paranormal


Christine Wicker’s book, Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead covers some of the same territory as Spook by Mary Roach—although I think, at the end of the day, Wicker’s book was more genuine. I liked reading both, and Roach is very funny, but she went into her skeptical deep dive exploration of the paranormal with the goal of mocking. She did quite a lot of that in Spook, sometimes to funny effect, but other times to her detriment as a reporter.

Wicker also went in skeptical but was genuinely interested in exploring the lives of the people she encountered. She approached them with respect and a reporter’s eye towards following where the story led, rather than leading the story. I won’t say she became a true believer by the end of the book, but she did emerge from the story changed by what she’d experienced.

Even Roach had to admit that she could not come up with rational explanations for everything she encountered. Yet she clung to the rock of her disbelief like any true acolyte of scientism. And that’s fine with me. I don’t require anyone to drink the Kool-Aid. Some people need to disbelieve no matter the evidence to the contrary, just as some need to believe despite rational explanations. As Ms. Wicker said so eloquently in her quote of the day, below.

See my full review of Christine Wicker’s book here.

Random quote of the day:

“Even when believers earnestly explain how things are and disbelievers earnestly listen, disbelievers go away unchanged because facts are the least of their differences. It’s perception that separates them. That’s how it is, and that’s how it has always been. Those who must see to believe don’t believe enough to see. And those who believe enough to see won’t stop believing, no matter what they see.”

—Christine Wicker, Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

TV Show pitch: This Old Crone
Like the PBS seres, This Old House (the original remodeling show), but featuring the transformation of an old crone rather than an old home. It should be hosted by the person who really knows how to do the work rather than the half-assed dilettante hosebag. In this series, instead of covering up the flaws in the crone, we shine a bright spotlight on them so that anyone, including the crone, can learn from them. And the eccentricities of construction will be celebrated rather than trying to turn them into something sleek and modern. Repair work will be done, of course, but with the knowledge that decrepitude is inevitable and the only sure and certain principle ruling the Universe is entropy. Rather than mourning this, the show will encourage us to accept it with as much grace and dignity as possible and learn from it, as well. But we must also remember that if entropy rules the Universe, irony is its only begotten daughter.

Everyone’s path is their own. No path is superior. Everyone has to find their own way. The path of quiet contemplation is as valid as the full-throated war cry. Anyone who judges your path isn’t as secure in their own as they think they are. One person has trouble crossing a room without pain; another climbs mountains. In the end, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the flame in your heart. If it dies, you’ve failed. If it’s still burning, you’re still burning, and you’re where you need to be.

One of my ancestors is named Mary Polly Armor and I always want to read that as Mary Polyamory. #BecauseThatsJustTheSortOfBrainIHave

What’s the first major news event you remember in your lifetime? I was going to say the assassination of JFK but it’s really the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember those drills, our young teacher herding us little bitty kids into the cloakroom to shelter. I remember her crying each time and I didn’t figure out until later that it was because she never knew if we were hiding out because it was real and the bombs were on the way or if it was just another drill. I was terrified and didn’t really know why.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion that paranormal activity is caused by places being built on Indian burial grounds. It’s quite prevalent in paranormal research and I’ve also fallen prey to the thought of vengeful native spirits. Lately, I’ve reconsidered this. It’s as essentially racist as the Ancient Aliens/Van Daniken notion that primitive (read “people of color”) societies could not possibly have invented the wonders they did—it had to be gifted to them from Space Overlords. The Indian burial ground notion has even pervaded popular horror movie culture. The one exception to this that I can think of in popular culture (rather than supposedly legit research) is the movie Poltergeist. The dead folks in that movie were just vengeful dead folks, not vengeful natives. I can’t think of such an exception in paranormal research. It makes me feel guilty that I even considered the Indian burial ground scenario. Although I’m not sure my white guilt is any more helpful than white appropriation or white nullification of culture. Mostly I realize it’s not about me except for when I can work for positive change.

Here near LAX we got a gentle rolling from the July 5th 7.1 earthquake (downgraded to only 6.9), but it did go on for a very long time. Sometimes they are gentle at first then the big whammy hits, so until things stop there’s always the fear it will get bigger. One of my neighbors was standing out in her front yard screaming, however, which I thought kind of extreme but it takes everybody different. I did feel seasick afterwards, though.

The only thing I know is that whatever negative thing you are when you’re young, you will still be that negative thing when you’re old, only more so. Unless you do a s*** ton of work on yourself between youth and age, if you’re a young rage monkey he’ll be in old age monkey; if you’re a judgmental young twat you’ll be a judgmental old twat. The good news is, if you’re a thoughtful, considerate person when you’re young you’ll most likely still be a thoughtful, considerate old person. The seeds of who our selves are planted at the moment of our birth.

I think the dictation on my Word program must be Scottish. It never wants to capitalize the name Ken.

I lived a block from the Sidewalk Cafe in the 80s. We often ate there in the day time, but knew to stay off the Boardwalk at night: too wild & dangerous for girls on their own. It sounds like things have changed—and not changed: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/05/08/a-night-with-a-bouncer/#.XRlOldiNsgk.twitter

I have to confess that as much as I loathe Ancient Aliens, it’s a good show to have on for background noise when I’m not feeling very well. I can read Twitter while it’s playing and look up every once in a while to yell very rude things at the screen. #NeverSaidIWasntWeird

I don’t feed the crows every day. But every time I do feed them, the day after one of them will perch on the rail near my open front door and yell at me to feed them again. #LoveThemCrows

The Detectorists – a lovely, gentle, funny show. One of my favorites.

I have a terrible confession to make. I hope you’ll still be my friends once you hear it: I like the lumps in cream of wheat.

Last night I re-watched My Dinner with Andre for the first time in a very long time. At least 20 years, maybe longer. I’ve seen it many times. There was a time when my friend and I would go to see it every time it played at the Nuart cinema in West L.A., an “art house” theater which still exists (though it’s part of the Landmark chain now). Every time I saw Andre I felt as if the conversation had somehow magically changed, that new things, new concepts had been added. My sympathy would swing back and forth between the two people talking, I’d laugh at one and then the other, cry with one and then the other. The ending always made me appreciate the mystery and the wonder of life, from the ordinary details of a cold cup of coffee, to the mystical wonders of Findhorn, to living life consciously, and living life in a dream. And it still works. It still works.

In some ways it works better in today’s society than it did in 1981. The themes of living consciously rather than floating along; the themes of how distracted we all are and how difficult that makes it to live meaningfully.

“A baby holds your hand and then suddenly there’s this huge man lifting you off the ground. And then he’s gone. Where’s that son?”

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And speaking of watching, I just finished season 3 of The Detectorists. What a lovely, lovely show. Low key, gentle humor, sweet spirit. One of my very favorites.

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Mom and her starling, Baby:

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Butterflies are such beautiful creatures. Which is why I can’t understand the urge to collect them, kill them, and use them as art objects, preventing them from living out their life cycle and reproducing so that we will continue to have beautiful butterflies.

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My mother grew up right in the middle of Uintah Co., UT, a place well known in paranormal circles and home to the infamous Skinwalker Ranch. It was a little farming community called Willow Creek, not to be confused with the current day town of Willow Creek which is some ways northwest of where Mom grew up. Mom’s community doesn’t exist any more, as it became part of the Ute reservation. I had to locate the Creek it was named after to get an approximate location on Google maps (below).

I’ve often wondered if Mom’s nervousness regarding “weird shit,” as she called it, was because she grew up in a place where it was common.

Having said that, one of the shows she really liked to watch in the last years of her life was Finding Bigfoot. It was one of the few “weird” shows she could tolerate. Every time we’d watch she’d be fascinated and almost every single time she’d say afterwards, “There has to be something to this.” Not sure why she found it so convincing. But maybe Uintah County had something to do with it.

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Speaking of weird (as I do so love to), I was reading a thread on Twitter about the superstitions of health care workers. One of the most frequently mentioned was that health care workers would open a door or a window when someone died so the soul could find its way outside. (This is a very old folkloric belief.) While reading this I remembered that when my mother, who was in hospice here at home, passed away, the very lovely hospice nurse (a lady from Africa—and I’m sorry, sweet nurse, I no longer remember which country you said) took care of business and then went to open the front door.

I don’t think I even asked her why (I was in grief shock) but there must have been something in my expression because she hurried to say, “That’s so the funeral home knows what house it is.” I accepted it at the time but in retrospect, that makes no sense at all. It makes more sense after reading that thread on Twitter.

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It’s so difficult to overcome the “I want I want I want” mentality so many of us have been raised with in this society and replace it with the “We are we are we are” mentality. But necessary deprogramming.

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I’m a rather half-assed pagan. I do witchy things but I respect and honor witches too much to call myself one unless I feel I’ve earned it. I think I’m on a parallel but different path, anyway. I have a kind of spiritual practice that I’m getting back in touch with after many years of distraction and tamping it down to deal with this world. Any spiritual practice that’s worth its salt, I think, has to deal with both the mystical and the mundane or it’s just escapism. (Yes, I know, some would say all spiritual practice is escapism, but that’s their problem. I have no patience with them.)

In recent times, I have meditated and put out calls of—how to phrase it? Belonging? Certain deities respond and when they do I honor them on my mantelpiece. Others are just “the spirit of the rock” or “the spirit of the tree.” I am sure there is a spirit of the house, this house, but it’s unnamed. My mother, as I’ve mentioned, was not comfortable with discussion of anything spiritual. But I think she had some talents. She said the first time she walked into this house it opened its arms to her and said welcome. And I still feel that.

Everyone on the mantelpiece seems okay with everyone else, but I always ask before I place a representation there if everyone welcomes the addition. On rare occasions they say no and I honor that, but most times they’re accepting. And not just spiritual things go on the mantle. It’s a kind of cornucopia of silly and sacred and artwork, but it seems to work for everybody.

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What’s something about myself that I once wanted to change to fit in but am now happy with? My weirdness. I never saw things the way most people did. I now realize that’s not my affliction but my treasure.

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“It’s not a swastika it’s some kind of Tibetan symbol,” said the guy in the Nazi war helmet when asked why he put a concrete swastika in his front yard. “I don’t think he’s a Neo-Nazi,” said his neighbor, adding sheepishly, “But he may be racist.” #TalesFromTheLocalNews

Hellier, the Planet Weird original YouTube series: Mothman Prophecies meets Deliverance meets Carl Jung meets Finding Bigfoot. This is more of a philosophical paranormal series so if you’re looking for the brainless demon chasing of Ghost Adventures, this will not be the show for you.

I liked it, binged it yesterday. I started watching in broad daylight, just to be safe and to make sure I could sleep comfortably. (Huh.) There definitely were some creepy parts, but this is more a show about curiosity and exploration of the subterranean realms of the human psyche and the world-beneath-the-skin of this world. And synchronicity. A whole lotta synchronicity. (I watched the last two episodes in full dark and my sleep cycle was not disturbed.)

If you’ve ever been caught up in a synchronicity storm, as explored in this show, you’ll find Hellier more credible. Even if you haven’t, it’s a fascinating piece of filmmaking. Despite my casual linkage above to other things, it’s also a unique piece of filmmaking, as passion projects often are.

So, if you’re in the mood for something to expand your mind and your horizons rather than the idiotic pap of most paranormal shows, you might like Hellier.

I was once close friends with a paranormal researcher. I never went on any of his investigations with him—mostly because he lived 2,000 miles away—but he would discuss his cases in detail with me. I was a sympathetic and avid ear, frankly. Much younger and with my youthful sense of invulnerability still flapping around the edges of my psyche, I took a deep dive into the subject. Then weird synchronous shit began happening to me. Nothing as weird as the things that happened to him, nothing horrifically spooky, just fricking weird. But as I wasn’t even directly involved in his cases, it did rather freak me out.

“Oh yeah, that kind of thing goes on all the time,” he said. “It’s mostly harmless if you don’t give it energy.”

Which was not reassuring. It harkened back to something a witchy woman said to me when I was thirteen and another batch of synchronous shit started happening to me. “It can’t hurt you if you don’t let it.” I backed away from it then, shut it down with extreme prejudice, and the things stopped happening.

When it happened again in conjunction with my friend, I told it very firmly to go away and leave me alone, and it did. I’m sorry, I am not profoundly courageous when it comes to these things. I prefer to channel it into art, if you must know. Art is a buffer zone between the realm of the trickster—where this stuff stops and ends, in my opinion—and about as much as I can handle, in those days and in these.

Weird things continued to happen to me, but rarely with the sense of something focusing on me that happens in the middle of a synchronicity storm. That attention is what keeps me from sleeping at night. I continued to be friends with my paranormal researcher for some time after that, but eventually we drifted apart for reasons that had nothing to do with synchronicity or paranormal research or the trickster. (Or did they?) I still think fondly of him and those discussions because it expanded my mind and my psychic horizons.

Even if I was too much of a wimp to fully commit. I’m happy with my decision. And, really, I think “it” is, too.

I was reading an article in the September 2018 issue of Fortean Times (FT370) called “Strange Stories from Southport”—a seaside town in Merseyside, roughly 20 miles north of Liverpool. Most of the stories in this article dealt with sightings of the Old Man of Halsall Moss—an old, possibly drunken, man in antique farmers clothes who is often seen staggering beside the road by passing motorists only to suddenly disappear.

Other people traveling the solitary places around Southport have had timeslips or momentarily driven through a changed landscape. One mother and son experienced a nighttime landscape beneath a crescent moon showering luminous arcs of light down upon the open fields. The streetlights on either side of the road echoed these luminous arcs, as did the headlights of the cars coming from the opposite direction. They passed a car with two ladies inside but when the mother looked in the rearview mirror, the car had completely disappeared, although there was no turn off anywhere nearby. When they returned home by this same road about three hours later, there were no arcs of light and, furthermore, they realized that the streetlights weren’t on either side of the road as they had originally perceived them, but went straight down the middle. They also realized that the crescent moon arcing light had been to the north of them instead of traveling its usual east to west.

Stories like this are a great comfort to me because I’ve had my own impossible sightings, when a mundane trip down a familiar road can turn suddenly…other. Even though I’m certain of what I saw and was fully awake in broad daylight, knowing that you have experienced something you just could not have experienced is deeply unsettling. You gnaw on it for the rest of your life, you return to it again and again, asking yourself how it could have been. And not infrequently, you (I) question your (my) sanity.

But when I read about other normal people seeing scrambled realities I can tell myself that sometimes weird stuff just happens.

Some time back my friends and I were having interesting discussions about timeslips and other warps in reality, sharing personal experiences of our own and of our friends. The next day I received the (then) latest Fortean Times (February 2017, FT 350) which had an article by Jenny Randles (“Timelessness”) on “time travel, close encounters and other ripples in reality.” Being the good Jungian that I am, I recognized a synchronicity and started working on a post—which, alas, got buried by busyness in other areas.

My friend, L. (I have four friends with the first initial of L), told me of a strange encounter she and her then-boyfriend had when camping at a remote site in the Santa Rosa Mountains of California. As they drove along the lonely highway, they came up behind an old jalopy of a truck going slowly up the mountain. It was loaded with people riding in its bed and even though they spent considerable time behind the truck because the road was too narrow for safe passing, the only person in the vehicle who acknowledged their presence was an old guy who stared and laughed and grinned in a kooky kind of way that L. found quite unnerving.

The truck continued up the mountainside, but eventually L. and her boyfriend turned off at the campground. Their car was the only one in the small parking lot in the middle of nowhere. They unloaded their gear and hiked into the remote campsite. When they got there, two women sat on one of the campground picnic tables looking at a fire on a distant range. They didn’t seem unfriendly. They smiled and said something neither L. nor her boyfriend could understand and pointed to the smoke they were watching. Again, L. felt unnerved, but she put it down to having read too much Casteneda. She and her boyfriend hiked into the woods to set up camp but when they next looked at the picnic table, the women were gone. As the night progressed, a feeling of oppression overcame L., like something wanted them gone. She felt as if she was being closed in upon, watched. L. turned to her boyfriend and said, “I think we should leave. Now.” “I think you’re right,” he said. He’d been feeling the same thing. It was the middle of the night, but they packed up in a hurry and left.

Ms. Randles speaks of the “Oz factor” often preceding odd experiences, wherein, for example, a busy road or room suddenly becomes profoundly quiet as the state of consciousness of the percipient changes. Simon Young, writing in FT362 (January 2018—“Introducing the Fairy Census 2014-2017”) says that there are a significant number of these experiences “while people are driving or travelling in a car” or stopped at lay-bys. He also speaks of a profound silence often accompanying this otherness.

In the case of a friend of a friend (another L.), when he was a teen, he was traveling down Roosevelt Boulevard in St. Petersburg, Florida in a car driven by his mother. The road was surrounded by fields and palm scrub, and as he gazed out the window, he was no longer in the car, which had completely disappeared. He was riding a horse and felt certain that he was an Indian. This went on for several minutes before he returned just as suddenly to the car.

Many years later, he decided to teach himself how to drive a stick shift so he borrowed his wife’s car and headed for this selfsame Roosevelt Boulevard because he knew he could drive to the end of it without getting in the way of too many other drivers. The boulevard dead-ended at some piney woods, so he headed in that direction. By the time he got there, it was dark and he came upon a stop sign that he didn’t remember ever seeing before. Not only that, instead of piney woods, the boulevard ended at a T-intersection. He also didn’t remember a road crossing there before, but as it was dark and he was uncertain where it led, he elected to turn around to go back the way he’d come rather than exploring the road. But he was curious, so he drove back the next day in the daylight. There was no stop sign and no road. He and his wife found an old map of the area and on that map, the road he had seen that night clearly appeared. They looked into it and discovered that the road had been created to service a housing development that had never come to pass because of environmental concerns. Even more curious, although the map had shown the road in anticipation of the housing development being built, the road had never actually been constructed. He’s very glad he decided not to drive down that road.

But it’s not just friends and friends of friends…

In December 1992, I gathered some of my loved ones together for our annual Christmas dinner. In the middle of the festivities when everyone was telling stories and laughing, my world came to a standstill. I’ve tried to describe this sensation before and that’s as close as I can come. I was sitting in that room, but outside of it, too. I saw everyone talking, but couldn’t hear them anymore. Inside of me everything had gone completely still, the kind of silence and stillness I’ve never felt before or since. I heard a voice. My impression is that it was deep, but I can’t be sure anymore and I can’t be certain whether it was male or female, but it was a voice of great conviction. It said, “This is the last Christmas you will all spend together like this.” With those words came the utter conviction that one of us would die before the next Christmas. I didn’t know who, but I suspected it was one of my parents. Then it was like the bubble burst and I was back in the room just as before, only trying hard to pretend nothing had happened, to deny what had happened. I told no one about this experience lest they think I was crazy. October rolled around and no one had died so I began to think it was ridiculous. So I finally told someone, my oldest friend, L., and we had a good laugh over my lunacy. Two days later, my father collapsed with an aortal aneurysm and passed away.

For oh so many reasons, my world was never the same after that. As Ms. Randles says, “we scramble to make sense of the scattered fragments of reality and reconstruct the world in a linear way.” It took some work to reconstruct things, but I never returned—didn’t want to return—to the same old linear narrative I’d been living. As Emily Dickinson once said, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” She was speaking of the artifice of art, but for me it means that the truth of reality is slant. Or as Simon Young says, “…an inconvenient fact slapping you hard in the face: reality is not as you thought.” Unless we live on the north or south poles, all of us are walking sideways on a globe, held there by gravity. But our brains can’t deal with this version of reality, so we create a level and flat plain, a straight-on world that doesn’t exist. I see the Other as something similar, something that exists alongside us, that we catch momentary glimpses of before our brains wrench us back into our more comfortable time and space.

I have also had my own “seeing things I couldn’t have seen while driving” experience. You can read about it here. (Note: I’ve just realized, looking back at that old post, that it happened the year my mother had her stroke and everything changed utterly for me. Not only that, I wrote the post no more than a week or two before my mother’s stroke.)

As Simon Young notes, “there have been several large-scale population-wide surveys of supernatural and psychic experiences over the past 120 years.” These have shown that as many as a quarter of the population have had these kinds of significant experiences, the kind that “the rest of the population would rather not think about.”

As much as twenty-five percent of the population is an impressive number. Maybe, like me, they just read too many issues of Fortean Times or maybe, just maybe, there are layers and layers of otherness living just beneath the surface of ordinary life.

lily dale cover

Lily Dale is a town in upstate New York with a long history of old-timey mediumship—you know, table rappings, séances, psychic readings, that sort of thing. The town was, as Wikipedia says, “incorporated in 1879 as Cassadaga Lake Free Association, a camp and meeting place for Spiritualists and Freethinkers. The name was changed to The City of Light in 1903 and finally to Lily Dale Assembly in 1906.” It may have updated its image in recent years, but it still is a town of spiritualists, with all that entails.

“Every summer twenty thousand guests come to consult the town’s mediums,” the back cover says, “in hopes of communicating with dead relatives or catching a glimpse of the future. Weaving past with present, the living with the dead, award-winning journalist and bestselling author Christine Wicker investigates the longings for love and connection that draw visitors to ‘the Dale,’ introducing us to a colorful cast of characters along the way—including such famous visitors as Susan B. Anthony, Harry Houdini, and Mae West.”

And I have to say, I really liked this book. It’s not so much about Lily Dale as it’s about the people whose lives changed after visiting and having their worldview shifted. That’s the ultimate charm of the book for me, how Lily Dale works on people. Ms. Wicker paints wonderful portraits of past inhabitants and current seekers, their traumas and triumphs and their inexorable movement toward something larger than themselves. It’s a very human book, for all its spiritualist craziness. The author manages to walk the line between empathy and irony without either mawkishness or mockery.

If you expect a book of scathing skepticism, this is not that book. If you expect a story of earth shattering mystic revelations and great truths…well, some of them may be there, but they’re subtly and often humorously worked into the life stories Ms. Wicker unveils—including her own. I loved her moments of struggle with what she’s encountering, her moments of self-parody and doubt, her will to believe versus her will not to believe. Despite digging in her heels and her best reporter’s instincts, Lily Dale works its charms on her, shifting her paradigm and leaving her feeling better about her life—without surrendering her rationality.

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Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah by Colm A. Kelleher and George Knapp

I’m not placing this book with the few UFO books in my possession, nor with the books on the occult or science. Not even with the books on folklore, although it contains all those elements. I am firmly placing this with my growing collection of books on the trickster—although I suppose it would fit in just as well with my collection on Faery. Although the authors mention the Native American myth of the skinwalker (or shapeshifting witch) in the title that’s just a convenient moniker taken from the Ute Indians of Utah who live near that “remote ranch” in an attempt to put a name on the phenomena occurring there.

In the religion and cultural lore of Southwestern tribes, there are witches known as skinwalkers who can alter their shapes at will to assume the characteristics of certain animals. Most of the world’s cultures have their own shapeshifter legends….In the American Southwest, the Navajo, Hopi, Utes, and other tribes each have their own version of the skinwalker story, but basically they boil down to the same thing—a malevolent witch capable of being transformed into a wolf, coyote, bear, bird, or any other animal. The witch might wear the hide or skin of the animal identity it wants to assume, and when the transformation is complete, the human witch inherits the speed, strength, or cunning of the animal whose shape it has taken. The Navajo skinwalkers use mind control to make their victims do things to hurt themselves and even end their lives…

Given the nature of the phenomena reported at that remote ranch, the idea of mind control seems a kind of refrain in the book. Fully half the book details the wealth of high strangeness that takes place, first to the Gorman family, then to the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) researchers. The area had been known to the Utes and Navajos for generations as a wrong place, an abode of skinwalkers, and simultaneously a sacred place, where this world and the otherworld intersect. The white family who bought the ranch came from out of state and didn’t know the ranch’s bad reputation. They just knew they were getting it cheap and that finally they had a shot at making their cattle-ranching dreams come true. Unfortunately, the dream turned into a nightmare, replete with strange lights in the sky and buzzing “craft,” incursions of sasquatch (which the local Utes think are sometimes Bigfoot and sometimes skinwalkers posing as Bigfoot) and other weird and impossible animals. The Gormans were further plagued by cattle mutilations, poltergeists, and sabotage—a veritable state of siege. After three years of that and more, dreams shattered, the Gormans sold the ranch to NIDS so the scientists could do a thorough investigation. The scientists themselves soon came to feel as if they were the ones being investigated, toyed with, and made to confront the limits of science.

As I said, fully half the book recounts the frustrating experiences of the Gormans and the researchers on the ranch. Interesting at first, this section got repetitive. I enjoyed the drama of the first section, where the Gormans were faced with the onslaught of high strangeness, and I enjoyed the final section wherein the authors engage in philosophical and scientific discussions about what might be causing all this. Theories abound, but hard science does not.

If there is an intended message or lesson in all of this, what could it possibly be? Needless to say, everyone who played a part in the investigations has logged many a sleepless night while pondering this central question, without arriving at a satisfactory answer.

Whatever was happening at this ranch (and is still reportedly happening) seems to have more in common with quantum physics than Newtonian, giving an uncomfortable glimpse into the very strange universe we inhabit, one that changes shape depending on who is observing it. Not only is it stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

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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.

What do Howard Hughes and the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians of Southern California have in common? It happens they shared a plot of land on the Westside of Los Angeles, separated by eons of time and circumstance. And they may also have shared a plot or two in the Otherworld.

While doing research on ghost hunting for a novel, I came across a book called Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Los Angeles by Jeff Dwyer. It’s part of a series, each set in a different city, and basically gives a brief overview of ghost hunting techniques and equipment followed by a long list of “haunted” locations.

Imagine my peaked interested when Playa Vista was listed, a stretch of land just down the hill from where I live, and part of the rampant development of the Ballona wetlands which once peacefully coexisted with the undeveloped runway of Hughes Aircraft. Howard Hughes refused to develop this land—the last piece of prime, “under-utilized” property on the desirable Westside of Los Angeles. At his death, the moneymen were wetting themselves in anticipation of the plunder. Because Hughes’s will situation was in chaos at the time of his death, it took many years, many lawsuits, and countersuits to get things squared away. The abandoned Hughes site contained old office buildings and engineering buildings, massive aircraft hangers (including the one where the Spruce Goose was assembled), and a runway. Movie companies were the only ones using this property for a long time, the empty hangers becoming sound stages. Parts of Titanic were filmed there, among other blockbusters. Raleigh Studios still retains these hangers, but the rest of the property has been highly developed.

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Hughes Aircraft/Raleigh Studios hangers.

Enough strange things happened in these buildings that paranormal investigators came to check it out. Reportedly, the abandoned office buildings were especially active. A memorable episode of the paranormal T.V. show, Dead Famous, comes to mind, in which the intrepid investigators had many spooky adventures at the old Hughes complex. (I’m ashamed that I remember this—and so many other stupid-spooky shows—but I am a ghost show addict. I can’t help myself.) An anthropologist who worked on site reported the ghost of a small 1950s era white boy seen by many of the folk on the property. This little ghost even followed her home upon occasion. They also repeatedly saw “something colored bright white moving along just at the corner of their vision… For reasons that she was never quite clear on, she and the other workers came to the conclusion that the white shape seen moving in the lab was another spirit, specifically the ghost of Howard Hughes. As far as she knows, people on the project continue to see it.”

Finally, the lawyers and the moneymen stopped arguing and settled things in the courts. It was decided by the victors that the Hughes property would become a new live-work-play development (mixed residential, business, and entertainment) called Playa Vista. This was a massively controversial project from the start, as many wanted to protect the wetlands and the openness of the area, but the LA Board of Supervisors caved, as they always do when massive amounts of development money are involved. The Playa Vista project was bulldozed through the approval pipeline and the bulldozing of the Hughes property began.

Imagine everyone’s chagrin when the excavations uncovered human remains: what was left of a massive Gabrielino-Tongva Indian village and cemetery that had occupied the site for centuries (some say thousands of years) before Hughes got ahold of it. The developers were required by law to call in archaeologists, and tried to pass it off as a few paltry bones that they flung into a storage shed, treating them with great disrespect. It turned out this was a major archaeological site and around 411 bodies were recovered. The problem, as far as the Gabrielino-Tongva were concerned, is that their tribe is not federally recognized. This means they are not legally entitled to “repatriation”—that stipulation in U.S. Federal Law which requires Native American graves and artifacts to be treated with respect and reburied with tribal ritual after being disturbed. You can read about the whole sordid story in detail here and a more condensed version here.

Eventually, and with many years of pressure from Indian activists, the Playa Vista people agreed to set aside a memorial place where the bones could be shuttled out of the way of the development, out of sight of the rich folk, and reinterred. If this city blog can be believed, this took place on December 11, 2008. (I leave it to you to decide whether this memorial is cheesy.)

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The Tongva Memorial

Now, as many a paranormal investigator will tell you, disturbed Indian gravesites are just asking for trouble. Some will say this attitude is racist, “blaming” the Indians for every weird quirk that happens on a property they once occupied. There are others who don’t look upon this as blaming the Indians, but perhaps as a matter of the disturbed dead seeking redress for the genocide visited upon them by Europeans. I probably fall into this latter camp, although it’s possible I am an unwitting racist. I would not be the first middle-class white girl reluctant to confess to that particular sin.***

Regardless, Mr. Dwyer (you remember him from way up top at the start of this post?) states that, “Disturbance of these graves may be linked to strange mists that have been seen in the area. Small blue clouds float a foot off the ground and rise to a height of about four or five feet. At times they are stationary but sometime (sic) they move, slowly, against the wind.” Those pesky orbs so beloved of paranormal investigators have also been sighted and “there are reports of electrical and mechanical problems” at the construction site. “It is anticipated that occupants of several new homes and offices in this development will experience paranormal activity…”

I will confess that having lived in this area all my life and passed through that particular stretch of highway more times than I can count, “tooley” fog (aka tule fog) has always been prevalent on that road between the Westchester bluffs and La Ballona Creek (no more than a quarter mile north). This is one of the only places I know of on the Westside of LA where this fog happens and I’ve seen it many times, usually late at night. Although I don’t remember it ever being blue or moving against the wind. Mostly, it just sits like the spirit of malcontent, thick as dread, hugging the ground while ten feet off the earth the air is clear. The Ballona wetlands have always been an eerie place. Back in the day there were no streetlights, and at night that part of Lincoln Boulevard tended to be as dark as the heart of a developer, with nothing but empty fields, scattered and abandoned buildings, and that ground-hugging fog in the right weather. Driving through there late at night by myself really gave me the shivers. Not hard at all to imagine uneasy spirits even before they dug up those graves.

The development has civilized it somewhat, lifted the highway ten or fifteen feet (which was a good thing as it flooded rather badly when we actually had rain), put in streetlights and masses of butt-ugly buildings. The land west of Lincoln Boulevard was set aside as protected wetlands and a bird sanctuary, but Playa Vista continues to screw with the land and undercut the natural habitat of the wetlands. They have to be continuous monitored by environmentalists and activists. Besides all that, they ruined a perfectly good scary place and I will never forgive them for it, but I have to say, strange fogs are not particularly convincing to me as evidence of spirit activity.

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Restored Ballona wetlands with southern range of butt ugly buildings.

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Eastern reach of butt ugly buildings on the Hughes property.

Orbs spotted with the naked eye? Maybe. (On digital cameras—no, I don’t think so. Too many rational explanations.) Electrical and mechanical problems? Maybe. Or maybe not. Things flying around a Playa Vista apartment and horrid noises in the night? Now that I’d like to see—if anything like that had been reported. Which, as far as I know, it has not. And maybe that’s all the Playa Vista stories are at this point: resentful people like me who didn’t like to see that rapacious development and would enjoy casting a ray of darkness upon it for spoiling our fun.

But, aesthetic principles aside, I would not be caught dead living in one of those butt ugly buildings. Just in case.

***ETA 2/8/19: In the intervening years I’ve moved more towards the “this is racist” camp. Whereas I think it’s possible that the spirits of Indians pissed off because their resting place was desecrated would haunt a location, I don’t believe it’s any more likely than the pissed off spirits of white folks or any other ethnic or racial group.

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