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Monday, December 25, 2023

The Most Famous Reindeer's Hidden Meanings


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a much-loved character this time of year. In 2023, stories about the origin of the iconic denizen of Santa's Village have made the rounds on social media, a testament to the endurance of his appeal. Back in 2020 I revealed the esoteric meanings behind Rudolph and his friends in what was, at the time, a little bit of silliness for the season catered to those with weird occult interests. As I sit on Xmas morning, the sun not up yet, typing these words, I wonder at the logic of making a Xmas post ON Xmas... But time isn't real; and 2020, 2023, or 1939 or 1964 may as well all be Now. I had meant to write more about Rudolph this Xmas season, but stress, pain, and social obligations prohibited it. A final and deciding stumbling block came in the form of self-doubt, and questioning whether anyone would want to read this. I apologize for the "inside baseball" here- or perhaps inside reindeer games- it is uncharacteristic for my blog, but not entirely unrelated to the core themes of Rudolph. Perhaps in the writing, as is often the case, I will work through it- and hopefully you the reader benefit as well.

The esoteric meanings behind the story were borne out of a half-joking tweet, but as has been established on this blog before jokes contain their own manner of profundity. One might consider it a central thesis of my work writ large. Having fun with these ideas, approaching them with wonder, curiosity, and above all playfulness and humor often brings unexpected and mind-boggling results. Further, as I explained on the most recent Holy Donut Revival Hour, even the silliest and most peripheral bits of popular culture contain elements of, and thus are part of, our modern continuation of the age-old storytelling that comprises myth, magic, folklore, and consciousness. Even if it began entirely as a joke, in the numinous sphere of ephemeral meaning divorced from the exoteric, materialist source material of the subject, even a character developed as an advertising gimmick can- and is- a powerful memetic and magical force.

With that, our examination of the famous reindeer and his titular proboscis begins. The following relates exclusively to the 1964 Rankin/Bass television movie version of the story.

I described Rudolph's nose as allegorically being the Rose of the Rose Cross- an arcane symbol, the origins of which are so ensnared in modern myth-making by various lodges and orders that sorting it all out here would be too disruptive. What was meant by that, and what I hoped to clear up, is that the color of his nose is but one of the esoteric hints- it's not only red, but shiny, and glowing. The red nose is not reflecting light, it is self-illuminated. Other symbols could stand in just as easily as the Rose; the Sacred Heart of Christ, for instance. That might be an apt one, being that this is a Xmas special we're referring to that seems to exist in a universe entirely bereft of Jesus talk. When we meet Rudolph it is shortly after his birth in a cave, which is also pregnant with mystical significance. Before his shockingly bright nose is revealed, it is established that Rudolph is exceptionally bright himself. He responds to his name and can speak right away- even knowing the name of Santa without being told. He's praised for his intellect but shunned for his, as Sam the Snowman puts it, "non-conformity".

A nose is not a Sacred Heart or a Rose, but it's more meaningful than it might seem on its face. Never underestimate the metaphysical properties behind the Mystical Pun. Rudolph is praised for what he "knows" but is shunned for his "nose". His radical, intuitive understanding of the world is deemed heretical, and eventually he resigns himself to exile. Santa appears and after shunning the light of Rudolph's "blinkin' beacon" sings a little song about being the "King of Jingling" before making an exit. Thus the highest authority in the land, the King, has dismissed our young hero... perhaps because he fears the light of truth. Santa's domain is fairly small, and is surrounded by harsh winter lands where Abominable Snow Monsters lurk. He takes on a demiurgic quality which is appropriate when you consider that gnosis is what the esoteric meaning of the nose is.

Sam the Snowman, who we glossed over above, is a sort of genius loci or tutelary spirit of the Christmas Tree Forest. He's an elemental or nature spirit, albeit a young one, who acts as storyteller and singer. He briefly involves himself in the narrative toward the end, but mostly seems to live apart from Santa and the elves.

Of the elves, the one most important to the story is Hermey. He is unhappy making toys and wishes to become a dentist instead. His name of course calls to mind the Greek god Hermes, among the most significant figures in myth and magic, from whom we get the word "Hermetic". He is unlike the other elves because he feels the pull of his higher self, and knows that he can and must do the Great Work of integrating the practical and spiritual parts of himself. The choice of dentistry alludes to Hermes as well since modern medicine uses the caduceus as a symbol, the rod with snakes Hermes was said to carry. This itself is odd since the symbol should be the Rod of Asclepius, which only has one snake- but considering the demands put on Hermey for production of toys, with his attention towards helping people, it might be worth considering- especially later on.

The Caduceus / Rod of Asclepius is represented in the modern day by the barber's pole, with a spiral of red on a white background. In earlier times the barber also acted as a doctor, and if you had tooth troubles you'd go to him. 

Hermey abandons his post realizing that he will never fit in as a toy maker. His refrain of "you can't fire me, I quit!" calls to mind Milton's verse attributed to Satan- "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heav'n." Hermey strikes out in an attempt to be independent, taking charge of his own life, even though the path of least resistance would be to live a comfortable, albeit disingenuous life under the rule of King Santa in the toy shop. He and Rudolph team up as a pair of Misfits- outsiders- and venture into the pleroma beyond the material mundane sphere of Christmas Town. 

Before long they meet Yukon Cornelius, a prospector looking to make his fortune with Silver and Gold. His name calls to mind the influential polymath and occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Agrippa was a soldier, a lawyer, and an academic whose occult writings influenced major figures in magic from the 16th century on; ultimately he warned against meddling with dark forces, and in Yukon Cornelius we see an adventurer who is protective of his new chums and very familiar with the Abominable Snow Monster, or "Bumble". With his guidance and knowledge, Hermey and Rudolph are saved from the grips of the beast. Now a trio, they are cast adrift in the arctic on a homemade iceberg and brought to the Island of Misfit Toys.

The island itself is more of an underworld than anything. Here we meet the Damned. The toys here are cursed to never find a home in the land of the living, and since our heroes are mortal they are refused harborage on the Island by King Moonracer. Moonracer appears as a winged lion, recalling the lammassu of ancient Assyria. These protective deities were depicted in reliefs and statues in ancient times, often at gateways and entrances to cities. The protector King of the Misfit Toys in this sense stands at the boundaries of mortality and damnation, but seemingly offers a third path- one of immortality. He is certain Rudolph is destined to return home, the prodigal son, and "go down in history" as a timeless figure. He only asks that Santa find homes for the residents of the Island. 

Internet meme culture in recent years has focused quite a bit on a more cynical reading of the concept of non-conformity central to the story. While the point may be accurate, it is more useful perhaps to think in terms of exaggerated allegory. The essence of the tale, as convoluted and borne out of commercialism and ham-fisted sentiment as it may be, is a journey of self discovery and self empowerment. Rudolph confronts his fears and is momentarily bested by the devilish Bumble. The "abominable" scary step out of the comfortable but meaningless rigamarole of living a lie is vanquished, and literally defanged by Hermey. Thus the fears and anxieties keeping our misfits from becoming their best selves are transmuted. The beast is tamed; and for good measure, Cornelius appears to martyr himself for the cause. Of course, he rises again, because Bumbles bounce.

The trio end up saving Christmas. Rudolph's illumination guides the King (Santa), Hermey is granted a dentistry practice, and the Misfit Toys get picked up and dropped off with children who will accept them. The seeds are planted, each Misfit Toy proselitizyng the usefulness of non-conformity- and hopefully, teaching that self-actualization is a goal worth pursuing for the betterment of all. Yukon Cornelius, meanwhile, does strike it rich on a Peppermint Mine. This brings us back to the Caduceus, as candy canes also visually rhyme with the barber pole. The humble Bumble is giving a job trimming Christmas trees. All is well at the North Pole.

There are many other directions one could take, and much more minutiae that could be dissected in just this silly little animated Xmas special. This form of analysis could also be applied to virtually any piece of media. Is it what the creators of the special, or the characters or the song intended? Most certainly not. Am I simply spinning esoteric nonsense out of a kid's TV special from the 60s? Yes. But that doesn't make it less valid, nor does it really constitute "nonsense". It simply IS. The threads and themes that weave their way through our collective psyche, from the most ancient and sacred to the most modern and profane can never be adequately or sensibly mapped out. Rather they can only be gleaned peripherally, notated partially, and hinted at jokingly. Occult secrets rarely need to be actively hidden. They seem so absurd and silly from a materialist perspective they are shunned like a shining red nose. So this Xmas, and through 2024, I wish you all the best in finding these truths for yourself. Be empowered and find the other misfits. Spread your weird far and wide, and if you're barred from reindeer games go start your own.

Merry Weirdmas, my friends.  

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Paradox of Credibility When Confronting the Incredible

 The tinfoil hat, the country bumpkin, the cork board strewn with a tangled web of string- these are examples of images used in the old stereotyping of UFO enthusiasts. Mass media and pop culture have promoted these tropes for ages, with the cumulative effect of minimizing the subject in the broader public consciousness. Likewise, the existence of ghosts, magic powers, and cryptozoological specimens has traditionally been pushed to the margins which, perhaps, may be the best place for them. For those who have had an experience with any of these mysteries, or those who seek to investigate them, a minefield lays ahead in the no-man's land of alleged expertise on these matters. Traversing the field becomes a perilous journey, full of pitfalls and explosive revelations. Without a guide, a map, or markers to go by, one must trust one's intuition. 

At the time of this writing it seems that public opinion has softened on these once shunned topics, but the old problems still persist. In the field of UFOlogy, for example, this broader acceptance seems to be a result of government hearings and a push toward that ever-elusive, amorphous old chestnut Disclosure. In the minds of many passive observers, "the Government said" that aliens are real. Those who have a vested interest in full Disclosure celebrate these events as minor victories on the road toward revelations of alien bodies and reverse-engineered technology from another world- and among these advocates, nothing short of that will be satisfactory, regardless of the facts. In the never-ending quest toward Disclosure, whatever that might mean to whomever might be interested in such a thing, there is the persistent idea that the subject is made more credible by the involvement of authority figures. Luis Elizondo himself, the de facto figurehead for the current crop of UAPology Disclosurists, said in no uncertain terms that he wished to dismantle the field of UFOlogy. Scorching the earth, relieved of the crackpots and amateurs of old- along with the experiences of everyday people- a new Utopia seemingly awaits in this worldview. Once the Government tells us what it knows, a new day will dawn: A New Age of peace and prosperity, and all we need to do is approve funding for military programs to look into it.

This is, of course, hogwash of the highest order. UFOs are and always will be obscured by the eclipse of their own mythical shadow in the public consciousness. The tinfoil hat of old always cautioned us to question authority figures, but the modern more accepted cranks grasp desperately for authorities to confirm or deny the truth for them. So hungry are they for confirmation, they seek to be legitimized by whatever authority is advantageous at the moment. The trouble is that UFOs answer to no authority. They are tricky things, airborne pookas turning expectations upside-down and inside-out, inspiring even skeptics like Phillip Klass to lay a "curse" on the pursuit of them. We would never know more about them, he said, than we did during his time. This subversion- the arch-debunker and materialist resorting, albeit jokingly, to something as spooky as a curse- is a classic example of the UFO deftly eluding our attempts to rationalize it. By extension, the other aforementioned mysteries of the world are quite adept at remaining mysterious. Perhaps that is their entire function.

When we seek out experts, when we seek to legitimize anomalous phenomena, and when we promote "serious" inquiry into these subjects we are simply flailing around in a minefield hoping someone will show us the way. Many are the traps and dangers associated with the idea of credibility. Investigators have long favored reports that come from "trained observers", ranging from military personnel to law enforcement individuals and those with a background in science. As a corollary to this, cases are often downplayed or discarded when the report comes from an average Joe. The underlying presumption is that military pilots, for instance, are incapable of making mistakes about what they see in the air. Military and law enforcement professionals, we are told, are also more trustworthy by virtue of their career paths and less likely to lie, or suffer mental illness. This of course is entirely bogus. All the same, when in search of that coveted credibility, reports from the military or police tend to be prioritized. It's too risky to rely on reports from everyday people, and why would you? Especially when someone with a PhD or government clearance is available to offer their own unimpeachable truths. The country bumpkin of old is left to wonder at his own experiences, and defer to the "experts". 

This mentality naturally results in a discourse beyond parody, as we see in the world of UAPology today. The testimony of David Grusch, which amounts to little more than a litany of very tired UFO myths that have been relentlessly debated or debunked over the course of decades, being considered a form of whistleblowing is simply ludicrous. It amounts to little more than gossip, ultimately, and does nothing to further the truth- quite the opposite, it reinforces poppycock that only muddies the waters. And yet, paradoxically, stunts like that bring a veneer of credibility to the outside observer. Similarly, this appeal to authority in a misguided attempt to locate reliable sources leads folks to books by really problematic old heads who happen to have "Dr" attached to their names. For those who don't know the history, a book by Dr. David Jacobs might sound more credible than one by John Keel simply because one of them has an academic background and the other, none. The trouble of course is that Jacobs has been repeatedly revealed to have been a fraud and a creep, his "research" methods are shown to have been highly flawed, and his ouevre rendered thus virtually worthless. It is human nature, perhaps, to be less critical when an author, investigator, or correspondent has a title such as Doctor, Lt. Commander, or Officer attached to his or her name. It is nevertheless wrong to assume their authority on any given matter is uncontaminated by ulterior motives, craziness, or judgment errors. 

It is difficult to talk about these distinctions in our polarized age. A false dichotomy is prominent in the world of UFOs, which pits believers against debunkers. In truth there is a broad spectrum of belief and opinion, all of which exists within the tiny fraction of the overall population that even cares to discuss the subject. Dismissing this or that piece of evidence, or questioning the stories of alleged authorities promoting UAPs does not necessarily indicate a belief that UFOs are bogus. For the part of this writer, a cursory glance at other posts on this very site will give you all the evidence you need about where I stand. The point is quite moot, though; suffice to say, UFOs are empirically real. What they are- and who is qualified to authoritatively determine that- is indefinitely a matter of speculation. Many are attracted to the so-called field of UFOlogy because it is such a loosely defined area of study. Similarly, the methods of Paranormal Investigators vary wildly, and there as many divergent approaches to cryptozoology as there are methods to develop wild talents of the psychical kind. This is neither a good or bad thing. It is simply a thing to realize, to be wary of, and to figure into one's personal calculus when presented with fantastical tales of the improbable. Astrophysicists may indeed have good insights on the UFO phenomenon, but reliance on their ideas seems to presuppose that UFOs come from outer space. Science has a role to play in unraveling some of these "Woo" mysteries, as they increasingly seem to become less "Woo"- but one should be ever cautious, as science itself is an evolving system of thought and is also a layer of the minefield.   

To illustrate the tricky nature of science, authority, and truth as it pertains to the mysterious, you are invited to consider the tale of Eusapia Palladino, a spirit medium Houdini referred to as the "greatest deceiver of them all." Her recorded feats were many, and were studied by scientists throughout Europe between the late 1800s and the early 20th century. Along with the standard parlor tricks for mediums of her time, such as producing raps and ethereal music, table tipping, and levitation, Palladino was also said to have been able to read through her ear and emit a frigid breeze from a scar on her forehead. In an issue of FATE Magazine from 1961, Cheiro reports having been present for a powerful display of her abilities. He claims that while staying at the Naples property of a wealthy American, one Major Davis in 1904, Palladino was brought in to showcase her abilities as a 'furniture mover'. The Major leaned against an oak chest smoking a cigar, expecting light amusement more than genuine paranormal performance. However, in Cheiro's account, Palladino's head whipped back, her eyes became white, and in a trance her arms projected white, ectoplasmic appendages in the direction of a heavy table with a marble top. The table steadily slid across the floor until it pinned the Major against the chest, and several men pushing against it failed to relieve him. Cheiro finally pulled away the medium herself, which broke the trance and the commotion of the table. Upon touching the marble top, it gently and swiftly returned to its original place in the room. All of this occurred in broad daylight, according to him- and the wealthy American did not wish to see any further demonstrations of her powers.

These kinds of demonstrations began in her youth, and soon the illiterate, unassuming peasant girl mystified the greatest scientific minds in Europe. Pierre and Marie Curie, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Charles Richet were among the befuddled scientists who recorded supernatural events in laboratory sittings. In her home country of Italy, however, it was Cesare Lombroso who first analyzed her abilities and found her to be genuine. Lombroso was internationally renowned for his work in the study of criminals. He is called by some "the Father of Criminology" for his ground-breaking studies into understanding the societal and cultural conditions that produce lawlessness. He was held in high esteem at the time of his sitting and examination of Palladino, and when he publicly declared her to be genuine his colleagues and the public turned on him. How could someone so shrewd be taken in by common parlor tricks and hocus pocus? The more generous among them excused his conclusions by declaring that his mental faculties had diminished with age. Still, by Lombroso's account, he encountered the ghost of his mother during a sitting with Eusapia. The medium sat in full view at one end of the table when Lombroso recognized the warm embrace of his own mother, in spirit form. 

Lombroso's rise to prominence began with an epiphany during the autopsy of a convicted criminal, combined with his interest in the brand new theory of evolution. He noticed an anomaly in the skull of his subject, of a type he would later call a stigmata, which suggested to him biological markers found in lemurs and rodents. In his words, "like a large plane beneath an infinite horizon, the problem of the nature of the delinquent was illuminated which reproduced in our time the characteristics of primitive man right down to the carnivores." In short, he believed that some percentage of criminals were evolutionary throwbacks. The work that gained him international renown was largely predicated on the idea that biological markers could identify subjects as "born delinquents", and that such "criminaloids" were beyond rehabilitation. Crime, to Lombroso, could be understood in physiologic and genetic terms, and all of this naturally ties into problematic ideas on race and also eugenics. His archive of criminal studies is now a museum in Turin, and includes his own head which was preserved for study.

Lombroso's theories on the atavistic nature of the criminal mind were borne of a misunderstanding of, and misapplication of, the Theory of Evolution. On the Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin's initial book on the subject, was careful not to approach the idea of human evolution too directly for fear of controversy. It is interesting to consider the more spooky and spiritual elements of evolution as an idea. Darwin was a cautious and thoughtful scientific mind, cataloguing examples of what he saw as evidence for natural selection and adaptation within species. While at work on the book, in another part of the world, Alfred Russel Wallace was busy identifying new species of birds. Of all known bird species, Wallace was responsible for identifying 2% of them. He contracted malaria during his expedition, and in a fever dream conceived of the very same ideas Darwin had been working to elucidate. It was fate that brought him to Moluccan Islands where this occurred- his prior expedition had met with disaster when his ship full of specimens sunk on its way back to England, forcing him to start over in Indonesia. Fate again played a hand by bringing him his fever dream of survival of the fittest- and by choosing to write to Darwin, rather than a journal, he forced Darwin's hand in releasing the work to the scientific community. Wallace and Darwin both presented their ideas together, bringing the former a new dimension of celebrity and renown.

Darwin continued to refine his ideas about evolution, and while he was cautious about the origin of humans Wallace was not. Wallace came to believe that a spiritual evolution of sorts was responsible for the dominance of humanity on earth, and further that the world of science itself would never be complete until the spirit world was better understood. His interest in spiritualism, and also hypnosis / mesmerism, caused consternation among his peers. He was notoriously bad with money, and wasted a good deal of it on an insane wager with a Flat Earther. Darwin had to arrange for his friend Wallace to receive a pension to help keep him afloat. 

Wallace in a spirit photograph with his deceased mom.

All the while, Wallace insisted his colleagues in the scientific community include spiritualism in with the other natural sciences. He of course got nowhere with them; the established authority of the time had decided it was all bunk. T. H. Huxley responded by saying "I never cared for gossip in my life, and disembodied gossip, such as those worthy ghosts supply their friends with, is not more interesting to me than any other. As for investigating the matter, I have half-a-dozen investigations of infinitely greater interest to me which any spare time I may have will be devoted. I give it up for the same reason I abstain from chess- It's too amusing to be fair work, and too hard work to be amusing."

We may put this in contrast with a well-known quote from the very same Huxley: "The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in each generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and to the solidity of our possessions." The references here to land, and to solidity, exemplify well the materialist mindset of hard data that still dominates today. It stands to reason that when there's infinitely more mystery than there is certainty in our world, the priority should be on the most immediately verifiable; but to Wallace, if the ethereal realm were understood, it would fill in all of the gaps. Perhaps a Lombroson illuminating horizontal plane would rise up and displace water from Huxley's illimitable sea of inexplicability, causing the imponderables to become quite matter of fact. And perhaps its all a daydream, or a fever dream brought on by the malaria of cognitive biases. 

Lombroso's work included the idea that other regressed, atavistic types included the insane and the geniuses. Evolutionary deviants, if not of the criminaloid type, may present staggering intellects but would pay for the benefits in the form of degraded organs and possibly madness. Similarly, there is a fine line between brilliance and crazy talk. It's difficult, as we get away from Huxley's illimitable ocean and back to the minefield, to conclude definitive answers on any of these mysteries and further, to discard or idolize any of the players and theories completely. It is a complicated and tangled mess. Lombroso's phylogenetic ideas have mostly, and rightly, been relegated to the garbage bins of quack science but the underlying idea that criminalism has underlying causes has evolved to include the social sciences of today. His reasoning as to what those causes were is wrong, but he paved the way for systematic and holistic ways of looking at society, which has led to beneficial reforms. The irony is that during his time his terribly problematic ideas were celebrated, and he was panned for allowing for the reality of ghosts. While we may have reclaimed more ground in the past century plus, it should be kept in mind that we are still very much surrounded by the inexplicable- and that the authority of today stands a good chance of looking foolish in the future.

Palladino herself has gone down in history as a fraud. By Houdini's account, the unassuming Italian ghost conjuror who fooled the greatest scientists in Europe was revealed as a mountebank by the magicians in America. Houdini, the great debunker of mediums, declared that all the laboratory investigations of her powers were worthless, as she was allowed to dictate the settings. He could explain the parlor tricks, and he did give her credit as the greatest deceiver of them all for her inventiveness. He noted that Hereward Carrington, the man who brought Eusapia to New York, even admitted that she would invariably resort to magic tricks if not watched carefully. He claimed she did this as a way of avoiding the strain of the "real" phenomena. Houdini had his own biases; he was on a crusade of sorts to discredit fraudulent spirit mediums. Carrington was actively profiting off of Palladino's American tour. As for Eusapia herself, who can say what her motivations were or what, if any, of her powers were genuine? Assuming Cheiro's account was true, how would Houdini explain that? The skills attributed to her range from pedestrian prestidigitation to the startlingly impressive, and occasionally downright bizarre as in the chilly forehead breeze. They culminate in a portrait of a woman, reflecting the contradictions within the cultural and scientific milieu of the era. In many ways, things haven't changed.

The error of hubris is all-pervasive in any era. Instead of thinking in terms of being surrounded by the inexplicable, as Huxley did, we often proceed as though we know most things and that there's only a handful of mysteries out there to solve. We really don't have authorities to whom we can appeal on the subject of life after death- it's more a matter of faith. Likewise, UFOs represent a challenge to preconceived notions about how the rest of reality, which we tend to take for granted, works. Opening ones' self to the myriad possibilities, and the weirdest possible scenarios- and hell, even the impossible ones- may not get us more ground, but on the other hand, it just might. We must realize our institutions, and models for the nature of reality, are imperfect and incomplete. There are other dimensions, other ways of contextualizing the anomalous and bizarre. Any sleight-of-hand trickster can tell you that point of view is crucial to pulling off a trick- and as you navigate the minefield, you must always be aware of the illusions around you. Step softly, ask questions, and above all stay curious. Certainty often leads to trouble.    

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Journey of the Fool

The Major Arcana of the Tarot is filled with timeless images of mysterious origin, each numbered and offering a plethora of interpretations for the purpose of divination. The Fool is a notable outlier of these 22 cards, as it holds the number 0 or no number at all; its placement in the order of these cards has been debated in the long history of Tarot, which has changed its interpretative value. Various occultists have placed The Fool between the 20th and 21st cards- Judgement and The World, respectively- or at the very end. More modern decks place the card at the very beginning, preceding The Magician. While the meaning of the card can be, and often is, interpreted simply as a caution to the querent, its historical ambiguity in its placement serves as an example that The Fool may not be as simple to read as it appears.

It’s easy to read The Fool as a warning. A young man is pictured, in the popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck, as being one step away from falling headlong over a cliffside with a small dog at his heels. His head in the clouds, as it were, he seems oblivious to the danger. To be called a fool, or described as foolish, can hardly be interpreted as a compliment. Thus, it’s tempting to associate The Fool with folly, over-exuberance, and lack of awareness with little or no other context. The Fool, however, also has his admirable qualities - he is pure of spirit and has a lot of heart, he is adventurous, and he is willing to trust his intuition. An innocent tumble from a cliff could also be interpreted as a leap of faith. Moreover, The Fool can symbolize simply stepping into the unknown.

A popular idea among readers of the Tarot, in fact, is that of the Fool’s Journey through the Major Arcana. In this context, each card can be read in order as a linear progression through life, as The Fool meets The Magician, The High Priestess, and so on. In this sense, each of us is a fool, or at least begins as one- and the rest of the cards follow a path that constitutes the journey of our individual lives. We all play the fool at some point, and at any moment when we find ourselves trusting our gut instincts and beginning a new venture, we become The Fool as we plot our way through it. While caution and self-awareness are valuable in these cases, the intuitive decisions made in our lives that “feel right” are powerful turning points, which can lead to ruin or fortune. What may seem to be a foolish decision can, and often is, a life-changing one. In this sense, The Fool in each of us is what prompts us to avoid becoming victims of our present circumstances. The Fool is a challenge to Fate itself. 

In the spirit of foolishness and fate-defying actions, a comparison of two historical kooks who took similar leaps into the unknown might help to illustrate how the twists and turns of such decision making might play out. Submitted for your appreciation, here are the stories of Emperor Norton I and Lord Timothy Dexter.

Timothy Dexter was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1743. He was certainly not a “lord”, but he dreamed of being among those in the high society of Boston at the time. His ascent to wealth can, in large part, be ascribed to dumb luck. Saving money he earned in his youth, bolstered by a dowry through a marriage to an older unwed daughter of a farmer, he moved to Newburyport and opened a shop selling gloves and mittens. In a move that seemed absurd, he traded his tidy savings of gold and silver for continental currency, still new at the time. After the American Revolution, Alexander Hamiliton’s reforms to the banking and financial systems meant that Dexter became a millionaire for his seemingly foolish investment. He would go on to claim that he had been guided in a dream to make this decision, as well as later gambits that seemed very odd but only profited him. 

He dubbed himself Lord Timothy Dexter, and proceeded to be an embarrassing bane to the wealthy community members in Newburyport. He preferred eccentric clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat that was several times too large for his head. He could be seen walking with a gold cane, accompanied by a small hairless dog named Pepper. He tried to claim himself the King of Chester, New Hampshire after buying property there, but it didn’t stick and he had to settle for his fake lordship- and his proclamation that he was the “first in the East, and first in the West, and Greatest Philosopher in the World”. 

His business moves were always ridiculous, but in spite of it they only ever increased his wealth. He chartered merchant ships to send hundreds of cats, cases of mittens, and bed-warming pans to the plantations in the Caribbean. The mittens were sold to a passing ship, heading to the Baltic sea, and the plantation owners were happy to buy the cats as a means of rat control for their store houses. The bed-warming pans sold at a profit as well, being useful as ladles and strainers for vats of molasses. Eager to see Lord Dexter fail, other businessmen conspired to suggest to him that he ought to send shipments of coal to Newcastle, England- a town well-known for coal mining. So absurd was this proposal, the idiom “sending coals to Newcastle” had been a phrase meaning a pointless and foolish action. Dexter’s shipment just happened to arrive as a strike from the miners was underway, and he still made a tidy profit from what should have been a terrible business move. 

His mansion on High Street became a local eyesore, as he decorated the property with wooden statues which stood as grotesque interpretations of historical figures and animals. He wrote a book, called A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress, which contained his alleged philosophy. It was also written in his own form of English, with inconsistent spelling and no punctuation at all. It sold out and went into further editions, and in these later editions he added a few pages of various punctuation marks that the reader may “peper and solt it as they plese” throughout the text. The disdain from his neighbors and his wife was obvious, but he had a troop of hangers-on who were happy to encourage his ridiculousness for a chance at his money. In order to prove loyalty from those around him, he faked his death and observed his “funeral” from his house. When he eventually did die, at age 63. The ‘Newburyport Nut’ attracted thousands to his real funeral, and is still remembered for his eccentricities.

Lord Dexter's Newburyport home today. Interestingly it was once purchased by Katherine Tingley, then President of the American Section of the Theosophical Society- she had hoped to turn it into a headquarters of sorts. A series of burglaries and fires led her to sell the place instead.

13 years after Lord Dexter's death, Joshua Abraham Norton was born in London- although the city he is most often associated with is San Francisco. Fate brought him to the era with dreams of striking it rich during the gold rush, but he decided money was better made through mercantile trade in the city. He did well, until greed got the better of him- in an attempt to corner the market on rice, he bought every shipment that came into the city and charged a premium. When ships laden with rice arrived from South America, the bottom fell out and he was ruined. A few years later, the down-and-out rogue would walk into the offices of the San Francisco Bulletin and solemnly tell the editor “I am the Emperor of the United States.” The amused editor, who likely was in the midst of a slow news day, agreed to run a front page article with Norton’s proclamation. Citizens of San Francisco were amused as well, and fell in love with this shabby character who would soon proclaim that he had abolished Congress, and that he had decided he was also The Protector of Mexico. 

His reputation grew, and he would hold court in a rooming house or be seen walking around town in his tattered military uniform. He is often portrayed as being accompanied by stray dogs, namely the celebrity strays Boomer and Lazarus, although it seems this relationship was apocryphal. He issued his own currency, which was largely honored; he implemented taxes that were paid by the amused “subjects” of his empire, and would ride the rails for free. So beloved was the Emperor, that a century after his claim to the title he would be honored as a Saint in the pseudoreligion of Discordianism. Co-author of the Principia Discordia Greg Hill wrote “Everybody understands Mickey Mouse, few understand Herman Hesse, hardly anybody understands Einstein, and nobody understands Emperor Norton.”

When Norton I collapsed on a street corner and died in 1880, his funeral lasted two days and was attended by 10,000 people. As an emperor, he was held as a beneficent one. His obituary said that he “killed nobody, robbed nobody and deprived nobody of his country- which is more than can be said for most fellows in his trade.”

The similarities between the two men are obvious- each claimed a title of nobility, each made absurd decisions that forever cemented their associations with their respective cities, and each had a flair for eccentric clothing and are depicted accompanied by dogs. It is interesting to see that while Dexter attained wealth, he lacked the respect of his community, while Norton was destitute but widely loved and respected. The association with dogs is also curious, considering that The Fool depicts a small dog at the heels of the title character. This harkens back to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, the original cynic, who eschewed social norms and spent his life looking for an honest man, living in abject poverty among the stray dogs. It is more than fitting for Norton I to be sainted by the Discordians, as Diogenes and others exemplify the concept of “The Holy Fool”, those subversive characters who are able to enact social changes through profoundly eccentric behavior. Various cultures have examples of such figures, who behave in an extravagantly weird fashion in order to reflect the absurdity of the society they have abandoned back at it. While Dexter’s inscrutable attempts at philosophy amounted to little more than complaining about his treatment by those around him, his garish and opulent excesses which so offended the elites of Newburyport make a salient, albeit likely unintentional comment about greed and excess. Norton used his platform as a notable kook to advance progressive social ideas such as civil rights for African Americans following the Civil War. 

Foolishness can be a powerful thing, and can lead to profound changes in one’s own life as well as effects throughout society at large, and even down through the ages. The Fool and its trickster nature within the top 22 cards of the Tarot deck should ever be a reminder that Fate, along with its many and varied wyrd pathways, need not hem us in with cliff sides or nipping hounds at our heels. The Fool is a bridge builder, and summoning that energy from your own gut can sometimes be just the thing to break you from the bounds of a liminal rut. Short of taking a leap of faith, it at least behooves us all to get into the open air and face what’s coming with a smile. After all, it’s The Fool’s world- we just live in it!

A foolish self-portrait of the author, with his intrepid hound Bernie at his heels

* A version of this article appeared in the April, 2023 issue of Paranormality Magazine- which, incidentally, was the month I left the publication in a rather dramatic fashion. Hail Eris!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Guest Post: The Devil Rides Side-Saddle, Elon has a Stroke Whilst Mrs. Peel Limbers Up by Steve Mills

 The following is a guest post by the one and only Reverend StarDoG, Steve Mills, which nicely pairs with the recent Universal Monster movie post for your Halloween horror reading pleasure... while the prior post focused on American horror films from the 30s through the 50s, the good Rev takes on a journey with some British cinematic perspective in his own inimitable way.

It's that time of the year again, and with it comes endless lists of films appropriate to the current Halloween season. One of those films that will appear as a suggestion is one considered as amongst the best of the infamous Hammer studios' output- That film being The Devil Rides Out from 1968, starring Christopher Lee in a rare outing as a "heroic figure" rather than his usual "baddie".

The Devil Rides Out is what it is; square-jawed, righteous ex-war heroes giving the most powerful "evil deity" in Christian folklore a sound thrashing before changing actual history and having the girl with the slight speech defect fall into the dashing young hero's arms. The viewer is left with the incredibly reassuring knowledge that, despite being an "Ipsissimus" of the highest level, they are no match for a completely naïve year 4 girl who can recite some ancient incantation.

That is, it is wholly of its time, being the last gasp of the post war "Boys own adventure" style films before dastardly reality interrupted and film makers, even in the adventure horror genre, decided to "grow up" a little bit and introduce something akin to nuance within their characters. ...Rides Out is a great romp, probably closer in manner to Indiana Jones than The Exorcist however, if you scratch the surface and investigate the work it hails from, there are issues and they are, unfortunately, quite serious issues.

The book was first published in 1934. The author Dennis Wheatley claimed to have "studied the esoteric arts" and as per usual back then, warned the reader about dabbling in the "black arts". It is there you have your first serious issue. What is it that makes Dennis Wheatley able to cope with studying the "black arts" and his readership unable to do likewise? The simple answer to that is this: because Dennis Wheatley is an "educated middle class white bloke from the UK", which makes them instantly and naturally "superior" to the rest of the world. There is nothing unusual about this, Wheatley was of his time and at that particular time, the British Empire still existed - if in a rapidly declining state - and people such as Wheatley had been brought up to think exactly that.

In the likes of Wheatley's mindset, the entire world needed to be "guided" by white upper/middle class blokes or it would descend into chaos. That was the prevailing mindset in the UK in the 1930s and we're still dealing with the toxic fallout from that mindset today in the shape of dinosaurs a la Boris Johnson, who openly bemoans the self-determination of our ex-colonies. He's that much of a reactionary fossil. Lee's character espouses this exact attitude I have outlined time and time again throughout the film. He treats everyone else as some sort of "child" when it comes to the esoteric arts, whilst propagating such completely simplistic balderdash as "The hours of darkness are when evil is at its most exalted". I mean seriously, if that's the baseline level of your "understanding of the esoteric doctrines", I doubt a brain damaged bad Bobo the Clown tribute act would have much difficulty outsmarting you.

Sadly, it goes downhill from there. To understand, one has to understand an attitude and belief that was often seen as not being racist back then that to a contemporary mind appears as quite obviously racist- the theory of "racial separatism". Crudely put, this was the "theory" that all races should live apart and enjoy their own cultures and mixing them would lead to all races becoming somehow "defiled and degraded". This sort of prurient dribble is still espoused by many of those on the right today and is often ingrained inside cultural, rather than racial, attitudes world wide. This is not merely a "white European thing", it exists in virtually every culture where the concept of a "global family" appears to threaten local traditions that enshrine a particular cultural group and/or gender based dominance at the expense of everyone who is different.

To give an example of what I mean, I had a friend who resigned from a world wide charity when they refused to condemn "female genital mutilation" as they viewed it as "culturally sensitive" and something they could not comment on. Funnily enough, almost the entire managing board of that charity were, at the time, white middle aged males.

Well thanks for the cultural history outline DoG, now what's the relevance to The Devil Rides Out? Well, there's one example that is in the book and not in the film which is, no matter how you view it, horrifically racist and another that is in both the film and the book that, at first glance seems fairly innocuous, that is however, insidiously racist, ableist and sexist in tone.

Early in the story Christopher Lee's and Leon Greene's characters gate-crash their friend Patrick Mower's character's "astronomy group" to discover that Mower is dabbling in the occult and that, the astronomy group is, in realty, a "coven". Here Wheatley shows their ignorance by conflating the "Witchcraft coven" with Satanism however, as that's par for the course in the 1930s we'll let that one slide. Lee and Greene trigger a guardian "demon" whilst exploring the house and in the book this is where the  truly horrendous spectre of unbridled racism raises its ugly head. The "demon" guardian is a Djinn and Wheatley immediately shows their complete ignorance and unconscious racism by the assumption that all Djinn are intrinsically "evil". Djinn., in reality, are a very complex folklore tradition and can range from totally benign to outright dangerous and all points in-between. However, as they're not from the "Christian tradition" Wheatley in their ignorance ignores that and just resorts to a cheap pop culture stereotype. Worse still, in the book, though not in the film, Wheatley describes the Djinn as having, and I shall paraphrase here, "The true evil soul of a darkie"........ Yes, folks, you read that right, un-trammelled outright racist filth.

That brings us to the "coven" sic and this illustrates my point about separatism being seen as "not actually racist". The make up of the coven are people from all over the world, both male and female including, in the film, a person with a disability. In short, the coven is proudly and overtly multicultural and those cultures are seen mixing effortlessly at the pre-celebration soiree. This is, of course, an anathema to Wheatley and in reality is presented as the very root of the corruption of these people- That is, mixing with non-Christian European traditions leads to corruption and evil. Sadly, that message underpins the entire story once you look more than simply at the surface level. The true message of the book and film is that non-whites, women and the disabled need middle and upper class white males to guide them or they will end up seduced into evil.

The only "salvation" is through Christianity processed via  upper and middle class white blokes because only they have the proper mindset to understand the world, and in particular anything pertaining to the "supernatural". That's exactly what Churchill and many of those in the UK establishment whole heartedly believed when The Devil Rides Out was first published in 1934 and that is the true message of the film made in 1968 whether they realised it or not.

There's a level I can still enjoy the film on as a "great romp" however, that doesn't mean I am blind to the ableism, sexism and racism that riddles and underpins the entire project. It sells the ridiculous concept that, simply by uttering a few words  one can set the world to rights , so long as those words are acceptable to a  white European 40 something male. Funny isn't it that, that's almost exactly the same utter simplistic racist. sexist, ableist dribble being pushed by the intellectually challenged likes of Elon Musk?

There's a funny irony as well with regards to the film. On many channels when it's shown there is no commensurate warning about any of the subject matter whereas the far superior 1957 movie Night Of The Demon always comes with an apology about "outdated racial portrayals". The reality is, Night Of the Demon is almost infinitely less racist in tone than The Devil Rides Out.
Bobo the Clown, aka Karswell, in Night of the Demon

To conclude, have fun this celebration of the thinning of the veil, enjoy some hoary old films, just remember: your experience is as important as anyone else's when it comes to esoteric interactions. The truly scariest and most destructive things in this creation are probably us.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Children of the Monsters You Couldn't Mash - The Universal Appeal of the Undead

"It's alive!"

We all know the line Dr. Frankenstein shouts in maniacal glee. Thunder crashes outside the castle walls as if in response, heightening the drama of the moment. This, however, was merely due to censorship on the part of the Production Code Administration, which came about after the initial release of 1931's Universal classic Frankenstein. In the original film, the mad doctor continues with "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God, now I know how it feels like to BE God!" Under the Hays Code, which came about in the mid-1930s, the line was considered controversial. It was thought Christian audiences might object to a character presuming to be on a par with God, the folly of which is rather central to the plot. Most audiences who have ever seen the movie are only familiar with the crashing thunder and lightning response, and it's become iconic enough to have become the stuff of parody. Although not intended, and only brought into being through happenstance, the substitution of a natural weather event for a blasphemous line about the almighty is very appropriate- and intimates clues about the reality of the Universal Monsters.

The studio that produced the monsters we know and love couldn't have been more aptly named, given the enduring appeal of the movies that featured them. There's something of a universal, archetypal resonance that these undead characters perpetuate, both backwards and forward in time. Ostensibly the villains in the story, they nevertheless inspire sympathy or otherwise illuminate all-too-human struggles in the world. Marginalized people throughout the last century have found avatars of alienation in the characters of the films, and outsiders of all types have used these icons to help orient themselves. Beyond that, generations of movie-goers have watched and loved the old monsters, who seem to exist in a timeless black-and-white realm where anything is possible. Countless sequels and spinoffs, along with imitators and remakes throughout the history of cinema speak to the groundbreaking impact of these old films. Count Dracula, for instance, has been portrayed in movies more than any other literary figure- and most often, depictions harken back to Bela Lugosi's portrayal. 

The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him.
-Professor Van Helsing, Dracula

Dracula's literary origins, of course, go back to Bram Stoker. Lugosi's version of the titular vampire differs significantly from the literary source's, which itself was patched together in a Frankensteinian manner from folkloric source materials, historical figures such as Vlad the Impaler, and perhaps from the author's own longings and self-image. The origin of Dracula as a character is an entire niche field of study and conjecture on its own, and many of the popular ideas make their way into articles around Halloween or the release of a new Dracula movie. But what of the real Dracula? What if the count, as well as the other famous monsters, have a reality apart from their fictional representations, their presences in the public consciousness, and their historical associations? Could all of these aspects be part and parcel of emanations of conscious beings from another realm?

In his narrative, Stoker quotes Arminius (whose origin is also the subject of debate among Dracula enthusiasts) in saying that the Dracula clan had been students at a school of the Dark Arts called Scholomance. Located underground, somewhere in the Transylvanian mountains near the fictional Lake Hermanstadt, classes were said to be taught by demons and the school run by the Devil himself. The word "Scholomance" is a Germanized version of Romanian folk descriptions of the student body of the school, called the Solomonari. It is thought that the name refers back to King Solomon, who of course controlled legions of demons and to whom systems of Goetic magic have been attributed. Among the skills learned at the school were those of weather magic, and a designated student would become the Weather Maker at the end of years of subterranean study. Weather Makers would bring rain while riding on the back of a flying dragon, the very creature from which Dracula derives his name. This has resonances with tales of the Tempestrarii, weather wizards who work with the sky people of Magonia, and of the Naga, dragons who bring rain in Tibetan traditions that can be negotiated with by Lamas. Here we begin to see the themes of mad science and mysticism, nature versus God, and conjuration over creation spin themselves into expression from an ambiguous otherworld.  

"Follow the lead of nature- or of God, if you like your Bible stories. Male and female created to them. Be fruitful and multiply. Create a race. A manmade race upon the face of the earth."
-Dr Septimus Pretorius, Bride of Frankenstein

Dracula as a student of the Black Arts gives him some common ground with Dr. Frankenstein. Sorcery, alchemy, and various traditions of magic have intertwined with the history of science, and in the heightened forms given to us through fiction become nearly indistinguishable. Mad scientists in modern works are, for all intents and purposes, the dark wizards of old with a touch of futurism involved; their motivations are nearly identical, and the result of their efforts ends in a similarly tragical fashion. Mad science is a devil's bargain, as it were; from the very first Universal horror film in 1913, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, to The Invisible Man and Frankenstein the hubris and folly of playing God is met with catastrophe. Dr. Frankenstein seems to have been impelled by a need to know the secrets of life by bestowing it on an inanimate form, and perhaps unlocking the keys to immortality. In this respect, he mirrors the tale of Faust, whose thirst for worldly knowledge led him to exchange his soul for 24 years of life with supernatural powers and abilities. Johan Georg Faust is another character whose origins are murky and debated, but it is widely agreed that a person or persons called Faust traveled through Europe in the 16th century, acting as a physician, astrologer, and magician. After his death, stories circulated about him culminated in the Faustbuch by Jonathan Spies, who sought to embellish the sins of the sorcerer's life as a cautionary tale to Christians. This was the basis for the play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, and later, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust makes these arrangements through the intermediary of a devil called Mephistopheles, who fulfills his wishes on the material plane. He is a spirit who, in his own words, is "A part of that Power / Which always wills evil, always procures good." (Goethe). While we're led to believe that Faust conjured the demon using his necromantic powers, and of his own free will, it's revealed by Mephistopheles in Spies' version "so soon as we saw thy heart...even then did we enter into thee, giving thee divers foul and filthy cogitations, pricking thee forward in thine intent, and persuading thee that thou couldst never attain to thy desire, until thou hast the help of some Devil." The Mad Scientist pursuit then seems to be impelled by a grandiose, demoniacal force which only needs to gently encourage the would-be demigod into heresy, into committing the sins which seal his fate. Bride of Frankenstein brings us the character of Dr Septimus Pretorius, who acts as a kind of Mephistopheles to Frankenstein's Faust. He also parallels occultists of the past; after toasting to "a new world of Gods and Monsters" he shows Frankenstein his experimental results in generation of life- tiny people in jars. This harkens back to Paracelsus, and his writings on how to produce homunculi. Dr Frankenstein is repulsed, saying it's alchemy and not science- which contrasts with his character in the book who, not a doctor but a student, began his journey into unorthodox science by reading the works of Paracelsus and Agrippa. Frankenstein and Pretorius represent the divergent interests of Shelley's Victor Frankenstein as much as they mirror Mephistopheles and Faust, but in either case the union of opposites- the supernatural and the scientific- is the catalyzing force that manifests an uncontrollable monster. The creator becomes criminal, cast Lucifer-like into the ranks of the damned instead of being deified. It is fitting that Bride of Frankenstein ends with the destruction of the tower in which the "friend" created for the original monster is brought to life, as it echoes the story of the Tower of Babel. "We belong dead." says Boris Karloff, in his role as the Monster, pulling the self-destruct lever on the wall. Dr Henry Frankenstein and his new bride escape, which also alludes back to Faust, who ultimately finds redemption in the works of Goethe.

The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end.
Maleva, The Wolf Man

The varied iterations and interpretations of these characters, connecting one another like a spiderweb in an old castle stairwell, are consistent with themes of transformation. Whether the transformative aspect is physical, spiritual, or psychological, whether borne of a curse or of Satanic power, it is the reification of some spirit or demon near to our plane of existence. It is fortuitous that Swan Lake became the musical backdrop in both Dracula and The Mummy, as the ballet's story centers on a woman who is cursed by an evil magician to life half of her life as a swan. Tchaikovsky's original ending was tragic, but was revised so that the spell was broken by the hero of the tale proving his love for the swan maiden, dying with her at the lake- and for their sacrifice, are raised to divine status. Just as the monsters of the films never really seem to die, the romantic pair at the heart of Swan Lake gains immortal life through apotheosis. (As a fun aside, Elsa Lanchester based her iconic hiss in her portrayal of the Bride on the sound swans make when they are defending their young.) Physical transformations are at their most obvious in The Wolf Man, in which the similarly cursed Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr, grapples with forces he can't understand or control. Dracula is also capable of such transformations, at times becoming either a black dog or a bat- and doing so at his whim, rather than against his will. In Stoker's book, the moment the Demeter lands on the shores of Yorkshire, a large dog was witnessed bounding out from below deck and disappearing up the cliffside. Reverend Donald Omand (who has been covered on this blog before), an exorcist who tangled with real-life vampires, also performed such a rite at Kettleness to address reports of a phantom black dog. He speculated that Stoker himself had visited the area, and that he may have had the psychic sensitivity to pick up on the presence of the phantom beast. Omand went so far as to suggest that Stoker's encounter with the beast not only inspired his novel, but that the spectral hound established a psychic connection with the author, transmitting the idea of itself into his mind. While this seems quite a stretch, one wonders at the concept of these monsters being very real forms of invisible life, attaching themselves in an incubus-like fashion to the minds of creatives in order to be brought to the attention of a greater public consciousness. Mephistopheles, who above alluded to the demonic subtle push toward the material world and infernal forces, seems to back this up- and also initially makes himself known to Faust in the form of a black dog.

Werewolf lore holds that the power to become a wolf is a product of black magic, usually achieved through pacts with the Devil and the donning of wolf skin, often in the form of a belt. The Universal movies established the modern werewolf myth, as a transmitted curse or contagion through a bite rather than an intended magical feat. Traditions around the world have variations of phantom dogs and wolfmen, which at times are indistinguishable with folklore about vampires, witches, and incorporeal spirits. In some cases, as in the Irish lore of foaladh, werewolves are seen as protectors and guardians of villages. In the modern day, werewolvery has become associated with stories such as that of the Beast of Bray Road and Dogman, a legend which seems to have had its origins in a myth concocted for an April Fool's Day song. As we have seen, and will continue to elucidate, these ideas have a way of delivering themselves by way of an unseen supernatural wind of creative fancy- so why wouldn't the song produce, or conjure, existing forms? 

Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright
-Maleva, The Wolf Man

Universal's now all-prevalent werewolf mythos began with the oft-overlooked movie Werewollf of London, in which a Dr Glendon is bit during an expedition to Tibet in search of a rare plant that only blooms in moonlight. Glendon is a scientist, and his lab is much more futuristic than that of Dr Frankenstein. The fictional plant, mariphasa lupina lumina, introduces the importance of the Moon in werewolf lore, as the impetus for Glendon's unfortunate affliction. This is mirrored in The Wolf Man with the references to wolfsbane blooming related to the werewolf curse, and also the idea that Talbot only transforms under the light of a full moon. Glendon searches for a cure, hoping science will rescue him from the curse- it is said that if he fails to kill during his time as a wolf, he will become one permanently. It's unclear during these transformations how much the human mind is active while in the wolfman form and, notably, the physical transformation is much less complete for actor Henry Hull than it would later be for Lon Chaney Jr. While his scientific endeavors weren't particularly extravagant, he fits into the mad scientist / black magician archetype in his ambiguous moral handling of the situation. Chaney, as Talbot on the other hand, is among the more sympathetic monsters Universal produced. He is horrified and grief stricken upon realizing he has killed Bela the Fortune Teller who he only saw in the form of a wolf. In the sequels he keeps coming back, an unwilling initiate to the damned undead- forced to walk the earth in search of a final rest or a cure. The curse for Talbot is seemingly immortality, and as is eventually intimated, the only release possible is to pass on the curse. The idea that werewolf bites cause werewolfism begins with these movies, and the idea of a supernatural contagion perpetuates itself much later in zombie films ala Night of the Living Dead and ones centered on demonic forces such as The Evil Dead movies. Thinking of monsterism in medical terms seems another way of squaring the supernatural with the scientific, the amalgam of which results in the mind virus of our modern monster lore. It also perpetuates the spirit of these entities in subtle ways, throughout time and history.

Dr Glendon, the best-dressed werewolf.

The werewolf films of Universal had no singular literary source from which to draw their stories, unlike Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. The same was true with The Mummy. Karloff returned to play Imhotep, a mummified Egyptian priest who was reanimated through supernatural means accidentally. He had been killed and mummified for his own attempts to reanimate his dead lover, and returns to the land of the living to find her in a reincarnated form. The themes of transformation, sorcery, and tragedy are altogether obvious here, but a look at the historical Imhotep and his elevation to godlike status is worth pursuing. Little is known about the man, but it is agreed that he lived in the 27th century BCE and a chancellor, high priest of Ra, and possibly an architect. In the centuries following his death, he became venerated, attaining the level of a demigod- a rare example of someone other than royalty being thus glorified. Egyptian traditions don't contain any examples of reanimated mummies, but there had been literary precedent for such a thing that was not used for source material in the movie. Jane Webb's The Mummy! A Tale of the 22nd Century, published in 1827, is a story about future scientists reanimating a mummy using electrical shocks. Edgar Allan Poe also uses the idea of electrical stimulation in the resurrection of a mummy in his 1845 satirical short story Some Words With a Mummy. It's interesting to consider that Universal's Dr Frankenstein harnesses the power of lightning in order to bring his monster to life, while this is conspicuously absent in Shelley's source work. Shelley is, perhaps wisely, not terribly forthcoming with details about the methods by which her Frankenstein reanimates the dead, but she does make passing references to the experiments of Giovanni Aldini and Luigi Galvani who famously proved that the nervous system can be stimulated with electricity. It was one of these references which inspired Webb, then 22 years old, to write her mummy story. 

That body is not dead. It has never lived. I created it. I made it with my own hands, from the bodies I took from graves, from the gallows, anywhere! Go and see for yourself.
Dr Henry Frankenstein, Frankenstein

The idea of a mummy climbing out of a sarcophagus and walking away is horrific and reanimation in its truest sense. (The witness to this in the Universal movie has probably one of the best reactions in any horror movie ever. He just completely cracks up, and can't stop laughing. The shock of seeing an ancient corpse "go for a walk" instantly demolishes his grip on reality.) While Frankenstein's creation is a patchwork of composite parts creating a new form of life, harkening back to the folly of "playing God" in a demiurgic display, Imhotep is whole and ancient, for all intents and purposes eternal. Even though there are no walking mummies in Egyptian lore, one of the primary stories in ancient Egypt was that of the resurrection of Osiris after being killed and dismembered by Set. Isis collects the parts and, with the help of Thoth, brings him back to life. The Scroll of Thoth in the movie serves the same purpose. A degree of authenticity was leant to the script, since it was written by John L. Balderson, who had covered the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb for the press in the 1920s. This expedition, led by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvan, has its own intendant stories about curses, which were popularized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, of course, is known for creating the second most portrayed character on film, Sherlock Holmes, who also tangled with phantom dogs. Doyle was also an ardent Spiritualist, a believer in fairies, and wrote his share of Egyptian curse and mummy stories.

Balderson was given the task of reworking an existing script to make it about a reanimated mummy, drawing from his experiences as a journalist in Egypt. Imhotep's love interest, Anck-es-en-Amon, was named after King Tut's bride. The original story, which had come far enough along in development to have had promotional materials made, would have featured Boris Karloff as Alessandro Cagliostro. Cagliostro is very much in the tradition of real life magician bordering on mad scientist, and is widely thought of and remembered as a con artist and mountebank. He was, however, extremely influential in his lifetime and some have looked back on his career more favorably. Dying in prison, a victim of the Inquisition in the 1790s, he's considered to have been the last of the great magicians. With his death, so went the world of rennaissance occultism, sorcery and alchemy. A new world, with "Gods and Monsters" of industry, democracy, and technology loomed large in the future and cast its shadow into the past, creating- or perhaps simply evoking- the monsters that live in our minds and in the earth itself.   

I may be able to bring you proof that the superstition of yesterday can become the scientific reality of today.
Professor Van Helsing, Dracula

Cagliostro is widely agreed to have been born Giuseppe Balsamo, a crook who dealt in magic tricks and cons in Italy. Goethe, who is thought to have been partly inspired by the life of Cagliostro in his presentation of Faust, even visited Balsamo's village to interview family and others who knew him. Colin Wilson writes extensively about Cagliostro in his book The Occult: A History, presenting the story of a man who actualized his greatest aspirations to rise from the level of a street crook to a high society, flamboyant magical personality. Upon being accepted into the Freemasons he established the Egyptian Rites, owing to his mythologized history as having Egyptian ancestry. Whether a flim-flam man or a master of mysticism, Balsamo / Cagliostro transformed himself in the most magical way- His Grand Copt manifestation is the apotheosis of his humble beginnings. The stories around him that exist for us to find are wildly inconsistent but never boring, including the idea that he, like Count Saint-Germain (who he claimed to have known) was over 1000 years old. Cagliostro was the stuff of legends, and like Imhotep being turned into a deity and later, into a monster, or like Faust becoming an over-the-top example of the blackest of black arts only to be redeemed later, the cyclical nature of human folly repeats itself with monstrous regularity down through the ages. 

As long as the stories are told, the spirit lives on wearing any number of masks. Immortality is sought by the maddest minds, but as we've seen it can be a curse when actually attained. The truest form of ever-lasting life is ephemeral; any material manifestation of immortality is unnatural and grotesque. Shelley's Frankenstein is so horrified by what he's accomplished he runs away and abandons the creature, reminiscent of some tellings of the birth of the demiurge Ialdabaoth. He is forced to create a mate for the monster, but changes his mind at the last minute, tearing her to pieces. He is afraid of what the pair of monsters could create. The creature is an abomination, but he's sympathetic. He never asked to be created, and he is left to wander the world and learn how to survive on his own. Karloff does an excellent job of highlighting this type of pathos, largely without words, particularly in the scene with the young girl in the first film and in his friendship with the blind man in Bride. Both scenes are touching, but both end tragically. The monster is a hulking mass of mismatched material, pure emotion without context. Neglected, he searches for meaning, and consciously decides to inspire fear and ultimately to destroy himself.

Suddenly I realized the power I held: the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet. 
-The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man

Good and evil become difficult to parse, and are not so black and white as these movies appear. The question is the lengths to which someone will go for their own personal, material gain. Shelley's narrative is told from the perspective of a ship's captain who reasons that it's better to die attempting a fantastic feat than it is to live the life of one who has failed; Frankenstein warns him against this way of thinking, using his own experience as a cautionary tale. This mindset applies also in The Creature From the Black Lagoon, where the team searching for fossil remains of fish people refuse to abandon their cause even after several deaths at the hands of Gill Man. Pride and hubris are the main monstrosities on display; The monsters themselves are just freaks, each with their own simple needs. The archonic impetus as explain above by Mephistopheles, pricking forward humanity's curiosity and desires with no consideration for the spiritual cost, is expressed in the basest terms- while a more ethereal consciousness animates the horrors.

There are tales about Cagliostro using mirrors to conjure people and places from the past, and Faust is said to have manifested the characters from the Odyssey during a lecture in Erfurt. According to the account, this included the giant cyclops Polyphemus, who threatened to not leave the stage and shook the hall by pounding his spear and terrifying the crowd. Similarly earth-shaking, these films left an impression so deep they are still relevant and entertaining audiences nearly a century after their releases. The mad scientists at Universal Studios who brought life to the monsters played a hand in reifying the disembodied entities on celluloid. Actors like Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney, and Rains embodied the classic monsters whose stories were brought to life by alchemical processes in the lab of a soundstage. Groundbreaking cinematography from Karl Freund, continuing German expressionist techniques in a new Gothic horror style set a backdrop in Dracula and The Mummy, while James Whale brought theatrics learned on the British stage to heighten the drama of Frankenstein and its first sequel. Jack Pierce, the make-up man, was said to wear a surgeon's smock and was something of a mad scientist himself, crafting the faces of the monsters we know and love. Gill Man would not be as well-remembered without the creative, life-bestowing magic of Millicent Patrick in her costume design. Every element of the production in these films is crucial to the evocation. One thinks of seances, and the manifestation of spirits, or perhaps the conjuration of demons in a magic ritual. In a sense, the fleeting images projected on a screen, emanating from a systematic tradition of creation have a life of their own- and perhaps always have.  

It's a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.
Mary Shelley, Bride of Frankenstein

It's as though the Frankenstein monster, along with other demonic hordes, had always existed in the earth- perhaps in some Scholomance classroom, a vanity project by students. The idea form, the romantic vision of mastery over nature and the power of a god represented by the shuffling corpse of Karloff or the superhuman literary predecessor, waited in some cthonic realm to be reified. Then, in 1815, Mount Tambora erupted, spewing forth lava and ash like a dragon who has awakened after centuries of slumber. It was the most powerful volcanic eruption in human history, and the ash sent into the heavens had lasting global effects on climate and weather, as though solomanarii were directing the rains. Nearly two decades after the age of magic ended with Cagliostro's death in a jail cell, a young Mary Shelley and her husband decided to spend the summer with Lord Byron and Dr John Polidori. The incessant, almost supernatural rain kept them cooped up and eventually led them to pour through the books on the estate for ghost stories, then to challenge one another to see who could write the best one. Could it be that this Frankenstein consciousness, the once and future monster story, existed fully formed in an idea space, only to be released in a massive explosion - and then be precipitated down to a young Mary Shelley in the form of a vision? It's worth mentioning that Polidori's tale, The Vampyre, was also written that summer and undoubtably had some impact on Stoker's later vampire story. Shelley's story, however, is the one with staying power. She is hailed as the Mother of Science Fiction, and as a founder of horror stories. In a world where the magical was being supplanted by the mundane, where science was entering the business of slaying superstition, Shelley created a space for fantasy and horror of the deepest kind. Touching on fears of the unknown, and combining the "what if" of technological becoming with the most obscured of occult horrors, we worry about being swindled in a Faustian bargain of folly and hubris, tricked into conjuring demonic forces we're led to believe we created. Stealing fire from the gods is ever-tempting, but we must measure the costs, lest we become the monsters we fear.

Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley, with Byron and Percy