Early in the twentieth century, the famous physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937), “the father of nuclear physics,” is supposed to have remarked snarkily that all science was either physics or “stamp-collecting.” Variations on the saying include “That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting” and “Physics is the only real science. The rest are … Continue reading
By “stamp-collecting,” I have always assumed he meant collecting and classifying, in that a geologist of his time might have been mainly occupied with classifying rocks and minerals or an entymologist concerned with classifying insects. (These disciplines — and others — now include much more.)
“Stamp-collecting” likewise describes a lot of paranormal studies. The famed Charles Fort (1874–1932 was the master of it.His life almost parallels Rutherford’s. Interesting. “As a young adult, Fort wanted to be a naturalist, collecting sea shells, minerals, and birds” (Wikipedia). The sheer size of his collections had an effect, however.
Fort is acknowledged by religious scholars such as Jeffrey J. Kripal and Joseph P. Laycock as a pioneering theorist of the paranormal who helped define “paranormal” as a discursive category and provided insight into its importance in human experience. Although Fort is consistently critical of the scientific study of abnormal phenomena, he remains relevant today for those who engage in such studies
Back in the the early 1690s — contemporanous with the Salem witch trials — the Rev. Robert KirkA minister in the then-large Scottish Episcopal Church was not afraid to theorize, producing a handwritten book on fairies that latter became The Secret Commonwealth. Maybe his MA at Edinburgh University prepared him.
His attempt to fit the fairies into a Great Chain of Being might not appeal to everyone, but at least it gave him a theoretical lens through which to consider them.
Kirk proposed that the reason that the fairies appeared to humanity was to convince us that an invisible realm exists, and that it’s not entirely out of reach. Their occasional interactions with humans served as both a “caution and warning” that we are not alone in the world, and that unseen, intelligent forces occasionally meddled in our affairs. Maybe these forces are still at work. (video transcript)
We still have people who are solely Bigfoot-hunters or UFO researchers or ghost-hunters or whatever, but thanks to Vallée, it is more and more common to see all of these as part of something bigger: “the phenomenon.”Some BIgfoot researchers still seek a flesh-and-blood “wood ape,” which might be less psychologically threatening than an interdimensional big hairy critter.
Variations on the saying include “That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting” and “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”
Using the Randonautica app near home is impossible for me, due to the lack of reliable ceullar data service, but I kept reading posts on the Facebook page and on r/randonauts at Reddit.
Then two days ago I had some free time in Pueblo while M. was at an appointment, so I set an intention — a synchronicity related to one of my projects — and requested an “attractor” point.
It sent me to a street address a couple of miles from my location — in a neighborhood near where my mother and stepfather once lived, so I had a sense of it.
There hanging from a tree out front was this cast image of a rabbit, sitting in a little swing. Since one current project is using my scout cameras to try to get more small rodent photos, I called that a “hit.” If I get some good ones, they will be at the other blog. Right now I have just a series of rock squirrel videos.
So what Randonautica really can be is a divination tool, like Tarot cards or the license plate of the car stopped in front of yours. Developers, users, and YouTubers toss the word “quantum” around in a way that would make a physicist cringe.I am not a physicist either. They might as well say “spooky.” With Tarot, you hold an intention or a question in your mind while shuffling or cutting the cards; with Randonautica, you do it will waiting for the random-number generator to produce your destination.
One other thing: I thought people might stop saying that X has “gone viral” in these days of COVID-19, but I have seen it said about Randonautica. So many people have downloaded it and tried to use it that its server has just been overwhelmed with requests at times, leading to the apperance of failure and complaints of “I just get a white screen! It’s not working!”
But by analogy with other activities — geocaching included — most of those new users will probably satisfy their curiosity and move before too long.
Wednesday was the first nice day in a while, so M. and I went hiking on some national forest land near home. We were on a “social trail,” one that is not signed and listed on the forest maps, but we saw maybe four other people there anyway. I stopped partway up to repair a geocache container — not a cache that I own, but one that has been more or less abandoned by its owners. I feel affection for it because it was the first one that I ever found, so I check on it now and then.
For me those include a deserted lakeside resort in central North Dakota where an artesian well gushes water from a big rusty pipe, a tiny cemetary in Taos, New Mexico, a cavalryman’s grave on a Wyoming hillside, or an abandoned bridge on the Dismal RIver in Nebraska’s Sand Hills.You can also find tiny magnetic containers stuck to benches in city parks, but after a while, they are not so special anymore.
In a recent episode titled “Force the Hand of Chance: A How-To Guide to Psychogeography” on the Strange Familiars podcast, co-host Alison Renner mentions how recent conditions have meant she and her husband, Timothy, have been exploring the seen and unseen environment of their hometown more these days. When she remarked about walking down an alley that she had never entered before, it reminded me of geocaching.
But insead of using a GPS receiver, the Renners were following a route on a cell phone app called Randonautica, advertised as “The world’s first quantumly generated Choose Your Own Adventure reality game. Explore the world you never knew existed.” There is a forum on Reddit, of course: r/randonauts, and a Facebook group.
Randonautica app puts the user in the Director’s Chair of an adventure story yet to be written. By using the app, the user can break from their mundane day-to-day and take a journey of randomness into the world around them.
Where the mind goes, the universe follows. The Randonautica app is built with mind-machine interfacing technology which allows the user to drive their trip simply by thinking.
A user in Cambodia wrote on Reddit, “Set my intent to’find a portal to another world’…found an arch that led me to a wealthy gated community. Compared to the poverty that most people here live in, it is certainly another world for them.”
Randonauts Facebook profile graphic
Part of the Strange Familiars podcast episode is the Renners trying out the Randonautica app and experiencing at least one strong synchronicity. Timothy Renner also utilzes it in an episode called “Synchronicity Storm on Toad Road,” although it is mentioned only briefly.
I had wanted to try it four days ago, but the app needs a cellular data connection, and I live in what amounts to a cell-service dead zone.
We had things to buy today, so we went to a nearby town and gave it a try. I tried generic requests, such as “anomaly.” The first hit sent us on about a 2.5-mile drive out of town to a certain road — only I knew that that road led into a gravel-mining operation owned by a local paving company, where we would probably not be welcomed to park and explore. If there is an “anomaly” there, it will have to wait.
Our second run took us a newish subdivision out in the desert. It was amazing that Apple Maps knew the roads, since they were just bulldozed dirt, completely unimproved. It looked like we were to drive to the end of one road, park, and climb a small nearby mesa, only this was the sort of place where strange vehicles acting strangely are regarded with acute suspicion. So I canceled that quest too.
But I want to go back, maybe try a more specific request than just “void” or “anomaly,” and most of all, I would rather do it mostly on foot. I want to see if Randonautica leads me to sites of low-to-moderate strangeness.
Even geocachers experience strangeness.If you join and go to the discussion forums, you will find occasional multi-year threads with titles like “Weird or What?” “Help me plant some weird California caches,” “Weird Findings in the Woods,” “Animals are acting weird,” “Weird Adventure,” “What’s that Weird Noise?” and so on.
But what if you don’t want to walk around looking at a screen?
All by itself, the act of walking puts you in a liminal state — neither here nor there but in between. This makes it especially suitable for spiritual and mystical purposes, where we are already seeking to draw back the veil between the worlds for a momeny and interact with the gods and spirits . . . . Going out on intentional walks as a means of discovering and honoring the spirits of place in a city can take myriad forms.
She has much to say about whom you might encounter and how to interact with them — all in a compact book that will fit into your hip pocket. And if you sit on it, it won’t butt-dial anyone.
Geocaching is a “sport” in that it has rules, and you can be competitive about numbers and categories if you want to be. On the other hand, since I most often do it alone, perhaps it is more a “hobby” or a “pursuit.”
There have never been any little girls in my house, so consequently no Barbie dolls, but they cost only about $2–$4 in the thrift stores. So I decided last year to make a neoshamanic Barbie, because I like the idea of “theme” Barbies (like “New Mexico Barbie“) and because the very thought of her reminded me of a certain author and teacher who is “widely acknowledged as a major link between the ancient world of shamanism and modern societies thirst for profound personal healing and a deeper understanding of the pathway to enlightenment.”
I made one and on a warmish day in January placed her way up behind the house in some boulders that I call Ringtail Rocks. She has her magickal assignment, she is hidden by rocks, and I will never disturb her.
Neoshaman Barbie 2 with her necklace of power and her spirit animal.
But there was one more Barbie left, so today, now that the last snow has melted and the trail is dry, she went to a different cluster of boulders with a similar assignment, along with her spirit animal.
These are part of a series of “installations” that I have started. You can tell that I was not a studio-art major, because I cannot produce 3,000 words of art-prose about what I made.
But since producing prose (and editing other people’s prose) is what I do all day, these and the other installations are just thigs that Iet bubble up, and I don’t have to produce a lot of discourse about them. I am not even completely clear on their magickal purpose
A geocacher would spot this as a “suspicious pile of rocks,” but there are no geocaches in the area either.
Now my favorite podcasters, J. F. Martel and Phil Ford of Weird Studies, have produced the episode on Hellier and related things — with them, there will always be related things. Usually they send me to the library website with a bunch of interlibrary-loan requests.
On the night before this episode of Weird Studies was released, a bunch of folks on the Internet performed a collective magickal working. Prompted by the paranormal investigator Greg Newkirk, they watched the final episode of the documentary series Hellier at the same time — 10:48 PM EST — in order to see what would happen. Listeners who are familiar with this series, of which Newkirk is both a protagonist and a producer, will recall that the last episode features an elaborate attempt at gate opening involving no less than Pan, the Ancient Greek god of nature. If we weren’t so cautious (and humble) in our imaginings, we at Weird Studies might consider the possibility that this episode is a retrocausal effect of that operation. In it, we discuss the show that took the weirdosphere by storm last year, touching on topics such as subterranean humanoids, the existence of “Ascended Masters,” Aleister Crowley’s secret cipher, the Great God Pan, and the potential dangers of opening gates to other worlds … or of leaving them closed.
No, I haven’t listened to it yet. Weird Studies episodes are saved for long drives, and M. and I are going to the city tomorrow.
You can buy this artwork in various forms at Strange Familiars’ Patreon site.
Readers, I have reworked the blogroll (right-hand column) to create a new “Podcast” category.
If you are looking at a single post, the blogroll might not display for you. In that case, click the main blog title or the banner photo at the top to switch to the main page.
I had few podcasts mixed in the blogs, but I am listening to more now, and I decided that they deserved their own category.
For instance, I mentioned Strange Familiars recently in my post, “Don’t Follow the Lights across the Moor, said the Monk.” Apparently that episode — with host Timothy Renner interviewing Br. Richard Hendrick about fairies, ghosts, and poltergeists — was their highest-rated ever.
Weird Studies is another solid favorite. Co-host Phil Ford is a musicologist at Indiana University. Who knew you could do such strange and edgy stuff under the roof of the School of Music? About every other time that I listen to Phil and his co-host, J. F. Martel, I have to visit the library.
Some of these podcasts are easily downloaded from their home sites, plus you can get them on Google Play, Apple Podcast, and usually various other podcast sites. I use Apple gear, but I don’t like Apple Podcast very much and prefer to download individual episodes to iTunes.
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.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 … Continue reading
James’s frustration was mentioned in an episode of Weird Studies, a podcast produced by musicologist Phil Ford and writer-filmmaker J. F. Martel.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.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 … Continue reading
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.
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 booksSome 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.
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.
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 Communion — and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.