Sunday, May 21, 2023

UFO Rope Tricks and Threads From Nowhere


We all love a good yarn, and anyone who has looked into mysterious phenomena with any degree of honest inquiry is well familiar with those tales that fall apart once you begin pulling at the threads. There are a great many ways one can react to this; one may choose to discard the story altogether for fear it might contaminate the legitimacy of the other good stories, or one may hold on to it and put it in the “Maybe” pile. Still others might examine the yarn for its implications, and study those who believe it and why they do. This writer prefers to consider these loose threads, these in-between zones on the rich and mottled tapestry that is the subjective scope of Forteana, as the key to understanding how all of this weirdness - the outrageous claims, the patently unsatisfactory explanations, the investigators involved and even you, the reader - are connected.


To illustrate this point, the reader is invited to step right up and consider the Indian Rope Trick. It goes something like this: the street performer throws a rope into the air, which becomes rigid as though hanging from an unseen platform. The rope is then able to be climbed, and various avenues of performance have been described following this initial feat of the impossible.* It's classic stage magic performance, more often written of or spoken of than actually seen, it has been explained away in the past as a form of mass hallucination. The fakir, adept in clouding the minds of men, simply convinces the audience that he is performing the familiar trick, and the audience fills in the blanks as they watch the show with slackened jaws. This sounds absurd, and an early reference to such a claim came from a cousin of Theodore Roosevelt.  In a Baltimore Sun article from 1927, Andre Roosevelt claimed to have filmed the trick being performed. He and the audience alike saw the performance as advertised, but yet the camera showed no such thing! “Hypnotism!” concludes the reporter, “That is the rope trick of India.” 

The explanations of mass hallucination and hypnotism have long been a part of the UFO narrative of skeptical explanations. Often, those who make these claims are stage magicians themselves. In 1952 John Mulholland, a popular stage magician who also worked with the CIA, described flying saucers as a “state of mind”. He goes on to say that his decades of stage performance experience taught him that all manner of intelligent people “can, by suggestion, quite readily be made to see things which aren’t.” In the same decade, FATE Magazine ran an article about the rope trick; another well-known magician, Joseph Dunninger, said he knew of 37 ways that the trick could be accomplished- most of which, he said, were impossible. Included among the unlikely methods of pulling of the feat was hypnotizing the audience into believing they had seen it. The control conditions would need to be very specific for such a thing to work, and it was much less risky to use one of the others. It seems an old explanation for the magic trick, when applied to odd things in the sky, is adequate- and yet unlikely for the trick itself. But the show must go on, and so it does. One wonders if the phenomena behind the saucer sightings might not be putting on a show of its own…

Mass hallucination seems like a convenient, albeit unlikely explanation in cases where no physical evidence is left behind. Without anything tangible, with only the testimony of witnesses, we are left to grapple with the very fallible aspects of human perception and memory. Even still, without a carefully directed hand to distract them from what the other is doing, the idea that a group of people would collectively hallucinate the same thing seems as unlikely as anomalous craft from other worlds landing near a school. It may actually make more sense that, as Mac Tonnes suggested, these beings intentionally reveal themselves as a performance of some kind. If all we have at the end is a good yarn with an unsatisfactory prosaic explanation, then we have to accept that and find new ways to contextualize it. But what of those cases in which the physical evidence is all you have, and the story of the origin along with its explanation is the part that’s missing? Enter: the Mystery Threads from Nowhere.

In August of 1970, according to Berthold Shwartz and later reported by John Keel, a silver thread inexplicably appeared over Caldwell, New Jersey. The thread, it appeared to Dr. Shwartz, “came from no place and went no place. It just hung there.” This phenomena was referred to as “Sky-Lines” in a 1971 issue of Pursuit Magazine, wherein the writers who investigated the case found at least half a dozen of such strands of what appeared to be fishing line dangled from an imperceivable source. In one instance, over the course of the several months these mysterious nylon strands grazed the ground in Caldwell, four local boys spent an hour hauling in the line before it finally snapped. Analysis of the strands by DuPont revealed that it was a nylon material of some sort, commonly used for fishing line, but the source remained a mystery. Perhaps even stranger, when Dr. Shwartz sent a sample of the material to another investigator, the envelope arrived intact with nothing inside of it. The strand had disappeared, presto change-o, as mysteriously as it had arrived. The mystery threads here seem to defy categorization; other than the fact that they seemed to come from the sky, there is no direct link to UFOs. In opposition to tales of sightings which leave no physical evidence, as concluded in the Pursuit article, “we have the thing, but the how and why of it remain totally mystifying.”

Mystifying though it may be, this was not the first case of Mystery Threads from Nowhere. In 1955 a small town called Blakedale, in South Carolina, was tangled up in its own anomalous twine. The string was described as being like the kind used to fly a kite, but not strong enough to hold a kite. A tangled ball of it was discovered on the roof of a Mrs. Smith, and the children took turns pulling on the drifting string until they tired of it and broke it off. The thread seemed to continue across town, leading to speculation that it had something to do with the military or perhaps came from a weather balloon, although neither explanation was borne out with any evidence. The only origin everyone could agree on was that it came out of the sky…

Another account was from a man named Hut Wallace, who discovered a glimmering strand above his house. Reported in a 1973 issue of FATE Magazine, the Georgia man called his friend who worked for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution to come and see it. Neither man could see any source for the dangling string, it just seemed to come down from a clear blue sky. Wallace’s nephew eventually got on the roof and hauled in yards of what appeared to be green fishing line, but never saw anything at the other end of it. A nearby company manufactured similar products, but how it could have gotten into the air, and what could possibly have dangled it, again beggars the imagination. 

The final example I will include here is the first one I came across, and had filed it in my memory as simply a good yarn as it was an anecdotal accounting of events and sounded utterly bonkers to me at the time. After all, who had ever heard of Mystery Threads dangling from the sky? The story was shared on Facebook by a man named Tim, and it occurred at Stonehenge in 1976. He was there for a music festival, when a kid handed him a string coming out of the blue sky. He figured there was a kite, but he couldn’t see anything at the end, so he started to reel it in. He could feel the pull as though there were a kite, but after 45 minutes of pulling in line he decided to pass the string off to some “likely looking candidate”. He admonished the man to not let go- “after all,” he said, with a wry wit that one often finds among the British, “we don't know what's on the other end... it might come crashing down, it might be depending on us, we might be depending on it... what if actually 'it' is flying us?” He concludes by wondering whatever happened with the string, and whether somewhere, someone is still holding the end of it. “I certainly hope so”, he said. 

There is something uncanny, mind-bending, and existentially disquieting about something so mundane as a nylon line defying all that we know of physics and by extension, reality itself. For such a common, unremarkable thing as a string to buck the norms of our expectations and leave itself behind for examination, only ever leaving in its wake more questions, one gets the sense that the yarns we take in, and the threads that we pull on, inform aspects of our shared experience of the world and all its weirdness far more than we care to let on. What if some being was “flying us”, holding on to the other end? What if, as suggested jokingly in an article about the New Jersey thread, something was fishing for us? What if the Mystery Threads are just intergalactic performance art, a way for the phenomena to show us an Indian rope trick of its own? After all, the rope trick is just that- a trick. Isn’t it?

I encourage anyone reading this to chase down these yarns, to pull on these threads, and remember to have fun with it. It’s all a show, and there’s no sense in coming apart at the seams…


Addendum: a bonus "yarn" that's almost definitely not true, from The Saturday Blade, January 5th, 1895, in Chicago, Illinois.


An oversight on my part- initially I failed to actually describe the Indian Rope Trick. This has been corrected. The writer would like to express gratitude to his friend Theresa Meis, the Unicorn who breaths Fire, for pointing this out!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Emanations From the Clown Realm- Legend Tripping, Hilarious Magic, and Synchronicity


Clowns and clowning around have long been a theme on this blog. Some of my earliest posts on here concerned my fascination with them, in particular the Phantom Clown wave of 1981 written about by Loren Coleman in his Mysterious America. I found early on that by engaging with this material, the unintended consequence of clown synchronicities was very much a thing I would have to contend with. As the years have gone by since those early days of whibbling along the wobbly path of wyrdshit, I've come to accept and learn from these effects- and have become much more comfortable with experiencing them. I've only gotten sillier over time as well, which has only worked to my benefit.

My long history of association with clown material made me a natural choice as a guest, along with my good friend and fellow kook Stephanie Quick, on the Our Strange Skies Podcast for a chat about Sam, the Sandown Clown and other clowny Forteana. I did warn the listening audience that just by hearing us talk about these subjects, they would experience clown synchronicities of their own. Some themes presented themselves during the discussion in the episode, among them birthdays (Stephanie and the host, Rob Kristoffersen, both had birthdays around the same time as the initial Sandown Clown encounter and the Phantom Clown wave), the trickster nature of clowns and the childlike viewpoint that allows for bizarre encounters, and, inexplicably, lots of jokes about nudity. Naturally, I had to draw a picture for Rob once I began to combine these elements in my head:

In addition to the Sam story and the Phantom Clowns, Stephanie talked about an area we dubbed "The Denny's Vortex"- where Ted "the PK Man" Owens had once performed his weather magic to bust a drought and conjured a UFO, and where later an anomalous clown appeared. Steph and I had discussed Owens before, on The Eternal Void But with Jazz podcast, which unfortunately no longer is available to hear. Around that time, I acquired an "SI disc"- a sort of talismanic object Owens claimed would help others learn how to perform their own weather manipulation through contact with Space Intelligences- from Tim Schwartz. I've had some successes in controlling the weather, although how much of that is down to just plain old coincidence is a matter of conjecture. With all of this stuff- coincidence, synchronicity, mysteries, magic, and weird tales- I've adopted a light touch, and chosen to proceed as though it's all real with my tongue firmly in my cheek. All of it is real, and also none of it. The question is, is it fun?

My statement about clown synchros in the episode was meant to be fun. I did have people's synchronicities related to clowns reported back to me, and I quite enjoyed them. A few of my own, that I'll mention here, are examples of the kinds of things one might expect. It's been a habit later at night to throw on an old episode of Seinfeld when I'm just about ready for bed, and the night I recorded with Rob and Steph the episode "The Little Jerry" was cued up. The plot advances from Jerry having bounced a check at the local bodega, and publicly shamed for it by the shop owner. The design on the checks Jerry used gets pointed out and joked about several times:

A more significant synchro took form in anticipating a wash-out on the day of a town-wide yard sale that my wife had been looking forward to. She has her own business reselling clothing and other things, and was really hoping to stock up in the town of Rutland, Massachusetts- where the town-wide yard sale was scheduled rain or shine. She asked me if I could perform some weather magic to keep the rain at bay. I sighed and said I would try.

The morning of the yard sale the forecast wasn't looking very good. The radar map showed dark clouds converging on Rutland, but I assured her that there would be no rain until 2:15 p.m. Intermittent sprinkles threatened to make a liar out of me as we started to poke around at some yard sales on the edge of town, and at one of the first we went to the man in charge lured me into a tent to try to sell me a clown.

Finding clown things at yard sales isn't uncommon, but it struck me as significant that he made it a point to direct me to them. As the day wore on, the weather was cold and raw but no rain fell. We eventually decided we'd follow the posted signs to one last yard sale before quitting for the day and going to get lunch, and when we arrived at the last one there was a clown painting prominently placed out front.

Oddly enough, the name "PAM" - which is my wife's name- is written in the bottom right corner.
We ate lunch and left the restaurant at 2:05. I said "almost time for rain." As we drove home, raindrops began to fall...

It occurred to me in the midst of all of this that my own brand of Hilarious Magic might just be the thing to close the portal to the Clown Realm once and for all. So I set about planning a Very Serious expedition to find this portal and perform Clown Magics there to do just that.

On the 42nd anniversary of the original Phantom Clown sightings in the greater Boston area, I set my sights on a specific part of Franklin Park. In reviewing the case for the podcast, and being more familiar with the Boston area than I once was, I came to realize that the park system in that region referred to as The Emerald Necklace seemed to have something to do with the clown sightings.
Clipping from The Boston Globe, 7 May 1981

The sightings began in Brookline, near Longwood Ave, which is a riverside area adjacent to the parks. Next they were seen in Franklin Park in Roxbury and in Jamaica Plain, both part of the Emerald Necklace system. The reports eventually taper off in Randolph and Canton, and interestingly enough those towns are just to the north of the northernmost tip of the Bridgewater Triangle. If the Triangle were imagined as an arrow head, it would be pointing right at them. The sightings then resumed in Providence, Rhode Island, which is situated to the west of the westernmost tip of the Triangle.

My journey to the Clown Portal began in Cambridge, where Pam got some thrifting in at the Garment District and I obtained some ritual clown things at the Boston Costume Company downstairs. We then got lunch at Mamaleh's Delicatessen, which appeared to have a giant pickle with a resemblance to Groucho Marx as a mascot. I took this as a fortuitous omen, and, fortified with brined fish and onions, began the perilous drive from Cambridge to 

The route seemed to be the same one the Phantom Clowns might have used; we passed through Brookline in the Longwood Ave neighborhood, and followed the river to our destination. A road we were counting on using was closed due to a festival happening in one of the parks, and a detour cost us some precious time. Another road closure forced us to re-route and I knew at that point that the malicious clown energy was trying to deter us. Still, we pressed on. 

We finally arrived at the parking area of White Stadium in Franklin Park, with just a half hour to get some Very Serious Funny Business accomplished before the parking lot closed. I took my new foam clown nose and rubber chicken and set out for the ruins, where I suspect the Clown Realm had emanated its denizens upon the unsuspecting populace 42 years prior.

Pictured: Very Serious Funny Business

The acquisition of a rubber chicken was a classic Clown Magic reversal of magical norms. Where some traditions would require the sacrifice of a live chicken, the obtaining of a rubber one seemed the best and funniest method of restoring Good Humor and fun magic to the world. The foam clown nose allowed for better comfort and was easier to breathe through than my old one, which was good because I needed my strength in such an undertaking. The Hawaiian shirt I wore was a symbolic gesture and nod to Loren Coleman, who is often seen wearing such shirts. Incidentally, while I was doing this nonsense, he was hosting an in-store signing in Bangor with the comic book writer John Rozum, who had featured a character based on Loren in a recent Scooby-Doo comic. It might be a bit of a stretch, but one of the earliest villains the Mystery, Inc crew faced was... the Ghost Clown.

With the portal to the Clown Realm located, it was a simple matter of solemn recitation of a few knock-knock jokes, a salutation of the sun while chanting "Why did the chicken cross the veil?", and a bit of undisclosable tomfoolery and jiggery-pokery. Also, my antics inspired laughter from the few passers-by that I encountered, which is only ever a good thing. I count that as a success within itself- and if new rumors start spreading about a clown in the park, all the better.

The irony, it seems, is that in order to defeat the clown, you must become the clown.

I am increasingly more ok with this with every passing year. I hope my efforts have rippling effects and inspire smiles, senses of adventure, and more wonder in the world. Channel your inner clown, and you'll see for yourself...

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Exorcism Extravaganza!

(The following first appeared in the March 2023 issue of Paranormality Magazine.)

 The word “Exorcism” brings to mind familiar images largely borne out of pop culture and horror movies. Films such as “The Exorcist” and, more recently, “The Conjuring” franchise, inform the popular conception of the ritual. The common depiction of exorcism in movies follow a similar track; a victim of demonic possession, often through dabblings in occult material, becomes taken over by an unseen force which then has to be cast out by a priest. William Peter Blatty, in writing “The Exorcist”, based his story on the real-life account of a boy known as “Roland Doe” in the late 1940s. The popularity of the movie helped to promote a growing idea within ghost hunting and paranormal circles about the prevalence of demons and conversely, the necessity of piety and Christian values. Father Malachi Martin and Ed and Lorraine Warren were instrumental in popularizing these concepts, strains of which can be felt to this day in paranormal television programming. Self-styled “Demonologists”, in the tradition of Ed Warren, can be found taunting spirits on the airwaves to largely agnostic audiences, titillated at the prospect of good conquering evil. 

Far from the fun and games of jump-scares in the cinema, or sensationalized demon-hunting in TV programming, this strain of thought has damaging effects that are sadly more human than paranormal. There is always a danger that mental illness can be exploited or built upon by introducing ideas about supernatural influence. Exorcists working within religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, are required to rule this out before proceeding with a ritual. Medical experts should always be consulted and on hand for such events, and sadly, there have been deaths and lasting trauma in cases where these protocols weren’t followed.

Unseen malevolent forces, and methods of banishing them, appear in the traditions of cultures all over the world. It seems that humanity has always needed some manner of defense against these outside forces, although various cultures have had a more nuanced view than the dualistic moralism that characterizes the modern cadre of Devil Hunters. A comprehensive survey of varied cultural, religious, and magical beliefs about demons and what to do with them would be quite the undertaking- even within the modern, Christian-based concept of exorcism, quite a variety of cases that don’t fit the Hollywood mold can be found. Often wacky, but ever-interesting, these expectation-defying examples of modern exorcism probably won’t be hitting the theaters any time soon.

The aforementioned Ed and Lorraine Warren bring us our first out-of-the-ordinary exorcism case; that of a Werewolf. Conventional logic would have us believe that a silver bullet is the only tool that can help defeat such a monster, but in this case it was the intervention of the Warrens’ friend Father Robert McKenna. While visiting the United Kingdom, Ed and Lorraine caught wind of the story of Bill Ramsey, the Southend Werewolf. Ramsey was a blue collar, average man with a wife and kids. He worked several jobs at a time, always concerned about providing for his family. He was well-liked by his coworkers and in his community; that is, at least, until his werewolf tendencies were revealed. 

He had twice tried to seek help at an emergency room at the onset of one of his “spells”, and on both occasions he rampaged through nurses, orderlies, and other patients. He was said to have growled and moaned in inhuman ways, his hands curled to simulate claws as he struck out and bit anyone who came too close. After a similar attack on a local police precinct, he was admitted to a mental health facility and kept under observation. His werewolfism was treated as a delusion by the doctors, and a dangerous one at that. Though no physical transformation was reported during these spells, witnesses claimed he possessed superhuman strength and an uncanny animalistic rage.

In meeting the Warrens, he told a tale of being a young boy and feeling a “chill” while out playing in the backyard of his childhood home. It was the first time that he had lost control, and by his account his parents watched in horror as he ferociously ripped a fence post out of the ground and proceeded to bite at the wire, thrashing at the fence like a panicked animal. Ed Warren immediately identified this as the moment “the spirit of a wolf” entered young Bill Ramsey. He also insisted that the only person who could help was just an ocean away at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, in Connecticut.

Father McKenna was sedeprivationist, whose ministry was an offshoot of the main Catholic Church. These traditionalist Catholics disavowed the primacy of the Pope in the wake of changes made in Vatican II. He was altogether willing to help Bill with his werewolf problems, as such traditionalist Catholics tend toward fostering belief in demonic forces as a means of driving people back to church, and to the old ways of doing things. The overseas voyage to his church was sponsored by the British paper The People, in exchange for exclusive rights to the story. The exorcism itself proved to be fairly anticlimactic. The entire affair was videotaped, and the “wolf spirit” did try to resist the efforts of McKenna. Ultimately, Bill was a changed man, and credited this to the ritual. Presumably he’s had no bouts of werewolf rampage since then, at least none that have made the news… 

While exorcising a werewolf is novel, it still very much falls in line with the idea of a person possessed by an evil spirit- and, as we all know, possession is 9/10 of the law. But what about larger scale exorcisms, not just of people but of places?

The 1990s had a few such stories in the national news. In 1998, an exorcist named Baron Deacon tried, and reportedly failed, to drive out “the dragons and serpents” from the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. While it’s unclear what specific effect Deacon had hoped to achieve during his exorcism on the steps of the Capitol Building, it nonetheless garnered attention in newspapers around the country. Another such public ritual, and a much sillier one, occurred earlier in the decade and was led by Father Guido Sarducci. Sarducci was a character developed by comedian Don Novello, who first appeared in episodes of Saturday Night Live. Boston radio personality Charles Laquiderra invited Sarducci to lead the faithful among the Red Sox fans in an exorcism of Fenway Park, their stadium. The idea behind this was to rid the team of the Curse of the Bambino- a superstition among sports fans that Boston had been magically barred from a World Series win after Babe Ruth had left the team for New York in the 1920s. Sarducci’s exorcism involved the releasing of balloons, sprinkling of water, women in short skirts, and liberally applied “noogies” to “shake out the bad spirits”. While amusing, the aforementioned Curse did not cease until 12 years after the exorcism- so it’s unclear whether Sarducci’s efforts could be credited.

While the exorcism of a branch of the Federal Government or of a baseball franchise may seem like a tall order, there is one man whose exploits in banishing make those attempts seem like child’s play. Enter the Reverend Doctor Donald Omand- the man who Exorcised the Bermuda Triangle.

Donald Omand was the son of a minister, and also claimed to have inherited his “feyness” or second-sight from his mother’s side of the family. He credited his innate psychical abilities, this feyness, for his successes in exorcism. To his mind, no amount of training or knowledge could make an exorcist- one must be born with these attributes, and the faith and knowledge would come later. While these magical beliefs may seem at odds with Christian ideas, Omand would say that these are gifts granted by God, and that employing them in his name would then be necessary. 

He studied theology in Germany in the 1930s, while working as a reporter to earn money. This led to him interviewing Hitler multiple times, and also set him on the path of international renown as an exorcist. While in Germany, he was advising on a religious movie being filmed in a studio near another film which featured circus performers. The circus folk saw Omand in his clerical attire and asked him to join their troop as a circus minister. Traveling circuses are perpetual outsiders wherever they go, and many are religious or at least superstitious. The tradition of having a dedicated minister for weddings, baptisms, and other religious ceremonies is not an uncommon one, and it was a role Omand was happy to fulfill. It was in the circus, in southern Germany, when he performed his first exorcism. 

The strong man had been acting strangely. Usually a jovial man, and friendly to children, he became foul and vulgar, and would scare kids away when they came near. Later he would describe the change coming over him after encountering an odd, menacing group of people outside of a church- the leader of which, he believed, had cursed him. During a performance of the lion tamer, the strong man got a crazed look in his eyes and grabbed hold of the bars to the cage where the tamer was directing his lions. The big cats in the show were like pets to the tamer, and the lions in this case were particularly affectionate; but now as the strong man grinned at the edge of the ring they became agitated. Suddenly, the strong man passed out and the lions attacked, mauling and killing the lion tamer. It was surmised that whatever foul force had possessed the strong man was now in the beasts.

Omand had to enter the lion’s den in order to exorcise the possessed felines. For a first attempt at exorcism, this was pretty extreme, but he later recounted a serene feeling coming over him and giving him faith that he would be protected in his endeavor. He was apparently successful, and the lions became tame once again. 

Omand is perhaps best known in Fortean circles for having performed an exorcism of Loch Ness, as recounted in F. W. Holiday’s posthumous book The Goblin Universe. While the exorcism of lake monsters may seem absurd, it’s worth noting that the earliest recorded mention of a monster near the loch comes from an account of St. Columba driving back a serpent in the River Ness, in 565 A.D. Dr. Omand was careful to note that he was not trying to exorcise the Loch Ness Monster, necessarily, but to remove its “evil influence” over the minds of men. Nessie may have been the ghost of a prehistoric beast, he suggested, and ghosts aren’t necessarily harmful. This way of thinking informed other similar exorcisms he performed at the Arctic Circle and at a fjord in Sweden. His method at Loch Ness involved several ceremonies at points along the shore, which would form a cross when pinned on a map, and finally a ceremony on a small boat in the center of the loch. Nessie has still been seen in the years since this event, but Omand was satisfied that the evil aura of the area had been dispersed.

His most audacious exorcism was yet to come- that of the Bermuda Triangle. The area off the coast of Florida had a notorious reputation for disappearances of all kinds, such as that of Flight 19. Omand theorized that a history of trauma in that area as enslaved people were brought to the New World in centuries past had created a vector of evil influence for that part of the sea. In an unfortunate and problematic turn, he suggested in an interview that perhaps a “witch doctor” had been cast overboard from such a ship, and cursed the sea with his dying breath. His exorcism of the Triangle followed a similar plan to that of Loch Ness, with rituals being performed at key areas on shore and at sea. While it’s unclear whether this worked, it’s worth noting that no one ever seems to talk about ships going missing in the Bermuda Triangle anymore.

These wilder tales of exorcism show that there’s much more to the tradition, even in modern times, than we’re led to believe by Hollywood productions or television shows. It also shows the persistent need in humanity to have ritual, to have authorities to which one can appeal in order to address unknown and terrifying maladies. Whether the ritual is silly, as in the case of Guido Sarducci at Fenway Park, hardly matters- the intent and communal engagement in working toward a goal still has power. It also goes to show that there are myriad motivations for pursuing this work, and for seeking such supernatural assistance. Perhaps for some, the simplified “good versus evil” model brings comfort, while others like Omand have a more nuanced and accepting view of otherworldly forces. Whatever the case, perhaps it's high time we had a lake monster exorcism movie!


The exploits of Rev Dr Omand were a lot of fun to read about and write up in an article- but due to word count restrictions and my compulsive need to pack as much into an article as possible, I wasn't able to get into all of it. Look out for my (at the time of this writing) upcoming appearance on Conspirinormal where I'll be getting into more stories, such as Omand vs a Vampire and Omand vs a Dangerous Intersection!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Fishin' for the Truth - a Brief Dip into Fiction. Or is it?


For all intents and purposes, the following story is a work of fiction- but I have it on good authority from the Extradimensional Narrator that such things do in fact happen all the time...

    It was on the 23rd of some month or another that Roger had set himself down beside a lake for an afternoon of fishing. It had to have been one of the warmer months, naturally, if Roger were to be found outdoors; he had blood pressure issues that made the cold difficult to shake, and would avoid it at all costs. Of course, I know which month it was. I know what time it was, and even which song was playing on the radio when he parked his car at the road near the lake; but if there's one thing that omniscience has taught me, its precisely how much of a drag it is to know all the details. The reader will have to accept the one missing piece of datum, and be consoled by the superfluous bit about his blood pressure. You'll thank me later.

    All that aside, the precise month of the forthcoming tale is neither here, nor there. The "here" of this story is beside a lake, a fishing rod cast into it, and Roger in a shabby lawn chair on the 23rd. The "there" is below the murky depths, way out in the lake, where the Arcane Secrets of the Cosmos sit and feel pretty clever for their penchant for remaining elusive. Roger yawned, growing impatient, as though he too were waiting for this story to start. It was a quiet day, the kind where every soft breeze begs for thoughtful introspect. A dull man by nature, Roger wasn't well-equipped for the task of self-evaluation. Most forms of thought were outside the scope of his habits, but he was also very susceptible to suggestion. And so, since the breeze begged it, he had himself a think.

    He sat and thought. The same breeze that had just a moment ago sent his cranial gears ticking now amused itself with creating ripples on the glassy surface of the lake while the bobber on Roger's fishing line did the very thing its name implies that it would do. Every ripple from the bobbing ball of plastic seemed to radiate a new thought, trigger a distant memory, or spark a minor epiphany in his mind. The breeze tickled the hairs on his neck and he was flushed with the electric warming of ecstatic calm. He became sad in a way that he couldn't account for, when suddenly he heard a watery noise.

    He looked and saw his submerged bobber return to the surface, and grabbed onto the reel as it sunk below the water again. He stood up and reeled, yanking at the line, when it hit him.

    It could have been that the sudden movement had cracked his back, resulting in a small reservoir of lysergic acid escaping from his spine and belly-flopping into his bloodstream- which itself was a result of the time that a government spook had dosed his tea back in his college years for the purposes of some vague mind control experiment. It could also have had to do with the fact that at that very moment, an alternate reality had superimposed itself on Roger's familiar one, and he was experiencing the tug-of-war between worlds as cosmic entropy began its stabilization process. It could also have been that Roger had fallen asleep and all of this was only happening in a dream- but that's not as likely, that's too much of a cliche even for me.

    What is certain is that for that moment, as he reeled and pulled furiously at the fish that stubbornly defied capture, Roger saw everything. The whole of Reality- all that has been, is, will be; in every part of the galaxy, and everywhere in the universe, in all possible universes- and even in a few of the impossible ones.

    It would seem that a little bit of thinking can go a long way.

    The images and the knowledge, the facts and intimate details, the wide scope along with the minutiae, all rolled upon one another in an avalanche of NOW. He pulled, he reeled, he clenched his teeth with his eyes so wide they looked as though they would pop. The Grand Picture started to take on a meaningful shape. Roger was just about to become privy to all the Divine Secrets of Reality. Poor bastard.

    Luckily for him, the line snapped, sending him tumbling backwards in a pratfall maneuver that would have made Oliver Hardy proud.* He pulled himself up using his chair for balance, looking disheveled and exhausted, and 100% the old Roger again.

    "Damn." he said, looking out over the lake. It was the one that got away.

*The reader will be happy to know that Oliver Hardy had a similar experience whilst working with an elephant, and he did glimpse Roger's pratfall, and was, in fact, proud.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Full of Hot Air- Ruminations on UFOs and those Numinous Balloons

 At the time I sat down to write this, news and social media had been all abuzz about a Chinese spy balloon seen floating across the country. It was, eventually, shot down. I was surprised to see just how many people on social media had become national security experts overnight, as it seemed everyone had ideas about what should be done. I'll admit that I don't know anything about spy balloons, or why on earth such low-tech espionage would be necessary in today's technological age- but the particular interest among the Disclosure set, and those on hashtag UFO Twitter, got me thinking about the symbolic nature of balloons and, more specifically, this symbolism in relation to the topic of UFOs. 

I was unable to finish writing this post the first time, and now, a week later, as I sit to complete it more objects have been shot down from both the U.S. and Canada...

My good friend, the right honorable Most Reverend StarDoG pointed out on Facebook:

You have to chortle at so many of those who are forever telling people that "People are losing their shit over a weather balloon and there's nothing strange here, please move on", currently, totally losing their shit over an actual weather balloon..

-Steve Mills, author of the blog post You're Just Like a Little Child Chasing a Balloon into the Sunset

The irony related to balloons runs deep in UFOlogy. "Weather balloon" is one of the classic hand-waving dismissals of UFO reports since the 1940s, alongside the planet Venus, misidentification of birds or known crafts, and Swamp Gas. Weather balloons and UFOs are inextricably linked, and as I intend to persuade you through my ramblings here, the symbol of all balloons hints at something existentially unsettling and as hard to capture through words as clouds are in one's hand. 

Back in 2020, a "leaked government photo" of a UFO, taken from inside a jet, was revealed to be remarkably similar in size and shape to that of a party balloon featuring DC Comics' Dark Knight, Batman. At the time, I found this profoundly amusing, and perhaps an indicator of the Cosmic Trickster at play. I had often felt that the extreme camps of those who engage with the Phenomenon, as it were, were exemplified by the Disclosure Set/TTSA mob, and fans of the documentary series Hellier. This dichotomy is often expressed as the "nuts and bolts" camp vs those open to a panoply of interpretations, bordering on the mystical and visionary. In cryptozoology, it might be the "flesh and blood" camp vs those open to supernatural answers for why we see Bigfoot and other beasties. In the interest of disclosure, although it's probably entirely obvious, I fall into the latter camp. The caveat is, I don't think either extreme at the exclusion of all evidence to contradict it is healthy. While I think chasing capital "D" Disclosure is a fool's errand, I also think there is a very real danger of missing the forest for the synchronici-trees.

A major part of Hellier, for those who haven't seen it, involves a blue star balloon that served as a synchronicity during the course of the investigation more than once. The balloon in question has become as emblematic of the Hellier goblin-hunt as the goblins themselves. In this sense, it seems amazingly on-brand for Trickster phenomena that the other extreme, who likely would not respond well to the language of high strangeness, to be taken in by a blue Batman balloon. 

In Tim Burton's 1989 movie Batman, balloons appear in the form of a dastardly plot perpetrated by the Joker. As he is throwing money out the people of Gotham, the floats above him are loaded with toxic gas that he hopes to unleash on the unsuspecting public. Of course he is foiled by the Caped Crusader, who flies in in his Batwing, towing the balloons to a safe distance from the city. This heroic act is mirrored later in the 2012 movie The Dark Knight Rises, in which Batman has to (we're led to believe) sacrifice himself in bringing a bomb out into the sea to save the city. 

The clown imagery and invitation to collect money in the scene, along with the hidden horror of the plot to poison Gotham, within a balloon, get at this odd symbolic quality of the unassuming and seemingly friendly object. A balloon might not be what it seems; is it a message from the cosmos, a whimsical decoration, a UFO, or a parade float filled with poison? Already, we can see that pinning down a straightforward meaning here is as evasive as the string of a free-floating balloon that has just left your grasp...Another relevant sinister clown / balloon connection is worth mentioning here- a single red balloon has also been a symbol of the character Pennywise in Stephen King's It.

The shape-shifting entity, most often portraying itself as a clown, is revealed to be (spoiler alert) a giant spider from either space or another dimension. The balloon sometimes acts as a harbinger of his appearances, or as a way to lure victims to their doom.

During World War II, balloons coming from Asia were a major concern for the United States, particularly along the Pacific Coast. Japan had released balloons loaded with incendiary devices, as a means of attacking the U.S. mainland. Balloons were also used during the war to distribute pamphlets of propaganda across enemy lines, or as a means of communication. All the while, phenomena such as "foo fighters" and ghost rockets were reported by airmen. After the war, the flying saucer age began with the publicity around the Kenneth Arnold sighting- but before the war, there were reports of mystery airships. Dirigibles, essentially piloted balloons, were reported throughout the country. 

These mysterious airships seemed to be just ahead of where commonly accepted technology would take us, but as zeppelins came into use they seemed less mystifying. They might have enjoyed greater use as a means of travel, had it not been for the widely publicized Hindenburg disaster in 1937. The words of the reporter covering the disaster - "Oh, the humanity!" have become ingrained and meme-ifed into public consciousness to this day. Public trust in airships dropped quickly following the crash.

The Hindenburg crash was featured as the cover art for Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut album, related to a joke spurred by the suggestion of a line-up of musicians in a band- that it would go over like "a lead balloon", or a "lead zeppelin". 

Years later, Pink Floyd would cause UFO reports of a sort with a botched album cover photo shoot. For their 1977 album Animals, the plan was to get a shot of a balloon shaped like an enormous pig floating above the Battersea Power Station. The pig balloon was custom made by a German company called Ballon Fabrik, who had previously constructed zeppelins. For the first attempt at getting a good photo, they had hired a marksman to shoot down the balloon if it became untethered. The second day, they failed to bring one, and it floated away...

The balloon eventually landed in a farmer's field, and he was reportedly furious that it had frightened his cows. Here we can see not only the UFO and balloon symbols merged together in one event, but also cows, which in popular media are often portrayed as victims of abduction. Beyond that, the likelihood of ever getting a straight answer with UFOs is so slight, it would seem that "when pigs fly" would be a reasonable expectation on when we'll have it figured out. On another, weirder level, Pink Floyd got their start playing at the UFO Club in London- which was managed by the co-founder of IT magazine Joe Boyd, who helped finance the recording of the band's first singles... right around the same time a newspaper article made the rounds in the U.S. about a police officer named Dale Spaur, who had taken to using the code name "Floyd" for a flying saucer he saw multiple times.

The imagery of a pig was part of the thematic lyrical structure of the Animals album- Roger Waters was drawing from Orwell's Animal Farm, a critique of Communism, but turning it on its head as a critique of capitalist, commercial society. He would later expand on the Orwellian themes in the later album The Wall, which was more inspired by the book 1984. 

In 1984, Nena's song 99 Luftballons was released in an English-language version to capitalize on the success of the original song in Europe. American audiences preferred the original German version over the translated 99 Red Balloons. Nena would express disapproval at the the translated version, as it seems the meaning gets lost in translation. The basic premise is that 99 balloons, tied together, are let go and float into a neighboring airspace and mistaken for UFOs. This leads to jets being scrambled, and using firepower, which builds up to a cataclysmic war that destroys the world. The anti-war song concludes with the discovery of a single balloon in the rubble, and the line "I think of you and let it go". 

The song was inspired in part by balloons let go during a concert in 1982, causing Nena's guitarist to wonder what would happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall. Also cited as inspiration for the lyrics was an apparent prank using balloons to hoax a UFO in Las Vegas, by students in 1973. It seems that there were several such hoaxes that year:

Balloons and hoaxing seem to go together well. In 2009, a flying saucer shaped balloon made the news when it was reported that there was a child trapped inside. The "Balloon Boy" hoax was characterized as a ploy for publicity and attention from the couple who launched the balloon, Richard and Mayumi Heene. To this day, they and their son who they originally claimed was in the balloon maintain that it was not a hoax, but a mistake. Another example of a balloon based saucer hoax occurred in 1989, when rich guy with too much time on his hands Richard Branson spooked motorists in the U.K.:

Sometimes, though, balloons are just a means of adventure, whimsy, and fantasy. Take for an example the sky journey of Kent Couch in 2008. The 48-year-old owner of a gas station rigged up a bunch of balloons to a lawn chair and spent 9 hours aloft, covering a distance of 235 miles from his starting point in Oregon. Using a BB gun to take out balloons and lower himself when necessary, he landed safely in Idaho. "I think most guys look up in the sky and wish they could ride on a cloud.", Couch said in an interview.

As I type this all out, it does seem eerily likely that tensions are mounting around balloons from across the Pacific. I certainly hope nothing like the 99 Luftballons scenario plays out, and I would hope that we can all move toward a more adventurous and whimsical view of balloons like that shown by Kent Couch, or as utilized in the Pixar movie Up. We do seem to be living in an increasingly crazy world, a place where alien craft making an undeniable appearance seems more likely; but on a scarier note, with a recent pandemic, climate and weather changes, and political tensions high all around, it's easy to feel like we're on the precipice of a great change. What that change is, and whether good or bad, is as hard to determine as the motives of a balloon drifting across the pacific ocean. This brings me to one final balloon image culled from pop culture- the balloon to take us home. And if you've made it this far through my ramblings, I really can't thank you enough.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, the all-powerful Wizard has a solution for Dorothy. The plan to bring her and Toto back to Kansas involves getting into a hot-air balloon, but at the last moment, as the balloon is taking off, Toto jumps out. Dorothy has to go running after him, as her only hope for getting home appears to drift off above the Emerald City. It's then that she learns the power to bring her back was with her the whole time; and maybe that's the lesson with balloons. Maybe, perhaps, as Nena sang, we should think of each other and let it go. Maybe chasing balloons equates with madness, and certainly there's danger in it. Maybe I'm crazy for ruminating so long on the topic, and bringing up such far-flung images to illustrate the nebulousness that is UFOlogy. I'm sure it could be argued that I am, indeed, full of hot air, high on my own supply... but like many other guys, I just want to know what it's like to ride a cloud.