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Sunday, February 11, 2024

Star-cross'd Lovers


Valentine’s Day is a complicated affair, and how one feels about it very much depends on circumstance. For some, it might mean a last minute trip to the store, borne out of  absent-mindedness, in order to get a card for a spouse; while for others it might mean a night of planned dinner by candlelight. Still for others, it might be a hopeful opportunity for connection, or it might be an unwelcome reminder of loneliness. The more cynically-minded among us may even begrudge the holiday as existing simply to inspire everyone to buy more chocolate and flowers. Whatever your situation may be this Valentine’s Day, dear reader, it is hoped that this article will make it a little bit more weird- and to provide alternatives to the standard love stories you might hear about.

To start with, the origin of the holiday is weirder and bloodier than you might think. The ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia between the 13-15 of February, which involved ritual slaughter of animals such as goats and dogs. Celebrating this fertility rite in the nude, the Romans would imbibe alcohol and skin the animals, and the men among them would beat the hides against the women. Couples were then paired up for the duration of the festival, and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess where that led them. Later, the church would attempt to eradicate these pagan celebrations, resulting in the name we currently apply to it. Two separate martyrs, both named Valentine, were executed on the 14th of February in different years of the third century. It is thought that their feast day combined with the ancient debauched Roman rites begat the “Hallmark Holiday” we currently have.

While bloody animal pelts may seem far less appealing by today’s standards than a box of sweets, the coupling itself- determined by random, essentially drawing names out of a jar- meant that at least the participants weren’t alone on that day. Often, if they hit it off, it would result in long-term relationships. Love is funny like that, and very much a product of fate. Cupid’s arrow can hit at the most unexpected, and inconvenient times- much in the same way anomalous phenomena manifests. It’s not surprising, then, that there would be some overlap in the realms of Forteana. 

Experiencers of the UFO phenomenon, for instance, find their lives irreparably altered by not only their encounters but by the social repercussions of sharing them. This could be particularly disruptive to one’s marriage, especially if your alleged contacts include a sexy space captain. Enter: the story of Truman Bethurum and Aura Rhanes.

Bethurum had taken a job as a mechanic at an asphalt plant, which required relocation and living separately from his wife of 8 years for the duration of his assignment. During this time, beginning in the summer of 1952, Bethurum found himself repeatedly boarding a landed flying saucer in the middle of his night shifts at work. Only communicating with Mrs. Bethurum by mail during this time, despite repeated attempts to have her visit him, he hesitated to tell her about his late night saucer sessions. After all, such a fantastic encounter should be explained face-to-face with one’s spouse, he supposed. To make such an explanation even more awkward, the captain of the craft with whom he spent all this time conversing with was a woman. “And what a woman!”, he says, in his book Aboard a Flying Saucer. He would go on later to describe her as “the tops in shapeliness and beauty”. This petite brunette emissary from the planet Clarion was described as usually being garbed in a red skirt, a tight black top, and a beret. 

In the course of his repeated late-night sessions with Captain Rhanes, although his attraction to her was made abundantly apparent, nothing untoward occurred between them. This didn’t lessen the impact when Truman finally wrote about his experiences to his wife. Initially, she had considered the tales to be either a sick joke or a product of insanity. She was concerned that if her friends found out, she’d be known as the wife of some kook who hangs out with aliens. As he continued to try to convince her, she called him and said “I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re just trying to make me jealous, through all this mention of hours talking with some beautiful space woman, so you can get me up there. Well, it won’t work.” Her opinion softened a bit later, when Truman got a bit of validation of his stories from “Professor” George Adamski. Ultimately, however, the interloping woman from space was cited among the reasons she filed for divorce. Later, he would remarry at Giant Rock, the mecca for contactees, although not to his fantasy woman from Clarion.

Another out-of-this-world romance from the same era is the story of Howard Menger, and his reunion with his wife of several reincarnation cycles… or so we’re told. Menger had encountered a beautiful, golden-haired woman when he was just 10 years old, who claimed to be from Venus and told him about his future. Enamored with this lovely Venusian, he vowed to marry her someday when he was grown up, since people from Venus don’t age the same way we do. 

He continued to have odd experiences throughout his service in World War II, and when he returned one day as a grown man to the site of his childhood encounter he once again met his Venusian dream girl. This resulted in his contacts with other space people, a ride on a flying saucer to other planets, and a name for himself within the contactee community. It was at a saucer lecture one day that he met Connie Weber, who he immediately recognized as looking just like the woman from Venus who he so adored. As it happened, Connie, or “Marla Baxter” as he would refer to her in his writings, was a reincarnation of his lover from previous lifetimes. He himself was a Saturnian, who had jumped into Howard’s dying body when he was an infant. Their love affair is recorded from the perspective of “Marla” in the book My Saturnian Lover, which includes such moments as Menger (referred to in the book as Alyn) teleporting, astrally projecting himself, and even physically transforming into his true Saturnian shape. She reports that in their first expression of love together, he started to grind his teeth, stretch and flex, and as he did so he became much larger, his facial features changed, and his voice deepened as well. She concludes by saying “It was this individual, this Saturnian, this strange being who revealed himself to me as he really was, with whom I fell in love.” 

This was all well and good for “Marla” and “Alyn”, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, but in the earthly realm the real-life Howard had a wife and kids to consider. He ended up leaving his wife to marry Connie, and the two remained married for the rest of their lives together.

Some cases of intergalactic intercourse fall more under the category of abduction cases than that of the contactee. A famous example would be the case of Antonio Villas-Boas, who in 1957 was taken aboard a craft in order to mate with a humanoid, female-appearing alien. He was then dropped off back on his farm, and made to feel like an animal that had been used for breeding. But then there’s other cases that straddle the line between abduction and contactee-ism, such as that of David Huggins. Huggins reports being abducted at the age of 8, and having a lifelong relationship with a host of alien beings. His main partner and spouse in this regard is a being he calls Crescent, although he’s also had quite a few sexual encounters with other entities. These encounters are illustrated in his strange, surreal paintings, and his story has been featured in a documentary called Love and Saucers.

Apparent extraterrestrials aren't the only anomalous entities to indulge in amorous behavior with regular, everyday people. In recent years, several love affairs of the ghostly variety have made headlines around the world. In 2018, an Irish “Jack Sparrow Impersonator” named Amanda Teague announced her intent to marry an honest-to-goodness Haitian pirate who had been dead for 300 years. This they did, but sadly the marriage ended before the year was over. A woman in England called Amethyst Realm also announced her intent to marry a ghost, who she claims to have met in Australia. The ghost, she claimed, hopped on the plane with her and traveled to the UK where he eventually proposed. She was careful to note, he has no knees, so he didn't go down on one of them to do this. According to Realm, this wasn't her first spectral rodeo relationship-wise; she had had affairs with over a dozen ghosts prior to this fiancĂ©. The marriage was not to be, however, due to the ghostly would-be-groom's attraction to partying and drugs. C'est la vie, one supposes- or perhaps, c'est la mort?

Pop singer Kesha made the news as well, when she alluded to entering “the bone zone with a ghost” in conversation with Conan O'Brien on his late-night show. The incident  which inspired her song “Supernatural”, however, was less sexual in nature than she had initially let on, according to more recent statements. While staying in Fort Worth, Texas, with her boyfriend, she was awoken by a very sensual touch along her body by a female apparition. She claims also to have had other experiences throughout her life, and is currently starring in a Discovery + paranormal series called Conjuring Kesha.

Relationships with discarnate entities, sexual or otherwise, have been recorded down through history in folklore and legends from all parts of the world. At times, suspicion of engaging in such affairs was very hazardous to the participant. Witchfinders and church officials would seek out evidence of trysts with otherworldly beings as evidence of witchcraft and Satanic practices. A priest named Ludovico Maria Sinistrari wrote prolifically in the 17th century about the inherent sin of sex- in a general sense, but also as it applied to entities such as incubi and succubi. He was considered an expert on exorcism, demonology, and sinful sexuality and as such advised the Roman Catholic Church on its inquisition methodology. Many were persecuted as witches based on books of his, such as De Daemonialitate et Incubis et Succubis (Demoniality: Or, Incubi and Succubi).

The specter of repressive moralism from the murderous inquisitors of the 1600s still haunts us to this day, although it can hardly be argued that we haven’t made strides as a society since then. Thinkers, writers, activists and scientists over the interceding centuries have helped shed light on a more holistic understanding of human sexuality, leading to a more inclusive and representative social structure. It’s a battle that never seems settled, which underlines the necessity of those willing to fight. One such brave soul was the author of several books about relationships with discarnate beings, as well as an activist for women’s rights and sex education broadly. 

Ida Craddock was born in 1857 and raised in an environment of strict Christian fundamentalism, although her parents had been very much interested in the occult prior to her father’s death during her infancy. The same repressive moralism that put so many to death as witches in the previous era informed the young Ida’s curiosity and interest in exactly the subjects she was told to shun. Very ambitious, intelligent, and indomitable in her will towards freedom, by the time she was 18 years old she had already shaken up social mores at the University of Pennsylvania, petitioning to allow women to attend. She had also, by this point, written a textbook on and taught classes about stenography, allowing women much greater opportunities to work, make money, and be independent. By the late 1880s, she began mingling with Theosophists and became very interested in the occult. 

Her interest in human rights, and human health, manifested largely in her insistence on sex education- and her writings on sex dovetailed with her occult writings, which caught the attention of notable occultists of the time such as Aleister Crowley. While researching and writing expansive occult texts on the role of sex in ritual, she was also writing pamphlets on sexuality which aimed to alleviate social ills by promoting bodily autonomy and basic human rights for married women. These naturally drew the ire of anti-vice activists such as Anthony Comstock, who sought to stop her by any means necessary in the promulgation of her ideas via pamphlet and lecture. 

Though apparently unmarried, Craddock spoke openly about sex which at the time was very taboo, as unmarried women weren’t supposed to have sex at all. She revealed in her writings that she was indeed married, not to any ordinary man, but to an angel named Soph. In a series of works called Heavenly Bridegrooms and Psychic Wedlock, she outlines her relationship with Soph and the initiatory processes he taught her. Meanwhile, she still had Comstock to contend with, and even members of her own family tried to have her committed to an asylum. Eventually, she took her own life, when she was faced with the possibility of prison or sanitarium due to the “obscenity” of her educational pamphlets and lectures. “I maintain my right to die as I have lived,” she wrote, in a public letter against Comstock and the anti-vice movement, “as a free woman, not cowed into silence by any other human being.” Public opinion turned against Comstock and his conservative views following her death. In a sense, her sacrifice led to a more enlightened world, eventually, where people could love and live more freely and independently. 

This Valentine’s Day, remember to thank Ida for her role in allowing you to express your affections openly, safely, and without shame. Whether your preferred companion is human, extraterrestrial, angelic, ghostly, or hell, even cryptozoological, have fun this holiday and keep it weird and romantic. Or, failing that, gorge yourself on discount chocolate the day after. It sure beats getting slapped with a bloody animal pelt!

*This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Paranormality Magazine

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