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.🔻




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. 🔻

(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 projects...you 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.🔻

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