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Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Curious Case of the Fish Doctor and the Man From Ashtar Galactic Command, Part II

"The Path has, absolutely has: to be forged, not merely followed; alone- quite alone; by the seeker."

- Rex Dutta, Reality of Occult / Yoga / Meditation / Flying Saucers

So who was Rex Dutta? During my early correspondence with Steve, I tried to find information about the man so I wouldn't have to admit that I didn't know who he was. It proved exceedingly difficult. I found his books listed online easily enough, and eventually bought all three titles of his that dealt with the Flying Saucer question - and read them all, but not in the right order. But finding biographical information or even a picture of Rex took a lot of effort. When I asked Steve questions, I could get a lot of personal details about him in regard to his personality - but Steve had questions as well, it seemed. I took it upon myself to find the answers, along the way wrapping my mind around his Theosophical interpretation of the Saucer phenomenon while at the same time building a friendship with Steve over meandering Fortean conversation - what he calls "whibble about dribble". It was clear from the start that Steve had a great admiration for Rex; in one of his many Above Top Secret threads he says "Rex was a personal friend and I guess, it's only in retrospect one realises how much someone took you into their "inner circle" and felt able to speak freely and at length about such subjects. Rex was the mature English gent to my 18 year old wildness and yet, he felt comfortable enough to take me into his confidence." The further I dug into research and the more I whibbled and dribbled about "wyrdshit" with Steve, the more interesting the whole story became...

Rex was born Reginald Sirdir Mohammed Dutta on July 11, 1914, in Lahore, India (modern day Pakistan). His father was Indian, his mother was British. He moved to England with her and his sister in 1926, eventually attending University College London majoring in French and History. He served with British Intelligence during World War II, losing part of his leg from a motorcycle collision during a recognizance mission in France. He claimed to have had lived past lives as a soldier, and this wound, along with his eventual evacuation with many others from Dunkirk, was a sign to him that in this lifetime he was meant to pursue a different path. That path, it seemed, was the rehabilitation and study of fish - his books on fish care are still considered among the best and he had clients all over the world from his business, Fish Tanks LTD. That is until, as mentioned in Part I, he received and read Flying Saucers Have Landed, and shortly thereafter joined the Theosophical Society.

He continued running his business on Blandford St, in London, while also running his magazine "Viewpoint Aquarius" from the same address. He seemed to dive into Theosophy wholeheartedly, while at the same time absorbing much of the contactee literature up to that point - Howard Menger, George Hunt Williamson, George Adamski and others get frequent mentions in his writings. The two subjects may seem very separate and unrelated - one doesn't necessarily picture Flying Saucers when someone mentions Madame Blavatsky - but when dealing purely with the contactees mentioned, Theosophic concepts like Ascended Masters and higher beings align neatly with Venusians, Saturnians, and all manner of Space Brothers. He wrote 23 books in total (there's that mystic number 23!) - 20 about fish, and three about Flying Saucers / Theosophy.

Rex's mentor in the Theosophical Society, the man he considered to be his guru, was Edward L. Gardner. Gardner was an influential writer and lecturer in the English Section of the Theosophical Society, serving as General Secretary in the 1920s. He wrote extensively on fairies, and notably promoted the authenticity od the Cottingley Fairies photos alongside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was also among the first to suggest that similarities in Fairy Lore and Flying Saucer contact cases denoted a common source. It's easy to see the direct lineage from Gardner's concepts down to Rex, who would become a well respected voice and subject matter expert himself. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, a famous series of correspondences channeled by Madame Blavatsky, were held in a trust at the British Museum, and following the death of Chairman of the Mahatma Letters Trust, Judge Christmas Humphreys, in 1983, Rex took on the position. His contributions to the preservation and analyses of this manuscript was greatly appreciated by Theosophists worldwide, who benefited in their studies greatly from his efforts and lectures. 
E. L. Gardner with N. Sri Ram
In 1976 Rex was giving a lecture at City of London Polytechnic (currently City University) on the heels of publishing Reality of Occult / Yoga / Meditation / Flying Saucers, and this is where he met Steve. By Steve's account, Rex strode right up to him with a wide grin and shook his hand firmly saying "So are you psychic because of a natural ability or because of psychotropic drugs?" to which Steve replied, "Surely you should know." Rex burst out laughing and said "You'll do!" and thus began their friendship. The picture Steve paints of that era of UFOlogy and the investigation are strong motivators for me to get to work on a time machine so that I could be a part of it - "I will never forget the 4 of us visiting some country pub in Kent to interview a TV engineer about the incident. Quite what the locals made of two guys in leather jackets and waist length hair accompanied by two elderly and unbelievably well turned out, one was an ex RAF officer handle bar mustache and all, companions I will never know. At times, it was all very Sherlock Holmes and a little like something from a Hammer film." His lifelong interest in UFOs has sustained based on testimony from former military witnesses to phenomena they were never allowed to talk about - men who were honor bound to keep secret the bewildering experiences they had, who really needed validation from an outside source that they weren't entirely alone in these encounters.

Rex and Steve would soon begin investigating the 1971 call from outer space, just before the Ashtar interruption in 1977 occurred. They would investigate that as well! More on that as our story continues in Part III...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Curious Case of the Fish Doctor and the Man From Ashtar Galactic Command, Part I

"For many years you have seen us as lights in the skies. We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over this, your planet Earth."

Unbeknownst to presenter Ivor Mills, a message from Ashtar Galactic Command was broadcast to viewers of the London Weekly News on November 26, 1977...
These two sentences served to introduce viewers of the National News on the evening of November 26, 1977, to Vrillon (or Grahama) of Ashtar Galactic Command. The odd, metallic voice had interrupted the news at 5:12 p.m. and continued for five minutes, overriding the transmitters for everywhere south of the Thames in England. At the very least, this would involve overpowering the signal for five transmitters - no small feat for hijacking pranksters. 

"It covered Kent Surrey Hampshire and parts of Berkshire as far North as Reading, South west to Portsmouth and East right over to Dover" - Firemoon on ATS, October 28 2010

The engineers at the broadcast stations were totally unaware that the signal had been hijacked. Their monitors showed the news broadcast as it should have been. The only reason those at ITV learned that a Flying Saucer Occupant had stolen the show was because of angry and confused viewers calling the stations. Engineers were unable to correct it, and when the representative from Ashtar Galactic Command had said his piece, the regularly scheduled programming returned. Amusingly enough, in at least one video of the event on YouTube, the message ends just in time for the beginning of the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Falling Hare" - the World War II era cartoon in which a gremlin gets the best of Bugs. 

At first glance, it seems like a great prank and a bit of a cultural curiosity. It's reminiscent of the "Max Headroom Incident", a broadcast interruption in 1987 perpetrated by a few industrious early hackers who managed to override the signal from the Sears Tower in Chicago during an episode of Dr. Who. Or so we're told... those responsible for that hijacking were never caught. Such is also the case with the ITV message from the Space Brothers. The other similarity, for whatever it's worth, is both events occurred in late November - the Headroom incident being on the 24th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Everything is significant - even the things that aren't!

But this was the second time British broadcast had been shanghaied by shifty alien beings - and the second time a certain fish doctor had been involved.

On the 8th of January, 1971, Greater London Radio featured a call-in show on the topic of Flying Saucers. Rex Dutta was a guest on the program, having recently published his book Flying Saucer Viewpoint. It is due to Rex that any transcript of this interruption exists - he managed to obtain the tape after the broadcast and a full transcript - along with his commentary - appears in his second book on otherworldly contact, Flying Saucer Message. The tape is long missing, but copies of his book still exist out in the world. And the transcript of the interruption of 71 has an added twist - in this case, the metallic alien voice called in as many listeners had over the course of the program. As opposed to the 1977 television interruption, an active conversation developed between a man only identified as "Assistant Producer" and a Space Brother who failed to give a name, confusingly settling on simply "Sir". (Rex Dutta explains in the book that due to laws regarding libel in the UK at the time, he had been advised against using actual names of the other people involved. It seems a sticking point for him that associating someone with the subject of Venusians, anomalous aircraft, etc, would be considered libel.) 

Rex would later investigate the 1977 Ashtar Galactic Command incident, in the meantime publishing a third book on the subject of UFOs Reality of Occult/Yoga/Meditation/Flying Saucers as well as editing and distributing a magazine called "Viewpoint Aquarius". He ran his magazine from his "bread and butter", as he called it - Fish Tanks LTD, located on Blandford St in London. 

Rex Dutta was a world renowned fish expert, having written 20 books on fish and fish care. In the above video, he is shown as a "self-trained" fish doctor with exotic equipment for nursing fish back to health. On the web page for this video in the Pathe archives, the description of it ends with
"Note: Rex Dutta and his wife Olive (?) Dutta appear in a few Pathe films - 
Who were they? -JH"
Who indeed, JH. Who indeed.

I was fortunate enough to follow this line of inquiry based on the accounts given by someone who knew Rex, and considered him a mentor. Known by some as Firemoon, by others as Rev, he's been known to respond to "oi, you!" and also SteveDoG. For my purposes here, I'll just call him Steve. Steve's invaluable firsthand account of his relationship with Rex Dutta and their joint investigation into the Ashtar Galactic Command broadcast heist led me down a road of curiosity to find out more about the enigmatic fish doctor, UFOlogist, and as it turns out, occultist, Rex Dutta. The interesting thing about the video above, is that it shows him at the precipice of a life-changing event - in 1954, his mother would give him a copy of Flying Saucers Have Landed by George Adamski and Desmond Leslie, and he would shortly thereafter join the Theosophical Society to which his wife and mother both were already involved members. Flying Saucers only make sense, he would contend, through the lens of Theosophy, and his three books on the subject expound this Blavatskyan interpretation of the phenomena in near exhaustive depth. His quirky writing style and enthusiasm make for a fun read, and his recognition of events such as the two broadcast interruptions as "cosmic jokes" allowed him a unique vantage point from which to share the message that "Oneness is". His books are dedicated to the "People of the Web" - designed to be read and understood by those "with eyes to see and ears to hear". 

Steve's investigation along with Rex into the 1977 event is recounted on various threads on ATS and I've spent the better part of the past year looking into the details of Rex's life, and this event in particular. You can read about the time Vrillon spoke to all of South England on various sites, but as Steve would say Rex had connections that allowed him access to people and information that most investigators of UFOs wouldn't get. Suffice to say, the idea that a few pranksters somehow overrode the signal for five separate transmitters covering an area of 1500 square miles would have required a great deal of power and equipment that the average person simply wouldn't have. In one engineer's estimation, according to Steve, "6 flat bed trucks worth of batteries" would have been needed without a commercial power supply. The official story at the time was that perpetrators from Hampshire were "caught and dealt with", but no record exists of such an arrest and their identities remain unknown. Engineers at the stations were told to say "no comment" if asked about the event, under threat of termination from their jobs. Broadcasting personnel that gave information to Steve and Rex did so under conditions of anonymity. 

So what exactly did happen on the night of November 26, 1977, at 5:12 p.m.? Why all the secrecy in both the 1971 and 1977 events? Was Max Headroom also part of Ashtar Galactic Command? I'll attempt to further parse these things out, and also get more into the life and work of Rex Dutta in a series of entries following this one. Our story continues in "The Curious Case of the Fish Doctor and the Man From Ashtar Galactic Command, Part II"...


"Fish Heart Beats" - 1953, Pathe films
"Flying Saucer Theosophist" - Pelletier, Rogelle, FOHAT Vol XI, No. 4, Winter 2007
"Hidden Mysteries - Alleged TV and Radio Broadcasts from Space" - Jon Hurst
"Rex Dutta - a Tribute to an Original Theosophist" FOHAT vol XI, No.1 Spring 2007
Flying Saucer Message - Rex Dutta, 1972

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Of Grumpy Cats and Alternate Realities

On Friday, May 17th, the news hit the internet that celebrity pet and meme legend Grumpy Cat had passed away, due to complications from a urinary tract infection. The famous grouch's owner, Tabatha Bundesen, made the announcement to the cat's thousands of fans through her extensive social media presence. The kitty in question, whose real name was Tardar Sauce, was 7 years old - and accomplished more in her short life than can be expected of most people.

But for some of us - this had all happened before. Some of us experienced a bit of a Mandela Effect moment...

 For my own part, internet memes - cat related or not - occupy little of my attention online. But I couldn't help but feel that I had heard of the passing of Grumpy Cat a few years ago; in fact, I had distinct memories not only of reading a headline, but of reading a short article that remarked on how her condition of feline dwarfism, which contributed to her classic scowl, had also decreased her lifespan. After tweeting this as a passing thought, attributing it to the Mandela Effect while rejecting the possibility that I might just be wrong about something, I found that I wasn't alone in having a memory of Grumpy Cat's demise. Grumpy Cat, for some of us, had died either several years ago or a few months ago... a quick glance at #MandelaEffect on Twitter gave me a better idea of how prevalent this memory is.

I have a distinct ambivalence about the Mandela Effect as a concept. My knee-jerk reaction has generally been that it's an outstanding example of arrogance inherent in Human Nature - that, rather than consider the possibility that some number of people is wrong about the spelling of a title of a children's book series, or how exactly an iconic movie line was delivered, there must by necessity be an alternate dimension or timeline, a temporal shift or some other time/space anomaly responsible. It would be hypocritical of me, however, to dismiss it outright. I've certainly considered crazier ideas. And I have to admit, finding out that Ed McMahon DIDN'T deliver giant checks to peoples' homes gave me a really eerie feeling. I was so certain that I remember seeing it in commercials while idly watching reruns of Gilligan's Island as a kid... To a lesser extent I felt similarly about Grumpy Cat.

One logical explanation for a shared memory of a celebrity cat's demise is that there have been a great many celebrity cats online, several of whom have died. Perhaps we were all remembering a different ubiquitous meme cat's venture into the great beyond? Another famously grumpy looking feline, Colonel Meow - the Guinness Book record holder for cat with the longest fur - died at the age of 2 in 2014. There's a longer list of celebrity or meme related kitties than this blogger cares to enumerate, many of whom have passed on. It's worth considering why the history of the internet (and social media, in particular) is so replete with cat photos and memes. One could argue that cats simply fulfill an archetypal need for our mental health in a data-driven world, wherein we find ourselves awash in a hopeless whirlpool of opinion pieces, bad news, and hoaxes, overwhelmed by the vast sea of information and misinformation that bombards us daily. Grumpy Cat certainly fulfilled this need for many people, who often used her image in memes expressing their dissatisfaction about any number of mundane issues. The image of, and mythology of cats has precedent in many societies throughout the world. It's not surprising that cats would hold such a powerful place within our collective unconscious - down through the ages, cats have occupied some level of metaphysical and emotional space as companions, protectors, and pets. Most obviously the ancient Egyptians held the cats in a place of reverence, and had a goddess in their pantheon named Bast. Bast was the daughter of Ra, and a protector deity.
In other cultures, cats portray a trickster nature and are associated with witches, vampires, and even genies. Black cats, according to superstition, can walk between realities, occupying a liminal territory between one world and another... and of course, in modern physics, there's the often misinterpreted thought experiment of Erwin Schrodinger, who used reductio ad absurdum to illustrate the problems he saw with the Copenhagen Interpretation - that being, when a particle is in an either/or state, it is considered to be both - known as a superposition - until it can be measured. In Schrodinger's example, a cat in a box with a radioactive particle and a flask of poison may either be alive, or dead, but without opening the box to observe, the cat retains equal chances of either state - and thus, according to the quantum view, is both alive and dead. (My apologies to any physicists reading this, I'm not a scientist but I do my best to understand these things...)

So is Tardar Sauce, aka Grumpy Cat, a modern Bast-like avatar of our era, one capable of shifting all of time and space, one who occupies a position both within the realm of the Living and the realm of the Dead?
Unfortunately, it seems that the solution to this inter-dimensional quandary is much more mundane, as so often regrettably happens. In 2016, a rumor of the death of Grumpy Cat went viral, leading many of us to believe that the iconic puss-faced pussycat had passed on. It wasn't the first time either; in 2013 pranksters on Twitter created a death hoax for April Fool's Day. It would appear that many of us were duped by misinformation either three or six years ago, creating an eerie deja vu effect upon hearing the news this time. In this age of being perpetually bombarded with both good and bad information at an accelerated rate, we can hardly be blamed for the occasional false memory. Of course, this tinkering with perception may very well be causing a rift in reality itself - perhaps the Mandela Effect in this case IS real, while simultaneously a simpler and more logical solution is true. One thing is for sure, we could all use a protector deity like Bast to protect us from a Temporal Rift...

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Some Other Sphere Podcast Appearance


It's my pleasure to announce that the episode of the podcast Some Other Sphere wherein host Rick Palmer interviewed me about Discordianism is now available for download or streaming wherever you get your podcasts! In a bit of Erisian synchronicity, the release date of May 1st, 2019 coincides with the 243 anniversary of Adam Weishaupt founding the Bavarian Illuminati... All Hail Discordia!

Rick is a great interviewer, and it was a genuine treat to chat with him about Discordian history and philosophy. His podcast is relatively new, but it's very well produced and every episode covers some unique facet of our bizarre reality. I highly recommend any of the episodes he's released!

So give it a listen, won't you?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Clowns to the Left of Me, Joker to the Right...

It's been a weird week, here at the headquarters of your humble Aficionado. I set out to write a nice little analysis of the Joker, of Batman comics fame, and got a bit sidetracked down a rabbit hole of research on the broad subject of clowns... it seems I opened a portal to the Clown Realm, inadvertently. Allow me to explain...

Firstly, I should establish here my personal thoughts on clowns. Growing up, I thought that coulrophobia was equal parts people who joked about fear of clowns, and people who were scarred by the TV miniseries It and its monstrous demon clown Pennywise. I never could relate to the fear of, or even the creep factor of clowns. To me, they're funny; a bit corny and outdated perhaps, but then again so am I. I have a fair amount of cartoons and art that I've drawn featuring clowns, and I'm sometimes dismayed when people think they're creepy. I have great respect for proper clowning as an art form, so if any clowns are reading this - I give you a 21 bicycle horn salute!

That being said, I set out to write about Joker, in anticipation of the anniversary of his first appearance in Batman #1 back in 1940. This triggered the idea for another post about the science behind creepiness with some Phantom Clowns thrown in for good measure. In the process I noticed a few clown synchronicities that I joked about on my Twitter account. Then they started to pile up... I wondered briefly if I should bother writing about this here on the blog late last night, and got an answer from the Clown Realm:
*sigh* Here goes nothing...

I started noticing odd coincidences in doing the research, in conjunction with the #OnThisDay posts I'm fond of doing on Twitter. Jack Nicholson (Joker in Batman, 1989) celebrated a birthday on the first day of really digging into the writing, April 22nd. April 23rd was the birthday of Ruggero Leoncavallo, the man behind the opera Pagliacci - which I was incorporating into a character analysis of the Clown Prince of Crime. On a whim, my creepiness entry included a picture of the creepiest smile I could think of - that of Mr. Sardonicus, the title character of a film by Gimmick King and thriller movie maker William Castle - and then found out Castle's birthday was April 24th.

On the 24th I had a moment of metaphysical hilarity in the form of greeting a woman at her place of work, only to have her ask - without glancing up from her smartphone - "Do you know where I could buy a clown car that leaves a trail of bubbles behind it?" I was a bit bewildered at first, and made sure she was actually talking about an actual clown car. I'm happy to say I think I managed to point her in the right direction, accomplishing my weird deed for the day.

My day-to-day life involves a lot of driving around, so I always make sure I have podcasts to listen to. One day last week, the episode of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio that I was listening to ended with a discussion about world politics and this phrase - "Clowns run the world". The next day, I was listening to something a little less weird - WTF? with Marc Maron. Wouldn't you know it, during the opening neurotic rambling customary for his program, he read a fan letter - from a clown. The fan went into detail about the therapeutic benefits of Theatrical Clowning. Meanwhile I was in my truck saying to no one in particular "You've GOT to be kidding me!"

It didn't stop there, either, but it did seem to wind down a bit. The whole thing reminded me of an article I had read in an old issue of Fortean Times, by Bob Tarte and Bill Holm *, recounting his year of misadventure being plagued by synchronicity involving a clown named Bobo and the number 22. This sadly doesn't exist online anywhere where I can find it, but parts of it are included here for your perusal. Mr Tarte dealt with the nefarious and enigmatic Bobo for a full year - here's hoping I can avoid this fate and close the clown portal with this blog entry! Conspicuous is the fact that my first observed clown coincidence occurred on Nicholson's birthday - April 22nd...

Friday I went to the X-Filers United! Conference in Warwick, RI, and checked out Greg and Dana Newkirk's Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult. Greg and Dana are every bit as cool as I suspected they'd be; very welcoming, kind, and easy going. I was thrilled to meet them!
I was so thrilled to hang with them that ectoplasm blew out of my left ear. A little embarrassing, but these things happen I suppose...
I mentioned my clown synchronicities to them, for which I immediately felt a bit sheepish. But like I said, they're cool as Hell, and didn't seem to mind me continually coming back to linger at their museum and casually chat with them! The reason I mention any of this is that their collection included two items which caught my eye right away...

Each clown seemed to have a terrifying entity attached to it. Smiley, up top, terrorized college students with its attached "Dog-Eyed Humanoid" that would come out at night... While the clown below was found in a Chicago basement, wrapped in a picture of itself - this one seemed to make some skeletal creature that made cracking and popping noises manifest... Creepy stuff, indeed!

The traveling museum is really quite a wonderful collection of oddities and is worth going out of your way for. Every item inside was fascinating and wonderful. I spent a bit of time with a black scrying mirror, and was relieved that my reflection hadn't grown a clown nose...

That brings me to the weekend - of course I told my son about my clown troubles, which he found hilarious. Saturday afternoon the two of us were chatting with my mother through video chat, when she spontaneously put her phone down - only to pick it up again, surprising me by her and my dad wearing clown noses. Uncanny.

I also realized I had missed the series finale of the TV series Gotham, which aired on April 25th. I'm not sure if it was intentional on the part of the writers and producers of the show, but I suspect it was - that's the date of the anniversary of Joker's first appearance, the thing I set out to research and write about to begin with. And, fittingly enough, the episode - "The Beginning..." - revealed the Joker as we know and love him toward the end.

So now that this is all out there for the whole wide internet to chew on, hopefully these clowns can pile back into their phantom clown car and hit that cosmic freeway back to the Clown Realm from whence they came. I can close the Clown Portal and move forward, and write about something else next week. Anything else. Clowns never creeped me out before, but I gotta say they've been trying real hard this week!
Pictured: Clown College Drop-Out
* Bob Tarte has reached out to correct me on the attribution of his authorship of the article "A Circle of Clowns" from Fortean Times. He co-authored it with Bill Holm, who he says did the bulk of the writing. Weirdly enough, Holm also shared a birthday with Jack Nicholson - April 22nd! Bob is a real nice guy and the author of books such as Enslaved by Ducks and Kitty Cornered. Go check them out!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Joker's World

The original Joker - Batman #1, 1940
This year saw the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman, published March 30, 1939 in Detective Comics #27. Following right behind old Bats was the Clown Prince who would become his nemesis - The Joker first appeared the following year in Batman #1, published April 25, 1940. As villains go, you'd be hard pressed to find many as iconic and long-lived as the killer clown of Gotham - from his debut 79 years ago in which he was almost killed off to the upcoming feature film about him to be released in October, the Joker has been a pop cultural boogeyman who borders on the archetypal. This history is worth investigating, if only to give me an opportunity to be a fanboy for while.

One of the eeriest aspects of the Joker is conspicuous lack of information about him - although several backstories and identities have been devised for the character, it's much scarier and more fitting to his legacy that these remain potential origin stories, not definitive ones. In keeping with the multiplicity of the rogue's possible origins within the fictional world of DC Comics, the origin of and development of the character in pen and ink is ambiguous as well. For starters, up until recent years credit for Batman and associated characters had always gone solely to comic artist and writer Bob Kane; It's clear now that the development of Batman (and Joker) as we know them owe much to the contributions of writer Bill Finger, who now gets credited as a creator. One version of events has Finger and Jerry Robinson coming up with the iconic villain based on the picture of a jester on a joker playing card, while Kane maintained that he had been inspired to create a character by the terrifying visage of Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs.
The Man Who Laughs is based on the novel by Victor Hugo, which features a carnival performer named Gwynplaine with a face disfigured into a permanent grin. It seems to be one of many tragic clown stories that were popular in the 19th century - it seems that when Ruggero Leoncavallo rose to notoriety with his opera Pagliacci he was sued for plagiarism by French author Catulle Mendes, who felt that the opera was too close to his story La Femme de Tabarin. He dropped his case when his play was compared with an earlier work by Don Manuel Tamayo y Baus. There's nothing new under the sun, I suppose, but the prevalence of dark tragic clown stories in the late 1800s is surprising to say the least. For Leoncavallo's part, he claimed ignorance to the works of Tamayo y Baus and Mendes, and claimed Pagliacci was based on a real murder. Whatever the case, it's an enduring opera that spawned films just as Hugo's grinning clown did - Notably Lon Chaney's eerie clown in the 1924 film Laugh, Clown, Laugh. That was Chaney's second clown performance - he was also a clown in the movie He Who Gets Slapped, based on a Russian play by Leonid Andrejev. It seems all around the world, clowns with violent and tragic backgrounds provide compelling stories, down through the ages...

The Joker in Batman stories is often portrayed in a similar way. One of the most iconic and controversial Joker tales is The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. In it, the back story of the Joker is revealed - the Joker is a small time comedian who can barely pay the bills, with a wife and a baby on the way. One very bad day involving a heist in which he plays the part of the Red Hood, along with the death of his wife and unborn child culminates in his transformation into the clown prince of evil. This hearkens back to a 1951 origin story for the Joker reveals him to have been the Red Hood, planning to steal from the Ace Chemical plant but being foiled by Batman and falling into a chemical vat, which bleaches his skin and colors his hair green. The chemical bath is a consistent theme in the Joker backstory, memorably portrayed in 1989's Batman with Jack Nicholson in the role. Ultimately, any backstory given for the Joker is considered just a possibility "manifesting itself in his fevered brain", as Bolland put it in his afterword to the Deluxe Edition of The Killing Joke.

It seems the pale face, the grin, and the madness in clowning has all the hallmarks of menace. I covered this bit already as a lead-up to writing this analysis of the Joker - but it's interesting to note that all of the characteristics of clowns that the average person finds unsettling, the Joker has in spades. He's chaos and mayhem incarnate, an unpredictable, mysterious, and psychotic fiend who's seemingly capable of anything, as long as it amuses him. This is illustrated particularly well in one single panel of the Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert story Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Also interesting to note is the fact that while he may have been inspired by Conrad Veidt's Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs, he has a distinctive gangster flair that makes him stand apart from tragic misunderstood European clowns of earlier times. That is, he may actually have been inspired by a simple jester image on a playing card - the Joker card, which is distinctly American. While playing cards trace their history back hundreds of years to China, then appearing in Europe in the 1300s, the addition of the jokers in the deck developed much later, during the American Civil War. In the game of Eucre, a game of trick card taking, an additional trump card or "Best Bower" was required - hence, the addition of the two cards to be used as wild cards. The American flavor of character traits displayed by the Joker is intrinsic to his personality and psychosis; the origin of the card seems a fitting allegory.

The earliest versions of the villain in Batman comics were violent and dark - the Joker was a homicidal maniac from the start. At the dawn of the Silver Age of comics, however, the violence had to be toned down considerably creating the more cartoonish, relatively harmless prankster version. Richard Widmark's performance as Tommy Udo in the 1947 film Kiss of Death is often compared to the Joker, and is not far from how the early Joker might have behaved. Uncited Wikipedia sources claim that Widmark based his character on the comic book Joker, and that Frank Gorshin based his 60s Riddler character on Widmark's Tommy Udo. Interesting, if true...
Of course, by the 1960s when the Batman series hit the air the Silver Age Joker was the standard. Cesar Romero's madcap adversary to Adam West and Burt Ward's Dynamic Duo was flamboyant, diabolical and entertaining - but certainly lighter fare than the killer of Batman #1. This "Theater of the Absurd" approach to the Gotham Rogue's Gallery is a particularly weird and wonderful one, as much as it may be dismissed by fans of the cerebral and terrifying Heath Ledger version from The Dark Knight. The aforementioned 1989 version, directed by Tim Burton, had Jack Nicholson needling between these two poles. He was certainly homicidal, but he was also pretty colorful and fun. Unpredictable and dangerous in the way only Jack Nicholson could be, 1989 Joker is the mean approximation of the sum total of the Joker's character. Nicholson said that the Joker "should have a humorous dark side to him", and that it was a part that he always thought he should play. This was in response to the Ledger Joker - Heath Ledger's final acting role, Jack seemed to find it heavy handed and too serious. I like both, honestly, for their own reasons. And of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mark Hamill's voice-over work for the animated versions of the Joker, without which we wouldn't have the criminal's partner in crime Harley Quinn.

Worth noting as well are the Jokers that never were - apparently, Frank Sinatra had expressed interest in the role for the 60s TV series and was crushed that Romero beat him to it. As far as the '89 Joker goes, contenders for the role included David Bowie, Tim Curry, and Robin Williams. Williams was reportedly offered the role only to have it taken away and given to Nicholson, which upset him badly enough that he refused the role of the Riddler years later.

So there you have it - a good long look at an iconic bad guy, a clown who can creep with the best of them and the number one contender for the Caped Crusader. Happy 79th Birthday, you big weirdo.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Creeping into the Valley of the Uncanny

"The Uncanny Valley" is a term coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, describing a sudden disorienting absence of familiarity that leads to a general feeling of eeriness and unease. It sounds poetic, not unlike Rod Serling's "between the pit of a man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge", but being a robot designer Mori illustrated the concept in a mathematical way - in the form of a graph. A sort of taken-for-granted, mundane acceptance of a given thing - in his studies, a human-like robot - can take a dive into the uncanny at the first failure of the robot to perform within the parameters of human expectations. His essay first appeared in a journal in 1970, and aimed to help robot designers avoid this reaction of repulsion; but perhaps the Uncanny Valley of Mori's aesthetic advice has applications within the myriad fields of the unexplained. In particular, it may well be a key to understanding the nebulous phenomena of High Strangeness. 

What's in a smile, anyway?
An anecdote Mori uses to illustrate his point involves a robot designer who sought to make a man-like robot smile by carefully crafting its face with 29 muscles, as a human being has, but found that if it wasn't timed correctly the smile seemed unnatural and, well, creepy. Mr. Sardonicus, pictured above - the villain of the eponymous 1961 movie by William Castle - is the best example I can think of for a smile gone wrong. A smile is supposed to be a welcome expression of happiness, but out of context or done incorrectly a smile can incite abject terror. Reports of a mysterious being known as the Grinning Man illustrate the point rather well. According to witnesses, the Grinning Man is unusually tall, bald, and sports a horrible grin. No one knows who or what he is, and it seems no one has asked him - they usually are too busy running away!

But what if the anomalous entity is more subtle, as is often the way in cases of High Strangeness? Encounters with the Men in Black come to mind. At first, MiB might seem like well-dressed (albeit in an old fashioned way) normal people. It's usually their bizarre behavior that ends up giving them away. Sometimes they have unique physical attributes or move in odd, mechanical ways; and oftentimes, those who encounter the Men in Black are unable to account for their own reactions upon meeting these mysterious beings. The oft-cited example of Mary Hyre's encounter with an MiB in John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies is a good one to illustrate the point - the Man in Black was perplexed by the presence of a pen, as though he'd never seen one before. When told that he could have it, he cackled unnervingly and ran out the door. This sort of absurd interaction is par for the course with these strange beings, and naturally leave the witness in a state of bewilderment. Perhaps the bizarre behavior is part of a hypnosis technique called shock induction, when the victim of the (in this case) non-consensual manipulation is taken advantage of during a moment of shock, or danger... Keel wrote, in an article entitled The Sinister Men in Black for Fate Magazine:

All of the witnesses I have interviewed have told me they felt there was something inherently "evil" about these Men In Black --- something alien and dangerous. In a number of cases, people apparently have been drugged or hypnotized by the MIB and several have suffered amnesia and memory lapses after alleged face-to-face confrontations.

2016 study by evolutionary social psychologist Frank T. McAndrew explores the topography of that Uncanny Valley which can result from such things. Through surveying over one thousand participants it was found that unexpected behavior is a major trigger for feelings of creepiness. McAndrew posits that the eerie feeling we refer to as being "creeped out" serves an evolutionary purpose, to keep us on our toes in the presence of a potential, ambiguous threat. Unpredictable actions, particularly non-verbal ones, set off alarms that stop short of causing a fight or flight response - in fact, the opposite is often true, with the victim of creepy activity freezes, stuck with their own loathsome chills. Interestingly, men were more often considered creepy than women, and unusual physical characteristics aren't necessarily considered creepy - although they can exacerbate the creep factor of an already creepy person. Some hobbies or occupations are considered creepier than others. Can you guess what the creepiest occupation is?
If you guessed Clown, you'd be correct. People HATE clowns. In McAndrews' article about his findings, he points out that the average clown is male, has outlandish physical attributes that can build upon already present feelings of unease, and due to the comical nature of the clown's profession he is by definition unpredictable. All together, these traits create a subconscious low-level threat alert, leading us to feel creeped out. A more extreme, irrational fear of clowns is a bit different - referred to as coulrophobia, it's usually trauma related.

Creepy clowns in horror movies such as IT's Pennywise or the real life serial killer John Wayne Gacy often cited as reasons for the prevalence of fear of clowns, but McAndrews' study gives more insightful reasons. Personally, I have no real problem with clowns, but then again I've never encountered the phantom variety that plagued the country in the spring of 1981. Loren Coleman wrote about them at the time, and his essay Phantom Clowns can be found in the Fate Magazine compilation The World's Strangest Stories. Beginning on May 6, in Boston, Massachusetts, and lasting less than two months - from Boston to Providence to Kansas City to Pittsburgh, reports of menacing clowns harassing children came in to the respective cities' police departments, but no one was ever arrested. It seems bizarre that such flamboyantly garbed perpetrators could abscond without being seen, but they seemed to always make a clean getaway. In Pittsburgh, a clown was even seen with accomplices in the form of Spiderman and someone in a bunny suit!

In a sense, the Phantom Clowns of the 80s and the MiB share a lot in common. They drive distinctive vehicles - Men in Black typically drive older model cars that appear brand new, black of course; Phantom Clowns seem to prefer full-sized vans replete with ladders... They both behave in strange, unpredictable ways. Indeed, their very presence in some cases is unexpected and frightening. Men in Black typically appear to witnesses of UFO or other odd events, playing upon an archetype of vague, yet menacing G-Man, while the Clowns seemed to prey on children and due to their general creepiness are well suited to shock anyone into an Uncanny Valley. More broadly, aspects of High Strangeness such as synchronicity make one feel as though they've dipped outside of a comfortable reality and into strange, unknown territory. There's a playfulness or mischief to the phenomena as well - a trickster element, for which the Phantom Clown or farcical antics of the MiB could well be totems for. Or perhaps there's a sort of psychological, shock induced hypnosis that produces in the cognition of the witness a panoply of perceived effects. Or possibly, it's some combination of all these things... perhaps the best you can do is laugh.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Nessie-a-Day #7 - Fair Wetherell Friends

As the Nessie-a-Day entries wind down, I thought it only appropriate to get back to that photo - the Surgeon's Photo, which inspired the series. This is the final entry, and I could go into the story of the hoaxing of the photo, but that can be found on innumerable websites in almost verbatim fashion. What strikes me in each case is that the same photo of "big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell" appears every time - wide eyed, stationed behind a camera, with what appears to be a stuffed monkey sitting on it.

What a character he appears to be! For some reason, upon seeing it, my first thought was of the Abbott and Costello movie Africa Screams. As it happens, old Duke here was actually in the movies, so I guess my intuition was right on the money. An actor in silent movies filmed in England, he went on to direct with minimal success. He couldn't exactly be faulted for this - In the 1920's British films languished in comparison to the much more popular American movies, so much so that in 1924 many movie studios in the U.K. closed down. Ironically, one of the major stars of American films at the time was Charlie Chaplin - a Brit. Embedded is a Wetherell adaptation of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, starring Marmaduke Wetherell.

With his movie career behind him, was he seeking new exploits? Was it his celebrity that prompted the Daily Mail to hire him to track down the beast? And furthermore, was he behind the hoax?

The story goes that he was humiliated after turning in tracks made by an ashtray or umbrella stand, which was made out of a hippopotamus foot, to the Natural History Museum. It's not clear whether he was fooled by a prank by someone else, or if he staged the prints, although some sources claim that the umbrella stand belonged to the Wetherell family. I'm not prepared to rule out an umbrella stand moving of its own volition down the beach... But surely a "big game hunter" estimating an animal so big as 25ft in length would understand that the weight of such an animal would create a deeper impression than a human hoaxer would manage. I'm dubious about whether he was a big game hunter at all - or if he just played one in the movies.

Wetherell Looking at a Map of Loch Ness
The film directing, acting, and producing angle does raise questions - was he there to put on a show? Was the Surgeon's Photo an example of early movie magic? Maybe he was naive enough to try to pass off a taxidermied hippo foot imprint for Nessie tracks, because in a movie it would have looked just fine. The first film appearance of a fictional Nessie, after all, was just a big iguana... fairly lackluster, I must say.

I'm sure someone has asked these same questions and perhaps got answers. With my self-imposed deadline of daily posts I have only managed to get the same limited info on M. A. Wetherell over and over again. Most of the information concerning a hoax attached to the photo comes from a 1975 Sunday Telegraph article with an admission from Marmaduke's son, (also an actor), explaining how the hoax was achieved with a toy submarine model. This was later found and expanded upon in the book Nessie-- The Surgeon's Photograph -- Exposed by David Martin and Alistair Boyd, a review of which can be found here. Perhaps reading that book in its entirety would help me suss some of this stuff out, but I rather like the illusion - shaken though it may be, like the disproportionate ripples on a miniature scene set adrift. True believers still maintain that the photo is genuine, and I'm generally open to possibilities. I sure hope that Nessie's out there, I still get excited about the idea of it. If nothing else she's given me a week straight of writing material, and that in itself is some manner of existence. 

In closing, this week of Nessie posts has taken some turns that even I didn't expect, and if you took the whole ride I heartily thank you. You may now return to your significantly less weird life!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nessie-a-Day #6 - Conjecture Time


So far in the series of daily Loch Ness Monster posts, I've covered a few of the many people involved in the history of studying the mystery animal. I've also tended toward more metaphysical or downright magical explanations that have come from the likes of Ted Holiday, 'Doc' Shiels, or others who would link the monster to Crowley. To balance things out, today's post is less research intensive as it relates to specific investigators, authors, and the ideas they have; today's post is almost 100% pure speculation and conjecture about what Nessie IS. (Isn't that what we all get into Forteana for anyway? Doesn't each of us secretly think we've got it "all figured out" or that our ideas about a given subject are so much more informed than the next guy's? No? Just me? Oh. A-hem...)

The most popular depiction of the Loch Ness Monster is that of a living Plesiosaur. As a young boy that's what attracted my interest to Nessie, as I was obsessed with dinosaurs - the idea of a flesh and blood, living aquatic reptile that appeared during the Triassic Period and flourished all over the world up until the extinction event that eradicated the dinosaurs. The 'living dinosaur' theory is a very nice one, but it raises serious questions. For one thing, such a creature would presumably need to come up for air often, and thus would likely be seen more often and accepted as a natural fauna of the Loch. In addition, similar beasts have been seen in lakes much smaller than Ness - leading some toward the more magical explanations explored in previous posts. Loch Ness does open to the sea, (kind of), and I've always liked to think of it as a spawning ground for Plesiosaurs or other such like prehistoric monsters living in the ocean most of the year. That the mating period just so happens to coincide with tourist season in Scotland is neither here nor there...

Other accounts of living dinosaurs have come up from time to time through-out history, from the Thunderbirds of the Americas to Mokele Mbembe of the Congo. The lack of evidence for this as a solution is often a source of derision for skeptics who would seek to debunk the monster sightings. Meanwhile, true believers often point to the Coelacanth, a fish thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago and eventually discovered as a living specimen. The ocean may well be a fantastic place to hide creatures long thought extinct, and Loch Ness has its secrets in the murky depths as well. I've always thought perhaps there were underwater caverns, leading to a vast cave system or perhaps some manner of Hollow Earth. In the documentary Hellier, it's noted that the Mammoth Cave system on the eastern end of the U.S. is massive, extending from Kentucky up into New England. One wonders if subterranean waterways could also exist, accounting for the more landlocked lake monsters like Champ, or Ogopogo. Also, Hollow Earth theory might sound crazy, but in light of the scope of a cave system like Mammoth Caves, it starts to sound more reasonable...

Scientists are only just learning recently exactly how old some creatures in the ocean are. New methods to help determine the age of sharks like the Greenland Shark have shown, in recent years, that they can live to be somewhere between 270 to 500 years old. It's thought that they don't even reach breeding age until age 150. If some sharks can live for centuries, it makes one wonder how long a Plesiosaur might have lived. Also, various clams in the ocean are thought to have the longest lifespan, and actually become less likely to die as they age! And plant life can live on replicating itself through vast networks with other plants... I'm not suggesting Nessie is an amorphous glob of sentient peat moss, but I'm not ruling it out either!

We touched briefly on Holiday's tullimonstrom gregarium (giant slug) theory, and Shiel's elephant squid theory, which are both great because they involve invertebrates who would leave nothing behind in the way of fossilized bones, and also would conceivably not need to come up for air. And of course there is the more logical explanations of what people are seeing - otters, seals, swimming deer, logs, and whatever other no-fun dismissive reactions. But to take a step in an even wackier direction than living dinosaurs and Hollow Earth Theory, what about Time Slips?

Suppose a prehistoric aquatic creature pokes its head above water, and finds itself 150 million years ahead of where it swam up from? Then, having had a glimpse of the future, it goes right back the way it came to tell all its friends about the cool castle ruins of Loch Ness's coast. Then it writes a book on its experience, and none of its friends believe it as they've been to the Loch and never seen such things. Old prehistoric Nessie lives out her days wondering "Just what the Hell was that?"

With all the research going on in physics these days related to quantum field theory, retrocausality, and potential paradigm shifts as to the nature of space-time I tend to believe more and more that Time Slips like the one described in Versailles around the turn of the century to be a real possibility. Frankly, all of the quantum physics stuff is above my pay grade, but it makes for fun thought experiments...

Join me tomorrow for my seventh and final Nessie-a-Day installment - same Ness time, same Ness channel!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Nessie-a-Day #5 - East of the Loch, as the Crow(ley) Flies...

The Loch Ness Monster is many things to many people - to some, those perhaps with a tendency toward magical thought, Nessie may well be a dark entity or demon. As referenced in my previous entries, Ted Holiday came to believe that his Great Orm was something of another Goblin Universe, and was present for the exorcism of the Loch; Janet and Colin Bord postulated that 'Doc' Shiels' invocation rituals, as (intentionally) silly as they were, may have in fact created Tulpas - thought forms represented not only by Nessie, but by ABCs (Alien Big Cats), Black Dogs, and flying creatures. In Alien Animals, they note the proximity not only to Loch Ness but to a place called Boleskine House for a few major ABC events. Boleskine House was the scene of a legendary botched magick ritual by a young Aleister Crowley, who bought the estate in 1889. He had intended to call upon his Holy Guardian Angel, in a sacred ritual from the 1500s - the Sacred Ritual of Abramelin the Mage. The story goes that young Crowley summoned and then lost control of shadowy figures from Beyond, or that he abandoned his 6 month preparation program too soon - a full and well-written account of these events by Greg Newkirk can be found here, in a 2011 article for the wonderful Week in Weird website. But a lot has happened at Boleskine since 2011, and more has come to light regarding the rituals Crowley was engaged in.

The day of this writing, a BBC article appeared concerning Boleskine - that it is up for sale again. The house and property changed hands many times over the years, adding to the legend that Crowley's black magic had made it an evil place. Most notably, it was owned by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. In 2015, a fire broke out in the remote estate which reduced it nearly to rubble. Some would argue that the place was cursed, so a fire seems a fitting end to the building itself. But the question that is just too good and too weird to not ask is did Crowley conjure Nessie?

The Bords argue that although the modern phenomena of a monster in the Loch kicked off in 1933, stories of a monster went back centuries. Holiday also acknowledges tales of dragons, or Orm, in his second book The Dragon and the Disc. The ABCs occurring as a result of botched magical workings have precedent in occult literature - to King James I it was the Devil himself, choosing a form he liked - a lion, an ape, or a dog. The Ritual of Abramelin did involve calling forth evil entities, so the story goes, and bringing them under control after union with the Holy Guardian Angel. This is reportedly where Crowley ran into trouble.

Crowley was a complicated man who really divides people in opinion about him. Often thought of as a well-to-do kook who lived for infamy, he has just as many (or more) devotees, admirers, and people who respect and fear what he brought to the table. In addition to his aforementioned association with the Loch Ness monster, there's also his contacts with an inter dimensional being called "Lam", who seems eerily similar to our modern concept of Grey Aliens. In addition, I've noted before that his death was right around the time of the first major Flying Saucer flaps - 1947. Whatever your thoughts about Crowley might be, it's not unfair to say from an objective standpoint that his life was chaotic. Thus, it's not beyond the pale to blame him for a bungled ritual. But that might not be the whole story...
In recent years, a new translation of The Book of Abramelin has been released by Ibis Press. In 1897, S.L. MacGregor Mathers had translated the ritual from an incomplete French version of Abraham von Worms' original grimoire, and this would have been the version that Crowley brought with him to Boleskine House. Is it any wonder that his working would go sideways on him, if the book he was working with was translated from an unreliable source? In the foreword by Lon Milo DuQuette, he goes to great lengths to stress that Mathers actually did a great job of translating the French text - it's just that the French text did a poor job of translating from the original German. It seems an Erisian twist of fate that Crowley may have really done everything to the letter - but the letter itself was wrong! The famed 6 months of preparation, it turns out, should have been 18. It would seem that small discrepancies can do a lot of damage...

Also worth noting, in the spirit of Name Game synchromysticism - the Magician who authored The Book of Abramelin is called Abraham von Worms. Holiday referred to Nessie as an Orm, which can also by Worm or Wyrm in English folklore. Of course, "von Worms" as a moniker simply means that Abraham was from Worms, Germany - but that has synchronistic value as well. Worms is the setting for the first part of the Nibelungenlied, in addition to other German folktales tracing their roots to the Kingdom of the Burgundians in the the early 5th century. The legendary hero Sigurd, or Siegfried, is prominent in these tales. Siegfried is, of course, notable for having killed a dragon, before being murdered himself...

In closing, if anyone wants to loan me (or just give me, preferably) $650,000 to buy Boleskine House estate, I'll be your best friend!


Monday, April 15, 2019

Nessie-a-Day #4 - Tony Shiels... What's up, 'Doc'?

Tony 'Doc' Shiels is one of the most fun and colorful characters I've come across in all of my strange reading. And that's saying something! He seems to round all the bases of my various weird interests - first and foremost, as he would prefer according to interview segments I've read, the man is an artist - a Surrealist painter who came to call his conceptual continuity (to borrow a term from Zappa) works of "Surrealchemy". He has been a busker, musician and performer; a stage magician and the Wizard of the West; a trickster and a sincere lover of spectacle - but for the purposes of the Nessie-a-Day series, he's the man who coaxed the Loch Ness Monster out for a photo shoot!
Tony Shiels was born in 1938 in Salford, where he developed an early affinity for sleight-of-hand and learned some tricks from his family. At age 16, he began attending Heatherly School of Fine Art in London, thereafter beginning a promising career as an artist in St. Ives, Cornwall. He played blues piano, performed magic, and generally had a good time in the counterculture scene. Eventually he would write columns in such magic magazines as Linking Ring and The Budget, developing what became known as "Bizarre Magic" - spookier magic tricks that worked in occult elements (ie card tricks utilizing Tarot cards) that broke the mold a bit for the tastes of stage magicians at the time.

All of this is very interesting to me - the blues, Surrealism, the occult, sleight-of-hand, 60s counterculture are all long-term fascinations of mine. But my introduction to the Doc included none of these details - I was drawn in by his appearance in a book called Alien Animals, by Janet and Colin Bord.
In the interest of fairness, I sought this book out after seeing a picture of it online - that cover art is FANTASTIC. As it happens, it's a great book that explores all manner of mysterious out-of-place (hence, alien) or unknown creatures from all over the world. Janet and Colin Bord have written many books on a variety of Fortean and folkloric topics, and are the stewards of the Fortean Picture Library. In a 2017 interview Janet credits Shiels' Nessie photo (printed in the Daily Mirror, shown above) for being the first of many that made up said library...

In the book, published in 1981, 'Doc' Shiels comes up repeatedly with very little explanation as to who he is - he's described as a Wizard, one who does experiments in "monster raising" with a trio of nude witches - an experiment that apparently yielded results. How could I do anything other than dig deeper into this story??? The photographic evidence seemed to indicate that his efforts were efficacious, leading the Bords to question whether the creatures were summoned, or created out of thin air in the manner of a Tulpa (as described by Alexandra David-Neel in Magic and Mystery in Tibet).
Skyclad Witches inkvoke Morgawr - if nothing else, 'Doc' knew how to throw a party!
1976 was the year of the skyclad witches and their swimming rituals to lure in sea serpents - the monster Morgawr was reported during this time at Falmouth Bay in Cornwall. The Owlman of Mawnan was also reported around this time, and by '77 Shiels had developed his monster raising techniques into a network of participants, willing monsters into existence in an experiment called Monstermind. A lot of reports came out during this era, a lot of photos as well; Shiels gained a bit of notoriety (and perhaps infamy) in the press as the busking Wizard who had Nessie under his spell. Most of the photographic evidence from this era is considered a hoax now, and many of the reports were thought to be a product of Shiels himself - often they were in the form of a letter, and original witnesses weren't interviewed. Shiels maintains that he never hoaxed any of the monsters - his conjurations he credited, in 1981, to his "strong desire for success".

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for Shiels has been edited between the time I first viewed it and the time of this writing - last year, the entry seemed to be a damning indictment of Shiels as a fraud, while now it has a more generous and fuller account of his personality. If you're reading this in the future, it may have changed again! But such is the nature of our amorphous reality, when information is as malleable as a bunch of ones and zeros in a computational code...

The best way to really get to know 'Doc' Shiels is by reading the biography written about him by Rupert White - Monstermind: The Magical Life and Art of Tony 'Doc' Shiels.

The 1977 experiments were cut short due to "Psychic Backlash" - an effect reportedly experienced as a sense of fatigue following encounters with Nessie by F. W. Holiday and Tim Dinsdale, among others. That and, according to Shiels, it had already been a success as photos had been produced not only of Nessie but of other monsters around the world. The antidote to this backlash effect, as prescribed by the 'Doc' was, in keeping with his trickster nature: humor. The protection offered by a sense of humor, he says, "has to be paid for. So, although my humourous wizardry is successful, it is not taken seriously by the monster hunting establishment." Truly a man after my own heart!

He wrote continuously for the Fortean Times, as heavily quoted in my previous entry, in his column "Ask a Wizard". He eventually came up with a cephalopod theory about Nessie, that the monster was actually a form of elephant squid!

In his long and varied career of various careers - from monster-raiser to artist, musician to magician, he's been an amazing figure that it took me far too long to find out about. There's a list of books that he's authored that I someday hope to get my hands on... and he's still out there, creating art and has made television appearances in the past few years. Long live Tony Shiels- thanks for all the entertaining and thoughtful fun!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Nessie-a-Day #3 - Sail into the (Synchro)Mystic

Today's Nessie post is a bit of a mind-bender and one I probably put way much thought into. It involves a bit of the Fortean "Name Game", and plays on words from the old Fortean Times magazine, with a nod to cryptozoologist / author Loren Coleman's Twilight Language, which he defines as "the study of hidden meanings and synchronistic connections via onomatology (the study of names) and toponymy (study of place names)". And Mr. Coleman, if you're reading this, I apologize in advance for what may be a sloppy version of the work you do - and by no means do I wish to diminish it!

In the aforementioned Fortean Times issues, the game was "Lexi-Links", coined by Anthony Bell. It's the pun-like repetition and distortion of names and symbols linked to anomalous phenomena. And given the F. W. Holiday synchronicity alluded to in Nessie-a-Day #1, and all the ado given it's due, let's do the thing and proceed.

The "Surgeon" in question, who is allegedly took the photograph this series is celebrating, is often referred to in reports as a Dr. Wilson, or Kenneth Wilson, but the man's full name was Robert Kenneth Wilson. (It's likely to my mind that he preferred to go by "Kenneth".) Well as a devout Discordian (except every other Thursday, when I choose a religion randomly out of a hat to ascribe to) it's hard to see that name without thinking of Robert Anton Wilson, the author of  Illuminatus! and Episkopos, Pope and saint of Discordianism.
He was actually born Robert Edward Wilson, a year or so before the first major Nessie sightings. Technically, he earned a PhD in psychology from Paideia University in 1978 - making he, too, a doctor - but that particular university is now closed, and was unaccredited in the time he spent there. R.K. Wilson was a gynecologist, and was described as someone who "enjoyed a good practical joke" - The story behind the surgeon's photo is that it was staged by the nephew of the humiliated would-be monster hunter Marmaduke Wetherell, and given to Wilson who could play the role of a more reliable and unbiased witness. Compare this to R.A. Wilson, a notorious prankster who, along with popularizing Discordianism, was one of the driving forces behind Operation Mindfuck - which often involved prank letters printed in magazines and newspapers...

The two Dr. Roberts above made me think of the Beatles song from the 1966 album Revolver, which made me think of the "Mr. Wilson" reference in the song Taxman from the same album, which made me think of the hit single Yellow Submarine - which reminded me of the VIPERFISH, a mini-sub piloted by Dan Taylor in the Loch in 1969 in search of Nessie. The sub was yellow... I wasn't sure any of that was significant, but I tend to think that I'm an Idiosyncratic Synchromystic whether I admit it or not. So my thought is: Every particular thing is significant, except for those things that aren't. Looking into the recording details of the song Dr Robert, it was recorded on April 17, 1966, and the vocals were recorded April 19th - the 32nd anniversary of the shutter click heard round the world. Also worth noting - 1966 is the year Paul McCartney died, if you believe the Paul is Dead theories. I'm with RAW, who said "belief is the death of intelligence"...

I'm not the first to note the confluence of Wilsons - self-proclaimed Wizard, Artist, and raconteur Tony "Doc" Shiels (who is intimately tied to Loch Ness - he famously "summoned" the monster and will absolutely be covered in a future post) wrote in the Autumn 1982 issue of Fortean Times:

'W' is the 23rd letter of the alphabet...twenty three skidoo, Weishaupt and Wilson! Wilson (viz: Robert Anton, Kenneth, and Colin) is a name with weird worm and wizardry associations, so we will keep it in mind: 

Of course, he also includes Colin Wilson, who I mentioned in the F. W. Holiday post as being responsible for Holiday's The Goblin Universe being published - which examines the whole of weird phenomena as a network of otherwordly symptoms - synchronicity prominent among them - all having a common cause, or controlling force. The word "goblin" is thought by some to be associated with a later term, "gremlin", which brings me to the next Wilson on my list...

This Robert Wilson isn't a doctor, in fact, he's presented as a recently discharged patient. He goes by "Bob" instead of "Robert", and his other distinguishing characteristic is that he's entirely fictional. Bob Wilson is the name of the character played by William Shatner in the classic 1963 Twilight Zone (Twilight - Language, Zone!) episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Wilson is on an airplane, alone in his awareness of the monstrous gremlin on the wing threatening to kill everyone aboard. It's a bizarre and truly nightmarish scenario, where the line between sanity and reality is unclear for everyone involved. It is, also, a great metaphor for monomaniacal pursuits of various Fortean phenomena - always seeing things or knowing things that you can't easily communicate to the average person, like a sighting of a lake monster, or spending a Saturday night deconstructing a Twilight Zone episode to make it relate to the Loch Ness Monster...

Eventually, the episode culminates in Wilson stealing a revolver (!) from a sleeping policeman and opening the emergency hatch to fire on the creature, which then departs. In the end, he's vindicated by the physical damage to the fuselage, but is wheeled away in a straightjacket all the same. In 1983, the story was done for the movie version of the Twilight Zone, with Jon Lithgow playing John Valentine. The only name I could relate this to was Michael Valentine of Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein, but I couldn't grok any real meaning out of it so I abandoned it. It's worth mentioning simply because it extends the Fortean metaphor; Valentine attempts, in desperation, to get a Polaroid photo of the gremlin, only to have the flash thwart him and leave him with a picture of his own sweaty, frenzied face - echoing Holiday's observation of Nessie's eerie aversion to being photographed... Deep, man...

The most recent offering from Jordan Peele, Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, is more of an homage to the classic story, and is quite different. I won't go into too much detail, as it's still new and I wouldn't want to spoil it, but the lead role is played by Adam Scott, and instead of Valentine or Wilson the character is named Justin Sanderson. Old school Forteans will recognize the name Sanderson - Ivan T. Sanderson wrote a great deal of literature on weird phenomena, as well as the foreword to Holiday's The Great Orm of Loch Ness... as for the name Scott - Sir Peter Scott was a respected naturalist who studied the Loch for signs of a hidden beastie and was the one who named her Nessiteras Rhombopteryx - Latin for Ness Dweller with a Diamond Shaped Fin. It was noted not long after that the term is also an anagram for "Monster Hoax by Sir Peter S". That may well just be the Goblin Universe having a bit of fun with us... Shiels notes that it also can be "Tony's ESP beats hex... Mirror" and that Scott is a name long associated with magic (Michael, Reginald, Sir Walter).

Of course, prior to Richard Matheson's fictional tale of a man on the wing made television history, there were reports of gremlins tinkering with planes. The phenomena is almost as old as aviation itself. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, reports of gremlins messing with aircraft were so common the Ministry had a service manual written by "Gremlorist" on how to handle them!

1940 began with a bang, or perhaps a splash - though not specifically gremlin related, a New Year's even training flight over Loch Ness resulted in a Wellington bomber sinking into the depths. The bomber was numbered N2980, but the nickname was - ready for it? R for Robert. The sunken WWII bomber was discovered in 1976 during the sonar surveys of the Loch, 230 ft below the surface. In the mid-eighties, efforts were conducted to retrieve the lost bomber by an organization called the Loch Ness Wellington Association, headed up by chairperson Robin Holmes.

Which brings us to our Nessie-a-Day #2 entry about the movie prop -from a Sherlock Holmes film- that was found twice during surveys of the Loch - the sunken monster, which was, in the movie, a submarine disguised as a monster, and was intentionally sunk at the end. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was a 1970 movie by Billy Wilder, while in 1975 Gene Wilder starred in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother... The filming by Wilder on location at Urquhart Bay was in 1969, and was assisted by a submarine called the Pisces II, while the yellow submarine VIPERFISH was also in the Loch, hoping to catch a piece of Nessie... The same year Abbey Road was released, with the "28IF" license plate on the cover...

This is now degenerating as these things tend to do - this has been an exhausting post and I hope you made it this far. I'll leave you with one more snippet from Tony "Doc" Shiels, again from a Fortean Times magazine which also features articles from Loren Coleman and Robert Anton Wilson...

The names Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson can be anagrammatized into such telegrammatic lines as "O NO! WHAT? JOHN KEEL LANDS COY LOCH NESS ORM!" or "JOKE ON LOCH NESS AND LOCAL MONSTER, OH, WHY?"

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