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Monday, May 27, 2024

Liber "Weird AL" vel Legis


"Liber Weird AL vel Legis", I thought one day, out of the blue. Mashing up the name of a famous novelty songster and the title of a prominent book of Thelemic magic is typical of the sort of nonsense produced by the colliding synaptic relays in my mind, and sometimes they provide me a private chuckle or a profound insight. Sometimes I am able to turn them into a silly joke to share on Twitter, and sometimes they open the door to deeper meanings. Often, the inspired stupidity of such momentary flights of linguistic fancy falls away and is not shared with anyone. 

For some reason this absurdity came to mind again one morning while I was preparing to go to work. While I considered it, I thought perhaps I could provoke some esoteric truths to show themselves, to stop hiding behind a dumb joke in my head. I had all but decided to shrug it off, let it fall away, when I heard a familiar noise. The sound I heard was nearly identical to the little chittering meows my cat, Lucypurr, makes when she's watching birds in the window- but to my surprise I found that this time the noise was coming from a bird! I had heard of, and seen, catbirds before but never knew why they were so named. Similar to mockingbirds and other feathery mimics, they are able to imitate and reproduce sounds from other animals. With that, the bird flew off and a marble dropped, setting in motion the Rube Goldberg contraption in my brain that produces these Weird Writings...

An aspect of occultism that often goes overlooked, especially among those with no practical experience in it, is how funny it is. This isn't lost at all on the atheists, materialists, and debunkers who see it all as kook science and hocus-pocus, the derisive "woo woo" of bygone eras holding humanity back from a "sane" view of reality. The intention here is not to align with the scoffers, but rather to balance the pop cultural view of grim wizards and dark sorcerers with a touch of humanity. Our modern occult world is populated with the spectres of magicians who came before, each of whom has their own personal mystique and mythology built up around them. There is no better example of this than "the Great Beast" Aleister Crowley, who courted controversy and seemed to enjoy being reviled during his lifetime. Following his death in the 1940s, his exploits have become the stuff of legend, to the point that anyone with only a passing interest in magic and mysticism would recognize the name. For those who are open to the Wyrd, but have no direct experiential knowledge of occult practice, Crowley can become inflated to grandiose proportions as a Master Magus calling down Angels and Demons; to the skeptic, he was simply a loony or a charlatan. Whatever one's personal preference within magic, though, those with any level of practical experience recognize that Crowley was first and foremost a man. He laughed, he joked. He ate food and hung out with friends, and enjoyed climbing mountains. It seems strange to even have to say these things, but it feels necessary- we often forget the mundane humanity of larger-than-life figures, and thus they become more like comic book characters with various storylines and continuities and canons. The static grim Crowley that exists as a peripheral phantom, particularly in the Fortean, conspiracy theory, and UFOlogy worlds persists. The phantom is really a person who is not only misunderstood, but not even engaged with by many on a level that could lead to understanding. That understanding begins with recognizing that he was just a dude.

Pictured: A Dude.

A dude though he was, he was insightful and, as already established, hugely influential. The notoriety or the infamy, depending where you stand, endures as his magical name "Perdurabo" would intimate. The particulars of his life have and will continue to be the subject of debate and speculation by those within and outside of occult practice. In many cases, it is perhaps best to just accept that he was a complicated person- and, when necessary, laugh at him.

Understanding Crowley, even to a minor extent, involves framing him within a larger context of modern occult beliefs and organizations. Virtually all groups use similar terminology and define them differently, so for our purposes here "Occult" will be the broad term for various magical systems. It's worth bearing in mind that "occult" simply means "hidden", and this will be a running theme. In my personal experience as a guy who knows some stuff about things, I've found that when approached with questions about any particular Occult figure by someone outside of any practice there is a tendency towards viewing that figure in isolation. It is extremely difficult to ever have an accurate idea about any specific occultist without squaring them against the time and place in which they lived, who they learned from, and where their ideas went after their physical existence reached an end. Thus we concern ourselves with the currents, threads, traditions, lineages- whatever term we wish to use- that wend themselves through the history of Occult thought. Along the way, we meet colorful and flamboyant characters who each have their own human foibles, biases, and motivations- but they all borrow from, react against, and even make fun of each other.

In this sense, it might be helpful to look at Occult literature as being not dissimilar to novelty music. Much as the rationalist might think of someone like Crowley as being nothing more than a mildly amusing historical nut, with nothing to offer the broader culture beyond that, novelty musicians such as "Weird Al" Yankovic are kicked to the margins of popular music. Although he has undergone something of a cultural reappraisal in recent years, for much of Yankovic's career he was acknowledged with an eye-roll by many fans of "real music". As a fan of his work, one could argue until they were blue in the face about his many talents without budging the opinion of a True Music Guy. Primarily known for his parodies, his albums usually contained at least as many original compositions. Sometimes these were pastiches of known bands or genres without being direct parodies of specific songs. Each album also contained a track made up of direct cover versions of popular tunes reimagined as accordion-driven polka. The humor driving the songs alongside the accordion was always more Mad Magazine than Mel Brooks, and certainly not everyone's comedic cup of tea. To the music snobs of the world, Yankovic may as well have been a children's entertainer like Raffi. Kid's stuff. Not real music.

"Weird Al" in many ways has become synonymous with novelty music, but of course he exists within a tradition of the genre along with folks like Stan Freberg and and Spike Jones. Barrett Hanson, better known as Dr. Demento, has had a long career as a historian and DJ of the niche category, and is responsible for promoting it to a wide audience. Listening to compilations from Dr. Demento of the novelty tunes that came before the 1980s gives one a broader context in which to consider "Weird Al", and also an appreciation for the role humor plays in capturing historical moments or in preserving culturally important works. How many of us are familiar with operas such as The Barber of Seville because of the Bugs Bunny cartoon that featured it? In a similar way, Yankovic has endured as a recording artist consistently longer than most of the "legitimate" musicians he's lampooned- and his catalogue of albums thus becomes a marker of what was popular at the time of each album's release.

Occultism and Novelty Music are not the same thing, but much in the way "Weird Al" exists largely on the fringes of popular music occult practitioners and writers occupy the margins of the broader culture. In both cases, there is a feedback loop between society at large and the periphery, which itself exists within a continuum of the same process. Some recording artists have viewed it as a badge of honor, or a rite of passage to have been parodied by Yankovic; and in the occult world there is a corollary, where magical ideas are reified and amplified in their legitimacy when borrowed or adapted by another magician. Without the broader context, some outside of the Occult might say that techniques or ideas were "stolen" when they see this in action. Likewise, the untrained eye might characterize themes within a current as being misappropriated or poorly adapted, when in fact they are being re-contextualized. Attempting to assess any modern occultist in isolation is like listening to a "Weird Al" parody without knowing the original song; you might still benefit from it, but in some cases the meaning and full value is diminished.

Societal pressures, and often threats, play a role in Occult literature. There is often also an interplay between the arts and magic, sometimes so much so that one is indistinguishable from the other. Occult themes infuse themselves in the art, poetry, and fiction of every era, hidden in plain sight. The weird dance between magical traditions and the societal structures in which they grow is difficult, if not impossible, to sort out without doing a heck of a lot of research. One can spend a lifetime, especially on one's own, seeking out answers- and that is, essentially, what one should expect to do if their pursuit of esoteric truths is genuine. Being well-rounded in investigating the people and ideas involved, it becomes easier to see why traditions formed in the way that they did as well as how intimately they are connected together. At certain points it was necessary to employ coded messages, cyphers, and occult blinds which often only became more ambiguous with the passage of time. Sometimes this is does as a safety precaution, to protect those involved; sometimes as a means of keeping magical knowledge out of the hands of those who would use it for destructive ends. Often enough, secret Occult truths remain secret simply by virtue of the fact that they require so much foundational knowledge that saying it plainly just sounds like absurdity. Occultism is insulated by the fact that many people treat it like a joke.

Magical beliefs are intrinsically tied up in the history of religions, arts, and sciences, but largely are obscured for fear that association with such beliefs discredits the person or product in question. Sir Isaac Newton is remembered for his scientific achievements, less so for his Occult interests- and that's not an oversight. We need our Newtons elevated above the riffraff of our Cagliostros and our Swedenborgs. Humor, when applied to music, can have the same effect. Frank Zappa always had weird and funny lyrics in his song, but when an edited version of his Don't Eat the Yellow Snow got played on Dr. Demento's show, it gained him new fans as well as the reputation of being a comedian more than a rock musician. Zappa, like the study of the Occult, has many facets to him and is really not for everybody. Hated by some, he is nonetheless a sort of cult figure in music history who occupies his own niche- and for the fans who get it, it can feel like being part of a secret fraternity; meeting other fans by happenstance, we know each other through certain arcane references and jokes. Being Occult-oriented is really no different. Evangelical Christians would have you believe it's all Satanic, and pop culture conjures Harry Potter, Doctor Strange, or Gandalf. But the truth is Occultists are largely seekers quietly seeking whether solitarily, with noses in books, or in small groups and online communities. The stigma is silly, but at the same time it seems built in- possibly as more of a feature than a bug. The Occult remains occulted, perhaps, because it works better that way- it requires those who seek to seek earnestly, just as the general weirdness of FZ filters out the kinds of people Zappa fans wouldn't want to hang with.

Zappa's lyrics were often derived from inside jokes between him and whoever was in the band at the time, which would develop organically in the tour bus. Occult symbols operate much like inside jokes, and it's helpful to consider that some authors of Occult texts may have been more playful than we give them credit for. 

Consider the 17th century novel Comte de Gabalis. The anonymous author, later revealed to be an abbott named Nicolas-Pierre-Henri de Montfoucan de Villars, recounts his meeting with the mysterious Count of Cabala. This meeting, or series of meetings, provides a setting in which the Count is able to explain the Occult secrets of the universe, promising to reveal all. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't.) Mostly he tries to convince the Abbé to marry an elemental. This text is largely considered to have been a satire of Occultism, a parody of esoteric texts of the time. It inspired poets and writers like Charles Baudelaire and Alexander Pope. Eliphas Levi and Madame Blavatsky, as well as Manly Palmer Hall "took it seriously", we are told; but isn't it just as possible that they were "in on the joke" and found value in it, regardless? On the other side of it, Pope seemed to consider the work to be a true understanding of ethereal spirits. Crowley recommends it in his Magick: In Theory and Practice, even "despite its mocking tone". The Sylphs (air elementals) mentioned in the book and borrowed by Pope in his The Rape of the Lock also get taken as historical fact by Desmond Leslie in his flying saucer writings in the 1950s. Whitley Strieber alludes to them as well in Communion. But the Sylphs, Undines, Salamanders, and Gnomes referenced within its pages are borrowed from the writings of Paracelsus, and are fairly faithful to them. Blavatsky, Levi, and Hall would all have recognized this, but the genre of satire being applied makes them seem foolish.

Anyone intending to learn magic, to seek esoteric truths and practice them must ever be careful about assumptions and taking assessments at face value. Follow footnotes, check bibliographies, and read, read, read. 

It is difficult to say at this late hour whether I have relayed anything of value to you today. Perhaps Liber "Weird AL" vel Legis" should have dropped out of my head, and that gray catbird has played me for a fool by convincing me otherwise. That really is the whole point though; society at large, now and throughout history, has treated Occultists as foolish, delusional weirdos at best and conniving mountebanks at worst. Religious extremists have seen them as devils among us, and poets as fodder for parable and verse. For my part, I have long ago accepted that I am a very silly person. My general goofiness provides a barrier, much like the unorthodox nature of Zappa's music, or the denseness of Blavatsky's writing, or more directly like the corniness of one of Yankovic's jokes- so that the right people receive the signals I put out there. That number seems to be shrinking, these days- so for anyone who read this far, thank you! I will reward you with a goofy thread of Occult and Humor quotes:

"I've wrenched DOG backwards to find GOD; now GOD barks!"
-Aleister Crowley, The Book of Lies

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
-Ascended Master Groucho Marx

"Oh, a wise guy! Woof! Woof! Woof!"
-Jerome 'Curly' Howard 





Sunday, April 28, 2024

Bad Movies For Bad People Vol. II


At the time of this writing, it has been two years since the death of my best friend Jeff Siegrist, aka the Marquis de Suave. A few months after his passing, I paid tribute to him in the form of a blog post to which this will act as a sequel. I had meant to follow that post up sooner, and revisiting it now it seems that it's well-past time to do just that. 

Without further ado:

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952, William Beaudine)

I remember Jeff being very excited to receive this one on bluray, and even more excited to show it to me when I dropped by one night. As the title indicates, Bela Lugosi is front and center as the diabolical Dr. Zabor- a mad scientist hiding himself away on a remote jungle island so he can perform experiments in turning men into apes. Crashing into his secluded island world, otherwise populated with depictions of natives very indicative of when the film was made, are Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell- the poor man's Martin and Lewis. Hilarity of sorts ensues, and the whole movie plays like an alternate dimension knock-off of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or perhaps, more appropriately, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. Petrillo is uncanny in his Lewis-esque persona, and at times it's easy to forget you're not actually watching a young Jerry Lewis. He had built his brief career off of the impersonation, originally working with Jerry but eventually drawing his ire for stealing the act. He faded into obscurity and, as Jeff told me with a chuckle, ended up doing a send-up porno called Keyholes Are for Peeping in 1972- playing the part of a peeping tom. ...Broklyn Gorilla was meant to be the first in a series of movies featuring Mitchell and Petrillo, but it also turned out to be the last.

I have rewatched this movie several times, and consider it the very best of the films where Lugosi plays opposite a man in an ape suit- of which there are a surprising amount.

The Holy Mountain (1973, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

In the first "volume", I mentioned Jodorowsky along with David Lynch and Kenneth Anger in the final paragraph as being Jeff's favorite directors. While on any given day he might have given a different answer when asked about his favorite movie, I know with a fair degree of certainty that The Holy Mountain would have been close. I had hesitated to include some of these movies, favoring the more obscure and silly ones, because I am not nearly the cinematic analyst he and other cinephiles present themselves as. Simply put, I don't always feel equipped to speak to the more epic cult movies, and in attempting it grew an even greater appreciation for Jeff's reviews. Writing about movies is more difficult than it seems!

I also had the concern that the title "Bad Movies For Bad People" would be interpreted as a sleight to movies like this- although I think it's clear at this point that genuine appreciation for the movies is the order of the day, and that the title is just a play on the title of a Cramps album. Incidentally Jeff hosted a college radio show called "Bad Music for Bad People". 

With that hedging out of the way, The Holy Mountain is not an easy film to watch. It's long, and there are a lot of mystical overtones and characters to keep track of, mixed in with imagery ranging from the absurd and comedic to the off-putting and disturbing. In Jeff's own words "...only in the psychedelic era could such a surrealistic vision be produced with a high budget. Nothing else in cinematic surrealism has pushed as many boundaries as this masterpiece." The budget was largely due to Allen Klein, who had managed the Beatles. Jodorowsky plays the guru character, the Alchemist, which Jeff saw as equal parts pretentious and self-reflective in an ingenious way. 

If you haven't seen it, set aside the time and do nothing but watch it. Don't fiddle with your phone. It's a movie that demands your attention and rewards you for it.

It's a Bird! (1930) and: There It Is (1928), Charlie Bowers and Harold Muller

This double-dose of obscure "two-reelers" from the days of early sound pictures is really something special, and the kind of thing you only become privy to by friendship with a real film geek. Bowers and Muller worked on a string of films together, only some of which survive. Bowers starred in them as well; an interesting character, he claimed to have been kidnapped by circus people as a child and grew up learning how to perform on tightropes and other such carnivalesque arts. In addition to his onscreen performance, writing, and directing, he was also an animator- and found novel ways of combining live action with his animations. The effect has a level of uncanniness to it that can only adequately be described as surreal; as goofy as these films are, which were intended as comedy, they feel something like a fever dream when you watch them.

In There It Is Bowers plays a detective from Scotland Yard sent to investigate a haunting of sorts in New York. In his attempt to investigate the "Fuzz-Faced Phantom", he brings along an assistant called MacGregor, pictured above. It's not really clear what MacGregor is, but he's tiny, animated, and really weird looking. The story plays out like a lot of the old haunted house / mystery films of the era that came prior, beginning with Georges Melies' La Manoir du Diable (1896), in which the setting is a launchpad for impressive visual effects. It's a Bird! is probably a little less extravagant in that regard, but is impressive enough to feel like a film that should not have existed in 1930. The effects seem too good to be true, yet weirdly crude from our modern standpoint. This short film is really about a guy biting off more that he can chew after capturing a bird who eats metal. The plot is thin, but the short film delivers in weirdness what it lacks in story.

Both short films can be found on YouTube for your enjoyment.

Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey)

Carnival of Souls is an example of an amateur director trying his darnedest to make a good film on a small budget for the love of doing it, and Jeff argued he achieved more in that respect than many such filmmakers. Contrasted against other examples like Manos: Hands of Fate, it's a masterpiece. It has a cult following, and I've always loved it as something that achieves a type of spookiness in spite of its reputation as a "bad movie". Jeff would go further, and say that Harvey's ambitious drive to emulate Jean Cocteau and Ingmar Bergman as a guerilla filmmaker actually worked pretty well. He saw the movie as a dreamlike, eerie depiction of alienation in its purest sense. More than a ghost story, or the spooky tale I always loved it as, Jeff saw deeper meaning in it- and held high regard for it. Herk Harvey appears in the movie as a mysterious, ghoulish phantom who menaces the main character- a young woman who moves to a new town after a car accident. Looking at some of these weird movies the way Jeff did, one can find ways to appreciate aspects of them that perhaps the director or cast never intended. Secret meanings are to be found all the way from the trash strata to the divine, and Carnival falls somewhere in-between- floating like a car being dragged out of a river.

Kiss Me Quick! (1964, Peter Perry Jr

I had considered doing a whole volume of "NSFW" Bad Movies for one of these posts, as Jeff considered himself an aficionado of sleaze cinema and of pornography. His love of outsider art extended to the most puerile movies, and he would quite literally watch pornos for the plot sometimes. He was unabashed in his interests there and even described himself at times as a pervert.

The thing is that he would, as previously mentioned, cater his choice of movies to whichever friend was dropping by- and in my case, that usually meant something really off the wall but less on the pornographic side. I'll admit to being a bit of a prude, and in light of that and the limited amount of those flicks I actually took in with Jeff, this movie will have to suffice... for now.

Kiss Me Quick! is a truly bizarre movie in the very odd genre of "nudie-cutie" flicks. Being the prude that I am, this minimal exposure to the genre made me appreciate the appeal. Being mostly a send-up of science fiction and horror motifs, blended in the most incongruent ways as a means to showcase scantily clad women, it boggles the mind in its choices. More than anything, it's weird how well it works.

My understanding was it was supposed to be a nudie film parody of Dr. Stranglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but for some reason they weren't able to do that. The only remnant of the idea is in the mad scientist's name, "Dr. Breedlove". Breedlove is visited upon by a dopey alien named Sterilox, from the "Buttless Galaxy", where his race has evolved past the need for sex (I think) but needs to reintroduce the idea with some female specimens. Dr. Breedlove is a Dr. Frankenstein of sorts, who creates sexy robot ladies in his lab, and proceeds to showcase them to Sterilox. All of this is goofy as hell, and if you're in it just for the nudity is just filler, but the details are so damned odd they demand explanation.

Breedlove looks vaguely like Strangelove at a glance, but his voice is that of a cartoon version of Lugosi's Dracula. His sunglasses and prosthetic seeming nose evoke Claude Rains' Invisible Man, and all the while he's supposed to be a mad doctor. Sterilox is like the bastard child of TV's Frank from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Stan Laurel- he's inexplicably doing a pretty dead-on impression of Stan the entire time he's shopping for robo-ladies. Breedlove gets increasingly frustrated as Sterilox proves to be a picky customer, booming out terrible lines in a mock Transylvanian accent while his face remains static and unchanging. Every cut to a nearly naked woman the mind is still cycling through questions such as "Why? Why Stan Laurel? Why this combination? Why am I enjoying this movie?" Invariably such thoughts might lead one to an existential crisis, but thankfully the movie isn't terribly long and throws in just enough B-Movie madness to keep you entertained. It should get tiresome, or annoying, but instead inspires a consistent supply of chuckles if for no other reason than the overabundance of absurdity in it.  

The Music Box (1930, James Parrott)

Since I referred to Stan Laurel in the previous movie write-up, it only makes sense to end with a Laurel and Hardy movie. I loved Stan and Ollie as a kid, and really hadn't gone out of my way to watch them in adulthood until Jeff collected the movies. I think he and I agreed that The Music Box contained the most laughs per frame. We watched it together a bunch of times, along with some of the other short films by the classic duo, and had an inside joke that Stan was just stoned all of the time. As such, "getting laureled" became a code word for certain illicit activities which these days are legal in some states. In addition, he would always say "We need more productivity around here! Less Stan Laurel, more Oliver Hardy!"

In actuality, in their offscreen lives Stanley was the driving force. He would write the scripts, come up with the gags, and plan most of what was to happen. Their affection for each other and commitment to their working relationship comes through in the old pictures, and it's incredibly sweet to see. There were many great comedy teams throughout the history of film, but there's a quality to Stan and Ollie that is as unique to them as it is hard to define. They're inseparable pals, and after Ollie's death Stan refused every offer to partner with anyone else- and the movies they made together remain immortal.

The Music Box is the best example of the short film version of a Stan Laurel story. Their feature length movies are good, but the short film (whether silent or sound) was where they really shined- unencumbered by any complicated plot, they would fill 16-30 minutes with the most wonderful pratfalls, camera-mugging, and slapstick anyone ever performed. The plot in question here is simple: Stan and Ollie have been hired to deliver a player piano to a house. All that stands between them and their destination is an incredibly tall flight of cement stairs on a hillside. Most of the movie revolves around the Sisyphean effort to move the heavy item from the street to the top of the stairs, and the rest with getting it inside the house. One of the only other characters in the film acts as a foil to the boys, Professor Theodore von Shwartzenhoffen, M. D., A.D., D. D. S., F. L. D., F. F. F. and F. He's played by Billy Gilbert, who Stooges fans will recognize as the crazy guy in the classic short Men in Black.

I often felt as a kid that I was alone in my appreciation for classic comedy. In the 80s the average school kid might be familiar with the Three Stooges, but less so with the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, or the Little Rascals. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were just names to other kids, and Laurel and Hardy were largely unknown because they were just old black and white movies. The grown-ups knew them, but no one my age. I only mention this as a way to say: if you're younger and have never bothered with some of the old comedy stuff, give The Music Box a watch. It might be old, perhaps a little corny, but it contains timeless qualities about it that lead me to believe it will never be completely forgotten. Let's have some productivity, shall we?

That should do it for this Volume of Bad Movies For Bad People. I hope the reader enjoyed exploring some of the mind-bending and great cinema Jeff felt the need to show me, and do hope you check out any of these selections. Until next time, stay weird, keep it sleazy (within reason) and try to avoid getting mixed up in fine messes.


Saturday, April 6, 2024

That Literary Spirit and the Ghosts Between the Lines

"Sing in me, O Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending..."

The opening line to The Odyssey makes it very clear that Homer is not the author, and perhaps implies that no mortal is capable of spontaneous creation. Homer is acting as a medium, through which the goddess of poetry can amplify the memory and myth of Odysseus to his audience and then continue on, down through the ages. In order to make sense of the world, humanity has always needed stories, it seems. The craft of telling stories, through poetry, song, or prose then is something of a magical affair. We divine the quintessence of our mundane lives and the systems that sustain them through the words and tales of others; it is the job of the writer to act as the intermediary between the mortal realm and the otherwordly.

The earliest known writings attributed to an author are hymns to the goddess Inanna, written by Enheduanna, daughter of the emperor Sargon of Akkad. Sargon ruled over the Sumerian city-states in the 23rd century B.C.E., and Enheduanna was a high priestess of the moon goddess at Ur. There is debate about the extant writings, and whether they can rightfully be attributed to the ancient priestess, but be that as it may there is considerable evidence that the earliest works of what we now call literature were in service of a divine purpose. Propitiation to the gods, giving meaning and direction to the common person using the spoken and written word allowed for an evolution of sorts in the human psyche. If, as some scholars claim, the hymns were written down centuries after Enheduanna died and recorded in her name to preserve the lineage of Sargon, the point is still very interesting- in a sense, Enheduanna herself has become elevated to a plane of existence above our own. Achieving immortality, like the gods she worshipped, she becomes our earliest example of an author from the Other-Where.

As virtually any writer can attest, the act of putting words on a page can at times be magical and invigorating. Each word spills out quickly and without effort, with brief breaks for congratulation to one's self for their own brilliance. Other times the blank page becomes an impassable void, an abyss that defies traversal. Demons at the threshold, in the form of a blinking cursor perhaps, mock and dishearten the writer. "Go back", they say. "No one wants to read your writing anyway." A writer must summon the fortitude to continue on in spite of it, and it can certainly feel miraculous when the words begin to drown out the diabolical chatter.

It's little wonder then that modern writers would seek methods by which a Muse might sing through them. The confluence of the Occult and supernatural with the arts is such a broad topic that it would seem there's no end to the examples which could be brought forth. Even just in literature, or modern literature, the history is rife with the ectoplasmic residue of spooks on every page. For our purposes today, then, a brief sampling of the ghosts hidden in the margins of well-known writers is in order.

The Ouija Board is an ever-controversial object in our popular conceptions of the supernatural. Often used as a plot device in horror films, and hotly debated in various sectors of paranormal investigation, it has also been used to conjure poetry and stories. More than simply a plot device, it has been a device for developing plots itself. Whether one believes that the board has the potential to connect the living with the dead, or whether it is simply the ideomotor effect causing the participants to subconsciously spell out words is irrelevant. In particular, where poetry is concerned, the act of writing could be characterized as summoning the difficult emotional thought from the subconscious, and translating it to verse. However one defines the Muse does little to negate its existence.

Sylvia Plath famously used an Ouija Board to contact an entity calling itself "Pan" to aid in her poetry writing. She was introduced to the board through her then husband, Ted Hughes, who was much more interested in the Occult than she was. The story of their marriage is a tragic and rocky one, mired in controversy and myth-making, culminating in their separation and eventually Plath's suicide. The séance sessions occurred during a happier time for them both, and Hughes was quoted as saying that she possessed a natural psychic talent "strong enough to make her frequently wish to be rid of them." His influence in bringing Occult devices and concepts to Plath were in service of increasing the volume of the well she drew from in her writing. A talented and prolific poet, Plath seemed to find new boundaries to push throughout her life. Whereas Hughes, even in early works such as The Thought-Fox, was naturally inclined to a mystical bent and describing the poem as a creature slipping in from the darkness of the natural world, Plath had to learn to eschew her pragmatism. She described the sessions as "more fun than a movie", and in her poem Ouija captures the mood of a "god of shades" communicating his own form of verse to her. Where life is filled with turmoil, joys and struggles jockeying for attention, poetry is perhaps a meeting-ground between realms.

At around the same, poet James Merrill, along with his partner, artist David Jackson, began a series of Ouija Board sessions which over the course of decades inspired a trilogy of books.  Originally winning acclaim for more traditional and formal poetry, his 1959 poem Voices From the Other World was an early example of where his work was to go. The poem was the first to include material channeled through the board, and after decades of such sessions he released The Changing Light at Sandover, a 560 page epic including previously published works. In it, voices such as those of poet W. H. Auden and friends of Merrill's such as Maya Deren are conjured. Channeled messages contain warnings about contacting the dead, and some in Merrill's social circle worried about his obsession with the Occult device.

Poetry seems adaptable to channeled messages from an Ouija Board, but what about a novella? In 1919, two children named Virginia and Robert Wauchope accomplished it when they wrote The Invisible Inzi of Oz. L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz and its sequels, had passed away earlier that year. While it's unclear that the children, aged between 9 and 14 at the time, actually channeled Baum or were just clever enough to write convincingly in his style, the story was sufficiently Oz-like that Baum's widow deemed it part of the canon. It was originally published in 1925 in a series of sections in A Child's Garden, and later in 1980 in the Oz fan magazine The Baum Bugle. It should be noted as well that Baum and his wife Maud were members of the Theosophical Society, and some have read Theosophical meanings into the Oz stories. Baum seemed to think the idea for the book came fully formed, as though divinely inspired- that he was merely the most convenient instrument for "The Great Author" to use in getting the story down.

The idea of authors being channeled to continue their work, or in some cases, to complete unfinished works, is an old one. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle collects a few such examples in his book The Edge of the Unknown. While primarily remembered as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and the author of the mystery stories featuring him, Doyle was also very interested in Spiritualism and psychical phenomenon. He was a proponent for the existence of Fairies, and famously promoted the Cottingley Fairies as proof. Where Holmes is depicted as being shrewd and brilliant, sussing out the truth with limited information, Doyle is seen by many today as a gullible old daydreamer by the end. In writing about alleged channeling of famous writers, he considers himself as an author to be uniquely equipped to determine the legitimacy of the written results. He felt that the charm, or the spirit of the author would come through in a diminished form- his conception of the afterlife led him to believe that any effort to write from beyond would be hampered by the trauma of death and the adjustment to another form of existence. After all, writing is hard enough in the material realm! Further to that point, Doyle thinks of gross imitation of style as parody, which itself is a talent he contends not many mediums have.

A particularly novel channeled author he looks at is none other than Oscar Wilde. Remembered for works during his lifetime such as The Importance of Being Earnest and  The Picture of Dorian Gray, there are some spooky connections as well. His mother, Lady Jane Wilde, wrote extensively about fairies and folklore from Ireland after the passing of her husband, Sir William Wilde, who had collected manuscripts on the subject. She wrote under the pen name Speranza, and was also an activist for women's rights. When she was on her deathbed, Oscar was in Reading Gaol and not allowed to visit her. She is said to have made the visit in spectral form at the moment of death.

Oscar Wilde's own return to the land of the living from the great beyond came by way of a medium named Hester Dowden, aka Hester Travers Smith. She worked with a man named Soal, who transcribed her messages. These came both in the form of automatic writing and through an Ouija Board, and in the flowery prose Doyle was convinced that none other than Wilde could have composed them. As one might expect, Wilde didn't lose his wit and humor in the afterlife, at one point saying "Being dead is the most boring experience in life. That is, if one excepts being married, or dining with a school-master." He also takes shots at W. B. Yeats, who, it should be mentioned, inspired the aforementioned Hughes, Plath, and Merrill with his mystic poems derived from automatism. "I knew Yeats well- a fantastical mind but so full of inflated joy in himself that his little cruse of poetry was erupted only with infinite pains over the span of many years." One wonders if Yeats has ever come through in a séance session to add to his terrestrial portfolio, or to give comment about Wilde. Doyle is convinced in his assessment of the legitimacy of the channeled Wilde work, considering it to be just as good as anything Wilde wrote in life. To his mind, if it were an imitation, it was a superb one- while Wilde himself might have said "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness". 

All of literature and poetry is imitation or channeling in a sense. Doyle himself, through his enduring character Sherlock Holmes, continues to spawn imitators to this day while the character seems to never go out of style. Yeats is hailed as one of the most influential poets of all time, and even if his methods aren't used as in the case of Plath and the others previously mentioned, the spirit of his writing is. Authors and the personalities that emerge from their works bound along, like the sprites Lady Wilde wrote about and Sir Doyle believed in, through the pages of novels and collections of poetry from Enheduanna all the way to the present day. This brings us to our final example, for now- that of Charles Dickens and his unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

In 1873 Thomas Power James, a printer living in Brattleboro, Vermont, claimed to have channeled the recently deceased Dickens and finished the story of Edwin Drood. Other attempts had been made to finish the tale, which had been published incompletely when Dickens died in 1870. Critics hated it, and Conan Doyle, while more sympathetic and thinking it had elements of the purported ghostly author's style, found the plot and resolution wanting. He wrote in his review of it that "it reads like Dickens gone flat". Fortunately for Doyle, he had the chance to talk to Dickens personally in a séance conducted by Florizel von Reuter. He was convinced von Reuter wasn't familiar enough with the work of Dickens to have faked her way through a conversation concerning the unfinished story. From the other side of the veil, Dickens himself disavowed any involvement in James' version of his story. When asked about particular plot points, Dickens returned with a perplexing quote: "What about the fourth dimension? I prefer to write it all out through you." Shortly thereafter, he gives a few hints about where the story should have headed- which one assumes implies that he wished for Sir Arthur to finish the story.

While the mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood may forever be unsolved, ghostly hints notwithstanding, there is another strange bit of Dickens lore that is worth considering. On June 9, 1865, he was traveling by train with his friend Ellen Ternan and her mother when suddenly it derailed. A section of the rail was missing  on a viaduct in Staplehurst, Kent, and the train had no time to slow down to avoid it. The man stationed to flag down the train was too close to the viaduct, costing the engineer precious space to brake. The rail crash killed ten people and injured forty; Dickens was fortunate to be among those with minor injuries and helped others escape. Some died in his presence. The following year, he published a ghost story called The Signal-Man, a first-person tale about a man working at the signal box in a train tunnel who is visited upon by a spectre who acts as a harbinger of disaster on the rails. The setting, a train tunnel, may have been inspired by The Clayton Tunnel collision of two trains a few years prior, but one can't help but imagine his own experiences played into the narrative. In the story, the titular Signal-Man has a premonition of his own death- and Dickens died, with unfinished business, on June 9, 1870- five years to the day after surviving the Staplehurst crash. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Attack of the Mummies! Assorted Mummy Weirdness and a New-ish Short Story

 Friends and assorted weirdos, I'm happy to share that my short story Otherworldly Rewards is now available for your reading pleasure at a pay-what-you-wanna price. Originally published in HighStrange Magazine last year, I've made it available for your eyeballs in a downloadable format- a story about greed, dirty dealing, and the results of such actions involving murder, mystery, and of course, mummies!

Mummies have been a long running theme between at least myself and my Holy Donut Revival Hour co-host and bestie SJ. It probably began with pestering John E. L. Tenney about fighting mummies, which culminated in a short story we collaborated on for his birthday one year. Over time, I've found plenty of extra weird mummy-related things, some of them falling under the umbrella of the paranormal and others just plain strange. Otherworldly Rewards, for instance, was inspired by the use of mummified remains in the production of paint- a practice with a relatively brief and murky history. For the record, and as should be evident in the story itself, I have a great respect for the sanctity of human remains and a belief in honoring the lives of the very real people who inhabited those bodies- but such obviously wasn't always the prevailing belief, and in some cases, still isn't.

As evidenced by the exploits of Mexican UFOlogist Jaime Maussan in recent years, mummified remains of nebulous origin are still being showcased publicly as evidence of alien lifeforms. While the carnival barker-esque hucksterism of such exploitation is perhaps rightfully mocked and derided online, it's easy to lose sight of what very may well constitute abuses of sacred or significant cultural artifacts. Ethical scrutiny should be applied whenever one delves into the "ancient astronaut" type of speculation, and the history of UFOlogy is rife with examples of a disregard for such thought.

A particularly wacky, and likely less problematic example of the old "Alien Mummy" trope is that of Ralph Lael's, which he exhibited in his Outer Space Rock Shop Museum near Brown Mountain, in North Carolina. According to Lael, he was directed to take the mummified creature as proof of alien life by sentient "ghost lights" in a Brown Mountain cave... after a quick trip to Venus and a sexy encounter with a Venusian lady named Noma. Even the Venusians didn't really know precisely what kind of extraterrestrial remains had been mummified in the cave, but Lael showcased it in his shop until his death when the place was demolished. The current whereabouts of the mummy are unknown.

While unidentifiable "ET" mummy remains vary from the wacky to the offensive, they are only part of the equation in UFO / mummy related weirdness. After all, horror movies have led us to believe that mummies can be reanimated, a theme which, as I alluded to in my post about the Universal Movie Monsters last Halloween, has no real basis in Egyptian mythology. Be that as it may, there have been humanoid sightings related to UFOs which feature mummy-like entities, interactive and mobile.

One such case was recorded by APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization) investigator Richard Greenwell. The witness, only identified as "C.A.V.", reported being abducted in Peru by flying saucer occupants in 1949, which he described as nude and mummy-like. One supposes he meant that the beings had the appearance of unwrapped mummies, as his description more closely matches that of the gray alien which would become more prevalent decades later. He also noted that the beings had claw-like hands, with the top four fingers stuck together and a protruding thumb, and that they seemed to either only have one leg or that both legs were bound together. These particulars draw a comparison to the entities reported in the Pascagoula abduction case, although I never considered them to sound very mummy-like. A similarly "unwrapped" mummy alien encounter is recorded reportedly happened as recently as 1988 in Denmark, with much smaller humanoids invoking the description alongside a public road.

For the fully wrapped and animated UFOnaut Mummy experience, I take you now to November of 1973 in Goffstown, New Hampshire- the home of one Mrs. Florence Dow. At around 8:30 that night, her attention was directed to the front of her house where the sound of a loud thump had emanated. When she looked outside in an attempt to discover the sources of the thud, she came face to face with a weird entity that was peering inside. This alien mummy must have had the same tailor as the Men in Black, because he wore a black suit and wide brimmed black hat- and, notably, its face was wrapped in white fabric as a mummy's would be!

The being motioned for her to come outside, which she wisely did not; but when she chained the door and opened it enough to look out where the Mummy in Black had been, it was gone. This was the initial event that kicked off a flap of sightings in the Goffstown area, investigated by Raymond E. Fowler- but the only one to involve such an entity. The others were more elf-like, silver-suited and more interested in soil samples than pestering the locals...

  An even more bizarre and unnerving alien mummy story returns to the abduction scenario. The details of the encounter were retrieved through hypnosis by Leo Sprinkle, and it has the hallmarks of such abduction accounts- missing time, memory wiping, and apparent medical examination. The twist with this one, however, is the entity itself, which seemed to be some kind of mummy space robot. In late August of 1975, Sandra Larson, her daughter, and a friend were driving on I-94 in North Dakota when the car they were traveling in stopped dead by itself as 8-10 UFOs hovered overhead and nearby. In her later recounting of events, the "attending doctor" of the craft they were brought aboard was wrapped in bandages, never blinked, had metallic, mechanical arms and seemed to give off an eerie light. While all of this is terrifying, Sandy was apparently cured of a sinus condition by the Robo-Mummy- so one supposes it could have gone much worse.

Alien mummies are more plentiful than one might think, whether they are upwardly mobile or otherwise. In either case, though, they deftly avoid proof of their existence as extraterrestrial beings. So we gently come back down to earth for some more grounded, mundane mummy weirdness, albeit with a little bit more UFOlogical lore to soften our landing:

Hobo Mummy and Airship Pilot

Article from May 24, 1973 The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey)

 One wonders- in what state of preservation the Airship Pilot would have been found, had he been exhumed? Perhaps we will never know. It seems, though, that it must have been fairly common to "mummify" a corpse and set it up in a shop window, or parade it around in carnivals, leaving it for future generations to discover as was the case with Elmer McCurdy, McCurdy was only discovered to be a legitimate corpse, and not a funhouse prop, during the filming of an episode of The Six-Million Dollar Man in 1977. Sometimes mummies, when kept in the home, provide some semblance of home security; a collector of curiosities named William Small, of New Jersey, found this out in 1951 when a break-in was halted by the grinning visage of the mummy in Smalls' closet. It seemed the burglars abandoned their scurrilous enterprise and stole nothing in their haste to get out of the house of horror- but a few years later, when a fire broke out there, the firefighters on the scene received a similar scare.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the crème de la crème of oddball mummies, that of Achile Chatouilleu, Shriner, "French Tickler", and... Clown Mummy.

Achile is a rare example of an exhibited corpse for whom it was a dying wish. Well known in his time and locale, he participated in the first Shriners parade- and apparently hoped that even in death, he could inspire smiles. He was preserved with toxic materials like mercury and arsenic, and was kept behind glass for public viewing at the California Institute of Abnormalarts in North Hollywood. The venue closed its doors permanently in 2022, and the clown prince of mummies was sold to an anonymous buyer- as so often is the case, the mysteries surround the mummified.

In closing, I'll share a few of the mummies I've met in person.

The first such mummy item from my travels is the mysterious mummy hand that can be found in the Caldwell Library at Lake George, in New York. Cattycorner from The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, which features a recreation of the Karloff Mummy, is the unassuming and quiet local library. In stark contrast to the shops and tourist traps, restaurants and boat tour docks along the strip the small library is very much what one would expect in a town library; that is, unless one knows about the mysterious mummy hand. I anticipated an awkward exchange with the young librarian on duty when I dropped in, but she was overjoyed at the chance to 'lend me a hand'. The story goes that the hand was donated from the personal collection of the former head librarian, and was at some point stolen. No one knows how Hubbell, the librarian, acquired it; nor is the identity of the thief known, but the hand was discovered at an estate sale and mailed back to its current home on Lake George. It's a very small hand, and a significantly weird item to casually view while on vacation...

Synchronicity led me to another mummy, this time in Belfast, Maine. At the time I was reading Jadoo by John Keel, his first book about traveling around the Middle East and India in search of magic and mysticism. My ratty old paperback edition of the book came with me on the trip to Maine, and I was worried it would fall apart from being in my away bag. I had dreamed of trying to catch a snake one night, and when I began the book, it was about catching snakes; later that summer I did have to catch a snake which had hitched a ride inside of our camper. At one of the only used book shops I managed to find up there, I was surprised to find a hardcover first edition of Jadoo for a very reasonable price- reducing my concern over the fate of my old mass market copy. Then, as I sat to read the chapter of the book about mummy dealers, I got a tip from Twitter mutual Brad Knight that there was a mummy to be found in Belfast.

So off we went to the charming roadside candy and curiosity shop known as Perry's Nut House. They specialize in gag gifts, fudge, mixed nuts, and campy home decor, and among the taxidermy apes and large sections of snakeskin adorning the walls you can find Jay, the mummy. Jay had a history with libraries as well; brought to the U. S. by an adventurer named Jack Williamson, who ended up writing a book about Egyptian mummification processes. Jay the Mummy was stored along with other artifacts long after Williamson passed away in 1945, and forgotten about. When they were discovered, the artifacts were returned to Williamson's descendants- but no one wanted to take poor Jay. No one, that is, except the proprietor of Perry's Nut House at the time. 

To refer back to my introductory thoughts, I have mixed feelings about the mummies I've met. I'm not sure what the right thing to do is. I'm certainly glad to have met them- and I use the word "met" because these are not "things", they are human remains. Just as Osiris was made complete by Isis, and the wrappings of the mummy culminated in his apotheosis as the ruler of the underworld, the spirits of these long deceased Egyptians have a life outside of the one they lived thousands of years ago. They are remembered and in a strange way, cared for. While the unwilling recent examples such as McCurdy have been committed to burial, and others like Achile the Clown chose to be showcased, the true history of the Hand of the Caldwell-Lake George Library and of Jay can't be known. I can only hope their souls found peace in a bygone age, and that they are treated with dignity in their respective residences.

Oh, and I hope Lael's alien mummy pops up somewhere, someday...


Saturday, March 16, 2024

Horsefeathers or: How to Dig a Pony

 "I-I-I-I dig a pony

Well you can celebrate anything you want

Yes, you can celebrate anything you want!"

-The Beatles, "Dig a Pony"

It's important to celebrate the little things. It's easy to forget those small bits of magic that bring us smiles to soften the edge on what can be a trying and exhausting day-to-day existence. A kind word from a stranger or hearing a favorite song by chance can mean all the difference, and if we proceed through life with this in mind we can generate a ripple effect of positivity and radiate everything we are throughout the Cosmos. 

I truly believe this and yet I still forget it, particularly at times when things get hectic and stressful. Such was the case this week, when after several long and irritating days at work I found myself without cell reception to guide my route out of Lincoln, Massachusetts. I idly wondered whether I was near a strange spot in that town, known as Ponyhenge, which holds a special place in my heart. Lo and behold, as I scanned the road ahead for any signs that might direct me to the highway I saw a familiar field beyond an electric fence. Rounding a curve I arrived at that most magical of places.

 There's really not much to know about Ponyhenge. Having been there a handful of times I can definitively say that it exists, and beyond that all there seems to be are vague stories about its origin. It seems agreed upon that one day, a rocking horse was left in a farmer's field. Later, there was another- then another, until eventually dozens of rocking horses of varying kinds occupied the field. The arrangement of the ponies changes frequently, and no one knows who moves them- except, presumably, the person responsible for doing that. I would caution anyone, however, from presuming too much about the ponies. The ponies are there for us to dig, not to understand.

There's not much to know, but there's plenty to feel and say about Ponyhenge. My first visit to this mystical, whimsical place was at the very beginning of 2020. A few inches of snow had fallen the night before, and though a bit of it had piled up on the fence rails none was observed on any of the ponies. No footprints marked the snow on the ground around them, and it felt almost a shame to disrupt the pure icy placidity by trudging into the circle.

Having heard about about the mysterious movement of the toy equines, I found it worth noting that no tracks of any kind marked the snow. Of course, this being my first visit, there was no way for me to tell whether they had been rearranged overnight. It is difficult to ascertain whether a mystery even exists here, which is paradoxically a mystery in itself. One gets the sense the ponies have secrets, and they are most certainly not talking. A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course...

In lieu of information, and hard evidence from which to draw conclusions I've found it best to approach situations like this with intuition and a light heart. I was unprepared for the mystical "vibe", for lack of a better term, the location had or the effect it would have on me. What I felt was a kind of elation, a whimsical and wondrous restorative wave of childlike joy that hit as hard as a brisk New England winter breeze. I joked afterwards that I had gone to draw upon the ancient power of the ponies, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some truth to that. I felt the same way this week upon entering the rearranged circle of rocking horses. You can indicate everything you see, but what you feel is really important too. 

So much of the paranormal relies heavily on creepiness, and the scare factor. People like their ghost stories in the way they like campfire tales, funhouses and horror movies. This is absolutely fine, and normal, but there is so much more to the weirdosphere to be experienced. Those who only want the scares may be missing out, and doing themselves a disservice by neglecting the wholesome and silly weirdness. Whenever I post things about Ponyhenge, there is invariably comments about how eerie it is, and I can't emphasize enough how opposite that is to my experience of it. In a return visit back in 2021, I even brought my intrepid hound (then just a puppy) Bernie and he loved it. Meanwhile other families with children were there to enjoy a relatively safe pandemic outing amongst the inanimate equine sentinels of Old Sudbury Road. 

To what do I attribute this mystical elation, this balm for a weary soul? Searching my mind for horse-related ideas to write about, and experiences in my life that I could have associated with these rocking horses to inspire such wonder I considered writing one of my more characteristic posts, where I connect a bunch of disparate ideas and attempt to synthesize them in some form of coherent thought. I thought about Lady Wonder, the allegedly psychic horse investigated by J. B. and Louisa Rhine, which has long been a favorite paranormal case. It is also a great example of wholesome and inspiring paranormalia that is conspicuously free of scares. Lady Wonder would be an accomplished psychic by human standards, so as a horse she was unparalleled. She predicted outcomes of boxing matches and Presidential elections, and even aided criminal investigations. Rhine thought that she and her handler, Mrs. Fonda, had a telepathic link. Magician Milbourne Christopher claimed that Fonda was using subtle cues to direct the horse, as she "typed" her predictions using a specially customized contraption for letter selection. Ricky Jay, in his book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, gives examples of how this trick was done going all the way back to the colonial period in American history. Animals such as Toby the Learned Pig showcased similar abilities, albeit without the acute prognostication that Lady Wonder exhibited. If Mrs. Fonda was "cheating" through subtle cues, and her predictions were still accurate, then a case can still be made for the presence of psi ability. Where the ponies of Lincoln are tight-lipped, Lady Wonder was a fount of information- but a psychic horse is almost as absurd as a mystical toy one.

I thought also about horses used in reincarnation gags, which I had written about before in my esoteric Three Stooges post. In a kind of coincidence that happens all too commonly for me, the horse that appeared with the Besser-era Stooges in Hoofs and Goofs was called Tony the Wonder Horse, who had appeared with Tom Mix in a number of old westerns. It's not clear if he and Lady were related, but one does wonder. Tony was notable for his use in these westerns as a character who seemed to understand English and the context of what was going on, in spite of the fact that he was just a horse in every other respect. The Stooges weren't the only ones to use a human reincarnation into a horse in a film either- Laurel and Hardy, who often played alongside equine co-stars, used it as a punchline in their feature film The Flying Deuces.  Ollie expresses his wish to come back as horse, should he find himself reincarnated; and of course, he gets his wish. "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!", he says to Stan. Everything has got to be just like you want it to, because...

I also thought about my own, minimal interactions with horses. I've done a little bit of horseback riding and used to help a friend with her horses, years ago. One of the horses was so fond of me, she would grab me by my coat with her teeth and pull me back to her when I tried to leave the stable. The other one nearly killed me by bolting suddenly while I was saddled up on him. They called him Turbo for a reason, and after being spooked by the sound of loon he almost threw me completely off of him, and it was all I could do to climb back into the right position, and to pull the reigns before the dumb panicked animal ran itself over the edge of a small cliff. 

Much later in life I decided to take my son horseback riding for his birthday with a group of other paying people. Midway through the guided jaunt through a woodland trail, the instructor halted everyone and shushed us. We had interrupted a procession of deer; half were on one side of the trail and half on the other, quizzically observing our party. It seemed every direction around us, the deer were watching, cautious but peaceful, awaiting their opportunity to rejoin each other. Seated on a large beast of burden and surrounded by wild animals, seeing the wonder in my son's eyes reflecting the wonder in mine was a surreal and magical experience. There were strict rules against fumbling for one's phone during a ride there, for plenty of good reasons, so I didn't get a picture or anything like that- but it is as it should be. Pictures rarely capture the magic, the feeling, the wonder- some experiences are meant to be personal and profound in their totality. You can imitate everyone you know, but you can only ever be you. A snapshot on a smartphone will only ever be a pale approximation of the numinous, even when it manifests as more mundane and lacking in any paranormal significance.


I had nearly forgotten, as well, about the time I went to visit the reportedly haunted Looff Carousel at Crescent Park, in Providence, Rhode Island. It's a fully restored and operational carousel. Being the goofball that I am, I suppose I should have anticipated that feeling of joy and childlike excitement at the prospect of riding the horsies and playing the ring toss game. I found it hard to believe there was any kind of spooky haunting in such a place; carousels and carnivals have a long association with weirdness and ghost stories, to be certain, but my intuitive read was bereft of the sinister. Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes springs to mind, and perhaps, fool that I am, I was just taken in by the glamor of Mr. Dark's circus. Maybe, like in the book, the carousel had the power to move people backwards or forwards in time. Or perhaps horses make me happy, whether they are the living, breathing kind or made of porcelain; whether they are predicting future events or nearly maiming me. They are something to celebrate, something to dig. Can you dig it?

In my exhaustion this week, and knowing that there was still much to do after arriving home and that sleep would still be a distant proposition, the auspicious and restorative effects of Ponyhenge were not only welcome, but sorely needed. Despite my frustrations, anger, and stress during the week, despite having been up and running since 4:30 a.m., there was time enough to stop and absorb some ancient power from the ponies. In preparing to write about this I learned a bit about the town of Lincoln, how it had been formed from parts of Lexington and Concord. It had been one of the places involved in the first battles of the Revolutionary War, and the place where Paul Revere's midnight horseback ride had terminated in his capture.  Revere, and his historic ride, are also something I've written about before. I read about the history of rocking horses, and the first ones seemed to appear around the time Lincoln was first settled by colonizers. Mass production of rocking horses began after the Revolutionary War ended. Lincoln was named after Lincolnshire in the U.K., which has its legends of little people called Tiddy Mun. Maybe the colonial inhabitants brought their folkloric friends with them, and the Tiddy Mun are reportedly about the right size to enjoy a rocking horse built for children. The original Nipmuc inhabitants of the area, forcibly removed from their homes by the early settlers, probably had their own nature spirits who were displaced by the Tiddy Mun. Perhaps these things all come full circle in their own ways, like rocking horses rearranged by unseen hands. Perhaps it's not important.

The mystery, and in fact the mystery of whether there's even a mystery at all associated with this roadside oddity must at all costs be preserved. As my wife Pam, my muse, said to me earlier: "Knowing why the ponies move would ruin it. It would take all the magic away." I absolutely agree. All I know for sure is how I feel when I'm there, and it's the feeling a child has when about to climb onto a carousel or pet an exotic animal. Upon leaving the sacred circle of ponies, I looked down to see a runic symbol in the grass. You might say that it's just an arrow from a sign that had fallen apart, and if you say that then I'm afraid you haven't learned how to dig a pony. That is the Elder Futhark rune known as Tiwaz, which represents the Norse god Tyr, who, incidentally, I've also written about before. Tyr represents justice, self-sacrifice, and balance. Unfortunately in modern times, the symbol has been co opted by Nazis. One has to tread lightly with mysticism out in the world, and be very clear in one's intent and communication. Inside the pony circle, I choose to interpret the rune as a good omen. 

Balance can be difficult to achieve, but like horseback riding it takes practice. I preach about positivity fairly often, and sometimes feel like a fraud when I fall into the trap of depression or let stress dictate a foul mood that perpetuates itself. The negative moods need to find expression, but all should be tempered and balanced. I would highly recommend injecting magic into your life, wherever you can- and acknowledging it when magic finds you. Don't let fear dominate, and face what's coming with the cool determination of this particular pony:

Absorb the ancient pony power and proceed. Can you dig it now???