Don’t Follow the Lights across the Moor, said the Monk, or Why We Learn Nothing New about Fairies

William James in Brazil, about age 23 (Wikimedia Commons)

The famous American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842–1910) was also a paranormal researcher, chiefly in the area of Spiritualism and mediumship. Toward the end of his life, he wrote about a problem that still vexes ufologists, ghost-hunters, and everyone else engaging “the phenomenon.” He starts by speaking of a fellow psychical researcher, Prof. Henry Sidgwick:

Like all [psychical research] founders, Sidgwick hoped for a certain promptitude of result; and I heard him say, the year before his death, that if anyone had told him at the outset that after twenty years he would be in the same identical state of doubt and balance that he started with, he would have deemed the prophecy incredible. It appeared impossible that that amount of handling evidence should bring so little finality of decision.

My own experience has been similar to Sidgwick’s. For twenty-five years I have been in touch with the literature of psychical research, and have had acquaintance with numerous “researchers.” I have also spent a good many hours (though far fewer than I ought to have spent) in witnessing (or trying to witness) phenomena. Yet I am theoretically no “further” than I was at the beginning; and I confess that at times I have been tempted to believe that the Creator has eternally intended this department of nature to remain baffling, to prompt our curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although ghosts and clairvoyances, and raps and messages from spirits, are always seeming to exist and can never be fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible of full corroboration.1)William James, “The Last Report: The Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher,” in William James and Psychical Research, ed. Gardner Murphey and Robert O. Ballou, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961), 310. Originally published in The American Magazine, October 1909.

James’s frustration was mentioned in an episode of Weird Studies, a podcast produced by musicologist Phil Ford and writer-filmmaker J. F. Martel.2)Both are Canadian, although Ford teaches at Indiana University. Weird Studies is devoted to “a scholarly field that doesn’t and can’t exist,” but they try.3)The Weird is that which resists any settled explanation or frame of reference. It is the bulging file labelled “other/misc.” in our mental filing cabinet, full of supernatural entities, magical synchronicities, and occult rites. But it also appears when a work of art breaks in on our habits of perception and ordinary things become uncanny.The Weird is easiest to define as whatever lies on the further side of a line between what we can easily accept from our world and what we cannot. And it defines an attitude towards whatever lies on that side of the line: a willingness to remain suspended between explanations and abide in strangeness.

James’s comments also reminded of a comment by some UFO researcher I once read who said that during the Fifties and Sixties there was this rising anticipation that Something Was Going to Happen. Maybe the Space Brothers would simultaneously land in Red Square, Lafayette Square (by the White House) and Brasiilia — or whatever. But the climax never happened; instead, the same stories repeat and repeat.

“The Fairy Faith,” Jim Fitzpatrick, 1989.

A few months ago, I finally read Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth, one of the classics of Fairy literature, written but not published in 1692. I recommend Brian Walsh’s annotated version, The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex, 2002. Kirk wrote,

These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People  . . . are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (lyke those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.

And can we say anymore today, three centuries later? We ask a few more questions: Do the Good People associate with certain ethnic groups? Do they migrate? Can they change shapes (orbs of light, silvery “aliens,” tall hairy bipeds, etc.)? But do we really know anymore than Robert Kirk did?

A few years back, when I was co-chair of Contemporary Pagan Studies within the American Academy of Religion, seeing a rise in the number of “fairy festivals,” which seemed to overlap Pagan festivals to some degree, as well as new books on the Fairy Folk, I suggested all that as a topic for one of our sessions, but my idea got no traction. Too early, maybe.

Now there are more books4)Some of them seem to say, “Fairies are dangerous, but if you read my book, I will tell you how contact them.” and even Cherry Hills Seminary, the most viable Pagan seminary, is offering a class called “The Fair Folk: A Thanatological Perspective.”

Class Description: Who are the Fair Folk? Many do not expect one of the answers to be “the dead”!  In this Insights course we will parse through the different types of Fair Folk (focusing on the Irish traditions), examine species of Faery with clearly human folklore (including hauntings, burials and premature deaths) and contemplate the possibility of the Fair Folk as ancestral figures.

So where is the monk? You promised us a monk!

Another podcast I sometimes listen to is Stranger Things, and in a recent episode, “A Monastic View of the Other,” co-host TImothy Renner interviewed Br. Richard Hendrick, an Irish Capuchin (Franciscan) monk and meditation teacher. He used to manage the Capuchins’ friary and retreat center in Donegal. If you click through the photos, I think that one shows the fairy hill described in the interview.

Brother Richard tells some stories of house-cleansings, where people thought they were disturbed by ghosts or other entities. He comes across as level-headed and compassionate, and he stresses that one cannot respond to such requests by charging in and (my words) firing off Latin invocations while throwing incense grenades.

And Then There Is Hellier

Inverted pentagram? Really?

In another podcast, TImothy Renner of Strange Familiars mentioned that some of his music (he is a musician too) is used in Season Two of the paranormal documentary Hellier, which reminded me that I needed to download it.

Brother Richard talks about being spiritually grounded, avoiding obsession, and “not following the lights across the moor,” In other words, don’t let yourself get sucked in to the point where you have one foot on the Other Side.

But if there is anyone who does “follow the lights,” it is all the ghost-hunters and paranormal investigators out there, who show up with their spotlights and cameras and recording equipment and digital thermometers and other gadgetry and announce, “All right, Bigfoot, where are you? Goblins, show yourselves! We come in peace! [Aside: “Are you getting a reading?”]

Here is the synopsis:

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 [chiefly Dana Newkirk, Karl Pfeiffer, and Conor Randall] traveled to rural Kentucky, not knowing what they would uncover, or how deep they would discover the case might go.

Back at Weird Studies, J. F. Martel observes, “If you ever wondered what Samuel Beckett would have written if he had developed an interest in the paranormal, Hellier may be the answer.”

Yeah, Waiting for Goblin, that’s it.

On the plus side, the show’s production values are high. I have seen stuff on cable TV that was a lot worse. On the negative, sometimes I just want to reach into the screen and grab them:

If y’all are “digital natives,” why did you wait five years to have a competent IT guy check the headers on that email — which reveal that it did not come from eastern Kentucky at all?

Do you know anything about using public records? Don’t you realize that the volunteer fire department in a small town will know where everything is?

Don’t you carry a good GPS receiver? If you can’t write down the address when you think you have found “the house,” at least get its coordinates, which will save you a lot of driving around later, plus you can research its ownership history with the county assessor.

Since the initial email sounds a lot like Whitley Strieber’s experience in Communionand his books are on the Newkirks’ shelves, I am surprised Strieber’s name does not come up. (At least so far. I am only just into Season Two, so no spoilers, please.)

One book that does come up a lot is John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies.It took me a long time to read that, because the title put me off, but it remains a classic study of how the researcher can go over the edge, off “across the moor.” The Hellier group refer to it a lot when they raise questions such as, does experiencing uncanny synchronicities mean that you are on the right track, or are they just a distraction? Are they “signal” or are they “noise”?

And to go back to William James, after twenty years, will you have learned anything substantive at all? Or is the real story the subjective experience of the researchers? I have been there, a little, and I know how fast the paranoia can grow.

Notes   [ + ]

1. William James, “The Last Report: The Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher,” in William James and Psychical Research, ed. Gardner Murphey and Robert O. Ballou, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961), 310. Originally published in The American Magazine, October 1909.
2. Both are Canadian, although Ford teaches at Indiana University.
3. The Weird is that which resists any settled explanation or frame of reference. It is the bulging file labelled “other/misc.” in our mental filing cabinet, full of supernatural entities, magical synchronicities, and occult rites. But it also appears when a work of art breaks in on our habits of perception and ordinary things become uncanny.The Weird is easiest to define as whatever lies on the further side of a line between what we can easily accept from our world and what we cannot. And it defines an attitude towards whatever lies on that side of the line: a willingness to remain suspended between explanations and abide in strangeness.
4. Some of them seem to say, “Fairies are dangerous, but if you read my book, I will tell you how contact them.”

“Witness of Another World” is a Powerful Documentary about “Visitor” Encounters

Aside from an occasional excursion, I am not much into UFO studies. Years after it came out, I read Jacques Vallée’s 1)Born in France, Vallée has spent most of his life in the US. His career includes astronomy, software engineering, venture capitalism — and UFO studies. Passport to Magonia, and it shaped my thinking.

I put its thesis like this: Instead of chugging through interstellar space to Earth, the UFO-nauts have always been here. “They” appear in many different shapes, some humanoid, some not, as it suits their fancy. Sometimes They just like to mess with us for reasons we do not understand. Or in more refined language,

As an alternative to the extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis, Vallée has suggested a multidimensional visitation hypothesis. This hypothesis represents an extension of the ETH where the alleged extraterrestrials could be potentially from anywhere. The entities could be multidimensional beyond space-time, and thus could coexist with humans, yet remain undetected (Wikipedia).

Back in the 1970s, Vallée and his wife flew to Argentina to investigate the case of Juan Pérez, a 12-year-old boy from a gaucho family in northern Argentina. Sent out one morning to bring in the family herd, Juan saddled his favorite horse, Cometa (Comet), and rode off into the pastures. On his ride, Juan encountered . . . something . . . that seemed to be a typical flying saucer. Tying Cometa to the craft’s ladder, he went up into it, he said.

There he encountered two beings. When he went home and told his story, he soon became a UFO celebrity. Cometa, however, sickened and died mysteriously only a few days after the encounter.

Juan’s life was wrecked. Call it PTSD. Call it a bad case of susto (soul loss). He fled the ufology scene. He ended up a fifty-ish bachelor, living an isolated life with just his dogs, working seasonally on neighboring ranches and otherwise alone.

There he was until an Argentine filmmaker, Alan Stivelman, decided to reunite him with Vallée, with whom he had had a good relationship as a youth. Vallée was enthusiastic about the plan — all he wanted was a couple of months to study intensively to improve his Spanish.

Stivelman’s documentary, Witness of Another World, is just beautiful movie-making. Whether on Argentinian pampas or up north in the jungle villages of Guaraní Indians, who play an important part in the documentary (Juan has some Guaraní ancestry) or exploring the texture’s of Juan’s crumbling house, it is good to look at.

It is a story of a man brought back from the edge, a spiritual rescue mission, where ufology meets shamanism meets a compassionate reunion of old friends —  the eighty-year-old scientist and the grown-up but still frightened gaucho boy.

You can rent it (download) for $4.99or buy it (download) for $12.99. It is on Amazon Prime as well.

Listen to what Jacques Vallée has to say about “the phenomenon,” his term for the whole UFO/demon/fairy/visitor complex. Watch what the shamans do. And remember that “They” are not necessarily our friends.

Bonus: On his Dreamland podcast, Whitley Strieber interviews director Alan Stivelman, with contributions from Jacques Vallée.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Born in France, Vallée has spent most of his life in the US. His career includes astronomy, software engineering, venture capitalism — and UFO studies.

Getting Lost among the Mushrooms

Boletus edulis (Porcino, Steinpilze, etc.)

There are at least five stages to mushroom-hunting.

  1. You walk in the woods but do not see the mushrooms.
  2. You begin to see mushrooms here and there.
  3. Your unconscious is seeing mushrooms. For example, every reddish-tan thing on the forest floor that approximates the cap of a bolete will jump out and grab your attention.
  4. Even before you see the mushroom, you know it is right around that clump of trees — and it is. (This happens to me rarely, but it has happened)
  5. You have full cloth bags of mushrooms in your pack or in your hands. Then you look around, and it’s “Holy Pan, how did we get to be here? And just where are we?”

That was yesterday, up in the Wet Mountains, a thick fir forest at about 11,000 feet elevation. “Let’s swing around and work back to the Jeep,” I said to M., and she was ready, so we started moving slowly up the broad ridge. Then I looked around, and there to the north (on our left), was a steep drop-off that I had never seen before — any steeper and no trees could have grown on it. Where did that come from? Just where were we? Nice job, pixies!

I could see daylight ahead, so I hustled to the gentle crest of the ridge. Walking fast at that altitude mixed with just a little anxiety had my heart going thumpety-thump.

“Are we lost?” asked M.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe we are a little south of where we should be.”1)Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”

Far in the distance were were Sheep and Little Sheep mountains. Yes, we were too far south. We just needed to go east to cut the little dirt Forest Service road we had come up on. I got my compass, and saw that East was not precisely where I thought it was.

A few minutes on, we came to a small clearing, and looking downslope to the south, I could see a gravel road — not our road, but one that I knew intersected it. Since I had a clear view of the sky and was high up, I checked the iPhone. Sure enough, three bars.

I turned on the GPS, clicked the  Avenza Maps app, and discovered that I did not have the necessary topopgraphic map loaded. Nor had I brought a paper map. Why should I? Hadn’t we been mushroom-hunting that area since the 2000s without getting lost?

This old hollow fir trunk looked like the mask of a forest god.

But there was a good county road map loaded in the phone, the one that EMS and volunteer firefighters use for navigating mountain subdivisions. Sure enough, the blue dot was close to the road that I was looking for. We would have crossed it anyway, but the high-tech confirmation was comforting, I will admit.

We kept walking, and about half a mile later, there was the Jeep parked in the overgrown old skid road where we had left it.

I think the forest spirits have a message: “Don’t get cocky, kid. The world is a sharp as the edge of a knife.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”

Are Fairies Indigenous to North America?

Image from The Fairy Census

Regular commenter Pitch 313 added this to my post titled “Bejaysus, It’s the Eco-Fairies.

A few items for context: a.) My family immigrated to Northern California shortly after the Gold Rush, and that’s where I grew up; b.) it was apparent to me that Fairy beings of European character were present and active in Northern California, and I later gathered that post-Gold Rush practitioners had more or less done things to make these Fairy beings feel at home; and c.) it was apparent to me that the European settlement of the Americas–and particularly the European settlement of California–had massively, catastrophically disrupted Native American lives and cultures and those of resident Fairy beings known to Native Americans. In my experience, at least, contact with Fairy beings of NativeCalifornian character was complicated and chancy. (Read the whole thing.)

You can read quite a few supportive stories if you look at the North American section of  The Fairy Census 2014–2017 (PDF file, 5.3 MB).

It is part of an ongoing research project, the Fairy Census.1)Ha, like it’s possible to count them!

The Fairy Census is an attempt to gather, scientifically, the details of as many fairy sightings from the last century as possible and to measure, in an associated survey, contemporary attitudes to fairies. The census was inspired by an earlier fairy census carried out by Marjorie Johnson and Alasdair Alpin MacGregor in 1955/1956, a census that was published in 2014.

There are two (anonymous) census forms: one for witness accounts and one for second-hand accounts (experiences of grandma, uncle, friend etc). Confidentiality is assured and, in the case of publication, personal details will be changed to assure anonymity. Note, however, that by filling out these forms you approve their use in an academic survey.

Some of the results (Fairies speaking Irish?) would sound like the Fair Folk came over the water. But maybe they just offer up whatever will resonate or disturb us the most. (“Gray” aliens, for instance.)

As described at The Daily Grail:

In the PDF, the experiences, recorded between 18 Nov 2014 and 20 Nov 2017, are divided into five sections based on geography: Britain and Ireland; North America; Europe; Australasia; and the ‘Rest of the World’. Editor Simon Young, a British historian who has written extensively on the topic of folklore, says that the Census is being released in PDF format free of charge in the hope that it will allow and encourage others to undertake their own research into the topic of fairies.

In my own comment, I mentioned Alex Bledsoe’s “Tufa” novels. In his telling, the Fair Folk were here before the first immigrants followed their dogs through Berengia, tens of thousands of years ago. I suppose that that is possible.

I like this one. I have added some paragraph breaks, punctuation, and notations.

§215) US (Alaska). Male; 2000s; 31-40 . . .

‘I, at the time, worked as a sawer [sawyer] for *** crew fighting wildfires in the Alaskan interior forests. As we were cutting line around the fire, it began to rain a bit ,and for the most part the fire was controlled but still not contained.2)There is a technical distinction here used by wildland firefighters.

It is our job to cut line around the entire fire to eliminate any chance of it drying up and spreading. So it was [a]  low-adrenaline regular run-of -he-mill day at work. Slow and steady. My saw partner and I would each run the saw till the tank ran out and switch. One would act as saw[y]er and the other as swamper.3)The assistant who tosses the cut branches and small tree trunks out of the way. As we switched tanks, I began to cut and he began to swamp the trees; the burnt hot ones go into the black while the green ones went to the green side, this [thus] cutting our eight to ten foot control line on top of this rocky ridge.

As I was cutting down these pecker poles about two to three inch wide and ten to fifteen feet tall, I went to cut into the bottom of one, and right before my eyes the tree shrunk down and a not-so-handsome little man about a foot tall with a beard and many wrinkles on his face stared up at me and screamed ‘Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo’.

My hands held steady [on]the saw that vibrated from the four hundred and fifty cc motor and my eyes widened large. My partner later told even through the screen protective lenses he could tell something [was] amiss.

He yelled ‘***, *** [the sawyer’s name].’ With no response, I stood stiff. He shook my shoulder; then my partner, a seasoned veteran and paramedic shut off the saw and again asked me what happened? I still stay[ed] stiff into [sic] he turns me with grabbing both shoulders and tells me to take a seat. For fifteen minutes he tries to get what happened out of me.

How could I tell this man who trusts me with his life that I saw? That I saw… Finally he says he will have to call our crew supervisor,. I turn to him and say ‘***, I saw an elf!’ He looks at me and just shakes his head in full acceptance. I look puzzlerd, I say ‘You saw it too?’ He says ‘no’. I say ‘what?’ Trying to read his mind, ‘others, others on the crew have seen them?’ He nods his head, yes. Understanding this I keep silent and continue about my day. I nor the others on the crew were ready to share and hold their truth amounts the possibility of fall out that could have incurred. Happy to share it now. Blessings and love to the many dimensional beings we share this world with.’

‘Old rugged kinda ugly though I don’t like to say so. Kinda bald and dirty.’ ‘I said elf to my buddy but it could easily be a name. I just know what I saw. It was in the woods, and my wisdom spoke up and remembered something that lay dormit [? dormant].’ ‘[Fairies are] a dimensional being that can support humans if they wise up in connection with Mother Earth. Fairy is a large dimension of characters. Some to trust while others are a bit more tricky.’ ‘Being a thirty-nine-year old man that has retired from a job that most people considered brave, tough, and masculine. I love sharing this story to those who are like. Well I [it?] got me thinking anyway.’

I’m not the sawyer on our fire department’s crew, but I took the class. My own chainsawing usually takes place on the hill behind the house, for reasons of firewood or fire mitigation. I don’t feel so bad about cutting dead stuff—and I have left a few beetle-killed pines for the cavity-nesting birds, but I get more and more edgy about cutting live stuff.

“Hey, I need to cut these little trees, Just pretend that I am a fire, OK? It will mean more water for the rest of you.”

We have forest fire burn scars4)That’s the new term. We used to just say “burns.” on all side. If you are going to live as an animist, there is always someone else you have to talk to.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Ha, like it’s possible to count them!
2. There is a technical distinction here used by wildland firefighters.
3. The assistant who tosses the cut branches and small tree trunks out of the way.
4. That’s the new term. We used to just say “burns.”

Bejayus, It’s the Eco-Fairies

In the last of the four-part post about “the cousins” (start the series here), I raised the question of what do fairies look like.

Here is the man who knows, says the (Irish) Independent:

“I kind of expect it. When I was younger if I hadn’t seen them, you’d think there was something wrong. I’ve seen them on a good few occasions after that.”

Galway farmer Pat Noone is used to encounters with the Good Neighbors, and he says they sent him a message.

“I was coming down after looking at the cows in that 16-acre field. I heard the music and saw the fairies dancing and I went over and got talking to them. They talked English to me, I had no problem talking to them. They told me they just wanted me to keep the land the way it was, and told me not to take any of the bushes out. I listened to the music and I went home.

“I have great luck with the stock, with farming, you’ll have your ups and downs with sick animals and nature takes its course, but overall I’ve had very good luck with the farm. And I don’t use any chemicals or sprays. That’s what the fairies told me. I use no weed killers at all whatsoever. It’s not the modern farm that people expect, I let the ditches grow naturally and then trim them back with the saw. It’s left naturally here.”

Chemical-free farming. That is what They want, and you should know better than to cross them.

Pixie Problems, or Working Things Out with the ‘Cousins’ (4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

So what are fairies? How do you research them? Just as important, do you even want to have anything to do with them?

Each of those is a book or article-length question, so I will paint with a very broad brush here. Nevertheless, fairies have popped up on this blog before.

In deadbutdreaming, a blog devoted to fairy lore, among other things, Neil Rushton offers “A Faerie Taxonomy.” He writes,

The faeries mean different things to different people. There is a great range in their taxonomy; they can be the archetypal characters found in faerie tales, folkloric entities existing in a liminal reality, animistic nature spirits responsible for the propagation of flora, and a host of culturally-coded modern beings, including, but not limited to, extraterrestrials and certain creatures that can manifest during altered states of consciousness.

There is so much folklore, so many variations, and categories (the dead, nature spirits, interdimensional beings, etc.) that blur into each other. Big ones, little ones. Usually they are described as humanoid, but on the other hand, I don’t think of our “cousins” as being necessarily humanoid at all.

You have various sorts of Hidden Folk in various places and cultures. Apparently they are fairly respectable in Iceland. I have met them (?) in dreams, where they became “the people who live inside the walls.” Not that they live between 2x4s and sheets of paneling or drywall — what was meant was a sort of interdimensionality, where their large world seems to fit into one of our small worlds.

The big ones (human-size or almost that) are often described as the Gentry, the Good Neighbors, and so on. They are powerful and unpredictable in the stories, and the best response to encountering one might be to tip your hat and say, “Fine day, isn’t it, Your Grace.” And then go another direction.

Or as Anne Johnson put in a post last year titled, “Faeries aka Fairies Are Real

So you say, “What do faeries look like?” And I answer, “What have you got?” There are as many varieties of faerie as there are of biological life in the apparent world. Some faeries are human shaped and sized, some are tiny, some look like animals, some like birds, and some are just beams of light. Be careful if you make eye contact, because they like to distract. And whatever you do, show them respect. Even the “critter” ones. Call them “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or “your majesties.”

John Beckett describes what happened when a group of American Druids, seeking to be inclusive, “explicitly invited the Fair Folk as part of our formal liturgy [at Beltane 2016].”

We had mentioned them before and they had shown up on several occasions, but if my memory is correct (and if it’s not, it’s not off by much) this was the first time we invoked land spirits, ancestors, Gods, and the fae in four separate invocations.

The ritual was an overwhelming success. But Themselves decided we hadn’t been sufficiently generous and helped themselves to an entire pitcher of wine.

In a rather violent manner.

He concludes,

The stories of our ancestors tell us they are proud people who do not tolerate slights and disrespect. They seem pleased with this change.

Attempts to lump them in with spirits of the land and of natural forces is inaccurate, unnecessary, and unwanted. They are the Fair Folk. That is how I understand them, and how I will relate to them.

Here are some books that influenced my thinking:

Jacques Vallée, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers. Astronomer, computer scientist, and ufologist, Vallée wrote this book in the 1960s partly to answer the question, “If the Space Brothers are out there, why don’t they land on the White House lawn/Red Square/United Nations Plaza, etc.?” His suggestion: it/they have always been here and it/they enjoy messing with us.

I often criticize people for trying to explain a mystery with another mystery, and I have to admit that saying, “They are not visitors from another star system, but they have been here all along” is doing just that, because what does “here all along” exactly mean? But I cannot think of hypothesis more useful.

George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal. A  former university parapsychology researcher, Hansen writes an interdisciplinary study of why most academics — even in religious studies —shy away from the topic of the paranormal and why, at the same, people and institutions involved with the paranormal have their own difficulties.

Psi interacts with our physical world, with our thoughts, and with our social institutions. Even contemplating certain ideas has consequences. The phenomena are not to be tamed by mere logic and rationality, and attempts to do so are doomed to failure (From the book’s website.)

The book grabs ideas from parapsychology, psychology, anthropology, and elsewhere, but the chapter I found most interesting, “Unbounded Conditions,” discusses how investigating UFOs, parapsychology—and I would add Bigfoot, for example—destabilizes both groups and individuals.

These phenomena intrude into the lives of investigators. The researchers participate in them and cannot remain on the side as observers. The subject-object distinction is subverted, and the consequences are often unpleasant (p. 217).

Hansen acknowledges John Keel The Mothman Prophecies as a classic of phenomena intruding; you might call it synchronicity out of control.

Finally, I recommend The Super Natural: Why the Unexplained is Real, by Whitley Strieber and Jeffery Kripal. Strieber is known for Communion and other writing on his often-unpleasant encounters with “the visitors,” whom he does not see as space aliens. Kripal is one religious studies professor who is willing to think and write about odd, esoteric, erotic, and paranormal aspects of what we cal “religion.”

The book is arranged in alternating chapters by each author. I read it last year and need to re-read it. A few statements in it severely shook me, so I need to have another go. If you prefer the “interdimensional” explanation, then this book is the rabbit hole that you want to jump into.

Pixie Problems, or Working Things Out with the ‘Cousins’ (3)

If these are what the “cousins” want, then they can have them.

Part 1 Here

Part 2 Here

Skittles to me are M&M’s low-rent relative, and Gummi Worms look like they should be threaded onto a lead-head jig and used to catch largemouth bass — except the fish might just spit them out. (I am sure that someone has tried.)  But per Byron Ballard’s advice, “the cousins” get them every new Moon. And sometimes a demitasse of coffee or a shot of bourbon.

I wrote to her in early March,

After I sent you the photo of the snail of shiny things and the plate of candy, it did indeed snow, snow that is just starting to melt now.  I looked out the back door this morning, and the plate was off the backside of the retaining wall,
lying on the ground.

When I checked, yes indeed, fox tracks.

The fox apparently prefers Skittles to Gummi Worms.

Do you depend on woodland creatures to remove the offerings after Those Critters have presumably sampled  their essence?

So somewhere there was gray or red fox with a sugar rush. Byron replied,

Poor fox! Yes, generally critters take the food away or it composts itself.

What do they want? Hmmm. My best guess is they want attention, they want a relationship and they want to be entertained and amused.  Just like us.

Anne Johnson commented, “I don’t leave much candy, preferring to eat it myself, but I fling every kind of shiny object at those lil’ cousins. For awhile I’ve had peace in my household.”

Our household too has been more peaceful, but there are still oddities. When we went to Texas for a week in early April, I took down the birdfeeders because the bears were waking up, and a bear would happily smash the feeder to get the sunflower seeds. One feeder hung by a short length of shiny chain. When we came back, the chain was gone. It was too heavy for any but a big bird, and why would a mammal (raccoon? gray fox?) climb up and get a steel chain? Foxes are notorious for stealing things like teddy bears and dog toys, but steel chain? Oh well.

In his chapter on “Offerings” in Six Ways: Approaches & Entries for Practical Magic, Aidan Wachter writes,

Some spirits I have worked with also like tea, coffee, and some like milk. I think the best way to proceed is by following the hints the spirits give and then seeing what happens. Some spirits are decidedly into alcohol and tobacco, some find these offensive. If you like, you can sit with the pendulum or cards and ask questions as to what might be a good offering.

I think the most direct way to think of offerings is as offering nourishment or food. Sometimes this is outright food, and many I know who bake, bake for the spirits. I tend to give offerings of unbroken eggs, tortillas, chili sauce, fruit, flowers.

It is a good to consider candles as food for the spirits as well. Candles are a solid energy source (wax, but this is also true to oil in oil lamps or even wood for a fire) that is largely consumed by burning. As it is consumed, it is transformed from solid matter into heat, smoke, ash, and carbon. This transmutation allows and spirits and powers to feed on these energies and their subtle nature (p. 80).

Six Ways has more content in 167 pages than a whole shelf of typical Craft books. I recommend it unreservedly. Wachter, however, is writing about more than just household “pixies” here. So in the next post I might set one foot into the swamp of faerie taxonomy.

Continue to Part 4

Pixie Problems, or Working Things Out with the ‘Cousins’ (2)

The snail with a few shiny things and a candle to get their attention.

Part 1 here

Anne Johnson responded promptly. Since the shrine is a minute’s walk from the house, she suggested putting out more shiny objects closer in.

I repurposed an odd birdfeeder shaped like a snail into a pixie-feeder (trap?). I put some shiny things in it (some broken silver spoons, a singleton silver earring) in it and sat it on a retaining wall outside the back door. Since this was in December, it kept getting snowed on.

Then she referred me to a specialist, Byron Ballard, the “village witch” of Asheville, North Carolina. As it happened, I had met Byron in person, so I felt OK about writing to her. Here is part of my email to her (spoiler: more things disappear):

Oh, and recently a carabiner with keys to the “bear boxes” on several scout cameras that I keep up in the national forest disappeared.

When I opened my toiletries bag during last week’s campout, there were the keys. Now there could be a naturalistic explanation: last December we took Amtrak to Virginia to visit M’s brother and other East Coast relatives who came to his house near Charlottesville for a few days.

It could be that I put those keys in my pocket when I replaced batteries in the security camera at the guest cabin (about 100 yards from our house), then ended up taking them on the train.

Finding them in my pocket, I would have put them in the toiletries kit, along with my house/car keys, just to empty my pockets during the trip.
Then I never used the toiletries kit again until last weekend.

I was sitting in this tent, three hours’ drive and a little distance on skis away from home, when I found the one set of keys.

BUT . . . there were *two* sets of keys to the bear box padlocks, and both disappeared. I now have one, which is great. I don’t have to hike out with big bolt cutters and take off the old locks.

It is POSSIBLE that I moved the second set of keys, but I checked the two places where I store spare keys, and they were not there.

Byron, whose classes at festivals, etc. include one called “Little Altars Everywhere,” responded with a long, humorous email, of which this was part:

The problem is likely caused by the spirit folk I call the Cousins, who are generally benevolent but frequently mischievous. My suggestions are these:

Feed them outside your house. Contrary to received knowledge, these folks like strong coffee and hideous candy. Think of the sort of artificial color/flavor candies like Swedish Fish and neon gummi worms.  If it catches your eye but you probably wouldn’t eat it, they will love it. Skittles work but I go for amusing shapes–gummi fried eggs or circus peanuts or root beer barrels.

Feed them near where your “shinies” are.  If you have dogs, you can bury the candy. Or put it high up where your dogs can’t reach it.

Do this for several days and I think you will be rewarded with an atmospheric condition I which the air and the energy around the feeding area feels like champagne bubbles.  Fizzy and bright.

After the initial introduction, you can cut back on the feeding to once a month. I do it on the new Moon so I can keep track of it.

If you are offering a drink, which I recommend, find a beautiful little glass or cup to leave it in.  You have already discovered that they like to go into things.  Like cats, they are often “gozindas” (goes into) or “gozondas (goes onto). They appreciate small boxes–round ones like oatmeal boxes are the favorites of my folks.

You are basically bribing them to behave the way you want so that when they slip and steal the corkscrew, you can go out to the feeding site with one bright Skittle and tell them they can have more when the corkscrew is returned.  The important thing to remember is they are not malicious, only curious and enthusiastic.

Soon I was at a Target store down in Pueblo with a shopping list:

  • Water filter
  • 4-foot extension cord
  • Skittles or ?

I did not even know exactly what Skittles were, but I found them —and Gummi Worms — in the candy aisle soon enough.

Read Part 3 Here

Pixie Problems, or Working Things Out with the ‘Cousins’ (1)

Lonely Norwegian spoon.

It all started with a fork, an antler-handled serving fork of clean Scandinavian design, part of a spoon & fork set that my parents bought while visiting Norway in the early 1990s and later gave to M. and me at Christmas. We liked them and used them nightly for salads and other dishes.

Then after several years the fork disappeared. Our house is not large—a little under 1,000 sq. ft. on the main level —and we looked all over the kitchen and adjacent living/dining room, — pulling out drawers, furniture, and appliances — but never found it. Things happen.

I don’t do a lot of how-to Pagan writing. When it comes to magick-working, I hold with the “keep silent” part of the “magician’s (or witch’s) pyramid.” But I wanted to share this story, which is not over yet, in case anyone gains anything from reading it. I expect it to spread over three or four blog posts.

So the fork was gone and time passed, and then “they” decided to step up their game early this past winter. I say “they” because there seemed to be deliberate mischief in what was happening. Read on.

We usually drink wine with dinner, so we have — had — this particular corkscrew for years. That evening, I could not find, neither in its drawer nor on the dining table. I just shook my head and pulled out my Swiss Army knife, which has a corkscrew. Problem solved.

That corkscrew, incidentally, is still missing, five months later.

Then last Friday, she went looking for a little plastic dish with a lid (think very small leftover dish, a quarter-cup capacity) that she uses when taking her own homemade almond butter to the coffeehouse to put on bagels. She has used this particular dish for several years, because she can slip it into a purse. It should have been in the dish rack. It was not. We both looked. I cleared the dish rack of clean dishes.

The next day, there was the lid — only the lid — lying in the center of the dish rack.

She had laughed when I blamed “the pixies” for the missing corkscrew. Now she was not laughing.

The bottom of the dish showed a couple of days later — in a cupboard of empty jars and storage containers — inside another lidded container.

And then the lid disappeared again, and M. found it in the pages of a magazine on the living room floor.

Pagan blogger Anne Johnson — in the sidebar as The Gods Are Bored — writes about the fairies now and then, and she and I are keypals sharing common interests in blogging and vultures, so I wrote to her with the story that I have given here.

She had blogged earlier about putting out shiny things for them, and in fact, I had put some old pieces of jewelry etc. on the outdoor shrine altar, whereupon they promptly disappeared.

Yet something more was needed. What did “they” want?

Read Part 2 here