Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 3: Diseases and Monsters

Image Source: Dracula Pictures.

My earlier post on doctors didn't address the medical treatment of diseases now considered to be the real source cases for famous Hallowe'en monsters: vampires, werewolves and zombies. There must be something to this medical angle; stories about these creatures usually involve diagnosis or treatment of fictitious illnesses, or a single response (such as a werewolf's silver bullet), which can stop the monster.

There are pictures of sufferers of real likely source diseases below the jump; one glance shows how they probably easily inspired stories about normal people transformed into supernatural monsters. Warning: the pictures below are graphic; please don't click to see more if you don't want to see disturbing images.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 4: Manchac Swamp, Louisiana

Image Source: Best Tourism.

My posts in the last three days before Hallowe'en will be a bit lighter.  Manchac Swamp in Lousiana is considered as pristine as it is haunted.  It's a classic example of how a peculiar landscape predisposes us toward expectations of the paranormal. For more images of this remarkable site, go here and here.  For the haunted history of the Swamp, complete with a swamp monster, voodoo curse and the mass grave of an entire town, go herehere and here. For the Extreme Paranormal 'investigation,' go here and here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 5: Police and the Paranormal

The building that served as the set for the haunted police station in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Image Source: Movie Locations and More. It's actually a Los Angeles library.

Occasionally, the police are called to investigate bizarre paranormal occurrences. And sometimes, although they officially deny it, they get help from psychics in criminal cases.  Retired FBI agents claim that psychics have been used cautiously on difficult cases.  Most police officers remain skeptical about psychic help on cases, certainly publicly, if not privately. Even so, there is a popular perception that law enforcement can border on the paranormal when law enforcement personnel confront criminal situations that are beyond - the beyond.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 6: Haunted Real Estate

The entrance to Joan Rivers' Upper East Side haunted condo. Image Source: Examiner.

Skeptical evaluation of the paranormal may come from the odd angle of professionals who are obliged to contend with rumours of the paranormal in the course of their jobs. Consider real estate agents and landlords or landladies. If the law obliged them to disclose hauntings on a property to buyers or renters, it might be tantamount to legal recognition of the supernatural.  But the law doesn't quite do that. Even if real estate agencies required their agents, as part of their code of conduct, to acknowledge paranormal reports from previous occupants, that would constitute recognition of ghosts within a professional context.

But dealing with allegedly haunted properties is one of the hazards of the profession.  So what happens legally or professionally when a seller, estate agent, or landlord has an allegedly haunted property on their hands?  For a long time, the simple legal rule of thumb was simply caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.

What if the previous occupant openly acknowledges ghostly activity?  My post on celebrity hauntings includes a link to a television interview with Joan Rivers, who discussed the haunting of her New York apartment by a deceased relative of J. P. Morgan.  Rivers tried to sell the apartment in 2009-2010 for $25 million (see reports here, here, here, here and the gallery of photos of the penthouse here). It looks like it is now no longer available. In this case, the law acknowledges the impact of public rumours of the paranormal upon the integrity of the real estate deal and upon the value of the property.  This is an example of what is legally and professionally called 'stigmatized property.'

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 7: The Military and the Paranormal

Still from: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009). Image Source: Overture/Momentum via Daily Mail.

Odd, isn't it, how paranoia and paranormal sound similar? They share a common Greek and Latin prefix.  Wiki: "The word paranoia comes from the Greek 'παράνοια' (paranoia), 'madness' and that from 'παρά' (para), 'beside, by' + 'νόος' (noos), 'mind.'"  Wiki's definition of 'paranormal':
“Paranormal” has been in the English language since at least 1920. It consists of two parts: para and normal. In most definitions of the word paranormal, it is described as anything that is beyond or contrary to what is deemed scientifically possible. The definition implies that the scientific explanation of the world around us is the 'normal' part of the word and 'para' makes up the above, beyond, beside, contrary, or against part of the meaning. Para has a Greek and Latin origin. Its most common meaning (the Greek usage) is 'similar to' or 'near to', as in paragraph. In Latin, para means 'above,' 'against,' 'counter,' 'outside,' or 'beyond'. For example, parapluie in French means 'counter-rain' – an umbrella. It can be construed, then, that the term paranormal is derived from the Latin use of the prefix 'para', meaning 'against, counter, outside or beyond the norm.'
I've done a few blog posts in this countdown that deal with social or professional positions which oblige people to deal directly or indirectly with whatever is considered to be paranormal.  These people are not conventional paranormal skeptics.  But parents, doctors, religious leaders, hoteliers - and further, police, lawyers and real estate agents - are all people who have to square paranormal happenings or the belief in paranormal events with rationalized, institutionalized realities.  It's always interesting to see how strange happenings and ideas are dealt with by the laws regarding the sale of property, for example, or framed in terms of regulations and conventions established as the bases of law enforcement, scientific investigation, educational organization, commercial transactions and so on. These are after all, the systems and structures that form the foundations of working societies. If those can be overwhelmed or appropriated by the credulous and rejigged to prove the unprovable (as is done in the pseudo-science of ghost hunting) the very integrity of the original rationalized system is called into question. 

Does that erosion of what we certainly know and what we can solidly accomplish ultimately lend credibility to the paranormal?  The paranormal is generally used to describe the grey areas where conventional wisdom bleeds away.  It's the frayed edge.  But some of it only gains legitimacy in retrospect: there are hundreds of examples where incidents once thought of as 'magical' or 'supernatural' in the past were later proved scientifically as natural phenomena, starting with eclipses, and moving on down through terrifying diseases like the Black Death.  When it comes to the paranormal, the conventions of sanity only run backwards in time.

One area of human activity where the rational push is fowards through the murk and mystery, in spite of all caveats, is in military actions.  This is the case even more than in the pure sciences (which progress by testing successive theories).  Military action, depends on action, including gross mistakes, endured at terrible costs.  In his essay on Kipling (which you can read here), George Orwell attacked opposition armchair quarterbacks who criticized imperialism.  He said: it's all very well to point figures, pass judgment and have theories and notions about what is right and wrong.  But imperialists were people who had to make decisions out in the field, in real circumstances, and had to act in the face of impossible situations. They had to answer the question: what would you do?  Even if you question why imperialists were in those impossible situations in the first place (which Orwell certainly did), his fundamental premise remained and remains.

Of all the systems set up on earth to cope with chaos, violence and disorder in a rationalized and orderly way, military cultures are probably number one. Since military personnel have to function with high efficiency in extremely difficult, sometimes irrational circumstances, they are in a way on the fringe as well. Military staff are on the cutting edge of what works, and what doesn't - what makes sense, and what doesn't.  But under extreme circumstances, the distinction between the real and unreal is not that easy.  Consider something as surreal as going over the top in the First World War. Sometimes you have to wear both hats at once.  At times, this very paradox puts conspiracy theorists, Fortean researchers and military operatives on the edge together, on the same patch.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 8: Paraterrorism

X-files' Cancer Man. Image Source: X-files Wiki.

In the Post-Postmodern world, 'para-' is the new 'meta-'. Sometimes on the Internet, a perfect storm of bullshit produces something brand new, say, a sharp little neologism like 'Paraterrorism.' This emerging pseudo-science demonstrates just how peculiar theories of human psychology can get when people are struggling to understand huge political, cultural and technological upheavals that transform whole societies.  What happens when the values of believers and skeptics merge?  Brace yourself.  This stuff is so weird, it's terrifying.

Paraterrorism involves the injection of paranormal theories into explanations of terrorism.  This fusion ultimately says something simple: we use the paranormal or the occult to comprehend that which we find difficult to explain. Terrorism is hard to understand, and the supernatural, apocalyptic or occult are shortcuts to rational thinking on the subject.  Also, those shortcuts produce real and horrible results.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 9: Ouija Boards

It's funny that parents are more or less tolerant of children's imaginations when it comes to their kids seeing ghosts (see here).  But Ouija boards, claimed to be tangible means to communicate with demons and spirits, are a whole other matter.  Pretty much everyone, no matter what their stance toward the paranormal, thinks they are a bad idea: psychologistsChristians (see also here), religious studies experts, New Age gurus, psychics (see also here), believers and spiritualists.  Non-skeptics think that using these séance toys opens doors and issues invitations to malevolent entities from 'the other side.'  Skeptics think that Ouija boards can spark dissociative disorders. They have been debunked by the scientific community as working through the ideomotor effect.  Vegas headliners Penn and Teller, who are skeptical illusionists, have declared that Ouija boards are total bullshit (see here, here and here).  Many atheists regard them as bunk: boring, stupid and a totally harmless conduits of auto-suggestion (as here and here). But some skeptics toss their skepticism out the window and consider them somehow harmful, either morally or psychologically, and so does almost everyone else.

Rockwell's satire of Ouija board use. Saturday Evening Post, 1 May 1920. Image Source: The J Files.

The name literally means 'yes yes' - a combination of French and German versions of the word. They grew out of 19th century spiritualism, the selling point of which was amateur access to divination. Elijah Bond introduced the "Ouija or Egyptian luck-board" to the United States, filing a patent for the board as a toy in 1890-1891.  The patent is here; you can also view it here. The boards became immensely popular in World War I and after, when people were desperate to contact deceased loved ones.  One phenomenon associated with this period is the author Pearl Curran, who wrote several novels and poetry which she claimed were dictated by a 17th century female spirit talking to her through a Ouija board. Sales of the toys stayed high through the 1930s and 1940s and exploded in response to occult and Eastern spiritualist fads in the 1960s. The William Fuld Company made Ouija boards starting in 1902, until Parker Brothers/Hasbro acquired the company in 1966 and gained control of the trademark. The official William Fuld site has a history of the board's early manufacture and marketing here

Even though 'witchboards' are pretty commonly regarded as dangerous toys, they remain popular. The trailer to the 1986 movie, Witchboard, is here.  If you go to eBay, you will find hundreds for sale. And the tool keeps appearing in new forms: there is a discussion about online Ouija boards on Yahoo Answershere.

Guiding Light Angel Boards cost 40 bucks.

Ultra New Agey types have recently gone in for so-called Angel boards, which are really Ouija boards, and hide behind benevolent soft Christian imagery and the claim that they draw only good spirits; they are divination tools that some associate with holistic healing (as here).  No matter what you think of Ouija boards, the moral inversion of symbolism around a thing normally associated with evil spiritualism is disturbing. See warnings against Angel boards here, here and here.  They were developed in the mid-1990s by Ernest Chapman, after a supposed near-death experience.