folklorelei: (the siren)

supernatural

When I was reading Graham Hancock’s book, Supernatural: Meetings With the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, he talked about the hallucinogenic vine called ayahuasca. The name means “Vine of the Soul” or “Vine of the Dead,” and shamans in Amazonia have been using it since way the hell back in order to make contact with the ancestors. The drug derived from this plant is illegal in the U.S. and Britain, but in Amazonian countries it is protected under the laws of religious freedom as it is integral to the religious practice in many indigenous cultures.

Hallucinogenic plants are used for similar purposes in all cultures around the world, but what I found so fascinating about ayahuasca is that the leaves of the plant are rich in a chemical—Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)—that the human brain secretes naturally in minute quantities. Normally, substances which contain DMT are blocked from absorption into the body by a naturally-occurring enzyme in the human stomach. The vine part of the ayahuasca contains a chemical inhibitor for this enzyme, thus the shamans must cook both leaves and vine together in order for the hallucinogenic effect to happen. This is a fairly arduous process of cooking and layering and recooking that goes on for hours. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Peru features a segment on this process, if you happen to catch it some time. (Good episode—well, except for the guinea pig segment.)

I’m left wondering, first, how the shamans discovered the particular chemical interaction going on here; and, second—as I always wonder in the cases of non-technical societies discovering complex processes for making Thing A become Thing B—how the hell they figured it out in the first place. The shamans say that the plants themselves told them how to do this and what effects would happen. Similar explanations occur in other parts of the world: the gods told us how to do this; the plants did; the spirits whispered in our ear.

Take, for instance, the olive. It takes an ungodly amount of complex processing to take the hard, bitter, inedible nut of the olive tree and soften it so that it is not only deliciously digestible but, more importantly, pliable enough to crush and extract the olive oil. Greek legend maintains that Athena came down from Olympus to clue mortals into this process. Western scientists prefer to say that it must have come about through trial and error.

Even so, that’s pretty mind-boggling. Who was the first person who said, “Gee, I bet this thing that looks, feels, and tastes like a rock would yield a delicious condiment and extremely useful cooking oil if only we put it through a series of brine baths for days on end to soften it up”? Who was the first shaman who said, “Wow, I bet if we take this incredibly foul-tasting vine and pound it for hours until it’s fibrous, then boil it with its leaves and layers of other stuff for hours more that at the end we’ll get one of the foulest-tasting liquids known to human taste buds but a kickass vision of the Otherworld”?

The skeptics would say it occurred because of a series of accidents and was more cause-and-effect than messages from the spirit world. But human ingenuity is still a wondrous thing, is it not, whether or not you prefer the mundane explanation or the talking plant explanation?

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

xray

Back in 1988 when Merrifield wrote this book, the study of ritual and magic in academic circles was rare–frowned upon, even. Now it’s become something of a cottage industry, but this slim and approachable volume was an early precursor of current fields of study.

The author studied inventories of archaeological digs stretching back many years, looking for the odd bits that archaeologists either didn’t know how to interpret or interpreted in a prosaic way–things like bent pins or animal bones, bottles full of “rubbish,” or swords fished out of lakes, etc. In exhaustive detail, and stretching back two thousand years, Merrifield showed the ritual meaning of these things by their survival in folk traditions and superstitious. (Bent pins to ward off evil or witches; animal bones for sacrifice; bottles full of hair, urine residue and other things to ward against witches; swords thrown into lakes and rivers as sacrifices by warriors to assure victory, etc.)

It’s a fascinating peek into the Western magical tradition and the workings of the minds of our ancestors. Minds and traditions that we all too often share today.

(Here’s the article that goes with the picture above.)

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

libra-fullmoon

Odd beliefs cling to the face of the moon—and why not? It hangs above us in splendid glory and from the first blink of consciousness, primates must have gazed on it in wonder and fright and superstition. It’s inside of us, too, its cycles shaping the ebb and flow of our internal tides. The moon is a very powerful object, pulling and deforming the shape of the earth as it rotates around us. Why shouldn’t it also pull and deform the creatures that crawl upon the earth?

Science remains skeptical. Oh, not about the pull of the moon on earth’s tides and geography, but on the claims of its influence on human beings. ER doctors, police, mental health professionals may all come up with strong anecdotal evidence of altered behavior during full moons, but scientists—who require replicable studies to believe things and are no fun at all—find it hard to take such things seriously. Even when they do produce a study that suggests some aspects of moon lore may have a basis in fact, they are quick to point out that a single study must be viewed with a certain amount of cynicism. Sometimes even by those who produced the study.

Take for example the belief that a full moon leads to restless sleep. A study from 2013 suggests there may be some basis to this. Christian Cajochen and his colleagues at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel decided to do sleep studies on 33 volunteers and found that around the time of the full moon, the kind of brain activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30 percent, participants took slightly longer to fall asleep than they did at other times, and slept on average twenty minutes less overall. What I find most significant is that their levels of melatonin also diminished during this period. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.

However, when interviewed by National Public Radio, Cajochen was quick to downplay his own study, saying the findings might not hold up in a larger investigation. Other scientists remain adamantly and steadfastly skeptical, demanding more research before they take anything to do with moon madness seriously. Like I said, no fun at all.

A 2014 study at the Max Planck institute found no significant connection between the lunar cycle and sleep.

Research published in March of 2016 of 5,800 children between ages 9 and 11 in 12 different countries found that they slept about five minutes less on nights with a full moon.

So. The search for truth continues. So do the myths. I suspect science will never be able to completely convince those on the front lines of moon madness triage that there is no correlation. As for me, I will continue to “purify” and “charge” my crystals by the light of the full moon. You just can’t be too careful about such things.

This is an interesting overview of scientific studies on moon madness.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

coyote_trickster_santa_fe_kelly_moore_000

Coyote Trickster, Santa Fe by Kelly Moore

This book is a comprehensive overview of parapsychology and the paranormal. Scholarly and dense—definitely not light reading—it is nonetheless well thought out and approachable. Hansen’s exhaustive research of the field shows clear but strange patterns. The paranormal, or psi, is more than the “hoax or delusion” argument with which skeptics often dismiss it, but not quite as true believers portray it, either. Like light particles in the world of quantum physics, the paranormal seems to change its nature based on who is doing the observing. It is most comfortable working in the world of the outsider, the marginalized and liminal, artists, mischief makers, magicians, the social pariahs and anti-establishment types—and in this, shares many of the characteristics of trickster deities throughout the world.

Because tricksters are so often comfortable in the culture of the shunned, it is almost a given that academia will run from psi as a priest from that which is unclean. Serious and impartial study becomes difficult because to engage in it, academics must overcome rigid social taboos and embrace unconventional thought paradigms. Academia is no more immune from societal pressures and conventional thinking than any other human institution. As Hansen himself states, “The widespread, subtly negative attitude toward fantasy, imagery, and the imagination indirectly acknowledges its power and the need to keep it constrained.” There is also the very real danger of becoming so drawn into the subject one loses one’s ability to tell fantasy from reality. Loss of objectivity comes in many forms.

I don’t think any summary I achieve here could do justice to the amount of researcher Mr. Hansen has laid out in this book, encompassing a multiplicity of disciplines from physics to anthropology, psychology to deconstructionism, lab parapsychology to professional magic. For a meticulous and original view of the field—its history, current trends, and deeper philosophical meaning—The Trickster and the Paranormal cannot be beat.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

Shasta-Road

Whether you’re looking to find Bigfoot or find a cure for what ails ye, believe in flying saucers and the hollow earth theory, or just feel called to go spiritually journeying in a place where the “veil between this world/dimension and the next is thinner” there’s a destination in California that will fit the bill: a currently inactive volcano called Mt. Shasta. That it’s in California may not surprise some—Cali is the state of oddball seekers, after all—but the fact that the legends stretch back to the earliest settlers and further back into Indian lore may surprise some.

The New Agey stuff, of course, has been grafted onto the place wholesale, but Shasta has always been a place of legend. The mountain is sacred to many Indian tribes in the area: the Wintu, who believe they emerged from a sacred spring on the mountain; the Achumawi; the Atsugewi; the Modoc. The Shasta Indian tribe believe it to be the center of the universe and home to their creator god, Chareya, often called Old Man Above or Great Man in English. While he was creating the world, he made himself a gigantic tipi out of ice and snow. He lived there for thousands of years and the Indians knew he was in residence because they could see the smoke of his fire coming out of the tipi’s top. However, when white folks showed up in the area, Old Man Above decided it was time to go and the smoke wasn’t seen on the mountain after that.

Perhaps that’s why there are people who to this day believe Shasta is hollow inside, a interdimensional passageway, the place where the last of the Lemurians live in a crystal city called Telos, home of the ascended masters, a covert UFO base, a…well, you get the picture. UFO sightings are quite frequent in the area, even without the lenticular clouds that frequent the mountaintop. And it’s said to be a Bigfoot hotspot, as a recent Finding Bigfoot episode claimed. Many spiritual seekers there report “telepathic communication” with Bigfoot when they pop in and out of the fifth dimension…and saucer occupants, and Lemurians, and…again, you get the picture.

shastacloudsovermountain

I do not laugh at the belief systems of others. I may not take them on as my own, but I figure that as long as they’re harmless and make these people happy, why not? And the beliefs clinging to the mountain are mostly that—peaceful and transcendental. Well, if you discount that one Guy who started a cult in the 1930s. His wife and son wound up swindling people out of a lot of money and getting busted by the Feds. The Guy himself did not go to prison—he was dead when the swindling occurred—so his name remains “pure” and the cult lives on in a Visitor’s Center in the town of Shasta.

But hey, Mt. Shasta is not to blame for the darkness at the heart of some humans, and most activity there is pretty positive. One might even come to believe that Mt. Shasta could purify even the darkest of hearts.

At his first sight of Mt. Shasta in 1874, John Muir is reported to have said, “I was fifty miles away, afoot, alone and weary, yet all of my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since.”

And therein may lay the essence of the Mt. Shasta experience. More than anything, what fascinates people about the mountain is the gosh-awful grandeur of the place. It inspires awe, and so people pour that awe into a multiplicity of belief systems. The place may very well be a vortex to some otherworldly place, or it may just be a vortex of amazing beauty.

As Steven Jackson put it, writing for NPR, when he hiked there: “I don’t have a spiritual epiphany. But the air feels cold and sharp. The old-growth cedars are covered in brilliant green moss and shape-shifting clouds whip across the sky impossibly fast. In short, it is literally awesome. And regardless of what one believes about the mountain, it’s easy to see why it has so many legends to its name.”

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

brownie-sm

Illustration by Jean-Baptiste Monge

There’s always one in every crowd. You know, you’ve got a good thing going and that one guy or gal pushes things too far and ruins it for everyone. This is no less true when dealing with fairies.

I was reading R. Macdonald Robertson’s Selected Highland Folktales and he told the story of “The Fairies of Pennygown.” If any of the townsfolk of Pennygown needed help with a task, they brought the work of an evening to a certain nearby sithean, a lovely green fairy hill. By morning, the task would be nicely completed: spinning, weaving, repair, mending, you name it. One villager, though, kept leaving more and more difficult things, pushing it.

One night he left by their hillock a piece of driftwood which he had picked up on the sea-shore, with instructions that it was to be made into a ship’s mast. When the villagers came next morning to collect the property left overnight, they found none of the tasks executed. This last request had angered the fairies so much that they had left their hillock, in disgust, for good.

Any reasonable being would be put out by such oafish behavior, it’s true. But it’s also true that helpful fairies are a tricky lot. They can have goodwill towards humans, but it can also turn on a dime. If they’re insulted, they can get mischievous and mean. Some say poltergeists are fairies who’ve become insulted by a householder and take it out in spite.

They also have sometimes exacting standards of what constitutes insult. Brownies and hobs, for instance, will gladly help out with the housework, usually at night like the Pennygown folk. However, they don’t want to be seen, and don’t want payment, or even expressions of gratitude. They will, though, accept gifts, mostly in the form of food, especially porridge and honey. If a householder starts taking them for granted, openly thanks them, or considers the food “payment”—or if they try to get a glimpse of them—the brownies will forthwith abandon the house, never to be seen again or lend their help.

There are other European versions of such beings: tomte in Scandanavia, domovoi in Slavic countries, Heinzelmännchen in Germany, Haltija in Finland, many others. Some have even made the trip over the Atlantic to the Americas. But in my (admittedly limited) investigation of helpful fairy folk, I’ve only found one non-European example of work-helpful fairies, the koro-pok-guru of the Ainu people of the Northern Japanese islands.

These beings would hunt and fish for the Ainu in exchange for little gifts, leaving the goods overnight. Like the brownies, they hated being seen. Of course, one Ainu loser couldn’t leave well enough alone and blew the gig for everyone. The young man in question waited by the place where the gifts were left, determined to see a koro-pok-guru, and laid hands on the first one to appear. It was a beautiful koro-pok-guru maiden, but she and her people were so angered at this affrontery that they disappeared, never to help the Ainu or be seen again.

Very strong parallels with the European myths, but that isn’t entirely surprising. Ainu are racially distinct from the Japanese. Recent research suggests Okhotsk origins and there is still a small population of Ainu in Russia. They share that pan-European ancestry, so they share those ancient pan-European stories.

But as I said, I haven’t found anything else like it around the world. Good and bad spirits aplenty, but none who will pitch in to do the work for humans in exchange for small gifts. I am far from an expert on this, so if anyone knows of such a tradition in a non-European context, I would love to hear about it.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

For St. Patrick’s Day, here’s the incomparable Eddie Lenihan telling a tale:

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

kabuki kids

A recent story on National Public Radio told the story of the kabuki festival of Damine, Japan. For over three centuries this small mountain village has had an unbroken yearly tradition of having their children perform to please the mountain gods.

“Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, the mountain village was jeopardized when someone accidentally chopped down one of the shogun’s trees,” says Hina Takeshita, the 12-year-old star of the closing kabuki play [of the festival].

As news spread that the shogun, a feudal commander, was coming to investigate, the villagers prayed to the gods. They promised to perform kabuki every year if the goddess of mercy could make it snow. A rare June blizzard arrived, thwarting the visit by the shogun’s samurai and saving the village from punishment.

“So we’ve been playing kabuki ever since then,” Hina says.

You can read more about Damine’s festival in this article from National Public Radio. It’s mostly about the growing hardship of staging the festival as the village population shrinks because so many people have migrated to the cities. There are only 10 children left between the ages of 6 and 12.

Here’s a video of one of their performances:

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

mansion from the street crop photo mansion from street crop_zpsmb1fonxb.jpg
It doesn’t look creepy from the street, nestled in the hills near the Greek Theatre, with a view of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Ennis House from its backyard, but there is a place here in Los Angeles steeped in madness, murder, and obsession. In truth, there are many places like that in L.A., but this one is especially eerie not just for what happened there but for the long, weird aftermath of what happened: a perfect petri dish for urban legends, ghostly tales, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. It’s known as the Los Feliz Murder Mansion and it’s gotten more than its share of byplay on the internet. Hardly a blogger of uncanny stuff in Los Angeles has been able to resist its siren call. Oh, and the Ennis House? You may remember that from the original Vincent Price version of House on Haunted Hill. It was used for the exterior shots. The movie was released the very same year that the Los Feliz Murder Mansion became infamous.

I suspect most people’s obsession with the place began with this article from 2009 by Bob Pool, writing for the Los Angeles Times. That’s certainly when mine began.

la times pix sm photo latimes pix sm_zpsjiscza0s.jpg
In a nutshell: in the early hours of December 6, 1959, Dr. Harold Perelson, a heart surgeon, bludgeoned his wife to death in her sleep with a balpeen hammer, then tried to do the same to his eighteen-year-old daughter, Judye. His daughter fought him off, screaming, and woke up the two younger children in the house who came running to find out what was going on. Dr. Perelman told them they were having a nightmare and to go back to sleep. They went back to their rooms, but the interlude allowed Judye to escape down the long, winding driveway of the mansion to a neighbor. By the time the police arrived, Dr. Perelson had drunk either poison or acid (reports vary) and killed himself. The two younger children were safe in their rooms.

A horrible tragedy, but one that would probably have faded with time because, unfortunately, this is a scenario that has been encountered in the news many times. But here’s where the obsession kicks in. You see, the house was bought at a probate sale in 1960 by a couple named Emily and Julian Enriquez. It’s said (though I no longer remember where I read this) that the family moved in with their son, Rudy, for a very brief time, and moved back out again suddenly, leaving all the Perelson furniture and possessions behind—and, it’s said, some of their own. Since then, for more than fifty years, the mansion has sat abandoned. The Enriquez family used it over the years to store things, but to this day you can peak into its windows and see covered mid-century modern furniture, 1950s-era newspapers and magazines, Christmas presents, board games, an ancient TV, and other bric-a-brac of life back then.

interior shots photo interior shots_zpsvbda7d0i.jpg
In 1994, Rudy Enriquez inherited the mansion from his mother. He has continued their non-use of the place, steadfastly refusing all offers to buy it. The house itself is now so derelict it’s probably a tear-down, but the real estate it sits upon is some of the priciest and most desirable in Los Angeles. Estimates of its value range up to 2.9 million. But he continues to let it rot, unless forced by the city or the neighbors to do something about the upkeep of the property—at least on the outside. The inside remains a freakish time capsule of murder and abandonment.

Of course, stories abound of the place being haunted and having a weird feel. Even the Times article couldn’t resist a spooky bit at the end, telling the story of a neighbor whose curiosity got the better of her. She briefly pushed open the mansion’s backdoor to snoop, but heard the burglar alarm and beat a hasty retreat. Her hand started to throb and a ugly red vein traveled up her arm. A visit to the ER confirmed that her brief foray into Breaking and Entering had left her with the bite of a black widow spider. Two nights later, the burglar alarm on her own backdoor kept going off, but when she looked, no one was there. “It was like the ghost was following us,” she said.

Rudy Enriquez himself claims, “The only spooky thing there is me. Tell people to say their prayers every morning and evening and they’ll be OK.” Which, I have to say, does nothing to alleviate the spookiness.

Since the publication of the Times article, looky loos have driven the neighbors crazy trespassing on the property and breaking into the mansion. Those same neighbors originally encouraged the article because prostitutes and other unsavory types had started breaking in to crash. That doesn’t happen anymore since the owner put in an alarm system, but the unexpected consequences of the neighborhood stirring up the public’s curiosity and obsession is clearly a case of be careful what you wish for.

If you want to know the depth of obsession out there, visit the Find-a-Death thread on it. But I warn you, if you visit that site and read through the entire thread, be prepared to spend hours.

I also fell into the rabbit hole of obsession about this place right after I read the Times article. When I saw that Dr. Harold Perelson had a medical practice in Inglewood, near to my own home, something deep and strange clicked inside me.

My backbrain insisted this information had personal significance, that I needed to find out where the practice had been located. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the doctor had once had an office in the old Inglewood medical building where my mother’s kidney specialist practiced. The building certainly seemed like it could date back to 1959. Who knew? Maybe his practice had been in the same office the nephrologists now occupied!

I became obsessed with finding out. I scoured the internet for online collections of street maps and phone books. There were many, but nothing online for Inglewood of that time period. I knew I would have to physically go to one of the libraries containing these holdings and look up the information, but my life was so frantic by then with being a full time caregiver and working full time that, well, time was the one thing I didn’t have. I couldn’t even take an afternoon off to go to a library.

I’d let it go for a while, but the obsession still gripped me. Every now and then, I’d revisit the online archives to see if the phone books, et al., had been uploaded, and I’d search out more articles and information on the case, finding the most obscure things to download to my mystery folder. I’d visit Find-a-Death, too, to see what they’d come up with.

Then I stopped being a caregiver through the inevitable way those things happen.

I didn’t immediately think of the Los Feliz Murder Mansion, but a month later while clearing out old files from my computer, I came across the folder where I kept my mystery stories. Los Feliz, being the most obsessional of them all, jumped out at me. Out of idle (okay, not so idle) curiosity I decided to head back to Google. My old “friends” at Find-a-Death (I’m not a member, although I have taken Scott Michaels’ tour) popped up so I visited the site. I went to the most recent page to work my way backward for the “newest” posts about this old mystery. People still post about it, the mansion is still abandoned, still owned by Rudy Enriquez, still a burden to its neighbors, still spooky as hell.

Several pages back from the last entry, a post from November 2014 gave the address of Dr. Perelson’s medical practice. The poster believed it was now a family dental clinic. I was thrilled and disappointed at the same time. It wasn’t the address for the building in which my mother’s doctors practiced. What the heck could my backbrain have been thinking? Clearly, not for the first time, I’d fallen prey to flights of morbid imagination.

But the address—3108 W. Imperial Highway—did have something of a personal connection, after all. You see, I’d driven along portions of Imperial Highway 3-4 (or more) times a week for the last five years. My mother’s dialysis clinic was on Imperial Highway. I didn’t think I was emotionally ready to make that drive again, so I looked up the address on Google street view. The building housing the family dental clinic was gone. That area has seen a vast revival, and a new mall exists where the office once stood. That’s why Google maps showed the address in the middle of an intersection. It doesn’t exist anymore.

But I knew that intersection, knew it well. I sat staring at it in shock a long, long time. Because, you see, I’d driven through it 3-4 (or more) times a week for the last five years. It was located approximately a half block from my mother’s dialysis center.

Click here to see pictures of that intersection.

Is my obsession gone? Once I’d made the personal connection it did fade. But old obsessions are hard to kill and I feel it grabbling for my attention even now. I think sometimes we prefer our mysteries unsolved so we can reside forever in the sweet tantalization of speculation. Certainly, I believe the scores of people doggedly pursuing this story will be disappointed once Rudy dies and the mansion invariably gets sold off and torn down.

But you never know. Maybe new mysteries will spring from its footprints. Ghosts are as hard to get rid of as obsessions and not always banished by the rational expediency of tear-down. For what are ghosts if not the stubborn obsessions of human souls unready and unbelieving in death, unable to give up their unfinished business, playing and replaying their moments of personal nightmare?

UPDATE, 3/31/16:

Rudy has passed away. The Murder Mansion is for sale: http://www.australianetworknews.com/want-to-stay-with-ghosts-murder-house-haunted-by-ghosts-for-sale-in-la/

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

finbababigz

Here’s an interesting article from National Public Radio: Why Are Old Women Often the Face of Evil in Fairy Tales and Folklore?

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

rackham_fairy

A Fairy by Arthur Rackham

You don’t have to be crazy to see things that 1) aren’t really there; 2) other people don’t see; 3) are glimpses of an alternate reality; 4) all of the above and maybe a whole lot more.

I was reading an interesting article from DarkLore, Vol. 8, edited by Greg Taylor: “Dreaming While Awake: A History of Sane Hallucinations” by Mike Jay. You can read the entire article here. In it he speaks of a 90-year-old gentleman, Charles Lullin,

whose sight had been progressively failing since a cataract operation five years before [in February of 1758]…[who] began to see considerably more than he had become accustomed to. For the next several months he was visited in his apartment by a silent procession of figures, invisible to everyone but him: young men in magnificent cloaks, perfectly coiffured ladies carrying boxes on their heads, girls dancing in silks and ribbons.

His grandson, Charles Bonnet, wrote about these visions and those of others with failing sight. It became known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

My mother was just shy of 94 when she passed. I thank all the gods that she retained her mind and clarity, her self, until the last three weeks of her life. When she was 91, however, she had a stroke. We were “lucky” because neither her motor skills nor her speech was affected, although her balance permanently disappeared from that point. She couldn’t stand without a walker, not from muscle weakness but because she would tumble over backward without one. For a woman of her vigorous physicality and drive it was quite a frustration. However, the worst of it was that the stroke affected her eyesight: she had alternating bands of vision and blindness in each eye. The brain, confused by the input it received, often took the jumbled bits and assembled them into something that made sense to it.

My mom at first thought these visions were fact until I explained to her that I wasn’t seeing the same thing. She got so she’d say things like, “There probably isn’t a soldier in a red uniform standing in the corner, is there?” And I would allow as how I didn’t see one. I remember one time discussing with her the weird perception of waking up and not knowing where you are, thinking maybe you’re in some place you lived in two or three moves ago. Mom said that sensation had gone a step further for her: she’d wake and although she knew where everything was and everything looked the same, that the neighborhood seemed familiar, she felt as if the house wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Somehow it had moved, she knew not where. I told her, “Maybe we’ve slipped into an alternate reality and you’re the only one who realizes it.” She laughed. “Maybe so.”

She’d wake up and lie in bed watching a parade of showgirls in full Vegas regalia promenade through her bedroom, up a staircase that didn’t exist, and through a nonexistent second story door. These things probably did not actually exist, but Mike Jay wonders, and so do I, what the true nature of hallucinations are, if no visual impairment exists, if one is not taking strong narcotics, if one is a perfectly rational human being. A significant minority of sane people do see and hear (and smell) things, as many as ten percent of the population. As Oliver Sacks says, “Seeing Things? Hearing Things? Many of Us Do” (New York Times, November 3, 2012).

Mike Jay speaks of “Lilliput sight,” where people see things much smaller than they are. And of parades of tiny people marching to and fro about the room, often ignoring or disdainful of attempts by perceivers to communicate with them. A friend of mine who was a paranormal researcher told of a highly proficient office manager and “nice lady,” who told him that every night for a month, little trooping fairies climbed up her bedspread, marched across the bed, then climbed down the other side and disappeared under the bed. She was too afraid to get up and look under the bed. And as suddenly as the phenomena started, it stopped. A temporary brain fugue? Maybe. But it sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? Like many of the fairy stories of old.

But, although many of the percipients of odd things in such books as Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland or W. Y. Evan-Wentz’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries were elders, a significant number were not. Or going blind. Or sots. Or craaaazy. The brain undoubtedly generates chimera, trying to make sense of bits of disjointed experience. These things may exist completely inside a rational mind, conjured up by misfiring synapses, odd perception, or neurological fugue.

Or maybe they aren’t. Maybe the doors to perception do open at random intervals and people catch a glimpse of numinous tides, of What Could Be, or What Is in some universe Over There.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

Destruction_of_Leviathan
The Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré

“Although we human beings have our own personal life, we are yet in large measure the representatives, the victims and promoters of a collective spirit whose years are counted in centuries. We can well think all our lives long that we are following our own noses, and may never discover that we are, for the most part, supernumeraries on the stage of the world theater. There are factors which, although we do not know them, nevertheless influence our lives, and more so if they are unconscious.”

—Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, tr. Richard and Clara Winston

There are two images for this post, besides the one above, both behind a cut at the end of this post. One is called the falling man, a photograph by Richard Drew, the other is called the hanged man. I’ve put them behind a cut because even now some people don’t like looking at images from 9/11, and this image caused some controversy when first published. There’s nothing gory about it, but it does represent the last moments of a man’s life. Some feel that’s a private moment and should never be seen. I don’t discount their feelings, but I also believe it’s something more: a testament of the horrors of that day, of terrible decisions forced on ordinary people, of their courage and grace in making those choices, no matter how desperate.

All I know is that the first time I saw the image of the falling man it resonated inside me like a struck bell—beautiful, horrible, incomprehensible. Yet deeply known. In the amazing and moving documentary, 9/11: The Falling Man, made about this picture, it’s revealed that the editors of The New York Times had a series of pictures in this sequence to choose from, but found this one most compelling. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Of course, there’s a personal horror of recognition here. One morning you go to work and something unthinkable happens to rip everything away. This picture represents the ultimate “there but for the grace of God go I” moment. But that’s not what my deeper cord of recognition was about. This man’s death was not a symbol, but there was a potent symbol in that sky. It took me a couple of days to understand it. An image from tarot came to me: the hanged man. Not in the sense of portents in the sky or any other such bull, not to minimize the power of the falling man by reducing the image to a formula. The image is its ownself, vast and powerful, but there’s also this other thing falling beside it: archetypes working themselves through the real world and through our psyches.

This phrase about the hanging man card from aeclectic.net in particular struck me: “It is as if he’s hanging between the mundane world and the spiritual world, able to see both. It is a dazzling moment, dreamlike yet crystal clear. Connections he never understood before are made, mysteries are revealed.”

Not him, you understand, but us…suspended between life and death, the sacrifice to gain knowledge, a time of trial or meditation, the moment of clarity, of not being able to see things the same again. It’s not just this man’s life, and the ending of it, but that moment of suspension and terrible clarity for the United States and the world.

That subconscious strata of images and ideas is always at play inside each of us. I’m not in any way saying those archetypes are the only reason we respond so powerfully to the image of the falling man, but I do believe they are part of the mix. Whether or not you have ever seen a tarot deck, or this particular tarot deck, this image doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It appeared in the tarot because it was part of our culture’s archetypal and intuitive heritage. Perhaps it’s an image that would resonate only in Western culture—I don’t know enough to say otherwise—but it is part of the unconscious lives of everyone who has ever lived in the West for any length of time.

And what does it ultimately say about 9/11? Maybe that archetypes are cultural snapshots—or roadmaps—of the great moments in human existence, both specific and nonspecific, grandly sweeping and intimately personal.

Each of us is composed of both conscious and unconscious associations. We need to examine ourselves closely before leaping on any bandwagon or cause or demagoguery, committing ourselves to actions and movements that rob us of our individual and essential humanity and turn us into impulsive mobs, spurred to commit atrocities in the name of some deep, unthinking leviathan swimming just beneath the waters of consciousness.

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Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

IF

The Firewolf

Some years ago, when I was still doing art inspired by American Indian sprituality, I had a powerful dream. In this dream, I was gazing into a campfire out in the woods. An enormous grey wolf emerged from the fire, leaping over my head and knocking me flat on my back, his fur trailing sparks of fire that left my eyes dazzled. He ran off and disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

When I woke, I thought perhaps this was a power dream sent to me by the wolf spirit. My teacher had encouraged me to take such dreams seriously and to use them in the artwork. As it happened, I was in the process of making a medicine shield, an object inspired by personal visions, or vision quests, and used by various tribes to protect them spiritually. I figured the dream had sent me the image I needed for it.

When I presented the finished shield to my teacher, she was amazed. “What inspired you to use this image?” she asked.

I told her about the dream.

“You already knew about the firewolf, then?”

“Firewolf? No, I’ve never heard of that.”

She went on to explain that in the traditions of some tribes, fire is considered a wolf and must be treated with respect. You must remember to thank the firewolf for its help in keeping you warm and cooking your food, for the positive benefits it brings, or it might turn on you.

“It’s really significant,” she said, “that you had that dream and had never heard of the firewolf before.”

I thought so, too, and was amazed. I wondered briefly if it might be a case of cryptomnesia, where one is exposed to an idea but doesn’t recall the exposure. But whatever it was, I was thrilled.

I thought I’d write about it for the folklore blog. I duly set about looking up the firewolf legends on the internet in order to provide some references. And therein lies the problem. I found pagans named Firewolf, fictional stories about fire wolves, games featuring fire wolves, so clearly the concept is in the zeitgeist. But I found almost nothing about American Indian traditions concerning fire and wolves. According to Native American Mythology A to Z by Facts on File, Incorporated, the Ute Indians believed Wolf brought fire to mankind:

Tales frequently involve the theft of fire from the being that possessed it. Often the bringer of fire was an animal or a bird, such as Beaver (Nez Perce), Coyote (many traditions), Deer (Nootka), Fox (Jicarilla Apache), Muskrat (Anishinabe), Turkey (Cherokee), or Wolf (Ute). Grandmother Spider (Spider Woman) stole fire for the Choctaw. In one Cherokee tale, a water spider was responsible for the gift of fire.

So, I don’t know what tradition my teacher was referring to. Indian mythology is not a monolith—each tribe has their own set of stories and beliefs. Sometimes there’s overlap, but each tradition is unique, and there are many, many stories out there. I just have no idea which one she meant.

And the cryptomnesia idea is playing through my mind again, once I saw that the Utes believed Wolf brought the first fire. My mother, you see, grew up on the Ute reservation. It’s entirely possible I heard something along the way.

Which does nothing to diminish the vividness and power of that dream. That remains a gift of the unconscious realm, the realm where all things are possible, where mysteries are far more important than answers.

IF

Mother, with Firewolf

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

This is CGI, but one of the best of its kind I’ve seen. The payoff is definitely worth the watching.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

El_Santuario_de_Chimayo_sm

El Santuario de Chimayo

I’ve long been fascinated by places of pilgrimage, about the spirit of a place that inspires ordinary people to leave the familiar and embark upon an arduous quest. One such place is El Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico. I’ve wanted to visit it for a long time. I haven’t made it there yet, but a friend recently made the trip and brought me back some holy dirt.

You see, this tiny church, located between Taos and Santa Fe, has long had a reputation for its miraculous healing dirt. Its walls are lined with crutches, Lourdes-style, and letters from people who claim to have used the dirt dug out of its sacristy to cure their ailments. Most rub it on affected areas and say prayers, though some are said to ingest it. The church discourages this practice and remains neutral on the question of healing. Yet still the pilgrims come. Unlike many other places of pilgrimage, El Santuario hasn’t replaced its sweet, simple church with a grand cathedral, which is one of the reasons I’ve wanted to go there. Tens of thousands of people each year make the trek, some walking during Holy Week from Taos or Santa Fe or even Albuquerque as an act of penitence and devotion, payback for answered prayers, or seeking blessings. Some are said to make part of the walk on their knees in a more extreme act of devotion.

The dirt comes from a tiny well, call el pocito, and the thing is…it’s got to be refilled periodically from the nearby hills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains because so many people come to scoop it out of the well: an estimated 25 to 30 tons a year. The pilgrims know this—the church doesn’t seek to hide it—and believe in the dirt’s power anyway.

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El pocito, Chimayo

My friend, knowing my interest, brought a plastic baggie of it to me. I mean no disrespect by calling it holy dirt—the church itself refers to it that way on its website, where you can buy folk art and receptacles to hold it. The dirt itself is very fine grain and reddish-brown, containing tiny pebbles, and resembles nothing so much as brownie mix with chopped walnuts. I had to resist the urge to dab my finger and take a taste. I love folk art, and I admit to buying some of their chachkies, some to hold my dirt, some just because I liked them.

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Chachkies

I’ve never witnessed the pilgrimage to Chimayo, nor any of the acts of devotion associated with it. But I did witness such acts at the Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. I saw penitents crawl across the cobbled square in front of the church on their knees, heading towards the steps, up the aisle and to the altar. I saw a man and a woman. They were both older, maybe in their fifties or sixties. The woman wore a dress and kneeled on a cloth, pulling it forward with each “step” she took on her knees while family members hovered around with anxious faces. The man had only his pants between him and the cobbles. Both the man and the woman wore looks of pain—but determination. They would make this knee-walk of devotion.

IF

Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City

I was 18 at the time and remember thinking they were crazy, that I would never make such a pledge to a deity, certainly never carry out such an act of devotion. I’m older now, and although I still would not make such a pledge (my knees would never hold up, for one thing), I no longer view their devotion as an act of insanity. These were ordinary people, maybe long time devotees, maybe touched for the first time by the awful and wonderful hand of deity. They made a sincere promise to that holy being and were trying with all their hearts—and their knees—to be faithful to that promise. How can I mock such faithfulness, such sincerity? I’m old enough now to know that I can’t mock them without doing damage to my own soul, my own seeking after truth.

And so it is with all pilgrimages, whether I share the belief of the pilgrims or not. I must respect their sincerity and their peaceful attempts to fulfill their promises to something beyond themselves.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

cottingley-fairies

Frances Griffiths and “fairies”

Is there anyone who is a fan of folklore that hasn’t heard of the Cottingley Fairies, for good or ill? There may be a few, I suppose. I’ll give a brief explanation, by way of introducing a very charming film taken from The BBC Roadshow, featuring Frances Griffiths’s daughter and granddaughter.

Basically, two girls named Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright came home one day in 1917 and told their parents Frances had seen fairies by the brook near their village of Cottingley in Yorkshire. Their parents mocked them, which made them mad, so they set about creating photographic proof. They were so determined to come up with this proof that they cut out pictures of fairies from Edwardian books, mounted them on cardboard, and artfully arranged them in the foliage near the brook so they could interact with them. Everyone was amazed. The local theosophists got ahold of the story and ran with it, then the spiritualists, then (and this is what really condemned the girls to a life of lying) the great spiritualist himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who went so far as to write a book on the subject.

Do I believe in fairies?

Certainly not in cardboard cut out ones. A modern eye isn’t as easily fooled, I don’t think, as Edwardians. (But that could just be early 21st century hubris talking.) We look at these photos and think, “How could anyone be fooled by them?” But people wanted to believe, and in that time when photography was new, many accepted that the camera could not lie—and believed.

Do I believe Frances saw fairies that first day and that childish righteous indignation at being mocked for the truth led her and Elsie to a twisted path of lies?

I believe anything is possible, especially lies hiding a truth, and truths hiding a lie. I believe in the will to believe and the will to persuade. I believe that things unseen are not so easily reproduced upon command and the temptation to give nature a helping hand is sometimes overwhelming. I believe that is almost as tricksy an answer as the Cottingley Fairies themselves, who are often obstreperous and contrary creatures.

And so, the film. I love the little girl in pink standing next to the “expert appraiser.” Her expressions and body language are priceless, swinging between boredom and interest. A child of a different time than Frances and Elsie, to be sure, but no less fascinated.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

thanksgiving-food-catering-Denver-Spices-Cafe

I’ll be taking part in the annual American Turkey Bacchanal (otherwise known as Thanksgiving) and won’t be posting a folklore blog this week. But…

Here’s a very interesting website with lots of Native American Turkey mythology.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it!

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

entrance west kennet-sm

Entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow by Adrian Pink
(I’m afraid I have to rely on the photos of others as I’ve yet to scan my own.)

On a cold day in late September with occasional showers of rain, many years ago now, I was pretty much alone on the A4 highway driving from Marlborough towards Devizes in Wiltshire, England. I was on a solo pilgrimage across the West Country, a few days out from London, looking for a group of stones I’d read about. I got distracted by the looming site of Silbury Hill on the right hand side of the road and I passed the small sign marking West Kennet Long Barrow. I had to double back. A little red brick farmhouse sat beside the road, and next to it was a turnout large enough for maybe four cars. A metal gate led to a footpath curving around the farmhouse and into the empty fields, disappearing over a low hill. As I entered the gate a white goat in the farmyard eyed me with wary curiosity. The only other creature in sight was a man on a green tractor far, far across the golden fields harvesting the grain. I wouldn’t learn until later, much to my chagrin at missing them, that two weeks before there had been crop circles in that grain field.

Once the footpath entered the fields, it was fenced on both sides to keep the tourists from getting into the farmers’ way. It seemed to go on for miles, most of it a steady incline, but the guide book reassured me it only traversed a half mile. I couldn’t see anything remotely resembling a Neolithic barrow, just more hill and more. I began to wonder how such an invisible thing could possibly be as impressive as I’d been led to believe. Then I noticed a section of uncultivated field pop over the horizon, autumnal wild grass and field flowers that, I guessed, the farmer had missed. But only one long snake of field was overgrown, and as I drew nearer I saw a little track of fencing around it. As if the sight of the fence conjured them, the stones appeared, popping over the top of the hill.

I’d expected something grander, I thought, with starker, more clearly delineated stones. Certainly the pictures I’d seen of the barrow had been dramatic. They seemed dinky as I climbed towards them—but I was still a victim of perspective. I climbed and the barrow grew longer, larger. When I finally arrived, the gray-brown guarding stones of the entrance seemed massive.

I didn’t go inside at first, electing instead to climb on top of the barrow, and stretch things out a bit. I spent a long time up there while the chill soaked through my exertion and turned my cheeks slowly numb. A little path ran along the top where God knows how many tourists had trod before, marking out the one hundred meter length of barrow with their soles, wearing away the grass until the white chalk of Wiltshire showed through the top soil. About mid-point the barrow dipped as if it had sunk or collapsed, then rose up again before an undramatic end merging with the hillside. Little white flowers grew in tufts here and there on the barrow and beside it. I started back towards the entrance.

I thought of the ancient people who had been buried here, and was glad I had time to be alone with my thoughts and with the place. I entered the tomb. The light dimmed inside, fed only from the entrance. One long rock chamber went back about twenty feet before ending in a wall. Four alcoves fed off the main chamber, and on a stony shelf in the last of these alcoves, someone had laid some of the wildflowers from the top of the barrow. I thought I understood this act of veneration, for I felt it too—reverence and regret for the bones that had slept here for countless generations, and now sat on the shelf of a museum in Devizes.

I felt something else, too—or thought I did: the presence of the ancestors in this place, something deep, fundamental, and as quiet as the earth beneath my feet. The stones fairly vibrated with presence. I touched them to reassure myself it was only imagination that vibrated in that place. Cold, silent, solid stone, but also something that defied logic, something tiny and barely perceptible, not even strong enough to qualify as vibration. Maybe just the stones breathing, maybe just the earth spinning on its axis. Or maybe, I thought with a stubborn realization, it was the blood in my veins singing to my own ancestors in recognition. I laughed at myself, but the feeling persisted, undeniable, and it filled me with joy.

“Endorphins,” said the logical side of my brain, my explaining away standby any time I have a peak experience. But I always laugh at it, defy it, reject it.

I went back outside and took a deep breath. The chill sank in all the way to my toes, but I hardly noticed. I was really sailing high, spinning out on a line of exhilaration grounded in the earth, but stretched out at its limit. I hoped in that one perfect moment that the line would break so I could go sailing up through the black rain clouds and never, ever come down.

But I climbed back down the path, as one does. On the way down I encountered a couple speaking German to one another, an older man dressed for the excursion, and a much younger girl in stylish clothes and impractical pumps. Maybe a father forcing a recalcitrant child to the summit? She looked sullen and miserable, giving me a pleading look as I passed. What could I possibly tell her, even if there was no language barrier? I’m not sure I even smiled at her as our eyes met. I was trying too hard not to lose the moment, not to be engulfed by the world and the present tense once again.

It didn’t work. It never does. I got back on the A4, on my way to Salisbury.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

Warning: I’ve been asked by a friend to post an advisory that you might not want to read this just before bedtime.

mummenschanz

Mummenschanz.

A murky borderland exists between folklore, the weird, active imagination, and illness. Many people encounter it when they’re most vulnerable: while sleeping. Or more precisely, when they are just falling asleep or just waking. They feel completely awake and conscious, roused from their drowsiness by some sense of presence and menace. Everything has the crisp edge of consciousness, a hyper-real sense of awareness. Strange occurrences are frequent in this borderland, with scary hags and demons, or aliens, or shadow people populating the bedroom and radiating hostility. At times the monsters are more exotic. Other times, it’s just a feeling of being frozen, unable even to cry out, as something sinister hovers over the bed. As WebMD puts it:

Almost every culture throughout history has had stories of shadowy evil creatures that terrify helpless humans at night. People have long sought explanations for this mysterious sleep-time paralysis and the accompanying feelings of terror.

Science has labeled this phenomena “sleep paralysis syndrome,” and I can attest to the terror of it. Many years ago I went through a phase that lasted over a year. Some people have only one or two incidents in their lifetime, some go through a specific period like I did, others are tormented by it for years, perhaps most of their life.

My roommates and I were living in a “haunted” apartment and we all had odd experiences there, but I was the first to enter the strange borderland and suffered the most intense effects. I’ve often wondered since if I started a psychic contagion, influencing them into weird dreams and the hearing of odd sounds: people in the front room moving furniture around or walking across the hardwood floors of our duplex…even when we knew the people upstairs were out of town and couldn’t be the source of the noise. Sometimes we heard the front door open and close with a solid thunk, but when we rushed into the living room, it was bolted tight, the furniture was where it had been when we went to bed, no one else was in the apartment.

I would often wake up sensing a dark cloud hovering over my bed, something evil reaching tentacles out for me while I lay frozen, panicking. I knew that if I could just get myself to move, just reach out to turn on the light, the menace would disappear, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t even blink, only send up fervent prayers for movement and light. Then, all of a sudden like a bubble bursting, I could move, lunged for the light, shot out of bed, panting with terror.

I can’t emphasize enough how real all of this felt.

A few times I caught a glimpse of a figure I’ve labeled (long after the fact, when I feel safer) the “shadow wench.” She was a shapely woman dressed in a black body stocking that went completely over face and head, every speck of “flesh” covered, giving her a Mummenschanz appearance (only without the comic masks). I could see no eyes, and she was the blackest black I’ve ever seen—no light escaping her, all light absorbed into her. She used to sit in a chair beside my bed. Except there was no chair beside my bed. Unlike the amorphous hovering cloud, I got no sinister sense from her. More like a deep puzzlement and curiosity about me, perhaps a slight sense of alien judgment, as if she examined a specimen. As soon as I moved and turned on the light, she disappeared like all the other phenomena.

Eventually, we moved out of that apartment and went our separate ways. My roommates experienced no more weird things, and I had only one more incidence of sleep paralysis in my new place. Many months later, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The doctor said it had probably been responsible for the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on for the previous couple of years—sweeping swings of emotion that came out of nowhere and bore no relation to the events of my life. Oh, and had I been having odd dreams?

To say the least.

Once the cancerous gland was removed and I was on a stable dose of thyroid hormone, all of that disappeared. I have been cancer-free for many years, and thankfully, sleep paralysis free. The thing is, I never felt sleep paralysis syndrome an adequate explanation for all incursions of the weird in the dark of night. Perhaps the majority of these experiences can be attributed to it, especially where beds or comfy chairs are involved, but sometimes weird invasions occur when they can be corroborated by others. People aren’t always in bed. Sometimes they are in their cars, or reading a book, or sitting around a campfire when the strangeness comes creeping in and about them.

And why did my experiences, and those of my roommates, stop as soon as we left that apartment? Why didn’t they continue in the months before I received treatment for my thyroid cancer? I had very intense, weird dreams after that, but only that one incident at the new place of waking up with something creepy in the room. One last farewell appearance before the carny of odd went permanently on the road. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation, but I do wonder, and always will. Certainly, I have not stopped having uncanny experiences, but my sleep remains untroubled. Thank the gods.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales

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