Power Couples of the Paranormal

I know that I have sampled only a few of the many, many paranormal, occult, Pagan, and esoteric podcasts and video channels out there. (Feel free to add your faves in the comments.)

But when  you look at podcasts done by people who are partners in real life, I can think of two sets of contenders: Jessi Leigh and Joe Doyle of the Hellbent Holler YouTube Channel and Greg and Dana Newkirk of Hellier fame, who now have a new podcast, The Haunted Objects. (The former website, not updated since 2020, was The Week in Weird.)

Hellier, a documentary series (two seasons) that compressed several years of the Newkirks’ and their associates’ attempt to find the story behind some mysterious communications:

In 2012, Greg Newkirk received an email from a man calling himself David Christie, who claimed that he and his family were being terrorized by unearthly creatures by night. After exchanging emails, David disappeared. For the next five years, the case only got stranger, as more connections and mysterious emails came in. Then, in 2017, Greg and a team of researchers traveled to rural Kentucky, not knowing what they would uncover, or how deep they would discover the case might go.

Dana Newkirk using a God Helmet in a Hellier episode.

The story was compelling. (I thought Season 2 lagged a bit in the middle, but it finished strong.)  The videography and editing were better than a lot of what you see on ghost-hunting or Bigfoot-hunting TV shows. And it was released in 2020 just before people can to be forced indoors — meaning they could live vicariously through the investigators’ travels in eastern Kentucky. You can stream or download it or get it on Blu-Ray at the site.

It not only had thousands of viewers but has attracted the attention of scholars of Western esotercism and “the weird” in general. For instance,  Rejected Religion podcast host Stephanie Shea explains it to guest Aaron French in this November 2022 episode and earlier devoted to episodes to Hellier and High Strangeness. Here is the first one, from January 2021.

The Newkirks also manage museum of the paranormal, and the Haunted Object podcast builds each episode around a particular item, such as a plank from the Long Island house infamous for the Amityville Horror, leading to a freewheeling and often comic dialog between them and their producer, Connor Randall.

Jessi’s T-shirt proclaims “Make cryptozoologiy dangerous again.”

Meanwhile, Jessi and Joe are out in the woods. The two cryptid-hunters live in a former South Carolina textile-mill town but met when they were both bartending in New Orleans. As Jessi puts it,

I was born and raised in the mountains of western North Carolina, but when my wanderlust took hold I escaped to the Deep South. I spent 10 years in New Orleans, in and out of bars, swamps and graveyards. Eventually I became homesick for the mountains, trees and endless adventure of a darkened wood. It was time to leave the sirens, grime and crime behind. Along with my partner Joe, I moved back to Appalachia and began seeking out the mysteries and legends that still live in the hills we call home. Using the latest gear and equipment, we travel deep into the forests of Appalachia to gather evidence of the weird, strange and supernatural that roams this ancient slice of heaven.

In the spirit of Jessi’s T-shirt, they investigate areas of BIgfoot sightings, Dogman sitings (a sort of upright werewolf), and other mystery beasts.

Their technology includes state-of-the-art night-vision gear, audio recorders, video and still cameras, survival gear, and personal weapons. You could call them “preppers of the paranormal.”

The last is not a question of “What caliber for Dogman?” but rather an honest reponse to the fact they are moving through areas where they could encounter humans who are, let’s say, sort of feral.

Joe and Jessi push their own boundaries, which leads to lines like “Did you hear like a scream?” or “If every night felt ike this [eerie], I wouldn’t do this” or “That was not a coyote. That was not a coyote!” (All quotes from “Land Between the Lakes, Part 2: The Search for Dogman Contiues.

Their videos have a respectable number of followers, although not as many as the Newkirks’, and of course they have their own merchandise.

Locales

Greg and Dana: Generally indoors in haunted buildings, sometimes caves, in various states.

Joe and Jessi: Outdoors in forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains (north Georgia), Cumberland Plateau, and the Land Between the Lakes (Tennessee-Kentucky). Generally public land, such as the Chattahochee-Oconee National Forest.

Methodology

Joe and Jessi: Stalking through the woods, investigating ruins, utilizing audio and visual recorders, and utilizing visible and infrared ligjhts at night.

Greg and Dana: Investigations of haunted places and ghost experiences, utiilizing psychic impressions, amplified by technology such as the Estes Method and the God Helmet. Occasional ritual.

Production Values

Greg and Dana: Professional-level video.

Jessi and Joe: DIY level, but getting better all the time. Jessi is their editor.

What I Wish They Would Do

Get expert advice.

In the first season of Hellier, I remember talking the screen as the participants fumbled around seeking some information, “Why don’t you go to the local library and talk to the local history librarian? Even small libraries often have one, and they want to share!”

Later in Season 2 they do just that when researching a vanished restaurant in Kentucky and are amazed that the local library has photos of it. Libaries! Who knew?

Jessi and Joe spend a lot of time with boots on the ground, but I with they could balance that with more research instead, of, for instance, just wandering around old federal government buildings in the Land Between the Lakes and asking, “What was this for? Was it fortified against Dogman?”

Granted, federal agencies often do a poor job of preserving their own institutional history — as a Forest Service brat, I know this.

Also, an experienced hunter or wildlife biologist could offer alternative explanations to “How did these deer bones get here?” or “What made those scratches on the tree?”

Yet even though I sometimes say to the screen, “I bet a black bear did that,” there are times when I have no easy naturalistic explanation for what they encounter — and that is what keeps me coming back.

UK Pagans “More Established”

Celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge 2019. Photo: Martin Dalton/Rex/Shutterstock

The Guardian newspaper (UK) cherry-picks a few things from the 2021 England and Wales census, including a rise in the number of self-identified Pagans.

2) Pagans and wiccans are becoming more established

More established [than self-identified shamans] are pagans [sic], who number 74,000 people (up from 57,000 in 2011) and who gather most in Ceredigion, Cornwall and Somerset, and wiccans [sic], who number 13,000. Wicca is sometimes described as a witchcraft tradition whose roots lie in pre-Christian religious traditions, folklore, folk witchcraft and ritual magic.

Don’t get a swollen head, unless you speak Romanian (see number 3).

This Is What Reenchantment Looks like

“The Naiad,” by John William Waterhouse, 1893. Not based on real life.

From the Dark Mountain Project (see sidebar on main page), this: “Keepers of the Spring,” by Caroline Ross.

And with my ears ringing, and something between a sob and a giggle in my chest, it occurred to me that it is nothing like it says in the books. When the old keeper of the holy well passes on the sacred task of protecting the waters, there aren’t any capes or bells or dancing cherubs or goblets of wine, nor any ceremony beyond the unselfconscious, convivial oversharing that ordinary Dorset people recognise as good manners. As I sat, sweaty and scratched, in my baggy army-surplus trousers, I remembered all those Pre-Raphaelite paintings (which I secretly loved as a teen, and still love, despite myself) full of adolescent pale naiads, surrounded by their long, untangled hair. And I thought, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and J.W. Waterhouse would not be at all impressed with my scant bleach blonde ponytail and lack of flowing robes.

Anyway, one contact lens is sitting right, and it’s making my eye water, so I have to go deal with that.

Holli Emore Interviewed about Pagan ‘Ministry’

Holli S. Emore, Cherry Hill Seminary

What is the difference between priest/essing  and ministry? What does a Pagan “minister” do?

Holli Emore serves as executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary (since 2008). Cherry Hill offers a variety of programs that help Pagans become not only more effective group leaders and also qualifies them to work with anyone in crisis or transformation, where officially a cap-P Pagan or not. In other words, to minister, in such settings as hospitals, natural disasters, schools, and prisons as well as day-to-day life.

She was recently interviewed by podcaster Robin Douglas for his Religion Off the Beaten Track. (Amazon link — Apple link — Spotify link — Twitter link — and there are others.)

Listen for a lucid 35-minute explanation of just what ministry is in a Pagan context.

Holli has a book out on the subject too, Constellated Ministry: A Guide for Those Serving Today’s Pagans. (Amazon link. Publisher’s link.)

Reassessing the Failures of “Recovered Memory” Therapies

From the New York Times (but this link gets you past the paywall), an article called “The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement” is well worth reading.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, countless psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, and other therapists — aided by law enforcement, prosecutors, and the news media —pushed a narrative of “repressed abuse.”

That narrative in turn spawned “Satanic ritual abuse,” largely created by a Canadian psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, and his patient/lover, “Michelle.

Quite a few Pagans were dragged into this, since “Michelle” and others claimed to have been abused by “witches” wearing robes and holding nocturnal rituals. But their voices and those of some scholars of new religious movements never got the media push that the “survivors” enjoyed.

Lists of the symptoms that supposedly indicated repressed abuse often went on for pages in these texts. E. Sue Blume’s book Secret Survivors listed over 70 symptoms indicative of repressed abuse. The psychologist Renee Fredrickson’s book Repressed Memories describes over 60. Do you have trouble trusting your intuition? Do you neglect your teeth? Have joint pain? Do certain foods nauseate you? Do you sometimes space out or daydream? If you have some of these warning signals, “you probably do have repressed memories,” wrote Dr. Fredrickson. In their books and papers, therapists described themselves as clever detectives searching patients’ lives for unexplained emotional responses or feelings, which might be the first sign of hidden pasts.

.  .  .  .

Pop culture also seemed to drive two of the more incredible outgrowths of the movement: the precipitous rise of multiple personality disorder and the widespread belief that satanic cults were abusing children on an industrial scale. Two best-selling books, Sybil, published in 1973, and Michelle Remembers, published in 1980, were critical in stoking public interest. Both books tell supposedly true stories of therapists helping their patients recover memories during therapy. Both were later thoroughly debunked — but not until long after they had their impact.

Read it all!

Live were ruined, people went to actual jail for crimes based on what they called in Salem “spectral evidence,” and for the most part, none of the therapists suffered or even admitted that they had been wrong. After all, they were “helping” people who were “in pain.” Hospitals were not so involved, back then.

The Passing of Christian Rätsch, Magical Ethnobotanist

I heard Christian Rätsch (1957–2022) speak in person only once, at a conference in England in the 2000s, shortly after I had bought a book he co-wrote, Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants. I also treasure a recorded lecture of his on henbane beer and such topics, in which he scoffs at the famous Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law of 1516) that limited ingredients to water, barley, hops, hissing, “Hops isss a depresssant!” — CSC

The Undying Contributions of the Late Christian Rätsch

From Coby Michael’s The Poisoner’s Apothecary Patreon page.
Reprinted with permission.

Christian Rätsch, 1999.

On the 17th of September, 2022 author, lecturer and ethnobotanist Christian Rätsch (Hamburg, Germany) died of a stomach ulcer that he had been dealing with himself for years. Rätsch leaves behind wife and fellow author Claudia Müller-Ebeling.

Christian Rätsch, Ph.D., is a world-renowned anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist who specializes in the shamanic uses of plants. He is the author of Marijuana Medicine and coauthor of Plants of the Gods, Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas, Witchcraft Medicine, and The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. He lives in Hamburg, Germany, and lectures around the world. He has served as president of the German Society of Ethnomedicine. (Inner Traditions/Bear & Company)

Ethnobotanical Contributions

Rätsch was one of the single most important authors of ethnobotanical research, the Poison Path, the Psychedelic Renaissance and poisonous/psychoactive plant lore. He earned a doctorate studying Native American cultures living and studying with indigenous cultures. As a child he became interested in shamanic practices and the study of plants. He worked closely with indigenous plant spirit medicine, preserving an extensive body of traditional lore. He also experimented with various psychedelic substances since a young age, and eventually became friends with LSD researcher Timothy Leary. He is the founder and co-editor of The Yearbook of Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness.

His work was something that I discovered early on in my Poison Path studies, because he was one of the only authors at the time to not only take an interest in poisonous and psychoactive plants but also provide the reader with extensive history, folklore and chemical information from a practical and academic standpoint. His book Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices and Healing Plants, was the first work of his that I read, a complete ethnobotanical history of European psychedelic practices in the context of witchcraft.

Plants of The Gods

Originally published in 1979, this book was a precursor to the megalithic Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Originally written by Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hoffman, all three titans in their own right. World-renowned anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist Christian Ratsch provides the latest scientific updates to this classic work on psychoactive flora by two eminent researchers.

The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants

In my opinion, the single most important modern day compendium of ethnobotanical information in the Western Hemisphere. The book is over 900 pages long with 797 color photographs and 645 black and white drawing. It is a comprehensive tome on sacred plant knowledge from around the world. Accessible and all in one place, this is one of the few books that provides ALL of the available information!

Other titles by Christian Rätsch

Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants

Plants of Love: The History of Aphrodisiacs and A Guide to their Identification and Use

Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs

Gateway to Inner Space: Sacred Plants, Mysticism, and Psychotherapy

Marijuana Medicine: A World Tour of the Healing and Visionary Powers of Cannabis

He has written extensively, books and articles, in German.

A Permanent Impact

The work of Christian Rätsch has been invaluable in my own studies of psychoactive and poisonous plants. The tireless work and attention to detail that was required to bring such a tome of knowledge into manifestation is no-doubt divinely driven. While the world has lost an amazingly curious mind, he has left behind a body of work that will continue to grow, evolve and influence those of us continuing this work. I would have loved to have meet you Christian, and thank you for your contribution but I have a feeling we will meet one day.

You can visit his website but it is all in German www.christian-raetsch.de/

The Creeping Triumph of Halloween

I went into Pueblo, Colorado on the 1st for the usual biweekly shopping spree. The weather was sunny and hot — “state fair weather” is the local term for a hot break in the late-summer rains that bring the August mushroom flush.

Halloween displays were in the stores. And we have not even celebrated the Chile & Frijoles festival yet!

Then I looked at my own archive and saw that I had photographed a pop-up Halloween party store there on 29 August 2011.

That same year a Bloomberg News columnist decried the “paganism” of Halloween, even if people only “flirt with the night” in a light-hearted way.

It’s been gaining momentum as being more than “just for kids for” at least thirty years, maybe longer.

I don’t mean for Pagans, I mean for the general population. So praise every plastic pumpkin for serving as a wedge to split open our daytime, materialistic, consensus reality

My First Publisher ASMR Video!

I ordered a book from this small British publisher, Handheld Books. The book is Strange Relics, “an anthology of classic short stories in which the supernatural and archaeology are combined,” which will become a gift to an archaeologist friend who also reads SF and fantasy.

Comes then an email acknowledgement of my order and a link to their very own ASMR video.

They may not call it that, but it qualifies.

Really, the soothing voice, the rustle of tissue paper. I feel entranced already. And filled with anticipation.

CFP: Design and the Occult

Screenshot from Dior’s Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 haute couture promotional video.

After my various posts on the Pagan-ish presentations by the House of Dior in particular (such as “The Tarot of Dior” and “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk” and “I Want to Call Dior’s Cruise Collection Pagan-ish Too“), I was happy to see this call for papers, “Design and the Occult.”

Here is a little of it — visit the link for all the particulars.

Until recently many academic disciplines and subjects avoided the subject of the occult, deeming it too ‘irrational or ‘eccentric’ for serious study. Exceptions to this include the discipline of anthropology, which since the 19th century, embraced the study of religion and belief from Western rationalist perspectives. In recent decades anthropology has explored magic and occultism from a broader range of viewpoints, including phenomenology, relativism, and post-structuralism. In the last two decades adjacent disciplines to design history such as history, art history, sociology, cultural studies, and film studies have increasingly embraced occult subjects. Likewise, the interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities has examined Indigenous, Western and Eastern ideas about the relationships between humans and the natural world, including esoteric, folkloric, and occult concepts.

However, within the field of design history esotericism, occultism, and magic have been largely overlooked with no sustained explorations of their relationships with design and the decorative arts. Notable exceptions to this include studies such as Zeynep Çelik Alexander, ‘Jugendstil Visions: Occultism, Gender and Modern Design Pedagogy’ Journal of Design History, Vol. 22, Issue 3, September 2009, pp. 203–226, and Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (The MIT Press, 2019)

I will have to get this issue of the journal when it’s published. (Pointy hat tip to Sabina Magliocco for the link.)

Even though The Pomegranate published its “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” special issue a while back, this remains a topic of editorial interest.

Oglala Sioux at Pine Ridge Turn against Missionary Groups

Some interesting things are happening in South Dakota, First, on July 22, 2022 the Oglala SIoux Tribal Council (Pine Ridge) demanded that the Jesus is King Mission leave the Pine Ridge Reservation in the southwestern part of the state.

“This week the Jesus is King Missionary was found distributing material that literally demonizes the Lakota Culture and Faith,” said the Oglala Sioux Tribe in a statement. “This is unacceptable and completely disrespectful. It is the view of the President and Council that these ‘pamphlets’ seek to promote Hate instead of Peace. Hate has no place on Oglala land.”

This is not a new issue, as a 2019 news story about Pine Ridge reports.

[Anti-missioniary activist Davidica Little] Spotted Horse and others who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals from church supporters described incidents of aggressive proselytizing and demeaning treatment of Lakota spirituality and language, baptizing children without parental permission, use of humiliating poverty porn to fundraise, and of forwarding a colonial agenda that privileges non-Native values and goals. Some members have made allegations of sexual abuse and financial misdeeds and point to the failure of most organizations to conduct background searches for their workers and volunteers.

Another report on Twitter today (July 28th) said that ““the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has officially suspended all activity of every single church missionary on the reservation until all employees/volunteers can pass a background check [and provide full financial transparency].” Outside religious groups were also forbidden to use such phrases as “Oglala Sioux Tribe” and “Pine Ridge Indian Reservation” in their printed or online fundraising materials.

If you go the tribe’s Facebook page, you can watch video of the council discussing this registration proposal put forth by Councilwoman Whitehorse and hearing testimony  (At least four hours’ worth—and I have listened only to a little.)

To compress history: when “Indian agencies,” precursors to the reservation system, were created in the West in the latter 19th century, it was often Protestant Christian church groups that agreed to operate them, since the pay was low but they could use the post as a basis for missionary activity. The Episcopal Church had a large footprint on South Dakota reservations at one time.

In the US and Canada, Christian denominations and religious organizations likewise operated until fairly recently many of the residential boarding schools to which many Indian children were forcibly sent — the pope is in Canada right now apologizing for all that.

In the US, the Epicopal Church is “studying its role” in the federal boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is conducing a “listening tour” on the issue as well.

For more on the boarding schools and their sad legacy, read here.

Missionary activity continues, and many Native people today are Christian, from historically Russian Orthodox in Alaska to Mormon Navajos in Arizona.

It is common for church groups to “parachute in” youth groups for quick service trips, promoted with language like this: “Spend a life-changing week with the Lakota people of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, and you will truly never be the same! You’ll never forget the wild beauty of the land where the Sicangu Lakota, ‘Burnt-Thigh Nation;  live.

The Oglala are just one part of the larger Lakota nation. But if they do take a hardline on missionaries, it will be noticed. I will try to follow up on this later. It is a complicated issue, and there are law-enforcement issues, land issues, and more involved.