Random quote of the day:

“Fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.”

—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.”

—Walter Bagehot, ”The Waverly Novels,” The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, Vol. III

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

This blog features a guest appearance from my friend Lynn (with her permission and cooperation) who had an experience that dovetailed with one of my own.

When Lynn was eighteen she moved into a small studio apartment above a garage in Ocean Park, a suburb of Santa Monica, California:

I think the stuff there was more about me than about the place, if that makes any sense. I had a lacquered wicker chair right by my bed. Sometimes when I was laying there, this feeling of energy would start to swirl around the room. That chair would really get to squeaking when that happened like it was being jiggled around by this energy moving through the room.

During this time, Lynn was having bouts of sleep paralysis syndrome where she would “wake up” but couldn’t move and would get panicky.

This condition is one in which, essentially, the mind “wakes up” before the body’s sleep-suppressed body movement does. In this state (called hypnopompic sleep) it’s still possible to be in a dream state and not realize it. Often times, fearful beings are perceived as being in the room with the sleeper, adding to the terror of the paralysis. These visions have intense clarity, as real as being fully awake. It’s also possible to experience these things while falling asleep (called hynagogic sleep).

Lynn’s bouts of sleep paralysis lasted from her late teens to her early twenties. Some people have this condition for years, others only occasionally or once in a lifetime. It often corresponds with stress but may also have a genetic component. Science is still figuring this out.

The paranormal community (and indeed many traditions around the world) say that although sleep paralysis explains some of these experiences, there may also be times when the visitations are real—an invasion from another dimension, et al., when we are at our most open and vulnerable in sleep.

One incident in particular was significant for Lynn:

My bed faced the open doorway to the kitchen/breakfast nook. One time I startled awake and was looking toward that doorway. A figure stood in the doorway regarding me. I kept thinking of it as an “elemental” even though I don’t really know what the heck that is and don’t know if it really fits at all. It wasn’t like a person but a very geometric blocky humanoid shape with a head, torso, limbs. And it was the darkest black I could imagine. It was like the complete absence of something rather than a solid thing. It moved towards me and didn’t move smoothly like a human or animal; it was like a series of still images of one limb out then the next limb out, like a Speed Racer animation. That’s when I freaked and woke up. Interestingly, soon after I was in the hospital to remove a very large cyst on my ovary and kept getting infections so I was in the hospital for way longer than normal for a routine surgery, like three weeks. After being there way too long, I remembered that figure and it suddenly felt like an ally and a healing force. So I imagined it visiting me in the hospital and reaching out and touching my abdomen. The infection soon disappeared and I was able to go home.

I find the illness aspect of this quite fascinating. Many years back, my mother got an infection that went undiagnosed until it reached her bloodstream and made her very sick. She almost died and was in the hospital for over a week while they pumped massive doses of antibiotics into her. She told me later that one night in the hospital she woke to see three tall, shadowy figures standing in the corner of the room. They said to her, “You can let go now if you choose and come with us, or you can choose to stay. But if you stay, things will get much harder.” My mother, ever the fighter, told them she wasn’t ready to go yet and they disappeared. Her infection finally came under control enough that she could go home and continue the antibiotics there.

But they were right. Mom had been suffering from kidney disease before this but not at the point of dialysis. That infection pushed her over the edge into end stage kidney disease and she had to start dialysis soon after. Some years later when she was in a rehab center recovering from a stroke, they appeared to her again and gave her the same message. She still wasn’t ready to give up, they disappeared, and once again, things got tougher. I’ve wondered sometimes if they appeared during her final hospice stay, but by then she was beyond communicating with me. I do know that her time in hospice was very short. She checked out quickly.

Then there’s my own experience.

Several years ago, my roommates and I (one of whom was Lynn) lived in a “haunted” apartment. We all had odd experiences there—but that’s a story for another post. While there, I often woke 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 at once like a bubble bursting, I could move, lunged for the light, shot out of bed, panting with terror.

Sometimes instead of the evil cloud I caught a glimpse of a figure I’ve labeled (long after the fact, when I felt safer) the shadow wench. She was a shapely woman figure that looked as if she’d dressed in a black body stocking that went completely over face and head, every speck of flesh covered, no eyes or features visible. Like Lynn’s geometric figure, she was the blackest black I’ve ever seen—no light escaping her, all light absorbed into her. She sat 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, perhaps a slight sense of alien judgment, as if examining a specimen. As soon as I moved and turned on the light, she disappeared like all the other phantoms.

Eventually, we moved from 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?

Had the shadow wench been a harbinger or just a symptom of a chemical imbalance?

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. Like others, I have never felt sleep paralysis syndrome an adequate explanation for all incursions of weird stuff in night. Perhaps the majority of these experiences can be explained that way, especially in the proximity of beds or comfy chairs, 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. At that time, I told it I’d had enough of it’s bullshit and was able to move—I clasped its odd, bulbous white head between my hands and squeezed until it popped like a soap bubble. It got the message and didn’t return.

I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation, perhaps some borderland between illness and otherness, but I do wonder, and always will. Certainly, I have not stopped having uncanny experiences or strange dreams, but my sleep remains mostly untroubled. Thank the gods, and the body chemistry, and the spirits, and the interdimensional beings.

All Weird Things Index

Random quote of the day:

“In a century like our own, multifariously occupied with trivialities and so highly charged with shattering possibilities, one may profitably inquire what latent quality in at least some of us stimulates, from time to time, a meticulous re-appraisal of the beliefs and performances of our forefathers. It may well be a deep-seated awareness that even matters of Fairie, being less disturbing than those of nuclear physics, tend to provide a modicum of balance and sanity in an age that has already demonstrated, pretty conclusively, its ability to obliterate itself.”

—Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, Land of the Mountain and the Flood

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

My early teens were a tumultuous time, with loads of interpersonal drama. But it was also a time of “spiritual” awakening—or maybe an occult one?—when many lifetime practices began. From about the age of twelve I began to read every paranormal book in the Santa Monica County Library. I nearly succeeded, but that wasn’t as impressive as it might sound. Paranormal books were looked down upon back then (still are in many circles). The entire collection at Santa Monica consisted of one bookcase: perhaps seven tall, five feet wide, crammed full of the classic titles of the time. There was Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, Donald Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers Are Real, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Search for Bridey Murphy, The Interrupted Journey, books by Hans Holzer and Brad Steiger, and scads of others. Everything topic was covered, some of it profound and some sensationalist junk: ghosts, UFOs, bizarre theories, metaphysics, and reincarnation. As long as it was strange, I was into it. I also scanned the book sections of the local drug stores for “weird books” and SFF to squander my allowance on. I didn’t completely give up on critical thinking. Even back then some of this stuff seemed like junk. But I loved the mental adrenaline rush reading it gave me, the boundless what ifs.

This was also the time I began playing with the Ouija board—at first with my enthusiastic mom who bought it for us to play with and my friends. We’d have mostly hilarious, nonsense sessions. It was a lot of fun. Some “guy” kept coming through to flirt with my mom. He told her that her second husband would have the initials QZK and we spent many sessions trying to get the scoop on him. Answers on QZK never really showed up, of course. Mostly we got evasion and nonsense. Mom was still married at the time to my biological father, but they’d been estranged for years. She really wanted to believe in an afterlife of love. (She did eventually get it but not with QZK.)

I also tried working the Ouija by myself. At first the planchette was sluggish, then it moved more rapidly. I was not conscious of pushing it but I’m mostly convinced I unconsciously made it move and was mostly talking to my own right brain. I suffered no ill effects or demon possessions. The hysteria over Ouija boards conjuring demons really began in the 1970s after The Exorcist came out. Before that, it was considered a parlor game for people to fool around with. The The abominable Ed and Lorraine Warren also popularized the whole satanic panic/demon possession thing and still haunt the paranormal zeitgeist through The Conjuring movie franchise.

It didn’t take long for me to get bored with solo Ouija board sessions (no friends to play with) and I moved on to Tarot. I’ve done Tarot on and off ever since. I also tried my hand at automatic writing. Like the Ouija sessions, it began slowly and painfully, then became more fluid, then fast. The “spirits” would move the pen in big looping scrolls, taking up a whole notebook page with ten to fifteen words. The handwriting gradually got smaller, but never conformed to neat and staying within the lines. (Spirits don’t conform to the rules.) Again, I didn’t feel as if I was pushing the pen, but I believe it was an exercise in unconscious talking to conscious. Later it developed into something more profound—a way of having meaningful dialogue with my Self. When I was in therapy, trying to dive deep down and clear out the programmed junk in my psyche, my Jungian therapist encouraged me to continue with the automatic writing. I still practice it. It remains a beneficial way of talking to my Self, divining how I truly feel about things, working through the decision-making process, et al.

Except sometimes. Sometimes, even in the early days, the tone would shift into something that felt outside myself, much deeper than talking to the wayward winds inside my brain. Something channeled from Elsewhere? I dunno. I get this now and again with Tarot, too, that feeling when a reading really clicks into place and seems more than wish fulfillment or facile projection. A few years back I asked “Them” if I was talking to my ancestors. They answered along the lines of “took you long enough to figure that out.” “They” sometimes have a good sense of humor.

I continue to talk to myself and the ancestors. It’s a great comfort when I need it, a way of calming myself when I’m stressed, or working through what worries me. The messages that come through are overwhelmingly positive. If negative things come through (almost always self-critical crap, as distinctly different in tone as the profound messages are) I say a little clarification/protection prayer and ask them if the negative things are true. They usually respond with something like, “No. That’s interference from your Shadow or old negative programming.”

But it all began back there in my early teens. I really needed to believe in “cosmic friends” or better angels or a realm outside the tough times I was going through. I’m glad I found those better angels—even if they were merely the better angels of my own mind and soul finding their way to the surface. They have sustained me throughout my life.

 

Random quote of the day:

“Always we want to learn from the outside, from absorbing other people’s knowledge. It’s safer that way. The trouble is that it’s always other people’s knowledge. We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. The longing is what turns us inside out until we find the sun and the moon and stars inside.”

—Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

When I was thirteen or so I invited my friend Margaret over and we spent the whole day together, had dinner with my parents, then sat around the “campfire” in the backyard. This was an old metal barbecue that my father set up on the large concrete slab at the back of our house where we could burn wood and enjoy the balmy summer night air. Margaret was a tall, gangly, unstylish girl (I was also not particularly stylish) who wore her light brown hair in a bowl cut all through junior high and high school. I don’t know if that was a decision of her parents or not (they were quite strict). She had very straight hair, which would have been totally the style in the 60s and 70s if she had just let it grow out. She got made fun of. My recollection is that her family was large and rather poor. We weren’t rich, either, but we were hospitable. I was never invited to Margaret’s house. The very idea of inviting me seemed to make her nervous. Something odd there. I never figured out what and didn’t inquire. She craved love and friendship, a refuge from the teasing and disdain of the cruel teenage years. She was often downcast and depressed but lit up whenever anyone paid her attention.

She was one of my strays. I always brought kids home who were outcasts (like me), who the cool kids shunned. Or I invited them to spend school lunches with me and my outcast friends. (Lunching rituals were extremely important in junior high and high school.) Recently, I was talking about this to another friend I’ve known since I was twelve and she said, “You were always sort of the den mother of our little group,” and I guess I was. A very old pattern going back to at least elementary school. Which is odd, since I’m an introvert who treasures my alone time.

So, Margaret and I sitting by the fire. I don’t remember if she stayed the night, but we were staring at the flames and talking well into the night. Eventually, we lapsed into a pleasant silence, each in our own reverie. And from one moment to the next, I was there in the backyard and also inside the flames. I had a vivid, absolutely realer-than-real vision of myself tied to a stake while flames rose around me. In the vision, I was screaming and looking out at the faces of the people watching me burn—a nighttime sky, their faces made pasty by the light of the flames, yelling, “Burn, witch!” Their expressions were pure hate mixed with glee at the spectacle of my punishment. Just their faces. No details of clothing except I think it was dark. I even smelled flesh burning and knew it was mine. (It smelled of burned hot dogs and, no, we didn’t roast dogs that night.) The name “Sylvia Thackby” popped into my head, and I had the complete conviction that was my name and who I was.

Then it was done. So vivid, so intense, so real. I turned to Margaret feeling the panic bubbling inside me.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

So I told her, all of it. I could see it bothered her a great deal, and why wouldn’t it? That was some crazy ass talk. (In retrospect I have to wonder if that’s why we stopped hanging around so much. She didn’t need a crazy person for a friend.) But I was full of manic enthusiasm. I wanted to research Sylvia Thackby. This was long before the internet, though, and I didn’t have the resources to travel to the kinds of libraries where I might get more information. I was just a kid. I had to let it go at the time. I have periodically fallen down the internet rabbit hole since and learned a few things.

First, accused witches in England and America were hung, not burned. The burning happened in Scotland and the Continent. So, if Sylvia existed she was probably in one of those places. My instincts even at the time of the vision told me it was the British Isles. The last legal execution of accused witches in Britain happened in the 17th century, and those accused were hung. (That doesn’t mean illegal burnings didn’t happen. They most assuredly did. In fact, a woman named Bridget Cleary was burned in Ireland in the late 19th century by her loving family who thought she was a changeling.)

Second, the name Thackby exists, but it’s not common. Most of the scraps of information I’ve found seem to settle in the Yorkshire area. Yorkshire was a hotbed of witch belief in the 17th century (probably earlier and later as well), but most legal executions there were hangings, I believe. I did find a list of servants from an estate in Warwickshire called Finham Park (from the Stoneleigh Parish Census of 1861). A young cowman named Christopher Kirby employed there  listed his birthplace in 1844 as Thackby in Oxfordshire. (An infamous unsolved murder of a supposed “wizard” occurred in Warwickshire in 1945, so it was not without its own witch hysteria.) A Google search of “Thackby Oxfordshire” brings up information on a town called Beckley, but no mention is made of Thackby in the Wikipedia article, so I don’t know what that’s all about. I do know that on July 26, 1640, Thomae Thackby baptized his daughter Maria in the Yorkshire parish of Kirk Ella, which until 1878 covered a seven mile area including part of what is now the Newington Parish of Hull and surrounds. The records of Kirk Ella stretch back to 1558. Witchcraft was made a capital offense in Britain in 1563. Also, I learned that a soldier named Levi Berry was K. I. A. in World War I in 1916. He enlisted in 1915 and his papers list his birthplace as “Thackley – Bradford – Yorkshire” where he was born on July 28, 1890. I even found one entry for a current resident of Hull with the last name of Thackby (first initial only), but I would never bother him or her with anything so foolish. This is my airy fairy obsession, after all, and nothing to do with that poor soul.

Third, the name Sylvia was not common in the British Isles until maybe the 18th century and that was mostly amongst the nobility and the rich. Sybil would have been a more likely name for a commoner and I got the distinct impression my girl was a commoner.

So I know a lot more than I did on that long ago campfire night but still not much. It has led to a lifetime fascination with witch accusations and persecutions. (The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey was the first nonfiction book I read cover to cover.) And I have always had a morbid fear of fire. Still, it could all be an elaborate hypnagogic vision that my neurodivergent brain turned into an obsession. I want to say that I don’t think so, that it has always from that night on carried the heavy internal weight of conviction, but who can say? That vision or dream or memory is as vivid today as it was that night.

I still need to check alternate spellings of Thackby (there are a number) and the genealogical sites but this is a casual obsession nowadays. I don’t really expect to find Sylvia Thackby no matter the spelling. If she existed, she was probably an outcast, some poor, odd or odd-looking woman who lived on the margins. Such people don’t leave historical records. Although the Scots and English kept good records of who they persecuted, many records were lost and it’s very possible Sylvia’s execution was vigilantism rather than de jure. But I’ll probably keep searching in my haphazard way. For one thing, it’s always fascinating to look.

And what about Margaret? We hung out a lot in junior high, but when we transferred to the larger student population of Venice High we kind of lost touch. We’d see each other now and then but had different friend groups. It happens. After graduating high school I only saw her one more time. About a year and a half later she called me out of the blue and asked if she could come over and introduce me to her…baby.

I was gobsmacked, to say the least, but I said sure. She arrived with a chubby baby in tow—about 9 or 10 months I’d say—but I can’t remember if it was a boy or a girl. (I’m going to call him a him since I don’t want to say “it.”) She’d finally let her hair grow and looked much more in the mode of the day, but still hardly stylish. She said she’d gotten pregnant by some guy who declined to marry her. Maybe it was still under negotiation, maybe a done deal. I wish I remembered. I felt sorry that she had the responsibility of raising a child on her own at such a young age. That feeling was counterbalanced by her excitement over the baby and the incandescent love on her face when she looked at him. Finally, here was someone she could love with all her heart who loved her back and needed her as much as she’d always wanted. She left, we promised to call, we never did, and I never saw her again. The usual casual carelessness of youth.

Margaret is lost to my personal historical record. I could probably find a trace of her if I wanted to join Facebook (I do not) or one of those alumni associations (again, no). I don’t imagine that incandescence lasted. It rarely does in life. But I can hope it did, can’t I? I can hope that the flames of life never reached her, the burning joy remained. I feel somewhat guilty that I don’t know. Then again, maybe it’s best I don’t. Some searches are best left abandoned.

 

Random quote of the day:

“Forever – is composed of Nows —
‘Tis not a different time —”

—Emily Dickinson “Forever is composed of Nows”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“During the 60’s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered. I think that once you see emotions from a certain angle you can never think of them as real again.”

—Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“No pain means the end of feeling; each of our joys is a bargain with the devil.”

—Charles Bukowski, Notes of A Dirty Old Man

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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