review


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.

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.

Okay, this book. Every negative thing you’ve heard about it is true. Larsson is a bad fiction writer, fond of long infodumps and a lot of telling-not-showing, head hopping, and muddy character motivations. Especially for women, who are always falling in-love with Blomquist and jumping into bed with him for no apparent reason. Also, Larsson, a crusading journalist who bucked the system, has created a male fantasy role for himself—Michael Blomquist, the crusading journalist who’s always bucking the system and, additionally, beds a lot of women.

And there are a number of rapey salacious bits thrown in for no good reason. Oh yeah, some of them are supposed to be character motivation, but I thought they were lingered on a bit too lovingly sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I like noir fiction but this was just, as I said, lovingly salacious. Which is curious for a book which claims to be a feminist triumph. The original Swedish title of the book translates as “Men Who Hate Women.” I don’t believe Mr. Larsson hated women, and Michael Blomquist doesn’t hate women, but I don’t think Larsson’s feminist cred extends quite as far as he would have us believe.

And Lizbeth Salander. Yes, she is a unique female character, a powerhouse. However, much of her role in this book is revenge fantasy. This is very much Michael Blomquist’s book.

BUT, I wound up finishing the book instead of throwing it across the room because…the central mystery of Harriet Vanger at the heart of the book is very good. Very well constructed and laid out well. I believed in the carefully-crafted investigation as it unfolded and it kept me turning the pages. But it took a bit for me to get to that point. I bounced hard off this book twice before because I couldn’t get past the opening infodumps. But a person whose taste I trusted told me to keep going so I did.

However, I don’t think I’ll go on to the other books in the series. The blurbs I’ve read, the sample chapter, show me that it will be more of the same and I really don’t want to deal with anymore Larssonland.

Random quote of the day:

“In organized crime, victims never survive because they will get revenge. In book reviewing, victims invariably survive and ‘bide their time.’”

—Joyce Carol Oates, Twitterfeed, May 30, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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.

lily assembly-large

crows

I love crows. Yes, I know. Crows are a hard sell to many people, but I am unrepentant. I’m fascinated by their intelligence, their creativity, and that look of presence when their eyes meet yours. So I was eager to read this book.

It surprised me when it arrived: a thin volume, only 113 pages including the index, but unusually weighty because it’s lavishly illustrated (every other page) on high-quality, heavy paper and beautifully put together. It takes great advantage of the space between the covers, cramming in so much information that the weightiness of the book seemed as much from the information as the heavy paper. Using it, I was able to verify that, yes, that exceptionally large dominant crow hanging around my house was indeed a crow and not a raven; and I was able to pick out the adolescent packs and understand their behavior better. Also what some of those screaming matches were about.

Their intelligence and resourcefulness make it easy to understand why crows have become such an integral part of so many mythologies, so much folklore. Their association with the trickster mythology is so ancient that it is shared in both Australian Aboriginal mythology and Native American. Considering how long these populations must have been isolated from each other and from the rest of the world, that’s rather impressive. There are trickster associations in European mythology as well.

But they aren’t just viewed as tricksters and evil omens. In some Buddhist traditions, they are regarded as protectors of the Dharma—cosmic law and order, among other things. In Hinduism, they are considered to be embodiments of the recently deceased, and to be messengers and information-givers. This echoes the Norse idea of Huginn and Muninn, the ravens who constantly brought information to Odin. And in some American Indian tribes, crows are considered not only tricksters, but creators of the world.

Ms. Savage covers various mythologies concerning crows, the latest scientific research, as well as keen observations of crow behavior throughout the ages. I guarantee you’ll have a different appreciation of these wise guys once you’ve read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Did you know—?

Crows are the only non-primates who make tools. Other critters use what they find around them as the occasional tool, but crows will actually take what they find and reshape it to accomplish tasks. They have complex social organizations and their own languages (topping 64,000 different calls). They love, they hate, they grieve, they practice deceit as well as bravery, they reason, are tender and harsh. They hit all the standards we declare are solely-human characteristics. They’re not only as amazing as I always suspected—they’re more amazing.

An excerpt:

[Avian researcher Carolee Caffrey] was observing a nest through a spotting scope when the breeding pair returned to feed their nestlings, only to discover that their nest had been raided by a raptor in their absence. “In all my life, I’ve never heard such horrible, bloodcurdling screams as the crows made at that nest. The male flew away after a minute or two, but the female stayed behind and, for the next four hours (until Caffrey reluctantly left), tended a surviving but injured nestling by nuzzling it, picking up its neck, and preening the side of its head. All the while, the crow uttered mournful-sounding oohs.

Another, more lighthearted one:

Scientists wanted to test the reasoning ability of some captive crows so they devised a complex series of boxes, some of which had bait inside, many that were empty.

[The crow named] Hugin figured out the rule on the first morning of the trials…His companion Munin, by contrast, couldn’t even be bothered to look. Instead, as the dominant bird in a group, he preferred to bide his time until Hugin found the food; then he would muscle in and gobble up one or more of the tasty tidbits….Socially subordinate though he was, Hugin was no pushover. On the first afternoon of the experiment, he came up with a countermove. When Munin began to press in on him, Hugin would interrupt his foraging, fly over to one of the unrewarded clusters, and start opening empty boxes. He kept at it, opening and opening, until Munin came to join him; then, as soon as he saw his rival nosing around the wrong cluster, Hugin would dash back to the rewarded boxes and take advantage of his head start to grab a few extra morsels.


skinwalker4

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.

xray

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

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

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

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

coyote_trickster_santa_fe_kelly_moore_000

Coyote Trickster, Santa Fe by Kelly Moore

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

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

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

Random quote of the day:

“I was so long writing my review that I never got around to reading the book.”

—attributed to Groucho Marx

groucho4WP@@@ 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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