books


Review (plus a personal note): Round in Circles: Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of Cropwatchers by Jim Schnabel.

Mr. Schnabel wrote this book in the 1990s, an American post-graduate student living in England and specializing in science writing. He himself turned hoaxer after studying the phenomena and, more closely, those caught up in the excitement of the phenomena. What I really liked about this book is that he manages to show the parade of human folly and the will to believe—the need to believe—without being mean-spirited. There’s plenty of understated humor, but mostly he allows people to display their nature in their own words. He captures the awe while still showing the painful and hilarious lengths people will go to protect their pet theories (and continue to get media attention and earn dollars, to boot). Even when these theories are debunked, some still can’t let go, resorting to conspiracy theories and black magic tales to save face.

The book demonstrates, although this was probably not Mr. Schnabel’s intent, how Trickster manipulates us all. Whether that trickster is embedded in human psychology or an outside force I will leave to others to decide for themselves. Mr. Schnabel admits that there is something mysterious at work which compels people to go into the fields and make pictograms and other ephemeral art in the secret dead of night. He does quite a nice job of evoking that mystery and compulsion. And when something genuinely unexplainable happens—a tractor driver caught on film being buzzed by a mysterious metallic orb comes to mind—Mr. Schnabel doesn’t shy away from showing it and doesn’t try to explain things away with strained rationalization. Even if the vast majority of these circles are hoaxes, he allows wiggle room, a tacit suggestion that perhaps a few may have some other explanation. The cropwatchers, however, are so caught up in their own theories that it’s an all or nothing for them. Mr. Schnabel lets us draw our own conclusions, and one of those is that many of the cropwatchers were missing out on a much grander mystery: that of the human imagination.

A Personal Note

I admit: I drank the Kool-Aid back in the day. I was swept up in the wonder and awe of the crop circles. To this day, even accepting the hoaxing, even after decades of serious disenchantment with the New Age, one of my regrets is that I missed seeing this formation by only two weeks:

Formed in July, it was harvested in mid-September, and I was at Silbury Hill in late September. I didn’t find out that I’d missed it until I was already back in the States.

But my awe didn’t need to actually witness one of these for myself to be caught up in the sensation of it all. Especially after this beauty appeared in a field near Alton Barnes in 1990 (a village I visited in 1988) and was broadcast all over the world:

The phenomena was evolving! The messages were getting more complex! I even incorporated a part of this one in some of the artwork I was making at the time:

And therein hangs a tale. Because it turns out most of the crop circles were all about art. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two 60-somethings, finally came forward and admitted they had started the craze and were doing circles as far back as the 70s “for a laugh” and for the pure joy of making large folk art in the fields. They never claimed to have made all the circles, although the newspaper that broke the story said they did, but D&D showed it was possible to hoax even the complex shapes that crop circle aficionados claimed (and still claim, some of them) could not have been done by the hand of man.

And that’s what catches Schnabel himself up in the hoaxing craze: the pure joy of being out in the English countryside in the darkness and making something bigger, grander, more magical than his individual self. And therein hangs another tale. These lovely things don’t need to be made by UFOs or earth spirits or fairies because all of those things live inside us, we complexly-layered human beings who often respond emotionally to things our intellects can’t grasp entirely. Trickster ties threads to our hands and feet, making us dance in the fields with crop stompers and think it’s all our idea.

Sure, it’s our idea. On the surface. But beneath the swirled grain of our imaginations lies a whole chthonic realm where other forces call the dance.

The Crop Circles

Round and round in a circle,
but not a circle: a cipher—
blank, yet potent with meaning,
universal and profoundly personal.
Each eye that falls on the corn
sees their own life rippling
through the wind in the fields:
their deceit, the circles deceit;
their pain, the circles pain;
their joy, their sorrow,
their wonder and fear
all caught in the circles’ round
and etched in the corn.
And what is the true meaning
of the patterns in the fields?
Only the same meaning
that each day brings:
I know that I do not know.

—PJ Thompson

(If any of you are interested in seeing more of that metalwork piece, I’ve put the pictures beneath the cut.)

(more…)

Chuck Kinder may be a metafictional wonder boy, but this book often tried my patience. I didn’t give up on it, though many times I wanted to. I would put it down, sometimes for weeks at a time, but I’d always circle back because I couldn’t quite give up on it. And these days, when I’m notorious for abandoning books because “life is too short” that’s something of a backhanded compliment.

You see, this book is what Chuck Kinder calls “faction”—that is, a memoir that’s even more loose with the facts than most memoirs. Mr. Kinder states repeatedly that he’s a storyteller above all else and never lets the facts of his life get in the way of a good story. Born and raised in West Virginia, he pays loving and cynical attention to his quirky home state, speaking of its history and its legends, everything from Matewan to Mothman. As fast and loose as he plays with the facts of his own life, when he’s talking about history and legends (as far as I can tell) he plays it fairly straight. Oh, he may insert himself into the headspace of the historical actors —which makes the narrative come alive in quite wondrous ways sometimes, if I’m honest—but he does tell the story down to its bones. In these days of the internet, it’s easy to call his bluff there, and some of these oddball characters have presences you can even look up on YouTube (Jessico White, for one).

I was good with all of that. Enjoyed that part of the ride. What Mr. Kinder had to say in these passages was often beautiful and heart-wrenching; or oddly, spookily, legendarily interesting; or downright funny. A lot of funny. When he talked about the history and legends of West Virginia (“Planet West Virginia” as he referred to it), you could feel his love for the place and its people and the craziness he grew up with.

Unfortunately, he frequently interspersed these bits with references to his own bad boy past and present, and those passages smelled of stale testosterone. I am so over reading about bad boys and posing tough guys, whether they are teenagers or fifty-somethings. He often doesn’t name the people in his life, or only by pseudonyms and nicknames—either to protect their innocence or to turn them into characters he can fudge facts about. Again, I wouldn’t have minded the faction about his relatives, but his wrenching everything back to stories about his bad boy status got tiresome, and interrupted the flow of the rest of the narrative. And that, as the saying goes, got on my last nerve.

But I did finish Last Mountain Dancer, so there is that.

Some ignoramus has posted a video on YouTube showing Frank Sinatra with Nat King Cole actually singing the song, “L.O.V.E.” This is the wonderful and classy Nat King Cole:


*

Two hours without WiFi and I was hyperventilating. Fortunately, it was a simple fix, but I may have an addiction problem.
*

Tommy. His eyes were actually a soulful gray, not blue. He was in his forties and had done his soldiering during World War I. He became a special police officer during World War II so the younger men could go and fight.

*

I found an old keepsake box buried amongst a lot of, well, junk. Some genuine keepsakes inside the box, but also some very old story rejection letters from some of the top magazines, stuff I sent out when I was probably barely out of high school. All form letters, of course. I decided my nostalgia did not stretch to holding on to those any longer. I Kondo’d their a*ses.
*

That feeling when something seemingly minor turns dark and deep and symbolic…

*

I WILL NOT JOIN FACEBERG, no matter how many paranormal and Outlander live events they host. I WILL NOT become part of the evil empire! I WILL NOT! (Although I did succumb a little bit and joined Instagram. Mostly as a lurker.)
*

What to do with all these calendars that people gave me because they didn’t know what else to give me? I only need one and that’s the one with kitties that I bought myself.
*

Sometimes I look at my house and pity the person who, when I die, will have to clean out and dispose of ALL THESE BOOKS. But mostly I pity the books.
*

Zero results from the Iowa Caucus are just about right if you consider Iowa’s relative importance to reflecting the diversity of the United States. They give such outsized importance to Iowa and New Hampshire. Nothing against either of those states but they’re hardly representative of the rest of the country. Yet because somebody gets defeated in either Iowa or New Hampshire often they’re eliminated from the race.
*

I get nonsense phrases stuck in my head sometimes. When I was doing research for the WIP on Nazi occult matters recently, the nonsense phrase in my cranial echo chamber was, “Otto Rahn on the Autobahn.” Research earworms. I have a weird brain. Fortunately, “Otto Rahn on the Autobahn” made me laugh.
*

Ray Bradbury famously said about writing, “Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” I’m at that stage of my current WIP where I’m wondering if I’ve jumped off the wrong goddamned cliff.
*

I’ve been reading Last Mountain Dancer by Chuck Kinder on and off for about a month. It’s both an interesting and irritating book so I’m not sure I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. I keep reading because it’s about West Virginia where Kinder was born and raised and when he talks about that place, the book sings. Then he goes off into the woods talking about his extramarital affairs and his bad boy ways and it gets boring. (I am so done with middle-aged male angst.)

But yeah, when he talks about what a remarkable and strange place West Virginia is on so many levels it’s worth the read. He goes into many legends, those arising from the tragedies of Matewan and the coal mine bosses, as well as Mothman and other less well-known oddities. It turns out his mother was born and raised in Point Pleasant, WV, home of Mothman, and that her maiden name was Parsons—which will have some meaning to those who follow Hellier.
*

I was watching a show on Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda where they’ve discovered lots of messages to and from soldiers. In one of them the soldier refers to the tribes they were trying to keep north of the wall as “Britunculi”: “nasty little Britains.” My people!
*

Hellier has made me way too map conscious. Every time I see something weird about a place I always have to find out where it is in relation to Point Pleasant or Somerset or Hellier or whatever. And it’s kind of amazing how much weirdness connects up.

I say this knowing full well how much the human mind longs for linkages and synchronicities.
*

Lewis Black: “Trump is good for comedy the way a stroke is good for a nap.”
*

Patrick Stewart was on Colbert the other week talking about when he was younger he and Ben Kingsley were here in LA doing Shakespeare, along with some other actors of the RSC. He said he and Ben went to Hollywood because they were excited to see the hand- and footprints at the Chinese theater (Sir Pat recently joined the famous hand- and footprints there). But the whole time he’s talking I was remembering being a young undergraduate at UCLA where Sir Pat and Sir Ben were doing those Shakespeare performances. During the day when they were not rehearsing or going to Hollywood all of the actors from the RSC would come to classrooms where Shakespeare and theater were being taught, talk to the students, and give impromptu performances. I was lucky enough to be in two such classes. One was Shakespeare, the other on Modern Theatre. I snuck into a third class taught in the theater department and held in an auditorium, but the other two were small English department classrooms. I was lucky enough to sit no more than 6-10 feet away from Sir Pat and Sir Ben while they answered questions and did impromptu performances. Utterly thrilling, even though neither of them was famous at that time. They were just masterful actors doing amazing performances up close and personal. Sir Ben still had his hair back then. Sir Pat did not. But his voice was that rich dark chocolate even back then. PRESENCE, both of them, and I never forgot.
*

There’s hope, I think, even thought the GOP did not have the guts to do the right thing. During the impeachment trial I called my doctor’s office and the answering service picked up. As she took my message I heard the impeachment trial playing in the background. America is listening. We won’t forget. I hope they still remember next November.

Random quote of the day:

“Some people . . . [argue] that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel.”

—Joe Queenan, “My 6,128 Favorite Books,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2012

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.

 

Random quote of the day:

“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”

—Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince

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.

 

RIP Mr. Terry Jones, one of the pillars of my faith.

*
After two weeks and holding of fighting with my drug plan insurance over a medicine which keeps me alive that I was running out of I finally used GoodRx to buy it out of pocket. It wasn’t cheap but it gives me a three month grace period to sort things out with the insurance. Insurance is nothing but legal extortion. But even with the hassle I know how incredibly lucky I am to have such a plan. I won’t get back that out of pocket expense, but I do expect things will get sorted eventually and I will get help paying for this medicine. I know many people are not that fortunate.

Not only that, my milk went bad before the pull date.

*
Life is never going to be exactly as you want it to be. There’s always going to be some little zit on the end of your nose that makes you look at life cross-eyed.

*
I really need to get some new cats. It’s been a year and clearly my brain has rotted with Kitty Need because when Betty White came on TV on her birthday I said in kitty voice, “Is da Betty White girl.”

*
When it rains at night I like to turn off all media and just sit there reading while listening to the rain.

*
Sometimes my life seems like the bumbling slapstick sitcom dads of the 60s.

Pick something up from the floor, lose control of it, have it fly across the room, walk across the room to fetch, it kick something else, stub my toe and send that flying, bend over to retrieve the other thing and have it fall out of my hand again. You know, the usual.

Sometimes I even hear an opening theme soundtrack while I’m doing it.

(Which is way before the time of many of you and very American teevee sitcom.)

*
Next time you think corporations or billionaires care about you as an individual human being remember that soylant green is people.

*
Well that’s embarrassing. For quite some time I’ve had a tag for my blog of “aesthetcism” when what I truly meant was “asceticism.” Hoist on my own Picard.

*
Public service announcement: don’t get the shingles shot unless you’ve got a couple of days to spare for feeling like crap.

(You should definitely get the shingles shot if you are of a certain age because a couple of days of feeling like crap is way better than the shingles.)

I’ve had three friends who were “taken by surprise” and it was a very unpleasant experience. Months of misery. One of them had what they call internal shingles, which means her nerve endings were on fire for months. Horrible.

*
When you know you’ve used VRS too much: you are leaving a voicemail for a friend and at the end of the sentence you say, “Period.”

*
Writing is the thing I most want to do in the world and yet every day I reach a certain point where I say to myself, “Have I written enough that I can stop now?” Sometimes I push beyond that point if I think there’s still water in the well. Other times I know the well is dry and I’ll have to wait until it fills up again overnight. The urge to quit is always there, sometimes more insistent than at other times, but always whispering to stop.

*
You know the worst thing about Hellier? I have hundreds and hundreds of books and I’m at a stage in my life where I’m trying to slim down the library because I don’t have room for all this and Hellier is forcing me—forcing I say—to buy more books! So many damned books!

I was reading a recap of Whitley Streiber’s new book, A New World, at http://radiomisterioso.com/2019/12/10/whitley-strieber-a-new-world/
and something reminded me of the God helmet/Estes method session with Dana and Connor in Hellier S2 :

“He said that they ‘communicate completely differently than us’ without ‘an evolved language.’ Strieber’s experiences led him to conclude that they lead an existence that is nearly unfathomable to us…”

I ran across an old reading meme and decided to do it again. Because life is short and why not waste time? (Although I don’t believe reading or talking about reading is ever wasting time.)

Question: Do you have a regular place you read? What books are currently waiting there?          

Nan by Elizabeth Kingston
A novella set in the world of her medieval romance trilogy which I devoured in a month. Well-written and with incredibly dimensional and nuanced characters, these are books I will hold on to: The King’s Man; Fair, Bright, and Terrible; and Desire Lines. (I hope there will be more!)

The 37th Parallel by Ben Mezrich
A Hellier inspired purchase. So, you know, paranormal non-fiction.

Fairies: A Guide to Celtic Fair Folk by Morgan Daimler
Research reading for the current WIP, concise and easy to read.

Tarot for Writers by Corinne Kenner
Using tarot for world-building, character, and writing prompts. I haven’t gotten very far into it and I’m not sure it will be completely useful for the way I write but whatever.

The Archetype of Initiation by Robert L. Moore
A Jungian approach and quite fascinating. Also inspired by Hellier.

The Underworld Initiation by R.J. Stewart
Because one cannot have too many books on initiation, right? More of a mythological/psychic approach.

I’m actively reading all of these except the last, cycling them in and out. I think reading both books on initiation simultaneously might get confusing, so I’m saving Stewart’s book.

This post is long and a mixed bag of things. If you’re only interesting in Hellier, you can skip everything past the picture of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies.

I did a marathon watching of all ten hours of Hellier Season 2 on Friday—as after cooking two large meals that week and housecleaning, I wasn’t up for much more than viewing and eating leftovers. It’s currently available for free on Amazon Prime (as is Season 1), and in a couple of weeks will also be available for free on YouTube.

I rather wish I had watched it at a more leisurely pace because I got rather tuckered out there at the end. I’m still trying to process it (and have been rewatching it slowly for the past few days) and I might have processed it better if it had been in smaller chunks. Or maybe not.

I did manage a brief Amazon review:

Season One of Hellier was a perfect little gem of high strangeness, evoking that tumbling feel of falling into a storm of the synchronicities. That storm continues in season 2, tumbling harder and stranger. It has the authentic feel of lived experience rather than staged paranormal TV. We ride along with the participants, feeling their puzzlement and insecurities, their disbelief and belief, and watching as things shift and shift again. If you are looking for pat answers and highly manipulated content, this may not be the series for you. But if you have realized that asking questions is the most important thing, Hellier will give you that thrill of late-night discussions with friends trying to figure out the mysteries of the Universe.

My head’s so full of Major Stuff that I can’t talk about because, spoilers. I may post again in a couple of weeks after people have had a chance to watch. For now, I’ll just say that at the end of episode 9 I used some sweetgrass oil, just in case, and drew a protective sigil on my TV screen before watching episode 10. Also, as soon as those damned tones started I got nauseated. You’ll know the tones I mean if you watch it. The same thing happened with a recent “Haunted Salem Live” sigil experiment done by Greg and Dana Newkirk. So. Mass initiation or suggestibility? I’m still not sure. And that’s in the true spirit of Hellier, I think. Questions are more important than answers.

There are very mild spoilers in the following. Skip to *** if you don’t want even that.

I will say this, and with all due respect to Tyler Strand, I do believe the carving he saw on the tree was not a green man but Odin. Which suggests an entirely different focus of worship in North Carolina than in…that other place. And does nothing, of course, to negate the strangeness he experienced. And speaking as a geezer, if some odd young man showed up at my door going on about strange things in the woods, I might also have called the police. It doesn’t mean abominable practices were going on there, just that whatever or Whoever they worship, they probably figured it was none of his gods damned business.

***Okay, it’s safe now.

After viewing Hellier 2 there were many books I wanted to read and reread. I already had, and had already read, many of the ones they recommend: Passport to Magonia by Jacques Vallee, The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen, Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies by the Reverend Robert Kirk (written in the 17th c. and widely referred to in paranormal circles), and others. I thought it might be time to reread Kirk again, since it’s really just a tract, not a long book, and it fit in with some of the research I’ve been doing lately for my current novel. Somewhere in this house I have a 1991 reprint of Kirk edited by RJ Stewart but of course I couldn’t find it. I once had a very neat filing system for my books, but that was before the chaos of the last house move and the caregiving years that followed, alas.

I notice that you can even buy this Andrew Lang edition as a Kindle book now. I love living in the digital age. But since I spent beaucoup $ in the 70s xeroxing this at the UCLA Research Library, I don’t think I’ll spend anymore money on it. I’d forgotten that I’d filled it up with pink highlighter. It was interesting to see that I didn’t find all those passages relevant anymore, although some overlapped.

Back in the ancient days when I was a student at UCLA, they had two original copies of The Secret Commonwealth, the original 1815 imprint from his 17th c. manuscript, and the 1893 Andrew Lang one, in the open stacks of the Research Library—a holdover from the days when Thelma Moss ran a paranormal research program there. Research libraries were the only places you could find these back then.

I’ve thought about those books since and wondered if anyone had the sense to put them in the restricted access area of the library or if, Rev. Kirk-like, they have subsequently been kidnapped by the fairies. Or other beings of more malicious intent. Somebody I know may have mentioned their rarity to one of the librarians, who didn’t seem that interested. Probably thought that someone a pedantic busybody or just another arsehole student trying to tell her what to do. I appreciated having easy access to them, but also know it’s a very sharp 2-edged sword: not even the Library of Congress can protect against theft, individuals deciding their wants are more important than access to that cultural heritage for the rest of us.

Ah well.

Below are some notes and quoted passages from the current reread. Some are relevant to Hellier 2, some relevant to my current research, but I thought someone might find them interesting.

The Rev. Kirk says that females rarely have the second sight. That’s a 17th century male elite conceit, I believe. If women spoke of having second sight back in that day they would likely be burned.

The Scots would have themselves, their crops, and their livestock blessed every 1st Sunday of every quarter of the year because the Fae changed their lodgings then and evil things might befall them, and seers might have terrifying encounters. The Rev got rather shirty over the fact that these same Scots were not seen the rest of the quarter in church.
The Fae often show up as doppelgangers or what Kirk calls co-walkers, "haunting him as his shadow, as is often seen and known among Men (resembling the Originall) both before and after the Originall is dead."
If invited or "earnestly required," the Fae may speak with men. Otherwise, they can’t be arsed. The Rev. Kirk may not have stated it quite that way.
The Fae make "semblance to devour the Meats that it cunningly carried by, and then left the Carcase as if it expired and departed thence by a naturall and common Death." Cattle mutilations? Modern fae must be more clumsy. Or playing a different game, perhaps? Making themselves known as opposed to sneaking around and hiding? As if they need the attention now as much as they need the Meat.
"They speak but little, and that by way of whistling, clear, not rough…. Yet sometimes the Subterraneans speak more distinctly than at other times."
"They live much longer than we; yet die at last, or at least vanish from that state. ‘Tis one of their tenets, that nothing perisheth, but as the sun and year everything goes in a circle, lesser or greater and is renewed and refreshed in its revolutions."
If invoked by magic means "they are ever readiest to go on hurtful errands, but seldom will be the messengers of great good to men."
A seer who invokes them by magic "is not terrified with their sight when he calls them, but seeing them in a surprise frights him extremely…. For the hideous spectacles seen among them; as the torturing of some Wight, earnest ghostly Looks, skirmishes, and the like. They do not all the harm which appearingly they have power to do; nor are they perceived to be in great pain, save that they are usually silent and sullen."
"They are a people invulnerable by our weapons…these people have not a second or so gross a body at all to be pierced; but as Air which when divided unites again; or if they feel pain by a blow they…quickly cure it."
" they are not subject to sore Sicknesses, but dwindle and decay at a certain Period, all about ane Age. Some say their continual Sadness is because of their pendulous State…as uncertain what at the last Revolution will become of them…"
"The extraordinary or second sight can be given them by the ministry of bad as well as good spirits to those that will embrace it."
The Rev goes on to talk a whole bunch of hunting for treasure, Bible stuff, cunning folk magic. Which is interesting, but nothing I need to take notes on for my writing at the moment.

Random quote of the day:

“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them; but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims

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.

Random quote of the day:

“The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking.”

—attributed to Christopher Morley

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.

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