The Revenants’ Tales and What They Tell Us

A few key ideas hold the promise of keeping Pagan religions distinct from the people who go around claiming the “all Truth is one” etc. (When I hear that, I also hear “You will be assimilated.”)

An obvious one is polytheism.

Another is the concept of the multiple soul, which wends its way through Claude Lecouteux’s The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind, published by Inner Traditions.

Focused mainly on Indo-European traditions, this attempts to illuminate a “complex belief system at whose heart reside the fundamental beliefs touching upon the soul, the beyond, and ancestor worship” (vii).

Lecouteux, a retired French medievalist, relies heavily on old stories and sagas and a little bit on archaeology  to seek the premodern “Pagan” experience of ghosts, the virtuous dead, the unquiet dead, and other revenants—those who return from the dead for whatever reason.

Not surprisingly, the increasing influence of Christianity led to changed attitudes, with a little top-down guidance:

The notion of suffrages [prayers, petitions] helpful to the dead gave birth to the directives serving to eliminate worship of the dead, a core feature of paganism. It was adulterated and recuperated with great subtlety and wherever possible, the saints replaced the good ancestors—the objects of a cult connection to the [Indo-European] third function (fecundity/fertility)—and liturgical feasts replaced the pagan festivals (50).

Naturally, the concept of multiple souls familiar to more shamanic cultures had to be dampened down to the Christian norm, although some ideas of “the double” lingered.

Nonetheless, both these early-medieval  European Christians and their Pagan ancestors shared a pre-modern world view that was more alike than ours with theirs. In the author’s words, they participated in “a divine cosmogony: [where] perpetual motion animated the world, pulling men and things; everything fit inside a perfect circle encompassing the visible and the invisible; human beings and gods; the real and the possible; past, present, and future” (153).

We try to return to what we imagine that pre-modern “wholeness” felt like. Indeed, such a return has been a theme of art and religion for several centuries. Through ritual, magic, entheogens, or extreme experience we cross the divide going backwards, but it is very very difficult to stay.

Perhaps that longing for the “perfect circle” is why one colleague argues that in contemporary Paganism, the calendar—the wheel of the year—is more important than the gods.

One digression: through reading The Return of the Dead, I understand better why people being executed are often given hoods or blindfolds. It is not to spare their feelings, nor even is it just to depersonalize them and make the the executioners’ job easier. It is to prevent the dying person from casting the Evil Eye upon the living.

I am keeping this book at hand for reading on winter nights.

(For the grammarians reading this: The vague pronoun reference in the post’s title is deliberate.)

When You Meet the Buddha in the Road, Bite Him

We have a best-selling series of romance novels about vampires written by a Mormon.

But we also have a popular, if not so huge, series of romance novels about people in Amish communities, by a writer who grew up around Amish people but is not herself Amish.

Is this a great country or not? That’s one way to learn about religion. Or you can wait for the English translation of Saint Young Men. Jesus and the Buddha, roommates! The “odd couple” formula works in manga too, evidently.

But wait, you say. Vampires? Religion? Consider that NYU Press has published Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.

Jeffrey Kripal, whose book Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred I am just starting to read, not surprisingly tells the New York Times that scholars of religion should take “the paranormal” seriously.

Is that the “paranormal” as opposed to the “supernatural”?

According to Dr. Kripal, [four famous paranormal researchers’] omission [from scholarly investigation]  is evidence of a persistent bias among religion scholars, happy to consider the inexplicable, like miracles, as long as they fit a familiar narrative, like Judaism or Christianity.

Meanwhile, someone needs to write a novel: Ghost-hunting single Amish girl falls in love with a vampire and discovered Buddhism. Quick!

The Infrared Signature of Ghosts

Over at my other blog,  I have been posting examples of wildlife photos taken with game cameras (a/k/a scout cameras or camera traps).

Seeking to learn more about how their passive infrared (PIR) detectors work, I was browsing the Web and ended up with South Jersey Ghost Research.

Apparently, PIR motion sensors can be used for ghost-hunting. Here is a tutorial, using the term loosely.

For instance, their diagram makes no sense. An animal as small as a mouse can trip a camera. I have seen it happen. Squirrels definitely will do so. And as for cats, what is in the lower right corner of the PIR-activated camera photo on this page at the Ghosthunter Store site?

Nevertheless, the Ghosthunter Store site confidently proclaims, “When a PIR Motion Sensor detects movement in an area where there isn’t anything visible moving, you have a major unexplainable paranormal event.”

(Unless something did move but was not captured due to digital shutter lag, which happens all the time, particularly in less-fancy cameras.)

Except … I thought that ghosts traditionally were associated with unexplained cold spots in buildings. When did they start emitting infrared radiation?

Clearly, I am not up-to-date on twenty-first century ghost-hunting.

Fate Magazine Headed for the Other Side

I am preparing myself for life without Fate magazine.

Since 1948, the  digest-sized monthly—later a bi-monthly—has been a reliable (at least in the publishing sense) source for ghost stories, UFO reports, speculative archaeology, Fortean news, and other manifestations of the weird and unexpected.

All viewpoints were welcomed, so articles often completely contradicted each other.

Often the most interesting stories came as reports from the readers of paranormal experiences, encounters of the recently dead, and so forth. There was a certain sameness to these, but perhaps that meant they were true—or else it meant that everyone followed the same cultural template. Or both.

Llewellyn Publications bought Fate in 1988, perhaps hoping to make it what Gnostica, their earlier house organ, had been in the late 1970s—a mix of articles with ads for Llewellyn books.

Some of the long-time readers complained then that Fate was becoming too Wiccan. That is one thing you would learn from all those reader reports: quite a few Americans follow a home-grown metaphysical religion that happily calls itself Christian while including ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, and all the rest.

When Llewellyn pulled the plug, ownership passed to a former employee, Phyllis Galde, who kept Fate going, although eventually reducing publishing frequency to bi-monthly.

This spring, it occurred to me that the “bi-monthy” had turned into semi-annually. It seemed like a long time since an issue had arrived in my mail box.

More time went by, and then I got an email saying that the Sept.-Oct. 2009, Nov.-Dec. 2009, and Jan.-Feb. 2010 issues were available—as PDF files. Eventually they put something on the web site too.

So I had the choice of reading them on the screen or printing them at my own expense if I wanted to read them in bed before turning out the light in hopes of a dream of Bigfoot. 😉

The magazine death pool is so close you can smell the fetid waters.

Fate’s blog keeps putting up new entries, but discussion of the magazine’s own fate is oddly missing.

The economics must be rough. Perhaps this is a case of flat advertising revenues versus rising printing and mailing costs.

PDF files are not the answer, and a Web version of the magazine would have to be re-thought from the ground up.

Then there is the whole question of shorter attention spans and lower reading comprehension on the Web (which is why so many blog comments are so stupid, particularly on the political blogs—people just read one phrase and start ranting before digesting the whole little essay).

But if Fate goes under, popular metaphysical religion will have lost an enduring voice.

Real Estate and the Dead

My niece, a real estate agent in central Missouri, called me today with welcome news: The sale of her mother’s (my oldest sister’s) home was finally closed today, four years after my sister’s death.

It’s hard to sell a house when the real-estate market is depressed, as it has been since 2008. It is hard to sell one of the biggest houses in a economically depressed small town, no matter how well restored it is. It is hard to sell someone’s house when, perhaps, their “crossing over” was not easy.

Last winter, however, I was reading Robert Moss’s The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead: A Soul Traveler’s Guide to Death, Dying, and the Other Side, a book that I will have more to say about in a later post. (Thanks to Anne Hill for telling me about it.)

Something hit me:  As trustee and thus de facto manager of her properties, I had dealt with lawyers, tenants, ex-tenants, insurance agents, city and county government, and via my niece, the on-site manager, with contractors, inspectors, and potential buyers.

When I went back to Missouri in March 2006, I was preoccupied with tenant issues at another building, not to mention straightening out other issues that my sister’s death left unresolved.

But I forgot one thing. I was so busy inventorying the “big house’s” contents and thinking about water damage on the porch roof, etc., that I forgot to cleanse it.

Gods below, man, and you call yourself a practitioner.

This is the fourth time in my life that I have served as an executor or personal representative or trustee for someone who died. When you are the youngest kid, everyone expects you to outlive them, so they name you in their will  to clean up behind them. I have seen the same pattern in other families.

In two out of three previous cases, I received pretty definite confirmation that the deceased had made it to the Other Side successfully. (Although my stepmother and I were close, perhaps the absence of a blood tie meant that I was not on the mailing list, so to speak?)

But the message on my sister was much more ambiguous, which troubled me.

In all those previous instances, the homes of the deceased had sold relatively quickly. Of course, they were in more desirable areas—not in depressed little Missouri railroad towns.

Reading The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead, something hit me. My sister loved to restore old houses. In fact, a friend of hers once joked that she liked houses better than people. Was she still holding on to this one? Was that one reason why two or three deals on it had fallen through?

I called my niece about it. And I sent her a copy of the book, which she said brought her to tears, for she had been having her own dream-life issues with her mother. I asked her if she could arrange a cleansing.

(My niece is a sort of eclectic Jew—my family is nothing if not religiously diverse.)

She said she would get some sage or something and do it herself, for she agreed that we had been remiss not to cleanse the house.

A couple of months later, the house was under contract again. This time the deal went through. Maybe the federal government’s tax credit for homebuyers—which expires today—had something to do with April 30th being the closing day as well.

All I can say is that after we finally cleansed the house, we got a buyer.

And I am so relieved.

Having Sex with Ghosts

Someone once wrote that you should never become sexually involved with anyone crazier than you are.

You probably should not get involved with anyone deader than you are either.

But if you do, there is a website about it: “Sex with Ghosts.”

It is also in my current findings that woman are more apt to be involved in ghostly sexual encounters with men though I personally believe men or less likely to come forward fearing ridicule.

Yep, and those women buy all the Charlaine Harris novels too.

There is a long tradition in Western occultism about sucubbi (female) and incubi (male), and the general advice is, “don’t do it.”

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Dining above the Dead

I opened the Cañon City Daily Record on Monday and learned that M. and I have been dining above the dead.

One of our two favorite cafes in the nearby town of Florence, Colo., is the Aspen Leaf Bakery, which, it turns out, is the second-most haunted locale in that county. (The first is the Prison Museum, a former women’s prison, in Cañon City. Funny about that.)

According to the article, local ghost-hunters say the basement of the Aspen Leaf’s building seems to be a “meeting space” for spirits. “No one’s died there,” said one ghost-hunter. “So they’re just hanging around.”

The Daily Record offers no link (typical!) but at the Cañon Ghost Trackers web site, you can follow their investigations and listen to their audio evidence.

NOTE:  If all the audio recordings start playing at once (depending on your browser settings), that does indeed sound spooky.

My own experience has been more one of meta-ghost-hunting. And I left out of the book what I thought was the spookiest building of all.

Gallimaufry: Tab Clearing

Having been knocked down by a head cold the past week, I am just cleaning out some old links.

• Should you use digital cameras for ghost-hunting?

I notice that a lot of the ghost-hunting articles in Fate magazine count “orbs” as evidence of spirits. But are they just artifacts of the digital photographic process?

• I think I want to read Breaking Open the Head.

In a similar vein, I recently bought Dale Pendell’s latest, Pharmako/Gnosis, and it is another stunning combination of entheogenic analysis, poetry, and pharmacology.

• You won’t find “Paganistan” here, but these religious-affiliation maps are interesting.

I note from the low affiliation counts in counties that match the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona and much of the Lakota reservations in South Dakota that tribal religions were not censused either. This map’s concentration of Episcopalians in western South Dakota, however, is the result of that church’s presence on the various reservations.

• Bloggers like to note odd Google searches that brought readers to their blogs. Mine today is from Google Turkey: “sacrifice sheep watch woman video.” Does that seem a little creepy to you too?