There is no point in arguing terminology, as some would, and re-framing traditional ideas in a psychological or scientistic framework. We are living in a world created through manipulation, and suffering the pains of having stepped outside of the natural order through the power of our artifice.

A very basic respect for life has been abandoned in order to prove our potency over the natural world.  With this act of hubris we will be judged when, having stretched the malleable prima materia to its maximum extent, it will snap back on us and we will be left to face the fact that our power is merely an illusion. Nothing lies outside the bounds of the natural world, and no amount of mechanical savvy can overcome this fact.

Re-framing traditional ideas is merely an attempt to fit a much simpler and basic relationship with nature into an artificially constructed paradigm. The key is that the traditional ideas were based on a relationship, or as the scholar Arthur Versluis points out in his book The Mystical State: Politics, Gnosis, and Emergent Cultures, on the gnostic marriage of the visible and the invisible, the Divine Union of spirit and matter.  A marriage based on violence and power plays is either miserable or ends in divorce, it takes mutual respect and love for a relationship to be fulfilling.

Between Mystery and Technique

The struggle between proponents of the Mystery and of technique stretches back into prehistory. It can be seen in the split between the mathēmatikoi  ( Μαθηματικοι – “learners”) and the akousmatikoi (Ακουσματικοι -“listeners”), in the Pythagorean school.

As the scholar Christopher Mckintosh shows in his book The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason – Eighteenth-Century Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and its Relationship to the Enlightenment, it can also be seen more recently in the Enlightenment era, during the 17th and 18th centuries,  in the struggle between the mystical Rosicrucian and scientific illuminationist philosophies that fought for prevalence within Freemasonry.

Versluis work explores the question of what would have happened if the mystical side won, or at least was given more prevalence in the cultural development of Western civilization.  There are intimations of the possibilities, but those who develop a relationship with gnosis often leave very little material to trace their passage.

The place of the seership in law giving has been lost in the Western world, although it is as much a part of Greco-Roman philosophy and our Judeao-Christian heritage, as it is at the heart of the traditional cultural models that are drawn on in the development of Neo-Paganism.(4)

What We Have Lost

What we have lost is a respect for possibilities, for potential, and for that Mysterium Magnum which lies at the heart of existence. Mercurial messengers arise in our culture to remind us of the fluidity of life, but we relegate their revelations to rationalizations such as the placebo effect or fraud.

Respect not given willingly is renewed with being overthrown, the adversary we disdain is often the one that conquers us. When the day comes that, as a culture, we reach out in humility and seek to align ourselves with the natural order we will find that for all our failed manipulations there was always another path we could have walked.  If that day does not come of our own volition, humility will be taught through trial and hardship, our heads finally bowed in respect, or broken in defeat.

(1) https://psi-encyclopedia.spr.ac.uk/articles/experimenter-effects
(2) http://mesnil.saint.denis.free.fr/hotes.htm
(3) https://books.google.com/books?id=0E565t7WozQC&dq=Cause+Principle+Unity&source=gbs_navlinks_s
(4) https://youtu.be/Ow-_G26lpOk

Note: Thank you to Mariano Tomatis for introducing me to the history of Gustavo Rol, and to Mariano,  Ferdinando Buscema and Jeff McBride for exposing me to the depth of the magical tradition.

This piece was originally published in 2011 as two separate posts on The Eyeless Owl blog.

 

Seeds Sprout in Darkness – Mail Order Magick, Death Row and the Initiation of Damien Echols

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on November 20, 2018

“The shattering of expectation that accompanies trauma doesn’t just cause transference, it opens a door.”

– Whitley Strieber, Solving the Communion Enigma – What is to Come (Tarcher/Penguin, 2011)

 

MYSTERIES AD (1)Always eager for a good mail-order magic anecdote it was great to read in a recent Rolling Stone article from Ilana Kaplan that Damien Echols’ first experience with magic(k) was of the tabloid advertisement variety:

“Damien Echols’ interest in magick can be traced back to when he was seven years old. While reading one of his grandmother’s tabloids in his family’s Mississippi trailer, he saw an ad for a book: ‘Wanna learn magick? Send $5.95 to this address, and we’ll send you this book,’ he remembers. This ad didn’t focus on the idea of magic, as in entertainers performing illusions like David Blaine or Criss Angel, but rather ‘magick,’ a path of evolution or transformation stemming from its own set of practices. Echols thought nothing else would matter if he could practice magick, but growing up in poverty, he couldn’t afford the book. But magick would become an integral part of his life.”(1)

Echols is an extreme example of just how powerful these mediated encounters can be – crediting his personal practice of magick, whose seed was laid by a tabloid ad, with focusing him during an experience on death row that few could fathom enduring:

“It wasn’t until he was put on death row that he began practicing high magick. ‘When I was in prison, I had nothing but time, so that’s when I dedicated every single minute of every single day to learning everything I could from classic sources,’ “

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 3.28.23 PM

Although Echols is careful to state that he is drawing on ‘classic sources’ for the practices he outlines in his new book, High Magic – A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Row (Sounds True, 2018), he needn’t be a purist to find everything he would need for occult realization. If he’d had that $5.95 as a kid he might have gotten material that brought him every bit as close to true practice as the classic sources he references. His summation of the goal of the Art can even be found in L.W. De Laurence’s notorious mail-order magic manual, The Great Book of Magical Art, Hindu Magic and East Indian Occultism, which begins with a preface that states:

” Wishing thee every success imaginable in thy studies and experiments, hoping that thou wilt use the benefits that thou mayest receive to the honor of thy Creator and my Brother Adepts both in Spirit and Earth Life who have so ably assisted me in placing this knowledge before thee my friend and for the benefit of thy neighbor, in which exercise thou shalt ever experience the satisfaction of doing thy duty…”

55615

The Book of Sacred Magic of Abra Melin the Mage – de Laurence Company, 1948.

Beyond common metaphysical goals and altruistic advice, Echols book also includes the kind of psycho-physiological development material that is a mainstay of mail-order magic manuals and popular practical occultism. As Kaplan points out in the article, “the practice, which Echols focuses on in his book, refers to energetic practices, spiritual growth, ceremonies and rituals.” Why is it then that so many would see a tabloid ad and pass it up – while some see it and seek deeper initiations into their innate potential? Potential, that in Echols case, allowed him to carry a light through hell during his imprisonment.

When we look at mass market material or mail-order magic manuals it can be easy to dismiss them off hand, but the importance is in their application in a person’s life – and when a person pursues the application of the basic steps that many of them outline they find an entrance into a very deep world of experience that goes beyond expectations.

In this instance the basic step started by a mail-order magic ad was simply the question of magic itself which primed Echols to develop his practice more fully during his excruciating time on Death Row:

“This is something that I put to use in the darkest, hardest, most brutal times, more so than most people in modern-day America will go through. So, if it works during that, then surely it will help other people who may be dealing with other situations that are difficult to get through.”

9780143109501Like so many seekers, Echols found that the seeds of his potential awakening lay in darkness. This is something that religious scholar Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Razor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, has been exploring in his work on exceptional human experiences. By looking at the very personal and traumatic experiences of novelist Whitley Strieber, among other experiencers, Kripal has developed a contemporary framework through which to study traumatic initiation patterns.

This framework sheds light on one of the key reasons why Echols may have found success where others find merely idle occult speculation. Speaking of Whitley Strieber’s experiences in their collaborative book, The Super Natural, Kripal says:

“Out of existential necessity and the transcendent traumas of his own immediate experience, he was implicitly and intuitively practicing the comparative study of religion.”(3)

De Laurence continues to be apt for comparison here in that his outwardly absurd mail-order catalog played a strong role in developing counter-traditions within the Americas and in west Africa at a time of existential crisis, when nationalist interests were working feverishly to destroy indigenous, folk and popular traditions and solidify mainline belief systems that integrated safely with the governing culture. In these situations the hyped up rhetoric of mail-order mysticism becomes a powerful alternative for self development and an aid in keeping transmissions intact from more developed lines of practice. It also helped that De Laurence was selling some of the same source materials based on the Golden Dawn system that Echols would draw on during his time in prison.*

Encountering the advertisement in his grandmother’s tabloid magazine, in an environment of poverty and need paralleling those who found occult truths in the De Laurence Catalog, the desire for more helped to sink the anchor deep in Echols mind and, regardless of any lack of legitimacy in the ad, that desire was enough to form the core of his practice when the need for that hope was more dire.

Republishing the work of some of the best popular occultists from his time period, the material that the De Laurence Catalog provided formed a correspondence course focusing on the kind of applied comparative religion that Kripal discusses – including the esoteric domains of physical practices and energy work – encouraging experimentation with his ad-hoc inclusion of folk magic, spiritualism, Theosophy, ceremonial magic, yoga, mesmerism, hypnotism, self-help and everything in-between and on the side.

With its wide distribution and integration into pre-existing magico-religious and cultural traditions his catalog had a hand in fomenting the development of folk magic in the southern United States, urban folk magic across the U.S., popular Theosophy, New Age metaphysics, Pan-African mysticism, Black Nationalism, Afro-Caribbean traditions and changing the way traditional practices were performed in Nigeria and Ghana.(2) In the same way, Echols personal study framed as it was by false accusations from religious fundamentalists was open ended and allowed him to access whatever worked as opposed to what was dogmatically correct.

This is similar to what we see with the growth of Santa Muerte’s popular devotional tradition in the Americas, where those who have found faith in the Beautiful Girl are often at odds with mainstream religious organizations and have sought solace in alternative spiritual focal points. When their search for spiritual empowerment intermixes with a crisis moment they often begin a new life as an ardent devotee.(4)

For those who would scoff at contemporary mass market occultism, Damien Echols offers another reminder that these ideas can lay seeds that have a widespread and often unnoticed effect on our contemporary culture and individual lives. Encountered in the most mundane, everyday situations – when their potentials are realized in the right set and setting – when one walks through the gate of trauma – the outcomes can go well beyond cultural curiosity.

They can even become the blossoming root of High Magick.

(1) https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/damein-echols-west-memphis-three-high-magick-758311/
(2) https://www.dailygrail.com/2012/12/the-mysterious-influence-of-one-human-mind/
(3) http://cosmologicsmagazine.com/jeffrey-j-kripal-the-super-natural/
(4) https://skeletonsaint.com

*Special thanks to Michael M. Hughes for pointing out that Echols work was larger based within the Golden Dawn system! 

Mediating the Mystery – A few thoughts on Irish UFOs, Sloppy Journalism and Questionable Experts

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on November 13, 2018

IrishUFOIf you’re trying to tease out truth from the recent Irish UFO sighting that’s been making the news rounds – don’t forget to relish this beautiful opportunity to watch as an anomalous report gets MEDIATED!

Let’s hold off on trying to explain the event and take a look at one example of the story becoming muddied in just 5 days since it was first reported:

The Washington Post published an article on November 13th, 2018 which says:

“Aircraft experts told the Irish Examiner that the lights were probably meteorites entering Earth at a low angle. “(1)

Actually if we look at the Irish Examiner article from November 12th that’s being referenced it was a single ‘expert’ – ie. a pop science writer/spec writer focusing on the aerospace industry and a bit of astronomy/cosmology.

The Irish Examiner article (which, it should be noted, was written by a contributor listed as Health Correspondent) has this:

“Aviation journalist Gerry Byrne said: “In all probability they were meteorites and it’s not uncommon for meteorites to come in at a low angle, a low trajectory into the Earth’s atmosphere.”(2)

Meteorites it may have been* – but media outlets like WaPo and the Irish Examiner aren’t looking up to the task of finding out if the best they can do is grab the nearest Irish aviation writer for some rough speculation.  At least the first round of reports – like the BBC’s coverage (3) – skipped the giggle factor and just presented the information that was available. The BBC even included an actual astronomer working at an actual observatory for their stock meteorite quote.

For some reason the Washington Post journalist decided to go with the questionable contemporary practice of drawing on tertiary sources for an article – pro-tip for new journalists and bloggers, this isn’t the best choice for mature or accurate reporting.

Also of note – and unmentioned by these truth seeking servants of the 4th estate – the UK military is running their largest field test of autonomous aerial drones at the moment.(4) Something that should be considered and investigated if the purpose is actually to figure out what the pilots saw.

If you’d like to make up your own mind as to the source of this mystery, based on as much evidence as the journalists and ‘expert’ have to go on, The Drive’s WarZone has uploaded the audio from the pilot’s that reported the incident:

Listen As Multiple Airline Pilots Report Very High-Speed Unidentified Objects Over Ireland (Updated): http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/24849/listen-as-multiple-airline-pilots-report-very-high-speed-unidentified-objects-over-ireland

For those curious as to the expert in question in the Irish Examiner and Washington Post articles, here is Gerry’s (or Gerrys’, since WaPo has him as a plural persona*) Amazon.com author profile to get a sense of his expertise on meteorites and anomalous reports:

“Prize-winning writer Gerry Byrne is a noted broadcaster and writer on aerospace and science topics in Ireland and the UK. Twice voted Science Journalist of the Year in Ireland he also won a popular journalism award from the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division for a story on the sunspot cycle.

A former staff writer with the Sunday Tribune and The Sunday Press newspapers, Byrne has contributed extensively to New Scientist magazine and the Daily Telegraph on a variety of science issues in addition to featuring on most Irish newspapers, radio and TV stations as a commentator on science and aviation issues.

His next book will be The Barefoot Sailor, a biography of Irish gun runner and yachtsman, Conor O’Brien, who, after supplying guns used by Irish rebels in 1916, became famous for an epic circumnavigation, the first by an amateur yachtsman following the great clipper ship route. O’Brien’s grandfather was sentenced to be hung after leading an ill-fated rebellion in 1848 but his own father supported the British in putting down a subsequent rebellion.

Byrne is also a keen yachtsman and sails regularly from Skerries. He plans a website for adults aiming to take up sailing. In 1999 he sailed part of the Whitbread (now Volvo) Round the World Yacht Race from Uruguay to Florida and co-authored a book on the race. He lives by the sea on Ireland’s scenic East Coast and enjoys views of the Mountains of Mourne. Prospective agents (he seeks US representation) and publishers may contact him on…”(5)

References:

1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/pilots-saw-very-bright-uf…/

2. https://www.irishexaminer.com/…/update-ufo-seen-off-irish-c…

3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46181662

4. https://www.gov.uk/…/army-start-biggest-military-robot-exer…

5. https://www.amazon.com/Gerr…/e/B001HCZQ8G/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0


Notes:

* Anomalist News (Nov. 15) points out that the use of the term ‘meteorite’ in itself is also a sign of confusion in the reporting:

“As expected, numerous people not involved in last Friday’s aerial event over the Irish coast have pronounced upon its origin. “Meteorite” seems to be the favorite explanation, though technically the light is a meteor caused by a meteoroid burning up in Earth’s atmosphere and “meteorite” applies only to those fragments of the meteoroid that actually get to the ground.”

* I’m in no way intending to insult Gerry Byrne’s writing career – the purpose of highlighting the details from his Amazon Author Page is to simply to point out that he is perhaps not the best person to pull in for this particular story or to offer this particular type of analysis. 

 

A 3rd Wave Charismatic Power Encounter in a Rio de Janeiro Cemetery

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on November 6, 2018

“My child, I have given you the keys to My kingdom. In my power and authority you will be able to bind the power of the enemy and loose the captives from his dominion. You will know the mystery of My kingdom and will bring the glad tidings of My kingdom to those who live in darkness…”

– John Eckhardt, Daily Declarations for Spiritual Warfare – Biblical Principles to Beat the Devil (Charisma House, 2011)

BfLmNyqBOn November 2nd, 2018 a group of around 30 ‘prayer warriors’ stormed a cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to disrupt Umbanda practitioners in the midst of a Day of the Dead ceremony. This event is what the late C. Peter Wagner, a pioneer of the 3rd Wave charismatic movement, would call a ‘power encounter’.

Drawing on examples such as Daniel in the lion’s den, Elijah’s conflict with Jezebel, Peter’s conflict with Simon the Magus, and other Biblical events where the righteous become mediums for a divine show of force – power encounters are part of an ends justify the means approach to theocratic spirituality. In particular power encounters occur when religious leaders have determined that an area, organization or individual is under the sway of a ‘demonic stronghold’ which must be torn down through prayer, evangelism and if necessary more occult means of direct spiritual warfare.

“… we ought to see clearly that the end DOES justify the means.  What else possible could justify the means?  If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method.  If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in continuing to use it?”

– C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow – Seven Vital Signs Of A Healthy Church, p137 (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1976)

This violent system of applied spirituality has taken root in denominations, congregations and parachurch organizations influenced by theorists such as C. Peter Wagner, John Eckhardt, Tim LaHaye, Joyce Meyer, Rick Joyner, Bill Bright and innumberable others who operate under the auspices of ‘kingdom dominion’ and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth through politicized and weaponized religious ritual and social infiltration.(1)

News reports focus on these as evangelical believers – however the tactics employed represent the integration of weaponized information warfare techniques developed by ecumenical theorists operating within an alternative network of supernaturalist believers that has built up outside of denominational bounds in the wild lands of exorcism country.

The Brazilian news outlet Jornal O Dia’s report on the November 2nd incident gives a good sense of what these techniques look like when put into play on the ground:

Images of a group of at least 30 evangelicals expelling about 15 Umbanda and Candomblé supporters who participated in a service at the Maruí Cemetery in the Barreto neighborhood of Niterói are causing outrage in social networks. The event occurred on the Day of the Dead. One Facebook post, made by Agência Afro Notícias has already reached almost one million views this afternoon.

From the images, a minute and seventeen seconds, men and women dressed in yellow shirts, invade the area where the followers of Umbanda were, near tombs, in the place known as Cruzeiro. To the cries of ‘Jesus has power’, ‘The name of Jesus is powerful’, ‘the devil leaves’ and ‘sorcery leaves!’, The Umbandists, who were in the company of some candomblecistas, became trapped and ended up dispersing.”(2)

The media’s attention has been drawn to politicians whose use of spiritual warfare rhetoric opens up discussions on the dangers of theocracy and the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups in the political arena. It is a clear sign of the movement’s growing success that a significant number of politicians would show solidarity through campaign speeches. In reacting to charges of mal-intention Wagner offered up a candid picture of the movement’s motivations, along with a sophisticated strategic plan for invoking influence in society without obvious coercion:

“The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its functional religious equivalent. Everyone I know in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back to Constantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.”(3)

Wagner’s publishing imprint, Arsenal Books, carries an apt name considering they provide the training material necessary to carry out these goals – and the success of their infiltration can be seen both in the continued harassment of indiginous and traditional faiths around the world by spiritual warfare groups associated with these parachurch ideologies and in the way that their violent rhetoric has become so central to the public face of mainline Christianity.

While atheist pundits focus on what they see as irrational elements, and the potential for active violence predicated on such strong martially based language, what is missed is that Wagner himself provides a more strategically sound means of social control, a simple three step process of infiltration,assimilation and activation.

Sources:
(1) Satan’s Target: Your Mind – Supernatural Living in the American Marketplace – https://modernmythology.net/satans-target-your-mind-supernatural-living-in-the-american-marketplace-c6c38c616778

(2) https://odia.ig.com.br/rio-de-janeiro/2018/11/5590154-video-de-evangelicos-expulsando-fieis-de-religioes-africanas-de-cemiterio-de-niteroi-viraliza-e-provoca-reacoes.html 

(3) https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/31851-the-new-apostolic-reformation-is-not-a-cult

Special thanks to Antonio Fagundes Filho for the link to the O Dia article. 

Deo, Non Fortuna – Dion Fortune, Psychic Warfare and the Magical Battle of Britain

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on November 5, 2018

“What mathematics are to matter and force, occult science is to life and consciousness…” – Dion Fortune, Sane Occultism*

Dion_Fortune_Golden_Dawn-mp83c0mq99wwycukllv8n6ywkjyilhyavy2gxup8co

Penry Evans and Dion Fortune

The 21st century for all of its scientific propensity rivals past civilizations in the widespread and popular acceptance of what is commonly called occultism. From indie bands like the Klaxons, to mainstream artists like Lady Gaga and Jay-Z, occult imagery and philosophies are spread far and wide with a surprising lack of reaction from all but the most fundamentalist branches of culture.

Christian leaders like Rick Warren “cast their visions” on the culture, popular Kabbalah is a mainstay in Hollywood, Scientology (L. Ron Hubbard’s association with, and betrayal of, the occultist Jack Parsons is often overlooked) holds sway over established actors like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, even Oprah, a household favorite, is knee deep in mysticism and channeled teachings.

When we begin to look there appears no place untouched by esoteric doctrines and ideas. In such a climate one would do well to acquaint themselves with the history and basic ideologies that are so easily passed back and forth without the blink of an eye.

The question now, as always, is where to go for a sober and rational explanation. How does the awakened seeker find something that doesn’t stink of fraud or hold a clever hook set by a savvy cultural fisherman looking for a mark. Fortunately a good teacher is as active after they’ve passed on as they are when they are alive, sometimes even more so. Violet Firth, better known as Dion Fortune, is one of those luminaries who stepped forward to say, in plain language, what is often obfuscated and left to confusion.

If we consider that what we call occult, or hidden knowledge, is more accurately designated as Sacred Science, it become obvious that the popular conception of this body of knowledge has undergone a darkening process that opens the door to superstition, mal-intention, and manipulation.

The tradition that upheld the greatest spirits that humanity has produced is today given over to the most malignant intentions of our species. Sign posts leading upward to revelation and renewal have been turned around to point us on a path to dissolution and negation.

“If the light that be in us is darkness, how great is that darkness?” – Dion Fortune, Sane Occultism

Dion_FortuneBorn in 1890 (or 1891) she saw the end of the 19th century and lived to see the end of World War 2.  It was during the second world war that her most famous ‘practical’ application of occultism came into play with what became known as the Magical Battle of Britain. While so much of what we think of today in esoteric philosophy centers around self-help and personal gain, Dion’s focus went far beyond this limited application.

Gathering a group of like-minded practitioners she coordinated active visualizations of Arthurian and Christian archetypes to combat the fevered mytho-poesis of the Nazi party. There is much debate over how much awareness Adolf Hitler had of the occult sciences, however there is no doubt about the fact that Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS, was more than active in his pursuit of esoteric knowledge.

Wewelsburg Castle formed a central place in Himmler’s conception of the mystical knighthood of the S.S. and it was his intention that it would become the “Center of the World” after the successful rise of the Third Reich. In direct opposition to this mytho-poetic scheme for the furtherance of a Nazi world order was Dion Fortune’s use of Glastonbury Tor as a center point for what she saw as a new Avalon.

The Tor formed the focal point of her ‘magical’ attack against the Nazi party, and whatever the reality of the effect, her actions coincided with a renewed vigor of the British public to withstand the continued air raids and psychological assault against the United Kingdom.

In this battle can be seen the twin poles of the Sacred Sciences, on the one hand a group of ennobled souls striving for the health of society, on the other the mythic legacy of an entire people turned inward to selfish aggrandizement and destruction. This focus on practical applications for the health of society makes Dion Fortune’s work stand out against so many others who pursued the occult sciences for more personal goals. The same efforts that attended this dramatic exploration of mytho-poesis are evident in her courage and forthright approach to the topic.

“Great is Truth and shall prevail, and no one who is sincere need fear her.” – Dion Fortune, Sane Occultism

During her life Dion was no stranger to controversy, while still attending to her initiatic studies she openly published some of the most guarded secrets of the Mystery Schools. The secret, “spoken of by the Iman’s behind a locked door, with one hand under the thigh” as one 15th century Sufi author put it, was an introductory theme to an article which offered a very harsh criticism of the esoteric  scene of the early 20th century. She seemed to have very little care for what polite society thought of her, pressing on as a healer not only of body and mind, but of the tradition itself.

The sobriety of her thought, the directness of her teaching and the boldness she showed in addressing the failures she saw in established traditions to maintain the Tradition, all carry through as powerfully today as they did during the early 20th century. Carrying the discipline of the 19th century into the experimentation and freedom offered by the Modern era, she exemplifies a strand of intellectual that is rare and valuable in any age.

Dion Fortune’s legacy is one which proposes an active purpose to the study of esoteric ideas. Moving beyond “large chunks of unverified and unverifiable statements and a thick treacly smear of sentimental humanitarianism” she sought “to make the Great Sacrifice which is Initiation, and to offer the dedication of the self to the service of the Powers of Light.” This self-sacrifice “dedicated to the service of God” is rare in contemporary occultism and it is a sign of her dedication that her strong presence stands out as strong today, and as offensive to so many, as it did during her time on this earth.

“There are many different roads leading to our English Jerusalem, ‘the holiest erthe in Englande’.” – Dion Fortune, Glastonbury – Avalon of the Heart

To further explore the myth-poetic resonance of Dion Fortune’s work I contacted Paul Weston,  author of Avalonian Aeon, who was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding Glastonbury and Dion Fortune’s continued influence.

This piece was originally developed for The Eyeless Owl blog in honor of Dion Fortune’s birthday on December 6th, 2010 and coincided with a series of guided visualizations that Paul Weston was hosting in resonance with her original Glastonbury workings during World War II.

Q. Did Arthur Machen & the Angel of Mons event in WW1 have a similarresonance/purpose to what Dion Fortune was doing during the Magical Battle of Britain?
A. There are a number of fundamental differences between these episodes but Ibelieve they tap into the same emotional mythic strata. Dion Fortune’s 1940Glastonbury work was never public knowledge.

Even today it is not that well known. It was always conceived of as quite conscious deliberate magic. With the Angels of Mons story, we have a fascinating case study of something taking on a life of its own, probably with some encouragement from propaganda intelligence operatives, until it gathered around itself a potent emotional energy. 

The fact that it seems to have been initiated by Arthur Machen, a writer on magical subjects with knowledge of the same Golden Dawn tradition as Dion Fortune is certainly fascinating. He became increasingly astonished and exasperated by the way his short story on the Bowmen of Agincourt returning to help the British army in 1914 rapidly mutated into tales of angels and St George in armour. He tried to stop the process.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Dion Fortune had this saga somewhere in the back ofher mind during the early days of her Magical Battle of Britain workings whenshe and her associates visualised giant angels standing guard along the shoresof the North Sea. She believed that it’s possible to work with mythic archetypesand essentially switch them on in the back of the collective mind. This can workits way through people who have no conscious knowledge of it. Dion Fortune was certainly intending to boost the spiritual morale of the nation in 1940 and the example of how the Mons myth had done this in the previous war may well have been an encouragement. Unlike 1914 we have no way of even remotely assessing in consensus terms whether she really did. I am willing to believe so but I have a strong personal involvement in the material. There are no accounts, even entirely unreliable ones, of people seeing visions of angels on the shores, or Arthur and his knights riding forth outside of the circle of her associates.

I think it’s also worth noting a moment in the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks that I rather feel taps into the same energy.

The main Angela Lansbury character is a witch who enchants the exhibits in a museum to fightagainst a Nazi U Boat crew who have come ashore at an archetypal sleepy British seaside town. The Germans find themselves looking up to a clifftop where an army of knights, redcoats, and representatives of the whole continuity of British history are standing guard.

They then see off the Nazis with no problem. The story dates, I believe, from 1943 and was written by an American. I’d love to know a bit more about it. The characterisation of the witch doesn’t seem too far off Dion Fortune. I think it might be an example of certain concepts being expressed from deeper levels whether consciously or not..

Q. Are there any contemporary examples of this kind of ‘weaponized’ mytho-poesis?

A. I have heard of “Cursing for Christ” where small groups get themselves a bit worked up to bring down a bit of fire and brimstone on perceived evil-doers.

During the first Gulf War, a psychic known to me became convinced that the Iraqis were employing ancient sorceries to raise djinn in the desert to mess with Desert Storm. Considering that Saddam was rebuilding Babylon and portraying himself riding about in a chariot wearing a leopardskin, I don’t find that hard to believe. It wouldn’t surprise me if an occult mythology gradually merges from those conflicts, Sumero-Babylonian demons and so on. It’s fertile ground. Jet planes over Abraham’s Ur is evocative stuff.

Q. What is Dion Fortunes legacy like today? She seems to have slipped out of vogue (at least in the U.S.) due to the moral focus that she put on her work?

A. I think Dion Fortune has actually proved to be a hardy perennial and is perhaps even increasing in popularity and influence but the modern focus tends to be on a select few of her books. The two late novels, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, still move people very deeply. I would imagine that any women who have ever contemplated the archetype of Priestess and wondered what it would mean to be one in the modern world would become familiar with these novels to some extent before long. Whether it’s in the form of the various types of Wicca or mystery schools like the Fellowship of Isis, Dion Fortunes work as a Priestess and her expression of it through her magical novels are a strong influence.

The Mystical Qabalah also remains an enduring favourite due to its accessibility. Psychic Self Defense has been much debated as to its autobiographical authenticity and magical usefulness but it is indubitably a fantastic read and full of inspiration.

It must also be remembered that Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, anepic retelling from a female perspective of the Arthurian legends, is infused with Dion Fortune’s ideas on a fundamental level. The depiction of Morgan owes a lot to the novels. The idea that the main characters were not singular historical figures but the holders of initiatory titles is also very evocative.

Fortune had a number of fertile ideas about the legends and this is certainly a major aspect of her ongoing legacy. Bradley proved the ideas have life in them. This book has probably been more responsible for bringing American tourists to Glastonbury than any other single factor.

In comparison to this powerful body of work, much of her earlier output hascertainly not fared as well and reads more as a product of its time. The Psychology of the Servant Problem isn’t likely to feature on many people’s reading lists these days! She evolved over time. The ebb and flow of Christian influence and her contact with inner plane discarnate entities is not to everyone’s taste now. The classics are assuredly classics though.

Q. Do you think Fortune’s works like What is Occultism? and Aspects ofOccultism (Sane Occultism) are still valuable for today’s practitioners?

A. They are worth a read. I don’t think anyone is going to get their head set on fireby them in the way that the later novels and Mystical Qabalah can manage but not everyone needs that anyway. The Society of the Inner Light (the magical group that she founded) do mention at the start of the modern editions of all of her books that they represent products of their time and that some of the ideas may seem outdated so even her most staunch adherents acknowledge that.

DJI_0073-1200x800

Glastonbury Tor (Photo: Tom Glover – Dronestagram)

Q. What do you think is the U.S. version of Avalon? Seen from an outside perspective does the U.S. have anything as potent as this to focus a positive mytho-poesis?

A. That’s an interesting question and a difficult one. There’s no doubt that the USAcontains some major power spots like Shasta and Sedona. What Glastonbury has that renders it so distinctive is a long history and mythology with a continuity that carries through a long sequence of events important to the life of the greater nation.

In the end, when it mattered in 1940, the Christian and pagan elements came together in harmony focused on the iconic Tor. The Native American strata, indeed the whole indigenous strata of the entire Americas, suffered a traumatic disconnection more problematical than the gradual triumph of Christianity in Britain. Many people are working to heal those traumas and reclaim the wisdom.

I don’t feel the US has anywhere that carries that continuity and is so recognizable. Shasta is truly awesome but a lot of the current New Age mythology doesn’t go back very far and doesn’t tap into the roots of the nation’s consciousness in the way that the Arthurian cycle does in Britain.

That doesn’t mean that America is any way impoverished by that. It has a unique destiny to potentially fulfill that is characterized by the incredible alchemical blending of cultures in a climate of constant acceleration. The land can and does speak when it needs to be heard and the pioneers and prophets have always seemed to be able to hear it. We have the Grail cycle and the megalithic sites and so on. You have the American Dream and that is your quest for the Holy Grail in modern form.

Q. Can you explain briefly what you mean by Avalonian Aeon?

Aleister Crowley believed that a new epoch began in 1904 that he called the Aeon of Horus. I have examined this idea at length in my book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus. If this concept has any veracity we should expect to see its qualities expressed globally but in ways distinct to the locations and cultures concerned.

The European Aeon, for example, has been dominated by the generation from a German centre-point of the two world wars. The American Aeon involves the incredible rise to global superpower with all that has entailed. To try and formulate ideas around African and Asian Aeon is fascinating.

After centuries in suspended animation following the dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, the location came back to life in the first decade of the last century as Crowley proclaimed the New Aeon. All aspects of its long Christian and pagan history and mythology were profoundly re-energised.

Phase one of this culminated in Dion Fortune’s 1940 magic where there was a definite interaction with the larger European and Global processes. Following another breathing space, from the hippy sixties onwards, the town mutated into its current form.

During this time its charisma, often best expressed simply through the haunting image of the Tor, has become known around the world and the town has become a global pilgrimage site, now considered to be heart chakra of the planet, and placed in the company of Shasta, Giza, Arunuchala, and so on. The unique blend, focused primarily around the associations with Arthurian mythology and an increasing awareness of the divine feminine, and the fact that’s it’s a place where people live and interact and play out their dramas, constitutes the transmission of the Avalonian Aeon.

Paul Weston is the author of Avalonian AeonAleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus, and Mysterium Artorius. Paul is available for lectures, tailored Glastonbury tours and Reiki initiations.

You can also enjoy Paul’s lectures and explorations of his books on the blog talk radio program: Avalonian Aeon

*NOTE: Red Wheel/Weiser was kind enough to provide a selection of Dion Fortune’s work for review and study.

Strategic Spiritual Warfare and the Feast of All Souls – Comparing Cultural Technologies for Processing Collective Trauma

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on November 2, 2018

14206181_10154497505756670_610393306113448089_oThis year, while writing about the growth of Dia de los Muertos celebrations across the United States with Dr. Andrew Chesnut, it struck me that this famous Mexican holiday provides an alternative spiritual solution for  one of the main drivers of politicized exorcism and spiritual warfare culture – a society or culture’s sense of inescapable corporate guilt/sin and generational trauma.

C. Peter Wagner, a pioneering figure in the 3rd Wave charismatic movement, developed complex theories of ‘strategic spiritual warfare’ to combat collective guilt. He saw this ‘stronghold’ of demonic control as a key component in the late 20th century/early 21st century culture of crisis.

“As the Body of Christ agrees to pull down strongholds of corporate sin, the way will be opened for revival of churches and a harvest of souls greater than anything previously imagined. Identificational repentance gives us the power to heal the past.” (1)

The specific tool that Wagner presents to deal with these corporate sins is what he calls ‘identificational repentance’.  As he explains:

“We Americans are not ignorant of the fact that our nation has gained high international visibility for many things, some good, but some very bad.  Now by God’s grace many American Christian leaders want our nation also to be known for our deep remorse over the national sins and atrocities we have committed.  We want to be among the first to corporately humble ourselves before God and before the people we have offended, to confess our sins, and to seek remission of those sins in order to heal our deep national wounds.  With no desire to be arrogant, we hope that if we provide a good example which pleases God, some other nations may see fit to follow our lead.

This corporate or group humbling often takes the form of dramatic public performances of faith – what Wagner in other contexts refers to as a ‘power encounter’ between the Christian and the sinister forces that stand between the present world society and the Kingdom of God. Public prayer performance, theatrical displays, and visible ‘prophetic’ actions that draw on Biblical examples such as the clay pot, plumb line and other physical symbols found in the Book of Ezekiel.(2)

In Latin America and throughout the Carribean festivals associated with the dead and a cultural openness to a metaphysics in which the dead remain an active presence in the world of the living both play a part in altering this cultural relationship to corporate guilt.

On the level of spiritual practice and applied religion – this vitalized relationship with the past allows for a conversation and an intimacy to the process of collective grief that is completely absent from the forced and academic applications of behavioral technologies and social engineering techniques recommended by 3rd Wave and New Apostolic Reformation ‘prophets.’

The commercial growth of traditions such as Dia de los Muertos provides an important area of cultural integration and communication between the United States and Latin America – but as Sarah Chavez, director at The Order of the Good Death, points out – this is not enough:

“While the images and rituals of Dia de Muertos are beautiful, and praised and commercialized for their aesthetic value, keep in mind the reality of every day life for many in the Latinx community whose experiences are too often filled with violence, and policies that dehumanize, hurt and can lead to death.”(3)

And this is one of the key problems with politicized spiritual warfare. While collective rituals such as Dia de los Muertos provide an opportunity for community growth, personal reflection and a deepening of family bonds – in many ways the psychic warfare techniques of the 3rd Wave charismatic movement  serve only to deepen collective wounds stemming in large part from centuries of the same strategic spiritual warfare techniques being applied to indigenous spiritualities and socially marginalized individuals and groups.

Seen as technologies the responsibility for care when implementing, cultivating and developing these cultural tools becomes much clearer – and the unconscionable damage to the human organism’s collective psyche from their misapplication is an area where the popular prayer warriors have yet to repent.

For more on Dia de los Muertos and the culture of death in Latin America see:

Exorcising Mictecacihuatl – The Origins of Day of the Dead in Mexico (The Global Catholic Review) 

Meet Mexico’s Trinity of Death – Day of the Dead, Santa Muerte, and Catrina Calavera (Folklore Thursday)


Footnotes:

(1) https://renewaljournal.blog/2011/07/18/the-power-to-heal-the-past-by-c-peter-wagner/
(2) Wagner, C. Peter, Spiritual Warfare Strategy – Confronting Spiritual Powers (Destiny Image, 2011) 
(3) https://twitter.com/sarah_calavera/status/1058041548154134528

Phantom Histories: Exploring the Work of Medievalist Claude Lecouteux

Posted in > ANALYSIS by David on October 31, 2018

In those days it was common to bury people at night and by torchlight: and it was noticed that whenever a funeral was toward, John Poole was always at his window, either on the ground floor or upstairs, according as he could get the better view from one or the other …

There came a night when an old woman was to be buried. She was fairly well to do, but she was not liked in the place. The usual thing was said of her, that she was no Christian, and that on such nights as Midsummer Eve and All Hallows, she was not to he found in her house.

— from “There Was a Man Dwelt by the Churchyard” by M.R. James

 

1_bK0Ipju5Oa6_lNaHUGVQ2A

A wonderful collection of classic texts was discovered beneath the finely writ words of a Byzantine prayer book. Seven treatise by Archimedes, including the only known copies of his works The Method of Mechanical Theorems and Stomachion, along with previously unknown speeches by the Athenian orator Hyperides and a commentary on Aristotle’s Categories from the second or third century AD, have been carefully reproduced by analyzing the traces left on the prayer book’s vellum pages. Some enterprising scribe had scraped them clean to reuse the sheets, overlaying prayers on top of a wealth of ancient knowledge.

Mirroring the material focus of our time this discovery gives a very physical example of a process which is prevalent in all areas of culture. Hidden beneath folk tales, myths, familial anecdotes, and in between the lines of every song, book and treatise one can find the remnants of past revelations.

The Medievalist Claude Lecouteux’s Chasse fantastiques et cohorts de la nuit au Moyen Age and La maison hantee: Histoires des Poltergeists, translated as Phantom armies of the night: the wild hunt and the ghostly processions of the undead and The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses, From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations respectively, published through Inner Traditions, provide perfect examples of the depths that can be found when one looks more carefully at common stories and popular beliefs.

By examining folk traditions and orthodox references to the wild hunt, poltergeists, regional rituals, and beliefs, Lecouteux has been able to revive ancient concepts of mortality, discovering a complex philosophy of life and death hidden beneath a thin veil of legend and storytelling.

Hallucinatory and revealing, his books recover the cold tracks of popular beliefs, stalking their deeper associations through a careful study of literature, religious treatise and cultural expressions. His specialty is the nightside realms of phenomenology, what contemporary philosopher and author Patrick Harpur describes as “daimonic reality,” and what derisive critique calls ghosts, goblins and ghouls.

In the year 1678, on the Sunday after Twelfth Day, William Medcalfe and his Wife went to church, leaving their only daughter Alice at home, and whilst they were there they said Alice heard a noise in the yard, and looking out the window she saw a man of a middle stature …

— The beginning of Joseph Glanvil’s account of the Medcalfe haunting from 1678 as recounted by Claude Lecouteux in The Secret History of Poltergeists

This is historical scholarship that holds all the chilling import of the best M.R. James stories, without falling on fiction to allow an easy suspension of disbelief as he explores our haunted world. Astral doubles, witches, werewolves, vampires and hauntings take center stage, but this isn’t the pastiche reality you’ve come to expect from paranormal television.

Here the data gives voice to its own interpretation. Case reports, documentation and personal testimony provide the platform for Lecouteux comparison of official histories explaining encounters with what officially does not exist. Unlike most of the stories that have been recently promoted through television, radio and podcasts these are not case reports from suburbanite minds.

These are the tales of the rusticus, paganus, the cacophonous reminders of the vox populi of earlier times where the sanguine truths of life hold resonant potency. One finds that these phenomena clothe themselves in the imaginal potential of those who experience them, and these tales are told by imaginations filled with the realities of agrarian existence, the blood and bones truths of rural living.

Abel, second son of Count Waldemar of Denmark, slew his brother in 1250 then fell in 1252, when fighting the Frisons. He was buried in St. Peter’s Church in Schleswig, but numerous hauntings occurred. His body was removed from the religious building and submerged in a swamp in the Pol Forest, near Gottorp, after the coffin had been pierced through with a stake.

During this time, the area became haunted and those who passed near it heard the sound of a hunting horn and saw a man. Everywhere, it was said that the man was Abel and that his mouth and his body were black and that he rode a small horse of the same color and that he was accompanied by three dogs glowing like fire.

– from the Schleswig Chronicle, Testimony of Brother Boissen, counselor to Duke Johann Adolph of Holstein-Gottorp, as quoted in Phantom Armies of the Night

By focusing on accounts of these anomalous events from functional historical media, such as religious treatises, old chronicles and news reports, he opens a deep examination of the process of interpretation itself. Functional media presents us with material intended to shape understanding, and Lecouteux’s use of church records and early Enlightenment era investigations provides a clear presentation of how ideologies work as an interpretive lens for experiential phenomenon. In doing so he also begins to develop a wider critique of how all official explanations serve less to investigate the experiential truth of an event, than to provide a place for that event within an acceptable social framework.

Through accounts like the one found in the Schleswig Chronicle regarding Abel, Lecounteux demonstrates how narrative themes develop over time, with key markers such as the staked coffin, burial in the swamp, and the figure of the phantom huntsman, recurring throughout. These recurring themes can be traced back to pre-Christian beliefs and ritual observances, one thinks of the infamous bog bodies which show signs of ceremonial burial, providing keys to understanding how our relationship with the natural world as a symbolic system has developed.

One is also struck, beyond symbolic evolution, by the efficacy the anomalous phenomenon itself is afforded by even those skeptical of its origins or existence. By comparing text after text describing disruptive phenomenon we follow as explanations are offered to fit the events within a standard context supported by the prevailing world view of the time. Throughout we find explanations ranging from meandering spirits, malicious demons to mental unbalance, what never changes is the phenomena itself, and certain experiential factors that lead towards its manifestation.

Rather than seeking to clarify the causes of the phenomenon, Lecouteux looks at how authorities and official explanations contend with the frequency of anomalous events. Here we see interpretive structures develop over time to fit the periods acceptable social narratives.

In The Secret History of Poltergeists, this is shown through the changing interpretations of “knocking spirits” or “noisy hauntings,” reports of which can be found going back to the classical period. The events themselves repeat the same phenomenological profile … taps, raps, growls, moving objects, stones materializing in midair and raining down at great speed, and yet the reasons for these experiences are washed continuously in terms of what is metaphysically accepted as reality for the time period of the report.

Developing out of a close reading of texts from each period, is a clear picture of how popular insistence as to the veracity of these anomalies, supported by individuals within the orthodoxy who have themselves experienced them, creates a need for orthodox narratives that fit these events into an acceptable framework, or manipulate them as convenient propaganda.

This is a process which Jacques Vallee has outlined in great detail dealing with the subject of UFO and anomalous lights, and which has been brought up to date by Mark Pilkington’s book Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010),which deals with the direct interference of intelligence agencies in creating politically expedient narratives that guide the understanding of anomalous events.

In speaking of orthodox narratives we are talking about all narratives that support the identity of a larger social narrative, be it political, scientific, religious, mystical or occult. What becomes very clear in Lecouteux’s work is that all explanations act as confabulations to describe the origins of phenomena that have no clear underlying cause within the accepted orthodoxies. Because these events are anomalous, the importance given to them by their framing is able to be manipulated to the benefit of the intention of the storytellers.

These phenomena can even become tools for justifying narratives which refute them, playing the dark foil to the positive enumeration of official existential norms. When filtered through church documents, for instance, exorcism and prayer are used as a weapon against anomalous phenomena perceived as the agency of demonic forces lead by the devil.

These holy rituals return the balance of divine agency which allows the phenomenon to stop, having renewed the rational (in relation to prevailing norms) structure. While the importance of these occurrences is downplayed by authoritative dismissal, they still play an important part in bolstering party line dogmas.

When all accounts are assessed, Lecouteux is able to analyze the actual efficiency of these religious interventions, and there is a clear discrepancy. As these official accounts are compared to those given by commentators outside of religious (or scientific) orthodoxy, the phenomena is often unabated by ritual means. Dualistic, mind vs. material, God vs. the devil arguments do not properly apply to these phenomena, and they remain uneasy outliers within official historical narratives.

Le paranormal introduit une relation entre un état psychique et un fait (la télépathie et la voyance, qui concernent le rapport entre deux pensées, se réfèrent en fin de compte à un fait, celui vécu par le tiers). Or, les sciences physiques ne disposent d’aucune définition de la pensée qui leur permette de la faire intervenir dans les faits .*

– Philippe Wallon, research fellow at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM)

This is a very compelling observation for a number of contemporary issues. Similar analytic criteria can be applied to the effectiveness of psychiatric drugs, as much as it can to practices of those active in deliverance ministries. Both of these areas present the physical manifestation of materialist and spiritualist belief systems, and both are aimed at reintegration of the individual identity within a conventional narrative.

We are either correcting the balance of assumed chemical or psycho-spiritual mechanisms within the individual that causes disparity. By examining the ways in which language and storytelling justifies a given treatment, and in turn the actual effectiveness as proven by experiential data, we are able to see that the complexity of life is not a reductionist proposition.

Here the ‘relation entre un etat psychique et un fait,’ or the relation between identity and fact, becomes a decisive element. One of the things that Lecounteux is able to demonstrate is that anomalous events such as poltergeists sit on the cusp of boundaries, whether it’s moving in to a new home which stirs up the Genus Loci, the place spirits, or finding oneself at the seasonal thresholds where barriers between the world of the living and the world of the dead are less distinct. They are heralds of a change in state, moments of malleable identity, and at times witnesses become participatory in accommodating these phenomena, or mirroring them, in order to expedite the processes invoked.

This participation is an important aspect of what skeptics delineate as fraud in these situations. In contemporary accounts of poltergeist activity it is often found that the phenomenon is aided, or skeptics would say directly caused by, those that are experiencing it. In R. Scott Rogo’s classic study of the phenomenon, On the Track of the Poltergeist (Anomalist Books, 2005), the first encounter that he relates eventually leads to the conclusion that at a certain point the daughter of the family experiencing the poltergeist activity is involved in deception.

In light of the participatory elements that Lecouteux uncovers in his analysis, however, this becomes something more than just trickery. The human actor takes on the role of the spirit in order to participate in the meaning that is trying to be communicated. Anomalous phenomenon becomes intimately entwined with ritual participation.

If we understand poltergeist activity to be a sign that some boundary has been broken, be it a familial relationship, moving to a different house, or a disruption of the family unit through divorce, abuse or some other violation, then it really doesn’t matter how the ‘noisy spirit’ manifests, it is already existent in the violation and its signs can come through human agency or anomalous phenomena.

Gin ye ca’ me imp or elf,
I rede ye look weel to yourself;
Gin ye ca’ me fairy,
I’ll work ye muckle tarrie;
Gin guid neibour ye ca’ me,
Then guid neibour I will be;
But gin ye ca’ me seelie wicht,
I’ll be your freend baith day and nicht.

— Chamber’s Popular rhymes of Scotland

This participatory action is further revealed in Phantom armies of the Night, were Lecouteux presents a case history of accounts dealing with discarnate troops of spirits, which appear in folklore under various guises, but whose activity, like that of the poltergeist, remain similar in each case.

We are familiar with this ritual participation through holidays such as Halloween and the act of dressing up in costume, even if in the Western world this practice has become a destitute of its original power. Lecouteux demonstrates through more potent examples, such as the Krampus tradition of the Alps, where the costumes consist of animal hides, and terrifying demonic masks, how these rituals connect to remembrance of ancestral dead, actions to maintain social balance and pre-Christian ritual which gain some of the liminal power of these events through embodying the narratives which surround anomalous phenomenon and allowing direct participation in these mysteries.

Cando eramos vivos,
Andabamos pol-os caminos;
E agora que somos mortos
Andabamos por entre os hortos
Tocando nas campanillas
E commendo pimentos …*

— Song of a troop of revenants in Manzaneda, Trives (Orense, Galicia) cited in Phantom Armies of the Night

Lecounteux’s examination of these troops of the dead shows how there is a very complex interplay between natural phenomenon (seasonal boundaries, certain celestial alignments, anomalous lights or sounds), conceptions of the afterlife, and ritual participation as they become entwined in these folk beliefs.

In Galicia the concept of the Santa Compaña, or Holy Company, relates how penitential spirits mete out their purgatory as nocturnal wanderers. In turn we find in Spain and Andalusia the powerful image of penitential believers dressed in capirotes, pointed hoods and capes that cover them completely, making their pilgrimage during holy week.

Having never seen these penitents in person, and having not grown up with the stories of the Santa Compana, an outside observer would be hard pressed to find any difference in their immediate descriptive elements. An artist rendering either the spectral procession or the physical pilgrims would end up with the same image.

By exploring the interstices of these beliefs and practices we find a much deeper understanding than the strict orthodox interpretation of these rituals. Moving further into the twilight we discover that some of these beliefs and practices take root in ancient beliefs now seen only in vague recollections.

The scholar Carlos Ginsburg in his work The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the 16th and 17th Centuries (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), recounts the persecution during the Inquisition in Italy of the Benedanti, or Good Walkers, who were said to travel in spirit form during certain times of the year to do battle with malefic spirits in order to insure a good harvest, maintaining a proper balance within the world. One of the signs that marked the Benedanti was to be born with a caul.

We are at present dealing with apparitions of the living only (including persons at the moment of death) ; and we have good reasons for thinking this a prudent limit to draw, inasmuch as this evidence for apparitions of the living is in several ways stronger than the evidence for post-mortem apparitions. But we must remember that this limit is an arbitrary one, fixed by ourselves; and that while we are treating death as the limiting point of apparitions, it may be merely the point of maximum frequency of apparitions …

– Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Nov. 1884

In such ritual observances the act of dying takes on initiatory resonance, and again we see the entwined conception of the supernatural as a relationship between identity and fact.

Another cultic manifestation of these beliefs, the Societá do Oso, or Society of the Bone, as Lecounteux explains, was an initiatory society whose ritual practice involves taking on the persona of the dead during nocturnal marches.

Carrying candles, or bones, they are said to visit those who are soon to die. While the stories surrounding them associate this with a physical death, the complexity of these relationships leaves us to wonder if there is not something more meaningful here in relationship to an initiatory death, and resurrection, as found in something like the Masonic rituals in which a candidate is ‘raised’ from their former life into a new life wholly dedicated to serving the global society.

Contemporary Christianity has offered us a very poor conception of what is meant when we talk about a person’s soul. Psychologizing this belief has given it the assumed meaning of mental identity, but as Lecouteux’s work on folklore surrounding ghosts discovers this is not analogous to any of the ancient beliefs found examining the textual evidence.

He identifies three types of spirit troops, in German they are called the Nachtscher (Night Troop), which are similar in purpose and function to the Benedanti, the Rechte Fhart (Just Voyage), which represent the spirits of the dead moving on to the realm of the dead, and the Hexen-fahrt (Witches’ Voyage), which are the maelific spirits. Both the Nachtscher and the Hexen-fahrt can include members from either the living or the dead.

The living participants in these ceremonies accompany the troop through what would be considered today out of body or ecstatic experiences. Lecounteux follows the work of other scholars, such as the Goetic scholar Jake Stratton Kent and witchcraft scholar Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, who have discovered that underlying much of the magical lore existent from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, we find traces of ecstatic cultic rituals in which dream incubation (lucid dreaming), altered states of consciousness and sacred ordeal closely interact with anomalous experience.

Because of the official white washing of these practices we are left piecing together folktales, songs and stories to get an idea of the actual importance and reality of these beliefs. Lecounteux, as historical detective, provides us with a survey of the official narratives that have arisen to explain away these practices by hiding them behind an approved veil. This kind of scholarship allows us to catch a glimpse of the power behind the ghost stories that keeps them forever fascinating, and forever relevant to our understanding of the haunted world we live in.

Perhaps what strikes your disbelief when you hear a ghost story is not the revenant dead themselves, or those that walk in their place, but the false note sounded by orthodox fairy tales overlaying the true meaning of these events.

What is a ghost?

I’m no longer sure that the arguments of skeptics or believers hold much weight when the issue is brought forward in terms of phenomenal relationships. Rather than an expectation for encountering some discarnate entity in ectoplasmic glory, Lecounteux’s work reveals how our understanding of these phenomena relates directly to our relationship with the world around us.

In these ghost stories the importance is on memory and identity, and using phenomenal markers to aid in remembering the places memory and identity intersect in our living experience. Like the Archimedes palmiset, there is much to uncover beneath the layers of orthodox explanation. We can hold whatever opinion we like on the reality of ghosts, but one day we might just find ourselves carried away by the hunt and all opinion on the matter will be mute when the dogs are barking at our heels.

*Trans:

Phillipe Wallon — The paranormal introduces a relationship between a mental state (identity) and a fact (telepathy and clairvoyance, which concern the relationship between two thoughts, refer ultimately to a fact, that experienced by the third). However, the physical sciences have no definition of thinking that will fit these facts.”

Song — When we were living/we traveled along the paths;/today when we are dead/we walk between the gardens/striking our bells/and eating peppers.

Note: Special thanks to Inner Traditions for providing copies of the recent translations of Claude Lecouteux’s work for research and review. This article was originally published at The Teeming Brain.

* * *

Claude Lecouteux is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne. He is the author of numerous books on medieval and pagan afterlife beliefs, including The Return of the Dead, The Secret History of Vampires, and Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies. He lives in Paris.

For Further Reading:

“Chasses fantastiques et cohorts de la nuit au moyen age” (1999, Paris: Éditions Imago) Phantom armies of the Night. The Wild Hunt and Ghostly Processions of the Undead : Inner Traditions. Rochester (Vermont), Toronto, Canada , 2011.

“La maison hantee: Histoires des Poltergeists (2007, Paris: Editions Imago) The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses, From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations: Inner Traditions. Rochester (Vermont), Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Also by Claude Lecouteux:

Fantomes et Revenants au Moyan Age (1996, Paris: Éditions Imago) — The Return of the Dead, Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind. Inner Traditions. Rochester (Vermont), Toronto, Canada, 2009.

Fees, Sorcieres et Loups-garous (1992, Paris: Éditions Imago) — Witches, Werewolves and Fairies, Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages: Inner Traditions. Rochester (Vermont), Toronto, Canada, 2003.

Additional Resources:

10 Questions with Claude Lecouteux: http://themagicalbuffet.com/blog1/2011/10/16/10-questions-with-claude-lecouteux/
Interview with Claud Lecouteux (French Language): http://www.maison-hantee.com/files/lecouteux/itw_lecouteux.htm

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.