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Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Esoteric Secrets of the Three Stooges

There are, on occasion, people and things within the scope of our collective cultural reference that loom so large that they become an omnipresent, subliminal spirit of their essence that infuses and informs everything that comes after them. The Three Stooges were just such a phenomenon. Even if you're not a fan, or have never seen one of their films, the slapstick and goofiness of what would eventually be 6 men are immediately recognizable whenever they are referenced, invoked, or otherwise drawn from. It seems timely, as a writer's strike is going strong while I write this, to note that the iconic buffoons were never really adequately compensated- even though the Boys became Avatars of Cosmic Silliness in our collective psyche, inspiring joy for nearly a century, they were also victims of the Hollywood machine. 

I could easily write about my appreciation for Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and to a lesser extent Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita, in a very straightforward way. I would go on for pages and pages with little factoids and pick apart precisely how funny they all were, and how much it has meant to me in my life. I could do this, but it would be betraying the stated goal of weirdness that this blog is designed for. Besides, I would be derelict in my duties as a Master of Mystical Flapdoodle and as a Certified Kook if I didn't share with you much wilder ideas - the Esoteric Secrets of the Three Stooges.

This concept has been with me for quite a while. In a former life, I was known for performing music and poetry, and one of my earliest poetic efforts was a piece called The Tao of Curly. I have revisited this work and made a video for your enjoyment here:

(Note: the following poem contains quotes from the Stooges' short Men in Black (1934). The high strangeness folks may raise an eyebrow at the title, as it seemingly references those shadowy figures who intimidate UFO witnesses. It's actually a send-up of a title from a popular film at the time called Men in White, which came out the same year. In a synchromystic sense it's worth noting that one of the first books to mention MiB was Albert Bender's Flying Saucers and the Three Men.)

The above poem gives some idea of what I mean when I refer to Mystical Stooge-ism. The Eternal Stooge is within us all, and channeling that Stooge energy may well be a missing and necessary element of your own occult practices. I do not mean to imply that any of the funnymen were occultists or mystics themselves, at least not intentionally- in my years of watching them and reading about their lives I've never come across anything that would suggest such a thing. What I will lay out is that humor itself is among the most powerful forms of magic, and that these knuckleheads unknowingly tapped into a current of esoteric power that still can be felt and employed decades after they each took a pratfall off of this mortal coil. Like a well-thrown pie, the insights to be gleaned from these Masters hit home in surprising ways, and it can get a bit messy. So spread out! Let's get going!

We'll begin with the 1935 short Hoi Polloi. The premise of this film was suggested by Moe's wife Helen, and is similar to the play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. The title of the play refers to a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, about a king who is disgusted by humanity and becomes a sculptor, eventually falling in love with a statue of an ideal woman he created. The woman is granted life through the magic of the gods, and the name "Pygmalion" has become synonymous with transformation in storytelling. In the Stooges short, two professors enter into a spirited debate about nature versus nurture- with one insisting that environment is the determining factor in how someone turns out, and the other arguing that it's purely hereditary. A wager is set, and upon discovering Moe, Larry, and Curly, who are working as trash collectors, the subjects for such an experiment are found- the professor must turn the three uncouth slobs into gentleman in order to win the bet. Of course, hilarity ensues- but hidden amongst the puns, slaps, and eye-gouges the ideas of personal transformation offer glimpses of accidental profundity.

This particular story always stuck out to me because of a scene where Moe, in his newly established gentleman-hood at a high society affair, is conversing with a woman on a couch. He nervously pokes his finger down into the cushion as she speaks to him, seemingly seeing in his rough hewn Stooge face a guru of prodigious knowledge. "When I gaze into your burning eyes, I know that you have studied the mystic powers of Brahma, and that some day you will find the Eternal Spring!" "Find it?" Moe replies, his finger caught in a literal spring he has now pulled from the couch- "Lady, I've got it!" This bit of dialogue seems to exist purely as a way to introduce the spring, which gets stuck to Curly's rear-end upon Moe's discarding it. The liminal, expository nature of the scene allows for a peak into the magic of Moe. Perhaps the woman was meant to be a send-up of high society flakes who had a vague interest in occultism, but whatever the case it's oddly incongruent with what one expects to find in a Three Stooges short. Moe Howard, in real life and in the schtick, was the leader and the enforcer imposing order in the chaos. His attempts to keep the other two in line, in tandem with his own stupidity, belied a delicate dynamic that always seemed to work so well- at inspiring laughter, anyway. The fact that they were a trio is significant in a metaphysical sense, in that the number three has since ancient times been considered a perfect number. Referring back to Ovid, for instance, the number three is always associated with magic in the old Greek myths. In the Western Hermetic traditions, much is derived from Hermes Trismegistus, or "Thrice-great Hermes". Hecate has three faces, and moving forward through all manner of religious and magical ideologies the Trinity appears time and again. Calling to mind the Three Wise Men, we might just as well refer to the boys as the Three Wiseguys. Moe was always the leader, Larry was the connective tissue that held everything together, and Curly- later replaced by his brother Shemp, was the overgrown man-child and blissful fool. In this way they illustrate the three-fold nature of man- Moe, as the brains of the operation, representing the Spirit; Larry, the mediating force carrying the team along, the Body; and the ever-changing third spot representing the Soul of the trio.

The unintended effects of the bet between the professors culminate in the transformation of all of the high society party-goers into Stooges themselves. Transformation can be gradual, as it was when the boys were taught etiquette, or it can be sudden and dramatic. Neither environment or heredity determines the outcome, but rather a random catalyst that no one would have seen coming. The creative and destructive influence of Moe, Larry, and Curly left all who encountered them different people than they had been prior. 

Hoi Polloi is significant in this respect because the basic plot was one that the Stooges would return to twice- first, with Curly's final appearance in the trio, 1947's Half-Wits Holiday, and again later with Joe Besser in Curly's spot for 1958's Pies and Guys. This gets us into a thread of metaphysics related to death and transmigration; as previously mentioned, Moe and Larry were the two who stuck together and found a third to complete the team three times. They represent a misleading kind of duality, that needs a third to complete them forming a numinous whole entity as the Three Stooges. There is something unnerving about watching Joe do the same bits Curly did in Pies and Guys. The script is almost exactly the same, and they even cut in footage from the Curly original. Curly was conspicuously absent during the crescendo of Half-Wits Holiday, which is that most sublime of comedic turns, the Pie Fight. He was in poor health by then and a series of strokes eventually side-lined him permanently. Larry and Moe are very good in their dual aspect, each slapping pastry against the other's face, but it seems hollow without Curly there. Joe gets hit with a single pie in his version, the new footage jarringly cut in with some from 1947. Besser was a funny man, and a friend of Shemp's, having appeared with him in Abbott and Costello movies. He was good, but nowhere near the level of his predecessors. He does however figure prominently into our exploration of the afterlife in the Esoterica of Stoogedom.

Reincarnation struck me as a weird idea for old comedies to play around with. An examination of afterlife depictions in early cinema would be a fascinating rabbit hole to dive into, but that is beyond the scope of this post. In 1957's Hoofs and Goofs, our boy Joe Besser becomes very interested in the subject. He misses his sister Birdie, who had passed away, and is obsessed with the idea of discovering her in her transmigrated form. 

This is contrasted by the depiction of the afterlife shown in the 1948 Shemp picture Heavenly Daze. Shemp dies, which is quite a dark premise for something as silly and fun as these old films- but that event merely sets the plot. Shemp goes to Heaven, where he confronts his Uncle Mortimer (played by Moe), acting as something of a Saint Peter at the Gates of Paradise. He informs Shemp that he must return to Earth and reform his brothers Moe and Larry before he can enter into eternity. The film was remade in 1955 and called Bedlam in Paradise, using footage from the original. Incidentally 1955 was the year Shemp died in real life of a sudden heart attack. The Stooges needed several films in order to fulfill their contract when Shemp unexpectedly died, which caused them to reuse previous footage and develop a concept informally called the "Fake Shemp". Longtime bit player Joe Palma would stand in for Shemp, shot from behind or otherwise hiding his face to give the illusion that Shemp was in the scene. The term "Fake Shemp" came to be used for any such body doubles.

Following Shemp's death, getting back to Hoofs and Goofs, Joe does find his sister Birdie- who has reincarnated into a horse! In the end though, it turns out that it was all a dream- which is the same way Heavenly Daze resolves. Incidentally, the only short that has both Shemp and Curly in it is Hold That Lion! (1947), in which Curly appears as sleeping passenger on a train. For the position in the trio, there appears to be a somnambulist aspect tied to the astral realm, a fleetingness of material presence and a lasting impression in the psyche. It should also be noted, lest anyone think I don't know my Stooge history, that Shemp had occupied that position before Curly, so that his appearance back with the team was actually a return. Digressions aside, "Fake Shemp" Joe Palma appears in Hoofs and Goofs, briefly, as well- this time standing in for Moe. Moe is in drag for this scene, playing their sister Birdie.

So with Shemp's return to the act, they make a film in which he dies; they remake this film the year he actually did die; his sudden death necessitates the introduction of the Fake Shemp, who later appears as Moe in a short about reincarnation featuring Shemp's replacement Joe Besser. It's enough to make one's head spin, or perhaps to cause one to make Shemp noises for a minute and a half straight:

I would also like to mention that some researchers claim to have discovered who the Stooges reincarnated as, and the conclusions may surprise you.

To wrap this up and get to the final punchline, I thought it pertinent to bring out an old tweet of mine which itself is a joke that is also kind of true:

While Curly isn't presented as a mystic in the short Three Little Pirates (1946), but he is in disguise as a stranger from a far-off magical place- the Islands of Coney and Long. He bears rare gifts through his interpreter, the Gin of Rummy (Moe) and the two engage in a hilarious conversation of gibberish and double-talk. They are ordinary things that the governor who would be keeping them prisoner finds enthralling- he thinks a big heart-shaped lollipop is a ruby. Curly breaks his doublespeak to say "It's raspberry!" The governor is thrilled; he's had many red rubies before, but, he says "never have I been given the raspberry!" I was curious to see who would catch the reference when I presented Curly as the Raja as a "spiritual forefather", but as with most jokes there is a truth concealed there. I often come with rare gifts, which are in fact mundane things, but looked at as though through new eyes they become something marvelous and strange. Virtually everything I say is 75% joking around, 50% deadly serious, and 110% bad math. One could do worse than adopting a character who only existed as a ruse in a comedy film from 1946 as a source of spiritual and magical inspiration. When the governor in this scene dismisses our heroes, to procure some girls for him, he says "On your way, with winged feet!" Those mercurial feet, that shuffled and dragged- the feet of the Trickster.

Venturing to write this at all seems an exercise in stupidity, perhaps. I've long abandoned any pretense about being judged harshly for my silliness, and I take my silliness very seriously. I do wonder occasionally if, perhaps, this time I've gone too far. Time will tell, I suppose, and if I'm burnt at the stake for my ridiculousness I will have to accept that at the very least a hot stake is better than a cold chop. I do hope the reader has found some value in these words, and I can only recommend that you seek out some of those old movies and allow yourself to laugh fully while watching them. I will leave you with a drawing I made of Aleister Curly, who encourages you to Do as Thou woo woo woo woo woo woo!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Presenting: Strange Words for a Weird World!


For those who enjoy my writing here on the blog, please consider checking out this little eBook I put together on gumroad. Publishing my writing here and talking about weird stuff on podcasts has been very rewarding and enriched my life in so many ways- I perpetually feel gratitude for all of those who care to read or listen. I rarely ever make money off of these endeavors, it's largely a labor of love. What you read here will always be free, and I have difficulty ever asking to be paid for things. This book is no different- if you wish to, you can get a copy for zero dollars. If, however, you'd like to show your appreciation for my work in general, you may pay any price you like. 

The book itself contains mostly stuff you wouldn't have read elsewhere. It's 20 pages of poetry, art, an expanded article that was previously published, and a bit of satire. I anticipate making more of these in the future, now that I've done it once and understand the process a little. 

Once again, a humble thank you to everyone who visits this site and entertains my foolishness once in a while. I wish you all good health, tasty doughnuts, and a ton of wonderful weirdness!

Sunday, July 2, 2023

A Hand Full of Wyrd

Cheiromancy, the art of reading palms, has one of the most classic fortune telling motifs. The idea that the entire course of one's life can be divined by tracing the lines and creases inside the hand has such a wonderful mystique to it, a depth of uncanny visual stimuli- the glimpse of magic inside the most mundane of things. After all, what's more common than a hand? Hands hold little mystery, to anyone who is not an infant or tripping on LSD. We take our hands for granted, in spite of the fact that we're all taught that our human hands, developed over time to include an opposable thumb, are the very things that gave us the evolutionary advantage over other species. Our dexterity, borne out of the Russian roulette game of adaptation, allowed us to build tools, conjure the Promethean flame, cook food and bulk up our brains. Such are the Hands of Fate.
Sorry. I had to.

In my own early personal experiences with the paraweird, hands played a major role- and also became a point of confusion in my attempts to relate the story. The pair of lights at the foot of my childhood bed gave me the impression of the gloved, cartoon hands of Mickey Mouse. This had less to do with their appearance, other than the fact that they'd be the same color, and more to do with behavior and emotive response- the two tandem lights moved in the way one might move their hands while talking; and the feeling I had was one of pleasant recognition, as it would be with a familiar cartoon character. These “ghostly gloves”, as it were, informed my own perspective on what is real or possible in the world and, in a way, pointed me to the path which led me here. Of course, part of that path involved reading every book I could get my hands on about Weird Things.

In my years of looking into odd phenomena, I rarely ever came across stories quite like my childhood experience. Often I'd find elements that were similar, but never quite what I encountered. Very recently I was reading two books simultaneously, as one does, and managed to have startling, synchronistic shades of my story reflected back at me- which, in turn, inspired me to write this. The first was in Rock 'N' Roll Witch, by Pleasant Gehman. Several synchronicities had already been noted by the time I read the chapter about the Haunted Garage, in which the author encountered a pair of phantom arms, wearing white gloves. She makes a point of describing them as being “just like Mickey Mouse”. The second book was The Occult Sciences in India by Louis Jacolliot, a 19th century book on Brahmanic mystical traditions. The very end of the book includes an account of a Fakir conjuring the Pitris, or spirits, which could only manifest in the form of luminous hands!

The disembodied hand as a symbol or archetype is a spooky and disquieting image. Evoking some of the earliest known writings, the Codes of Hammurabi, the severing of a hand was associated with punishment and shame. The hands themselves might be displayed as a warning to would-be criminals, while the former owner of the hand would be ostracized. This concept survived into Europe in the form of the Hand of Glory- a magic candle made from the pickled hand of a hanged man, said to carry with it powers that would aid thieves and witches. Some of the most enduring yarns and urban legends also involve the loss of a hand; one such legend dates back to the 16th century, appearing in a book called La Nouvelle Fabrique des Excellents Traits de Vérité. In it, a thief attempts a robbery of a man on horseback, who hacks at the miscreant with a sword. Upon arriving home, his servant is horrified to see the hand of the criminal still clutching the bridle, no longer attached to a body. This legend survived into modern times, with versions involving automobiles and would be carjackers losing fingers or their entire hand to the effort. Still others involve sinister figures with hooks for hands. I'm sure many reading this have a friend who knew a guy that this happened to.

Disembodied hands then tend to represent corruption, and lack of morality in legend and myth. We see this in popular culture, from characters such as Captain Hook, or the One-Armed Man in the 1960s TV series The Fugitive. who frames the protagonist for murder. This story was allegedly inspired by a true story, which is more bizarre than the show and not within the scope of our exploration of handlessness. The series was made into a blockbuster film in 1993, featuring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. The "one-armed man" trope had re-occurred in the 90s already, on the hit TV drama Twin Peaks. In addition, another TV series from the 60s became a hit in theaters in the form of the 1991 Barry Sonnenfeld movie adaptation of The Addams Family. This movie well illustrated the whimsical nature that disembodied hands can, and perhaps should, have. Ooky and spooky though he may be, Thing in the 1991 movie is a charismatic and sympathetic character. Unbound from his box, which, due to limitations in television special effects of the time he was always protruding from in the show, Thing is able to run wild through a combination of practical effects and movie magic the 90s made possible. The appeal of Thing continues to the time of this writing, as the recent Netflix series Wednesday, which focused mostly on the daughter of the family, included Thing as her sidekick and compatriot. He got a bit of a redesign in this series, sporting some stylish stitches. He also remained a likable character, despite being a mute hand.

Horror movies have used the trope of murderous disembodied  hands countless times, but there's a certain absurd charm to them that makes this type of movie monster less threatening yet still captivating to watch. The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) is a fine example of this, featuring Peter Lorre, and this movie was based on a story by W. F. Harvey in 1919. The hand of a pianist seeks revenge, or does it? Similar stories appear in films like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and The Hand (1981), in which Christopher Lee and Michael Caine respectively square off against disembodied hands. These examples all involve art in some way- the hand of a pianist, a painter, and of a cartoonist. For a sci-fi spin on the murderous hand with a mind of its own, there is the 1963 movie The Crawling Hand, in which the severed arm of an astronaut who has crash-landed on Earth goes on a killing spree, possessed by aliens! Later offerings such as Idle Hands (1999) are worth a mention, and of course Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) - in which the hero, Ash, undergoes a transformation into the ultimate badass slayer of the undead by cutting off his own hand with a chainsaw. The chainsaw later replaces the hand entirely, but first he must square off against it. The physical humor and truly dark imagery, masterfully put together by Sam Raimi and acted out by Bruce Campbell has unsurprisingly endured in its cult cinema appeal. Oddly, though, this scene was based on a short film the pair worked on, called Attack of the Helping Hand! (1979). The comedic short film involves a maniacal Hamburger Helper glove going on a rampage- and even flipping the bird as we later see Ash's former hand do in the aforementioned Evil Dead II. And so, we come back to humor, interpretation, and gloves again.

Getting back to fate and hands, a classic spooky story that has seen a great number of adaptations since it was first published in 1902, The Monkey's Paw, carries with it the moral that one should be careful what they wish for. The taxidermied monkey hand has the power to grant three wishes, but they all go horribly wrong in execution. In Norse mythology, Tyr, for whom we get the name for Tuesday, was a god of war and bloodshed but also justice and

reconciliation. He was said to have sacrificed his right hand, or arm, depending on the source, in order that the Aesir might bind Fenris the Wolf once and for all. Tyr's hand was placed in the wolf's mouth as a safeguard against trickery, as the beast was bound with enchanted chains. Upon realizing he could not break free, he bit off Tyr's hand. Fenris stayed chained until Ragnarok, where Tyr would meet his demise battling another mythic canid. 

This brings me to a book I discovered by way of an advertisement in an old issue of FATE Magazine. One of my favorite things about those old mags are the ads, and this ad stood head and shoulders- or perhaps fingers and knuckles- above all the rest. It was for a book called Hands: A True Case Study of a Phenomenal Hypnotic Subject, by Lee Gladden and Margaret Williams.

The book chronicles the findings of the *cough* investigators through hypnotic regression, as they learn about a nameless entity with eight hands who looks like a giant, floating, octopoid hand himself, as well as the world from which he came. The more I learned about this book, the more thrilled I became. Every snippet I could glean from asking around and searching online only made me want a copy of it even more, and inspired tons of laughs. It has become a white whale of mine, and the only copies that seem to exist from booksellers on the internet are absurdly expensive. If anyone can help me find Hands, I will be forever in your debt.


Hands can be an indicator of our fates, or an eerie reminder of our mortality. The disembodied hand trope can be unsettling, or absurd enough to engender warm feelings or laughter. It was utilized to great effect by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel in Un Chien Andalou, their groundbreaking surrealist film from 1929. A blind girl is poking at the disembodied hand on the street, shortly before being awarded said hand- and meeting her demise. The hand again appears, covered in ants, in another scene.

From their surrealist points of view, they surely understood the mystical and mundane symbolic qualities of the human hand, and used it to dramatic effect in a number of ways. Hands are also, as any visual artist can affirm, one of the most difficult parts of the human anatomy to draw. I can attest that the image at the top of this post, which I drew myself, was no easy task. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, and maybe a little ironic, that AI image generators seem to have such difficulty with hands in particular. The nightmarish visions that result, purely because early generations were based on limited machine understanding of what hands are and how they work, present a type of body horror that assures us in some respect that there are things about us that can't be faked. Hands can be a paradoxical exercise in ontology, as my meandering post might indicate. Lines on our palms may indicate our futures, prints on our finger tips may be unique to us as individuals and give us away in the act of some crime we will commit. We may lose the hand, like criminals have in the past; or we might sacrifice one for the greater good. But before we take our hands for granted, we might just be thankful they are of natural design, and not made by machines.

The future is in our hands.

Doomsday Predictions Ain't Rocket Science!

 On an October evening in 1899, a boy climbed a cherry tree to trim some branches, a task given to him by his parents. While in the tree, and enjoying the New England sunset, he had a vision of traveling into space and visiting the planet Mars. He remarked in journals that “I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended for existence at last seemed very purposive.” Precisely 45 years prior, a mere stone’s throw away from the tree in which a vision of space travel occurred, a man named Solomon Parsons was preparing for a prophesied ascension of a different sort- like many around New England, he had followed the teachings of William Miller, who predicted the End Times would arrive on October 22, 1844.

Both Parsons, an obscure and eccentric pastor, and Robert Goddard- the boy in the tree who would go on to be called the Father of Modern Rocketry- lived their
experiences on what was then called Rattlesnake Hill by the settlers of what would become the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. The Nipmuc called it Tataesset, which according to some sources translates as “the place of the shaking stone”. The hill in question, generally now referred to as Airport Hill, has a very notable stone courtesy of Reverend Parsons. In preparation for the End Times, Solomon Parsons purchased ten acres of land on the hill and signed the property over to God himself. The deed for this transaction was chiseled into stone on the property, and can still be seen today not far from an unpaved road. There he also built a temple, and a hermitage, in which he lived a life in harmony with nature. He refused to kill any animal, or benefit from their death. As such he was a vegan, and refused to use leather for his shoes or saddlery. One imagines this would be difficult to perpetuate, living on a hill named after its resident poisonous snakes; and it also led to a comical folly when Parsons tried to use rubber straps instead of leather for his horse cart. Nonetheless, he stayed at the property deeded to God until his death at age 93. God's current legal claim to the land is unclear.

To the Fortean mind, a few details here seem significant. The name “Parsons” calls to mind rocket scientist and occultist John Whiteside Parsons, while the number 93 and the name “Solomon” hold much significance in the Thelemic practice he ascribed to. Jack Parsons, as he preferred to be called, was the head of the Agape Lodge, the only OTO lodge in America during the middle of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in developing rocket fuel that allowed humanity to explore the heavens beyond earth's atmosphere. These seem like coincidences, or perhaps synchronicity, until you trace Jack's family tree backwards in time and realize that he was indeed related to Solomon. Solomon and Jack are respectively descended from Deacon Benjamin Parsons and his brother, Cornet Joseph Parsons, who each came to Massachusetts in the mid seventeenth century. Joseph was one of the earliest settlers of what would become Springfield, Massachusetts, and it's worth mentioning that his wife Mary had several times been accused of witchcraft. Three centuries later, their descendant Jack would embrace the term, proclaiming in an essay “We are the Witchcraft”.

Solomon of course fell more in line with his Deacon ancestor and became a man of the cloth. His father, also named Solomon, was among the founders of the first Baptist Church in the Worcester area, while his grandfather Rev. David Parsons was the first Puritan minister in the nearby town of Leicester. It's unsurprising then that Solomon Jr would help found the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Worcester. His father owned a farm, and was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. He spent much of his life struggling with the lasting effects of injuries sustained at Monmouth; this, coupled later with the loss of Solomon Jr’s son in the Civil War, informed his pacifist beliefs. He believed it to be a sin to kill any living thing, and even ejected a man from his temple for killing a rattlesnake. He was also against the consumption of alcohol, and fought against the use of sacramental wine in the church. He quit the Methodist Church and joined the Millerites, after hearing about Miller's eschatological predictions.

Miller, also the son of a Revolutionary War veteran, had enlisted in the army himself and served in the Battle of Plattsburgh. At some point during his time in the military, he fell off a wagon and suffered a head injury; thereafter he abandoned his Baptist faith and became a deist. He seemed determined to be taken seriously as a theologian, and meticulously decoded what he imagined were clues in the Bible about the precise date of the End of the World. He was wrong several times, but that didn't stop people joining by the thousands to follow his preaching. By the time he settled on the date October 22, 1844, he had followers so convinced that the end was nigh many of them gave away their land and possessions. Women shaved their heads, people donned white ascension robes, and the faithful sought out rooftops, mountains, or trees in which to sit and wait for the apocalyptic event to occur. Of course, it never did- which resulted in what is known as The Great Disappointment. Miller faded into obscurity after a helping of ridicule, while his followers found their way to communities such as the Quakers. Others formed what we now know as the Adventists. Solomon carried on at his temple, giving sermons for small crowds every Sunday morning.

Millerites awaiting Doomsday. I was unfortunately unable to find the artist who created this image. If anyone reading knows, please comment below so I can give them credit.

Goddard would face his own disappointments as he began his research and tests of his rocket designs. His methods were sound, and having earned a PhD in physics at Clark University one would suppose he'd have been taken seriously for his efforts. Such was not the case, as rocketry- and in particular, space travel- was seen as the stuff of science fiction, not science. Early rocket tests, though promising, were mocked by the press. One headline said “Moon Rocket Misses Target by 238,799 1/2 Miles!”; the same paper published an apology after the moon landing, which never would have been possible without Goddard’s early work. It's worth considering that Goddard had, in part, been inspired by science fiction, having read H. G. Wells’s War of Worlds prior to his vision in the cherry tree. The prominence of Mars in his imagination holds its own irony, as he was later made to continue his work with funding based on applications in weapons of war. Parsons and his team later faced similar conflicts of conscience; Space travel was the dream, but here on earth the powers that were only seemed interested in pushing the doomsday clock closer to midnight. Ad astra, per aspera, they say, and all the while the God of War chuckles.

Is there something about the spirit of the place, wending its way through time to inspire the young Goddard- and, by proxy, Jack Parsons? Solomon seemed very devoted to living in harmony with nature, and Goddard's early work into rocket propulsion came from the study of birds in flight in the same wooded area. He wrote a letter, at the age of 19, to St Nicholas Magazine describing how flying machines could be made emulating the natural attributes of birds; the editors declined to publish it, citing intelligent control by birds that could not be replicated mechanically. Two years later, the Wright Brothers performed their first flight, proving Goddard to be just ahead of his time. The natural setting of that hill in Worcester holds another odd irony; for a place deeded to God, it is a rather unattractive and desolate one. Urban legends over the years tell of unverifiable suicides in those woods, with a particular tree thought to be the “hanging tree”. Often places like this are given more demonic names, like Satan’s Kingdom in the western part of Massachusetts- and places like that are often more pleasant. The devil names employed come from conflating the nature god Pan with the biblical Satan, and is it any wonder Jack Parsons would perform a Hymn to Pan before each rocket launch?

On a hill called Tataesset, from which planes take off and land regularly now, a hopeful dream of a world ending seems to have spiraled through time and become a vision of worlds to come in the mind of a young man daydreaming in a tree at sunset. Time is a corkscrew, and a rubber one at that, capable of bending and meeting itself in the form of repeated names and symbols. This is true everywhere, but these astonishing themes are occulted within the tangled mess of history. It takes some work, and time, to parse it out. The more you dig, the more you find- would you believe the rights to the land on which Worcester stands were negotiated with Nipmuc leaders, who in typical colonizer fashion were given the English names Solomon and John?

It's true, and the truth as they say is stranger than fiction. It's tantalizing to think that there exists an ineffable creative force, an imaginal muse that can inhabit the land or travel through bloodlines. Reality rhymes with itself, in repeated symbols, names, and themes, often not obvious but always hard not to notice once revealed. One gets the sense by uncovering obscure historical bits and bobs like visions, daydreams, convictions and inspirations to see where they connect, the whole underlying fabric that supports what we take for granted as reality could be explained- or perhaps, it simply drives us mad. Such is the struggle. To the stars, through adversity- all the while remembering to stay grounded!

An edited version of this work appeared under the title "Doomsday Predictions Aren't Rocket Science" in the December 2022 issue of Paranormality Magazine.