Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Chonicles of Liminia: The Threshold, The Ritual & The Trickster

Of course it's not Narnia, but it's a reasonable parody considering the Wardrobe's threshold sends the children in the story to the mythical land of adventure. And, threshold crossings have been recognized as a liminal place where things can tend to get weird. 

Life has a funny way of being routine, and for many of us certain customs have become just part of normal existence - we don't even think about them or their origins. Where did these things we think of as customs or traditions, originate - and why? And where do these customs tend to be placed? 

There's a reason for the term "Rites of Passage". Ritual is present in every day life as we pass through life's changes, but we don't always recognize them as such. 

The Retiree's Talisman
Take for instance the retirement from a long held job. A man has worked 50 years at a firm and for his retirement, he gets a gold watch and probably some sort of retirement office party with food and drink. This, like many traditional transition events. is a ritualistic practice when really examined. 

Why a gold watch? Gold has long been associated with white light religions and positive magickal practices. The watch, or clock is a symbol of time, and the passage of present into the past. Retirement comes at the autumn of one's life, and let me frank - how many times have you heard of Mr. John retiring only to pass away a year later? The party is the affirmation of life - eating, drinking, and socializing. The gold watch is the talisman given as the individual is entering into the transition to a different life. The threshold. A talisman against what? Perhaps the specter of death. Perhaps to protect against the effects of the rapid passage of time due to a life of leisure - again a reference to the approach of the Reaper and the limits of life. Either way you cut it, throughout time retirees from every vocation from accounting to viking have been given talismanic objects as they cross the boundary into a new life. It is recognized subliminally as a rite of passage.

A wedding ceremony is an acknowledged ritual - and noted liminal threshold - which is marked by all matter of talismans and incantations as the couple embark on a life together, distinctly separate from the one they've been living prior. It is a significant change of one's life, and hence is marked by one of the largest and most focused upon ritualistic practices in life. 

The Baby Shower is an interesting one, It's widely considered to be a 'party' to give the expectant Mother gifts for the baby. But it's more than that - and it's filled with ritual all around the world in different cultures. This is the passage or transition of the woman, into the Mother. In Tibet, parents celebrate the baby’s arrival, rather than having a party prior to birth. The celebration is called a pang-sai, which means "cleansing of the baby." The Tibetans believe newborn babies come to the world alongside fowls, and a ceremony should be held to wipe them out so that these babies would be able to grow healthily and mothers recover soon. When a baby is born, two banners will be placed on the roof eaves, hanging from the edge: one to ward off evil to protect the child and one to attract good fortune.

In America for many years, during the festivities the Mother to be would sit under a decorated umbrella - this derived from Victorian customs where the gifts were brought in a parasol. The term "shower" is believed to be 'showing the expectant mother with gifts' - but the overtone of a rain theme brings to mind the hope of a blessing by God via water from the sky (rain shower). Rain or shine many cultures recognize and ritualize the transition of woman to Mother and the passage of the baby into life. Rain is also cleansing (refer to pang-si).

Even something as benign as a Birthday cake and candles is laden with ritual meaning. The person is transitioning from say, the age 22 to 23. The day of the transition they are not 22, but not yet 23 (the liminal state). 23 candles are placed on the cake. Everyone sings Happy Birthday and they blow the candles out. So whats so ritualistic about that?

The candles are said to represent the 'light of life', The ancient Greeks first brought cakes adorned with candles to the temple of Artemis. In many cultures, smoke is said to 'carry prayers into the heavens' - and what do we do when we blow out the candles? Make a wish. That wish is often that one makes it through another year alive and in good health.

Lastly, there seems to be a thread that runs through some of these: death. And death is filled with yet more rituals, not only for the dead, but for the living. My wife's father passed towards the end of last year. We spent time with him (I should say his body) after he passed away at the hospital one morning. We then spent 2 days at a Funeral facility and cemetery. After we left the burial site, we all went to Lisa's sister's house for food and drink with lots of people who came to say goodbye to her Dad. We think of this as a sort of 'wake' celebration, and a way to thank the people who came to celebrate the life of the deceased. But of course, it's more. You have spent a lot of time with the dead (and this is true of many cultures). But, we are the living. Being in the presence of the dead is something to be washed away after the body is laid to rest, burned or left behind. The wake meal or celebration with any food or drink is an affirmation of life. You are alive, and the departed is not. You are moving forward, and the dead stay where they are. 

Such rituals as the wake meal, the baby shower, the wedding, etc - are all lines of demarcation that separate periods of liminality from routine life. The wedding ceremony is a line, drawn between the now committed couple and their former singular life. The wake food ends the commune with the dead, and draws the line as if to say to death "You shall not pass".

The liminal period has been marked by ritual throughout history. In many cases these acts trace to ancient cultures who probably recognized the threshold of change as a potentially 'dangerous' time, Did these cultures see that these liminal periods accompany the manifestation of paranormal phenomena? There really can be no other reason: a responsive reaction to the phenomena (whatever it might have been) than to enact rituals to effectively separate themselves from it.

"You shall not pass": Laying down the line.
Remember, the phenomena is enveloped in conflict, irrational behavior, upheaval, and chaos. No culture would flourish if such conditions were allow to swell from the inside (look at UFOlogy - ha!). Go back to ancient tribal peoples - there were 'forbidden places' and/or actions. Should you commit these actions or mistakenly tread in the forbidden place (often where the dead are disposed of), you would either be banished from the tribe or you have to go through a ritual to..,be cleansed. There's that line in the sand again:

You shall not pass.

It exists within the structure of indigenous cultures as well - the shaman does not live with the rest of the tribe. Considered to 'walk with the dead and the living', the shaman is not part of the community - they are effectively outsiders. To even visit the shaman in some cultures involved a cleansing ritual of some kind upon your return.

These events and actions marked by ritual lines of separation of the liminal period are seen as a way to remove the 'infection' of the otherworldly, the cold hand of death, the appearance of the inherently fearful. But, they also mark the anti-structural event, and transition it back into routine.

Once these modern day rituals are done, they facilitate the return of routine. The married couple start life together, the baby grows up, the wake participants go home and move on. But for instance, should one fixate acutely on the deceased, and spend hours of time at the cemetery to the detriment of life? This is ignoring the ritual's purpose, and is a gateway to anti-structure - often a recipe for strange intrusions.

To avoid the otherworldly, one only heed the wizard's line following "You shall not pass":

Fly, You Fools.πŸ”»

Friday, March 17, 2017

Something's in the Breeze

A portion of the following is from an essay I wrote back around 1996 or 97 while hosting chats on America Online for 'Sightings' (yes, that Sightings), and later for 'ParaScope'. This blog post is not meant to argue the validity of Ed Walter's story, nor the photographs - it is to show that the area has had a strange history long before Walter's came on the scene. The prevailing thought even today is that Gulf Breeze started and ended with Ed Walters. It's important to note that it did not.

A photo from Walter's original series, Nov. 11, 1987
UFOs have been reported in and around Gulf Breeze since July 24, 1952, when a Warrington Navy man reported seeing three amber-red lighted objects (an important color to note). Just a short while later, an East Pensacola woman reported seeing disc-shaped objects flying overhead, that had an "orange glow" to them. 

That same day, several residents of Eglin Air Force Base reported two orange colored discs hovering to the south-southeast for three or four minutes before vanishing. These people were very familiar with conventional aircraft and their characteristics, and they were certain these discs were not conventional aircraft.

On November 25, 1957 crewmen of a B-66 jet bomber from Eglin AFB reportedly saw three unidentified objects in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Hurlburt Field. The crew originally thought they were stars, yet they also showed up on Eglin's radar screens.

October 19, 1973, Clarence Ray Patterson reported he was "picked up" in his truck by a UFO while returning to Pensacola from Mobile, Alabama on Interstate 10. Police called by Patterson found that he was seriously upset and crying, but not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Patterson told the police that an "unidentified spaceship" hovered over his truck, then pulled him, truck and all, inside. Once inside the craft, Patterson said he was taken from his truck by six "strange looking creatures." His description of these beings was sketchy, but he could recall they were short, and had "clawlike" hands. Patterson stated that during the examination the creatures seemed able to read his mind. During this approximately 30 minute encounter, he was taken from Loxey to State Road 297 in Esambia County. After being released unharmed, he drove to Pensacola and contacted the police immediately.

Elgin Air Force Base
Eglin Air Force Base itself has had its share of odd sightings as well. On February 2, 1976, an unidentified object was sighted at the east end of Duke Field. Air Force officials say the UFO did not show up in more than 40 photographs, or on their radar screens. Officials could not explain why this was so. Strange it wouldn't photograph, since the object being reported to be as large as a Boeing 707, or C-130 cargo plane. Half a dozen people saw this object; the first to see it was a military policeman while making his rounds about 4:35 a.m. According to Lt. Steve Phalen of the Eglin Information Office, the object was then visible till first light. When Phalen was asked why nothing appeared on any photographs, he answered, "That's a good question." 

In the little panhandle town of Florida of Vernon, a resident named Joan Pflueger reluctantly reported a 26.5 foot circle in her pasture, a circle that had small burned circles around the outer edge. This was after several local residents reported seeing UFOs in the area at night. Ms. Pflueger found the suspicious mark in her field a few days later, on April 11, 1980. The area affected was described as looking "sucked up" by a giant vacuum. Pflueger hadn't a clue as to what had made the mark, but she did recall the day before her dog had acted "crazy, and trying to tear down a screen door to get outside." She stated the dog had never acted so oddly before. Ms. Pflueger was genuinely puzzled about the entire matter, saying less about the evidence in her pasture, and more about her hope that the incident wouldn't attract a lot of attention. "I guess I'll have to keep my gate locked all the time now," she said. 

Gulf Breeze continued to report UFO events in 1996 (as the UFO 'flap' began subsiding). Although sightings were decidedly down that year, Carole Baker, a recorder and compiler of UFO reports in the area, said the sightings had "changed a bit." The familiar sightings of the bright red UFO over Shoreline Park, better known as "Bubba," had been replaced by daylight sightings of spherical chrome-colored objects, seen and recorded on video moving at unheard of speeds. The Skywatching group that gathers at Shoreline Park had a rather close encounter with a "Tinkerbell," an object about the size of a golfball that passed by very close, then stopped directly above of the group. The object exited into the woods at the park, not to be seen again that night. 

Walters' infamous "Road shot"
Now I don't think any of the aforementioned incidents caused the same uproar in the media or the local community as the Ed Walters photos did. I don't want to focus so much on the Walters' UFO events, but rather the effects on the community during the events. Gulf Breeze was and still is to a large degree a small, close knit community. While they have resort-like beaches (they're beautiful white sand) and hotels, they don't really have the tourist business a tourist beach like Pensacola has. I recently spoke to a local newspaper and they informed me of some of the developments after the UFO activity in the area. This is one thing mainstream UFOlogy seems to miss completely - the long term follow up and monitoring of previously hot areas and the effects on the community.

When I spoke to Bland Pugh (who sadly now has passed away) some years ago about what kind of activity was still going on, his reply was short and direct - "None." I asked if the local skywatchers were still going to Shoreline Park every night to try and see UFO activity in the form of "Bubba" the bright red UFO seen dropping out small white lights that would flit away into the darkness. 

Photo taken by Bland Pugh, 1993

"None of that has been seen in awhile." he said. "That group fell apart and many moved on. It was a mess." When I asked when "Bubba" or any UFO activity was seen to have effectively stopped at Shoreline Park, he responded "When people stopped going to the park to look for them."

In 1997 - years prior to my discussion with Bland I spoke with several locals during the Gulf Breeze UFO conference about the skywatch group, and the rumors I'd heard of a schism of discontent within the group and that Ed Walters had been one that exited and no longer associated with many in the skywatch community. 

I was told such rumors were true, with one prominent skywatcher and his wife telling me that the group had become "...nothing but a little Peyton Place". Indeed, the group had fractured in fairly short order, with allegations of extramarital affairs and boatloads of infighting. The competition among many in the group was also rather fierce. Another skywatcher who'd recorded a lot of UFOs at Shoreline Park (some of which was seen on "SIGHTINGS" and other programs of the time) said that they were out "every night", and "even holidays, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving - we're there"

Such obsession or devotion to attention seems to fuel the phenomena, but also speaks to the highly competitive aspect the paranormal seems to incite. 

So again we see that these groups have a short life, and often de-evolve into warring factions - instead of a collective data gathering effort. It's a mistake to think this is a psychological effect - this assumes that everyone in the group is acting this way in a deliberate and calculated fashion - and this simply doesn't seem to be the case (as evidenced by the repetitive nature of these effects and actions across cases). Asking the cause isn't productive. The question is what happens over and over to people involved in these fields, cases and events.

Competition and personal issues erupt out of these 'flap' events - and the phenomena seems to respond with more displays. When that group finally dissolves and ceases any participation (in this case the viewing of aerial phenomena and gathering visual data) the phenomena subsides as everyone drops back into routine (i.e. not going to Shoreline Park to even look)

Even the man who seemed to have touched off the sightings in the 1980's and penned the book "The Gulf Breeze Sightings" with his wife Frances, Ed Walters - also divorced during the UFO fervor in Gulf Breeze. Although I'm told that the divorce wasn't due to stress of the sightings or the public response, but that it was the result of Ed meeting the woman who would later become his wife. Take that how you will - it seems to reinforce the notion that paranormal involvement isn't good for relationships of any kind. 

From the day Walter's first photos were made public, lines were drawn and accusations flourished. Probably even within the Gulf Breeze community. In fact, you could lat bets on it.

Old advertisement for one of the group's gatherings
Today, according to the local paper the Gulf Breeze skywatch group reformed more or less as "Unlimited Horizons" - a group that delved into a lot of  trappings many would deem highly marginal such as the holistic, spiritual, and metaphysical - in addition to paranormal, UFO, extraterrestrials, and crytozoology. The group held meetings on the second Sunday of every month, and hosted annual Metaphysical Festivals and Spring and Fall Psychic Fairs. In typical fashion, the group descended into a far more marginal state than the UFO skywatch group it began as. 

As I tried to gather more information on the current state of Gulf Breeze - again, the local paper tells me that "A lot of the people you've probably heard of aren't here anymore. Either they've died or they've moved away."

Oddly, Carol Baker who was the lady who cataloged all the sightings and wrote for the Pensacola Beach Islander - I cannot seem to find no matter who I ask or where I look. (If anyone knows how to contact her, please let me know)

It's a shame that investigators didn't study the people and situations involved in the Gulf Breeze sightings just as much as they did the photos and reports of UFOs and 'abductions'. I'm sure going back to the 50's that had those questions been asked of the aforementioned cases - we'd see the hallmarks there as well. I've seen comments on the net about Gulf Breeze having a lot of 'colorful characters' - I would love to be able to document what kind of people have lived there over the decades, their interests and quirks. 

In closing, and in fitting trickster fashion, a late 90's hurricane destroyed the office where Ed Walter's original photos were stored. The original source material of the case, like many of the Gulf Breeze skywatch members are now lost to time. πŸ”»

(This post dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bland Pugh)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Paranormal Toxicity: The Group Dynamic, Part 1

There's little argument that there's a lot of infighting within any paranormal based group. If you've been in a ghost hunting group or a UFO organization, then you've probably watched these groups end not from outside influence, but by implosion from within.

As I became more interested not only in the ghost phenomena (due to activity in my home - a condominium...a liminal home), but ghost groups and noted 'investigator' personalities, I contacted what I saw as one of the more predominant groups in my area, and inquired about joining. I made note of the names on the website of team members, and saw some interesting people I'd like to discuss things with. The facilitator or leader of the group was a kind and seemingly level headed person who was clearly passionate about investigating the phenomena. 

As time went on I got preoccupied with other things and never got to a meeting - and hence never really joined the group. I called that same group leader a month or so later, and inquired about coming to a meeting because I'd like to talk to several of the investigative members and mentioned them by name.

"Well...much of that old group is gone. But I've got some new people."  He seemed rather uneasy speaking about the bulk of his group no longer being involved and I didn't press further.

But in prior discussion the leader had said how the group was "like family" and a really good working team. Just over 30 days later - they were effectively gone. 

I've found that other groups, (I've been mainly involved in UFO study groups), are like revolving doors. Members come and go, and there's little time to really become familiar with anyone other than the group facilitator. If the facilitator goes, so does the group - and I've seen that happen too. 

These groups simply don't last long - because the members begin fierce competition with each other, develop arguments, infighting and back biting, deliberate sabotage of name it. Up to and including extramarital affairs, breakups, and actual fist fights if things get bad enough. People simply begin to act in completely illogical ways - and it's so prevalent and repeated in these fields that it really can't be put down to psychological explanations. 

When you examine MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) hierarchy you'll see that revolving door effect as well. Walt Andrus headed the organization for some 30 years, and since his retirement they've had 5 International Directors none serving more than 5 years since 2000, some only 1 year. People I've known over the years, some involved at high level state director positions and higher have told me in private that the organization is in a constant state of discord and disorganization - not to mention heavy 'drama'. 

MUFON touts it's mission statement on it's website's 'about' page:

"Our Goals...

I. Investigate UFO sightings and collect the data in the MUFON Database for use by researchers worldwide.

II. Promote research on UFOs to discover the true nature of the phenomenon, with an eye towards scientific breakthroughs, and improving life on our planet.

III. Educate the public on the UFO phenomenon and its potential impact on society."

The disturbing part is "with an eye towards scientific breakthroughs, and improving life on our planet." One only need visit the "Symposium 2017" to see how inherently the opposite of scientific MUFON is - speakers include such individuals as Andrew Basiago, who among other things claims to be a time traveler and Mars space explorer. Get your passports ready folks, he's running for POTUS in 2020. 

This is a group that has a page on it's website about scientific discourse. (I challenge anyone to read this without saying "oh you've GOT to be kiddin' me.")

Have a look at the Experiencer Research page - where you'll find the 'director' and many of her associates are big proponents of hypnosis as memory recovery - a 'tool' now widely known to be useless for memory retrieval by psychological professionals but excellent for concocting and hardening false memory among other serious problems.

Don't ask why. It's not a productive question.
You can go on and on with MUFON's issues. Yet this is the organization put forth by the UFO community as the largest and most respectable investigative body. But the facts are that MUFON has not pushed the study forward in any meaningful way. They don't share reports, don't publish academic papers, don't submit cases for independent review - nothing science does. You could argue that it's been detrimental to UFO study being taken seriously - if the largest research group sees fit to have speakers at it's annual symposium who make baseless claims about being time travel and teleportation pioneers. 

I'm trying not to belabor the point here. Its just that it's amazing how marginal (and anti-structural) this organization is. And it's exactly what we ought to expect from an organization such as this. 

Want an interesting comparison? When there's a UFO story in a newspaper, or television report - the viewers or web hits are off the charts. For example the O'Hare UFO story on the Chicago Tribune website boasted well over a million hits in a short amount of time - and well over 400 emails, making it the most popular story of the online media outlet to date. Look further at the Alien Autopsy special ratings for another example. Or the fervor over the Roswell Slides. There certainly seems to be a lot of interested people doesn't there?

By interest comparison, MUFON claims only 3,000 members worldwide - that means 3000 people get the MUFON Journal as members. CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) claims 35,000 subscribers to the Skeptical Inquirer.

This is interesting, but there's more. Look at popular culture - movies dealing with paranormal subjects are pervasive in society, Independence Day, The Fourth Kind, Ouija, Arrival, and so on, garner huge sums of money to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. Again, interest and intrigue with the subject runs high.

Yet looking at MUFON's 2014 tax returns shows it had total expenditures in the $300K range. This is around the budget of your average local church. 

Think about that. This is the most prominent UFO research group in the world, but it operates on a minuscule budget. And that seems magnitudes different from the level of public interest in the subject of UFOs. You don't find this in other fields - for example there are films and TV shows about the medical field, but the budget for real medical science dwarfs the Hollywood budget by trillions. Police and law enforcement oriented TV and films? Again, the real counterpart dwarfs the entertainment budget.

And it's because MUFON is considered marginal (as is the UFO issue). And by it's actions, it's members, and it's leaders, it confirms that marginal title. It has a marginal position in society - and I have a feeling if we looked, we'd see that the CSICOP budget for investigations are bigger than MUFON's - how odd would it be if the budget to refute the UFO is bigger than the one to support it.

It's not just MUFON, but plenty of the parapsychological organizations suffer the same shoestring budgets and lack of funding. Despite being included in some college curricula, parapsychology has not gained wide acceptance in academe, and continues to be considered a marginal study (even after more than 100 years). 

And just like the ghost groups, MUFON groups are revolving door not only in the leadership - but even more so at the local level. Remember that while MUFON as a corporate entity has lasted for decades - it does not conduct investigations - the members do that in their respective states. So the overriding MUFON entity has lasted - but the part that deals with direct investigation of the phenomena has not, and remains a constantly changing group. Many times with a roster that I'd hedge a bet doesn't remain stable for more than a year in any given location. Again, we see that the paranormal is not good for relationships of any kind - small groups are especially at risk.

Let me be clear: none of this is a dig at MUFON. The organization is an attempt at serious research - but it's a failing attempt because of the phenomena (and it's effects) that it is trying to study. 

The more accomplished - the higher the fall.
In a book authored around 1930 called The Enchanted BoundaryWalter Prince made note that often people who've attained some measure of success, or respectability in a non-paranormal related field (whether in business, or academics, sciences, etc.) that when they enter the paranormal they seem to gradually lose all critical thought, often taking off the wall approaches that had they made in their former profession - they'd have been laughed out of the room. This effect happens a significant amount of times and to varying degrees. One that comes to mind for me is the late Dr. James Deardorff, a professor and accomplished senior scientist in atmospheric sciences. Deardorff was clearly an educated and brilliant mind.  Yet, upon entering the UFO field he gravitated to the Billy Meier case. A well known, and thoroughly exposed hoax, Deardorff aggressively defended the case, and wrote many pages of support on Meier's fake biblical discovery the "Talmud Jammanuel". James at one point during an online discussion with me laid out his "plausible deniability" theory, in which for example every obviously faked UFO photo or film is potentially real - the aliens just give a way out by making their craft look like it's a model suspended on a string.

I kid you not. Of course one immediately recognizes this as an ultimate defense for his pet case. But had Deardorff ever put forth anything resembling this kind of thinking in his professional life - I'm sure his academic and scientific associates would have backed away in horror. Deardorff is not unique by any means. I would even go so far as to say that the higher educated the person is, the more likely they are to lose their critical faculties within the paranormal fields. Again, this is not a dig at Dr. Deardorff (R.I.P.) - it's just what repeatedly happens, and he is far from the only one it's happened to.

There's no point to getting worked up over these things. The bottom line is this happens time after time, year after year in paranormal field(s). The key is to learn to expect it, and once you do - you can find ways to potentially work around it. This is not always a possibility.

So to recap and give you some things to watch: 

- Groups dealing with the paranormal don't tend to last very long. While the entity of the organization may endure, those doing the hands-on work within the 'field' will tend to fall apart regularly and often spectacularly.

- While the public seem highly interested in media related to paranormal themes, the actual fields of real research into them are considered marginal, and therefore do not attract many members, funding or respectability. These groups often marginalize themselves through association with less than credible individuals and events. These do not seem to be conscious acts.

- Often people who've attained some measure of success, or respectability in a non-paranormal field (whether a business, or academic field, etc.) upon entering the paranormal they seem to gradually lose all critical thought, often taking off the wall approaches that had they made in their former profession - they'd have been laughed out of the room. This seems to go against everything they've been indoctrinated to within their chosen discipline.πŸ”»

(In part 2 we'll look closer at specific instances of these ideas in action - both in the group situation and in the individual.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The UFO: Redecorating with Shotguns for Ridicule and Innuendo

There's plenty of mysteries in human culture, but the term "UFO" is one that conjures up a lot of imagery. From the disc to the triangle, the sphere to morphing globs of sky stuff - there's no shortage of strange things seen in the sky. 

Now I'd be out of my mind to take on everything the UFO phenomena has to offer this particular discussion, from the varied plethora of 'craft' to the cryptic messages given to those who've come in contact with UFO craft occupants (if they are occupants and are indeed craft). Such a morass of topics would have us bogged down for months on end - we'll get to a lot of it in time, but for starters let's take one chunk at a time, and look at the surrounding elements of the UFO event. 

When we say UFO, what exactly do we mean? 

This is problem one: how do we identify the utterly bizarre presence associated with aerial phenomena and perceived 'aliens'? In short, we can't. Despite the often repeated statement, "We just don't have the technology that can do that" by just about every UFO 'researcher', there is one thing I can safely tell you: They don't know that. To suggest that they do is to state unequivocally that every UFO researcher saying those words has intimate knowledge of every secret military project in every country, and every secret civilian or commercial project.

I can assure you, they don't. And neither do you or I. 

And therein lies problem 1: how to identify whatever strange thing seen in the sky as the phenomena itself. This makes it a slippery eel indeed, because there isn't a way to effectively determine that. Although, I have an idea...but that's later on. 

Let's look at how UFOs and the people who report them have been perceived by mainstream society and science over the years.

I'm sure you've all heard the stereotype "only people in trailer parks see UFOs". While untrue as we all know, the genesis of the statement suggests that people who report such things are marginal. Trailer parks are stigmatized as containing a part of the populace that is considered lower class, minimally educated, and that often these individuals are prone to alcohol and drug abuse, Society at large maintain that such people are not to be taken seriously when they report that football sized cigar craft over the trailer. Of course these are stereotypes and don't represent overall reality.

But looking at the notion of trailer parks as an example - these are often homes for people transitioning from one place to another. Or, the homes themselves (trailers or mobile homes) are not a single family home, but nor are they a vehicle. They possess elements of being stationary and mobile. They are, by definition, liminal domiciles.

It's interesting that this is the stereotype's point of reference. The epitome of liminal homes and perceived marginal people. The other lesser stereotype is that the phenomena is reported by people in rural areas - derogatorily called 'hillbillies' - and again carrying the stigma of the under-educated, and alcoholic.

From the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter (an alleged CE-3 event): (from wikipedia)

Part of the original news article

On the evening of August 21, 1955, five adults and seven children arrived at the Hopkinsville police station claiming that small alien creatures from a spaceship were attacking their farmhouse and they had been holding them off with gunfire "for nearly four hours". Two of the adults, Elmer Sutton and Billy Ray Taylor, claimed they had been shooting at "twelve to fifteen" short, dark figures who repeatedly popped up at the doorway or peered into the windows.

It's a pretty hair-raising account if you read it. Sheriff Russell Greenwell made it very clear that everyone was sober and that these folks were genuinely frightened. But were they 'country folk'? Without a doubt. All the parties when interviewed separately told the same story and drew similar representations of the beings. In all the years that went by, the story never changed. The Suttons never profited from their story, never penned a movie deal - but instead paid out money to fix their farmhouse which suffered holes and shotgun blasts inflicted by them as they defended themselves from small beings. 

Nonetheless, we're given this answer from a skeptical investigation:

"...the famous 1955 Kelly incident is easily explained by a meteor and a pair of territorial owls." (from Siege of ‘Little Green Men’: The 1955 Kelly, Kentucky, Incident)

Among gems like this, you'll find countless comments and innuendo that the witnesses were "probably intoxicated", or hoaxing...or...both. Please keep these kind of nonsensical answers and assumed facts in the back of your head because they represent an interesting repetitive effect with regard to the skeptic - that sometimes they posit answers that aren't based upon anything resembling good sense (Something they accuse the witness of lacking). This too figures in to our discussions to come.

Let's be real -  close quarters shotgun blasts rarely miss completely. The men said the guns had no effect, and that there was no chance they missed. The notion of weapons having no effect in these occurrences is now fairly common I think, regardless of what it may mean (that the phenomena is a non-physical manifestation or that advanced culture equals advanced defense systems - or anything in-between). As far as the 'intoxicated' accusations, when I interviewed folklorist and skeptic Dr. David Clarke some years ago he said the best approach to UFO case research is to refer to the original period reports (so let's play by skeptic rules and see below left). 

No drinking involved.
But, the whole thing is reduced to Owls and drunks. This is to me, a perfect example of trickster - the event happens to people who ultimately will not be believed - and we all are offered absurd explanations for the event by authorities, and many will accept those explanations. The case is then relegated to the dust bin by the majority of the public.

Ask yourself this: would people who've lived in rural Kentucky for generations have seen an owl before? How about at night? Would they have feared the owl - even if they were drunk? Would you miss a large bird like an owl with a shotgun blast at close range? No mention of dead owls, or blasted feathers by police - and there were 20+ officers at the scene under Sheriff Greenwell - none of them found anything?

Please. Had this event happened in New York City, or in any major metropolitan area the people would have been considered in a completely different manner. But it happened in rural Kentucky. Would there have been accusations of drunkenness if it were in a major city? Or if the witnesses had been average store owners and patrons?

The contention here is that this is not an accident, or happenstance that the Sutton Family was targeted by something that we might label as part of the phenomena we're interested in. Billy Ray Taylor is the man who originally saw the UFO land near the Sutton home and ran to tell the Suttons who laughed and didn't believe his tale (yet). Of note? Taylor was from Pennsylvania and visiting the Suttons - he was out of his routine environment (the anti-structural component) and I'm sure if we dug into the circumstances and duration of his visit we might find more.

We are to believe that rural Americans had never seen an owl. 
I think what we see here is the hidden and overlooked consistencies yet again - marginal elements of the people involved and their geological location, Anti-structural element of a visitor (Taylor) at the house, and a special gathering going on. Want another? Elmer Sutton and Billy Ray Taylor were traveling carnival workers. Let's double down on the anti-structure and marginality

Cases like this probably started the 'drunken hillybilly' UFO stereotype. This is why it's important to recognize where these stigmas come from, and that they're more or less unique to paranormal events.

What surrounds the paranormal are elements to make it easily dismissed, no matter how unwavering the account. You'll find this not only in the Kelly-Hopkinsville case, but all over the UFO phenomena. This particular case seems to feed heavily into marginal elements, others might figure more on the anti-structure bits. And, all these hallmarks may be far more pronounced than we think - because no one has ever bothered to ask these questions. This is something that really needs to be deployed in modern UFO report forms or questions asked of witnesses. Forget the UFO for a moment and ask about the witness's current life situation, their living situation, job situation etc. I think this will yield interesting returns. 

This is after all, only one example that I think is easy to identify at this stage in our discussion. But there will be more from recent times, and you'll see these elements much more pronounced as time goes on. Think of this instance as 'Trickster Lite'. πŸ”»

(next: Personalities & The Performance Investigator)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Trickster & The Skeptic

Many paranormal 'believers' have real issues with self-professed skeptics. Again, we'll get into skeptics more in-depth in months to come - but it bears mentioning here why skeptics (and their scientific method) possibly may not have the best opportunities to study paranormal phenomena. 

You may have heard about all matter of phenomena occurring in a location until a scientific team shows up, or a skeptic comes to investigate what others are experiencing. Then, suddenly, the paranormal turtle retreats into it's shell. 

Now seeing what we've already covered, can you predict what happens when the paranormal (an inherently anti-structural steeped effect) is put into a controlled context? Or a controlled and organized approach to study? Laying structure over the situation negates the anti-structure that seems to be one of the keys to phenomena - this is why for decades the scientific community has not seriously studied the paranormal - because creating scientific experiments requires organization, order, methodical accuracy and most of all repeatable results to be considered valid and worthy of publication and review. 

If you're looking for that kind of consistency in the paranormal responses at this level, you're in the wrong place.

It doesn't work seemingly, because the surrounding context, and approach isn't conducive to paranormal phenomena. The paranormal responds to disorder, change, non-routine, and other effects we'll address later. The end result is academe finds the paranormal sorely lacking in anything science's rigid and ordered approach can verify. It's been deemed 'fringe' and unworthy of serious consideration. Only in recent years have working (albeit few) scientists began looking into the phenomena with fresh approaches. 

But can the skeptic have a paranormal event? Maybe. In 2014 uber-skeptic Michael Shermer had an event that shook his skeptical mindset "to the core".

Now what I want you to do is read this article. It's not long and is easy to read and follow along. Then come back and let's look at this with a different approach other than dissecting the strange event itself.

Now that you've read it - lets examine the context, and forget the strange event, the effect and it's perceived meaning.

"The event took place on June 25, 2014. On that day I married Jennifer Graf, from KΓΆln, Germany."

A marriage is a ritual of sorts whether or not it happens in a religious context, and that I think we can all agree on. But it's also a very liminal state to be in: one is not yet married, but is also no longer single. It is an extremely transitional period for both parties here.

Jennifer is also from another country, and I think we might be able to surmise that she's recently experienced a full blown move to the US...

"In shipping her belongings to my home before the wedding, most of the boxes were damaged and several precious heirlooms lost..."

This seems to indicate that Jennifer has undergone that liminal period of moving her home from one place to another. But this is more than a normal move - it's a cultural move too -  she's transitioning to a different culture of life in the United States as opposed to Germany.

"Three months later, after affixing the necessary signatures to our marriage license at the Beverly Hills courthouse, we returned home, and in the presence of my family said our vows and exchanged rings. Being 9,000 kilometers from family, friends and home, Jennifer was feeling amiss and lonely."

Jennifer is completely removed from what is familiar to her previous life. The anti-structural nature of this kind of life change (married life from single, and quite a major change in living geographically) cannot be understated. She is for the sake of our discussion, the perfect storm of liminality. 

It is no surprise that the event centered around her.

"She wished her grandfather were there to give her away."

This is a normal way for Jennifer to feel at this particular time. But it also is interesting to note that she (previous to the event) in a way has 'set the stage' for the impossibly strange. 

"She opened the desk drawer and pulled out her grandfather's transistor radio, out of which a romantic love song wafted. We sat in stunned silence for minutes. “My grandfather is here with us,” Jennifer said, tearfully. “I'm not alone.”

The radio that for all purposes was broken and in a state of disrepair, at the moment of marriage - and almost in response to the Bride's request - plays a love song, and it's her Grandfather's transistor.

"My daughter, Devin, who came out of her bedroom just before the ceremony began, added, “I heard the music coming from your room just as you were about to start.” (my emphasis)

I know the written medium is limited, but you should know reader, I have nothing to say here beyond giving you that "look" from over the top of my glasses.

"Later that night we fell asleep to the sound of classical music emanating from Walter's radio. Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since."

Fittingly indeed. The number of odd events here seem to defy coincidence. Are we to believe that such an absurd alignment is given to chance? Or can we not identify that the same circumstances that surround a haunting, UFO sightings, and other paranormal phenomena are also present in this event - related by a professional skeptic?

Michael then gives us this statement...

"Jennifer is as skeptical as I am when it comes to paranormal and supernatural phenomena."

Clearly this flies in the face of his earlier account: “My grandfather is here with us,” Jennifer said, tearfully. “I'm not alone.”  I find the notion that the skeptic desires to relate the experience (and I thank him for having the courage to write and present it) yet soften the edge so that it might still be palatable to his skeptical following very interesting. It shows to me, a need to fall in line with the conventional skeptic ideology of 'nothing to see here' regardless of the experience and how utterly shaken he was by it. As I said, we'll examine the skeptic further in coming months, and I think no matter what side of that argument you're on, you'll find it interesting.

Mr. Shermer closes with this:

"...if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious."

Unwilling to examine the edges, the skeptic ideology fails.
Michael took an enormous amount of heat from the skeptical community for this piece. It's a shame that his fans and followers who felt he'd gone off the rails didn't heed his final statement. I feel confident in saying that were he (or any other public skeptic) ever to have another strange event such as this - they would likely not discuss it for fear of the same reprisal.

And so we see the final bit of the story: the phenomena has presented to a skeptic, who in turn relates it to an audience who will only reject it.  It's a marginal story in that context, presented to a community that will find easy ways to dismiss it. 

The phenomena remains in it's elusive and transient envelope - surrounded by repetitive elements often unnoticed. It's why I believe it's imperative upon us to examine the edges.πŸ”»

(Next: The UFO)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Scene 1, Act 1: Setting the Stage

So we've examined the terms we're using, and now we kick off the sample scenario so you can start to see how these elements take shape in the way of a paranormal event(s),

This is a sample, but it contains hallmarks that you'll no doubt have heard before. Later, we'll examine real accounts, and the people, places and situations that surround the activity.

For now, and for the sake of simplicity let's not focus on what we usually do: the phenomena. We're going to talk about the people within their circumstances who experienced it.

Dan and Jane are newlyweds. Being young with Jane still in her final year of college, they buy a fixer upper home, one built around 1900. Just starting his career full-time, Dan's not making a ton of money. His income is their only monetary source, and so an inexpensive house was the best option. They would, as Jane graduated and started work at the local hospital, earn more and be able to devote her funds to home renovations.

As they move in, they have only a small amount of cash from the home loan to devote to making the place a little more their own. Old houses are usually quite 'chopped up' into small rooms and Dan suggests that they ought to start by knocking out a couple of walls to open up the space. Namely, the non-load bearing wall between what they called the living room and small nondescript room adjacent to it. Jane says she'd like to live in the space for a few months and see how she feels about it. They agree.

While they struggle somewhat financially, life settles into a routine of Dan dropping Jane off at the college when he goes to work - she takes the bus home. Dan arrives home at 6 and Jane usually has dinner ready. It's a peaceful place. Jane likes hanging the laundry outside to dry in the warm sun, and having no neighbors nearby she doesn't worry about her unmentionables being seen by prying neighborhood eyes.

As she cooks a modest dinner one night she tells Dan "This kitchen is ridiculous. It's so cramped, and I can smell the gas from the stove because it's so tight in here. How about we make the kitchen our first thing?" Dan agrees. The weekend comes and Dan goes out to Home Depot for supplies, and enlists his brother Bob for some help.

Now let's keep in mind that Dan and Jane have been married now 6 months, and have had no issues with the house, or each other. Life has been stable, if not slightly stressful due to finances. But nothing they couldn't handle.

Dan and Bob prepare to demo (tear down) the wall between the small room and the kitchen. They've had a contractor friend look over what they want to do and he says it's no issue. The wall isn't load bearing and they shouldn't have any surprises, as these houses are pretty bare bones. He tells Dan only to watch for power and plumbing lines and gives him note on what to look for.

As they tear out the wall Dan gets up on a ladder to get the upper part of the wall removed from the ceiling.

BANG - as he removes the last bit, something comes down from above - a metal post...looks like oil rubbed brass.

"Thats our bed post." Jane says with her arms crossed. "I know it."

"Calm down, lemme look" Dan says as he heads upstairs. Sure enough, it's the leg of the bedframe - and not only that, half the floor is sinking on the kitchen side of the room. Dan immediately realizes he's out of his depth. The contractor confirms, there's wood rot in the floor/ceiling and the couple is in for not only a new floor upstairs, but a new ceiling downstairs.

Way more trouble than they bargained for. Where is the money going to come from for this.

"Now we're out a bedroom and a kitchen. Great." complains Jane. Dan says he can pick up some overtime and it shouldn't be that bad. But it is that bad. The contractor wants $3k for the work and then Dan can start the kitchen. "We can have ya done in a couple weeks" says the contractor.

Dan borrows money from his parents, and works the overtime. Jane, can't cook in the kitchen so they order in. If it's not that, it's Ramen. Take out is costing too much - it's Ramen. This causes Dan to get a little irate - he works hard and is sick of it...quickly. The couple can't sleep in their room for fear of collapsing into the ceiling downstairs. Dan sleeps on the floor and Jane on a futon in the living room. It's uncomfortable. Dan wakes up late 2 times in a week and he's dragging. Like a zombie he gets up in the morning and makes coffee on the small table in the living room. It's makeshift to say the least.

They aren't sleeping well. There's financial pressure. The couple is out of routine, and not eating at their normal time. On top of school, Jane has to figure out what she's doing for dinner without Dan giving her a raft of grief for getting KFC tonight instead of those goddamned microwaved noodles.

Jane wakes up one night thirsty. She walks towards the remnants of her kitchen for a drink of water, when she

A woman. There's a woman in the kitchen. She's stirring something...where the stove used to be. As she leans over for a sniff of the not visible food, or kettle, she looks up at Jane - and promptly vanishes.

Jane is frozen with fear.

"What the f--??!!" is all she manages to mumble from her numb lips and fear constricted throat. She bolts to Dan's side.

As the two discuss the event, Dan says "You always hear about all those people who buy old houses and when they renovate them, the ghosts don't like it and start up."

"Jesus Dan - don't tell me that" Jane says with wide eyes. In coming days Dan would also see phenomena, small lights that floated in the upstairs hallway, and noises that sounded like voices were heard - usually around 3am.

This sparks an inordinate amount of fear in them both. Life has become more than either can handle. The contractor gets done his work, and Dan plows through the kitchen renovation. He works all night some days. In those couple of weeks, Dan becomes resentful of Jane's original request to do the kitchen - this all wouldn't have happened if Jane hadn't asked for this. "Now we've got ghosts...and I don't even believe in such stuff" he thought.

The couple fight. It gets bad. Fear, the money, the sleep disruption. It all contributes to a chaotic life. Dan considers telling Jane maybe they rushed into marriage. Some days he considers just leaving.

But they stick it out. The renovation finished, Jane cooks her first meal in the new kitchen. She realizes it's been a week since she saw or heard anything ghostly in the house. Life moves into a nice routine again. The couple like the new floor upstairs. The house is silent.

It was all worth it.


Now this is a general story laid out with a simple progression: normal life is disrupted by chaos. Financial woes, living quarters in shambles, loss of routine, and stress. So you're probably recognizing the anti-structure and liminal sates, right? 

The kitchen is in a liminal state: between being what it once was and what it will be when complete.

The couple by virtue of the liminal state of the kitchen, experiences anti-structure. Not sleeping the same hours or in the same space, not eating at regular times, 

There's the change in routine schedules, and the notion of someone being in the house (contractor and his workers) who aren't normally there. 

It doesn't have to always be the case, but one thing you might have missed? The couple themselves are in the liminal state - transitioning from living apart in their own respective homes, to living together in a totally new one. Their own personal routines change because they now live together. They may be experiencing new routines, or dealing with emotional issues with that transition.

As mentioned in the story, the couple begins to split emotionally. After the paranormal rears it's head the couple is steeped in the anti-structure and liminal states, and more often than not that's just not a good spot for relationships of any kind. 

You may note that ghost hunting groups and UFO study groups never seem to last all that long. They fall apart and split after only a short time together. Many are in a constant state of flux - and these groups curiously enough seem to experience more success at ghost investigations. We'll get more into what might help these groups to stick together later - but here's a teaser for that: there's a reason that a meal often follows after a funeral, or ritual of some kind.

It's the proverbial broken record - one need only listen.
So if you think that the above sample scenario is a unique sample I've made up - it isn't. It happens all the time if you truly look. I was telling someone last Friday that "All you need do is watch some of these paranormal account programs on TV - they all have these hallmarks of anti-structure or liminal states in them." This weekend, I was browsing through programs and saw this: (see right)

This is all over the paranormal account(s). From UFO sightings to alien visitation and hauntings. 

So, you'll hear many paranormal mavens say that "the renovation stirs up the spirits because they don't like their environment being altered from what they remember." One thing you'll find in the paranormal across the board is that people claim too much information. To make such an inference is blind speculation at best, and absurdity at it's worst - actually's just absurdity. To say such a thing is to portend the mind of a spirit, or ghost...and not even know what that title really means. Is the 'ghost' Jane saw a self-aware spirit of the dead - or something else? (and the possibilities are endless.) Yet, you hear this sort of unfounded notion trotted out time and again, "they've upset the spirits". We don't even know what the 'spirit' really is yet. Therefore attributing anything of meaning is nothing short of wish fulfillment and myth building. There's no substance to that.

It's too early for theory, really. We need to establish what surrounds the paranormal event - because the event itself while important, doesn't reveal enough about itself to arrive at productive questions, or generate useful hypotheses.

If you think the story resolves too quickly? Don't. Because paranormal phenomena can vanish as unexpectedly as it appears - often quickly. We can surmise that the phenomena ended because life in the house became routine again (structure), renovations concluded, and the liminal state was over. 

Stop asking why. I know it's the question we need answered. But no one is there yet. More information must be gathered, and so then experiments can be proposed knowing the nature of what the phenomena operates within.

NOTE: The above illustrates one layer of the paranormal experience, and it's 'envelope'. It's by no means the whole ball of wax, but it's a good starting sample. You'll begin to see these things in ghost programs you might watch.πŸ”»

Next: a real life scenario, from a surprising source.