The Great Dying

The Departed of 2016 - Image by Chris Barker

(Image by Chris Barker)

One year ago today, I was in Amboise, France, as part of the trip of a lifetime around Europe with my wife and children. Upon waking that rainy, gloomy winter's day, I absent-mindedly checked my Twitter timeline, and was snapped out of my daze when I read the shocking news that David Bowie had sadly passed away, after turning 69 just a couple of days previous.

It turned out to be a day filled with death. Our itinerary for the day began with a visit to Château du Clos Lucé, a small château that is famous for being the residence of Leonardo da Vinci in his final years - with one of the main 'attractions' being a viewing of the actual bed that the great Master was lying in when he took his final breath.

From Amboise we then drove to our next stay, an absolutely wonderful historical chateau not far from Rennes that we booked through AirBnB. On arrival, however, we were met not by the owner, but instead by their neighbour. As it turns out, the owner's husband had died that very day after suffering a heart attack, and yet she had amazingly taken the time and consideration to organise for her neighbour to come and greet us and make sure we settled into the place comfortably.

This 'day of death' finished with a bang as well - as we were eating dinner in the dining room of the old chateau that night, my wife suddenly swung her head around to look behind us. Nothing was there, despite, she recounted, the fact that she had seen someone walk behind us in the reflection from the window.

A year on, and it turns out not to have been so much a 'death day', but an entire year. From Bowie, to the massive loss of Prince in April, through to George Michael and Carrie Fisher at year's end - and a cavalcade of departed stars and personalities in between - 2016 as serial killer became a meme that many could relate to, along with the fervent hope that 2017 would be better.

The thing is though, I'm not sure that's going to be the case. In actual fact, I think 2016 might just be the herald for a new period that I (perhaps hyperbolically) refer to as the 'Great Dying'.

The 'Great Dying' arises from the confluence of three factors:

  • In the 1950s and 60s the amount of 'famous people' increased dramatically with the advent of television, 'pop' music and mass-marketed professional sport. People who became stars at a yound age in those and following decades are now 60 to 90 years of age.
  • Furthermore, the pressures of reaching and maintaining that celebrity status - especially in the last few decades, have pushed some performers and sportsmen to the limits physically and psychologically. Witness for instance the painkillers required by Michael Jackson and Prince, which ultimately resulted in their premature deaths. And both living with that celebrity status, and the emotional valley of slipping from that status, also have their deleterious effects on the human psyche and body. So there will always be a portion of stars who die at an earlier age than expected.
  • Lastly, in the modern era of 24-hour news cycles and social media, we are hyper-aware of every celebrity's passing and 'grieve' as a community when that happens, sharing thoughts, quotes and tributes, and meditating on that person's passing more thoroughly than in the past.

Without wishing to start a dead pool, to illustrate point one consider the following list of movie stars who are house-hold names: Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery are 86; James Earl Jones and William Shatner are 85; Judi Dench and Brigitte Bardot are 82; Donald Sutherland is 81 and Robert Redford is 80; Morgan Freeman, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson are 79. In music, the (surviving members of) The Beatles, Stones and Led Zep are in their 70s, while Tina Turner is 77 and Aretha Franklin is 74. For the SF&F geeks out there, Ursula Le Guin is 87; Tom Baker is 82; Ian McKellen is 77 and Patrick Stewart is 76; Ridley Scott is 79. Anthony Hopkins is 79; Al Pacino is 76; Harrison Ford is 74; De Niro is 73. David Attenborough is 90.

That's just a quick listing off the top of my head, so you can only imagine how many well-known people are in what would be expected to be the final decade or two of their lives. And that doesn't include all those who might pop off earlier than expected, from cancer, heart attack, accident, suicide or other assorted causes (I've personally almost checked out after being stung by a wasp, of all things). This is perhaps what made 2016 seem so shocking - losing the likes of David Bowie at 69, Carrie Fisher at 60, Prince at 57, George Michael at 53 and Phife Dawg at 45. But given the number of celebrities out there, is this the new normal?

The Great Dying has begun. So it might be about time we addressed our in-built aversion to dealing with death and loss head-on.

This 1980s Police Training Video on Satanic Cults Features a Join-the-Dots Guide to Ritual Sacrifice

Satanic killing explained

Okay kids, gather around and let me tell you about the '80s. There was gated snare drums, great fantasy movies with puppets in them, and the ever-present threat of a nuclear apocalypse. But we also made sure we had time for the odd Satanic panic. So much so that the video below, "Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults", is an actual, honest-to-Lucifer genuine training video for police!

Greg Newkirk explains things over at 'Week in Weird':

Featuring “occult experts” with mullets that would put Billy Ray Cyrus to shame, interviews with alleged victims of satanic rituals, and dusty old men who dare to ponder how far America’s freedom of religion should extend, the 73-minute VHS tape is a glimpse into the Satanic Panic era that’s as frightening as it is hilarious.

You can watch the whole video below, and if you watch it to the end, you’ll be treated with a cringe-inducing clip of a woman in a bikini being preened over by a weird old dude demonstrating a ritual sacrifice, complete with dotted lines showing where to slice and dice your victims.

Head on over to Week in Weird for Greg's full post about the video.

Festival 23 - Convergence of Disco

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Festival 23- Convergence of Disco

A brand new outdoor festival celebrating Discordian counter-culture

Taking place on the weekend of July 23 at a secret South Yorkshire location

Artists confirmed so far include Jimmy Cauty, John Higgs, Knifeworld, Super Weird Substance, Richard Norris, Cosmic Trigger cabaret

Already compared by DJ Greg Wilson to the legendary 1967 'Gathering of the Tribes,' Festival 23 is not just a music festival. Neither is it an arts, literature, theatre, film or poetry festival. It's none of these things and it's all of them. It is everything that you imagine it to be. Inspired by the exhortations of the late, great Ken Campbell, organisers Notwork 23 are setting out not to make money or to lose money, but to do something heroic!

Festival 23 is a celebration and exploration of contemporary counter-culture, inspired by generations of radical artists and writers, from William Burroughs to Alan Moore, Alan Watts to Robert Anton Wilson. The focus for these energies is Discordianism; a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke, most famously popularised by Bob Shea & Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! -the ultimate cult novel series- itself adapted into an infamous nine-hour play in 1976 by maverick theatre director, actor, writer and genius Ken Campbell.

As a member of the KLF, Jimmy Cauty re-introduced Discordian ideas to a new generation in the late eighties and early nineties. We're overjoyed that he'll be bringing his acclaimed art installation, The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP), to Festival 23.

In 2014, Ken Campbell's daughter Daisy Campbell brought Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus sequel Cosmic Trigger to the stage, acting as a powerful catalyst for the current Discordian revival. Daisy will be leading Cosmic Trigger's cast and crew, including poet Salena Godden, in a cosmic cabaret that will take over Festival 23's main stage on the Sunday night.

Writer John Higgs has also brought Discordian-related ideas to a wider audience with his books The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds, and Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The 21st Century. At Festival 23 John will be delivering a new talk entitled Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming.

Headline musical acts include psychedelic/progressive rock titans Knifeworld, a full live set from Super Weird Substance (featuring legendary DJ Greg Wilson and Ruthless Rap Assassins/ Black Grape member Kermit, who will also both be performing separately), Richard Norris (The Grid, Circle Sky, Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve, Time and Space Machine, Psychic TV), Pete Woosh (DIY), AOS3 and Cowtown. Also confirmed so far are Barringtone, Bloom, Giblet, Horton Jupiter and Map 71.

Plus: films, rituals, esoteric workshops, poetry, theatre, art installations and more, including Puppet Alan Watts- part of the Future Zen Variety Show- and the Milk the Cow podcast crew, who will be producing an exclusive radio podcast onsite.

Website: http://festival23.org.uk/ Facebook community: https://www.facebook.com/festival23/?fref=ts

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/539494706224186/

Contact: info@festival23.org.uk

A New Approach to Death and Funerals

If you're likely to die at some point in the next century, I highly recommend this interesting TEDx talk by undertakers Claire and Ru Callender, who are calling out the 'corporate' funeral industry and suggesting we reinvent the way we send off our dearly departed (and ourselves when it gets to that point).

Claire and Ru Callender are self taught, award winning ceremonial undertakers and sextons who set up The Green Funeral Company in 2000. Their stripped back, naturalistic approach is informed by their own experiences of bereavement and the unsatisfactory funerals that followed, and their practice has unusual and diverse influences including the natural death movement, rave culture, Quakerism, hospices, punk, and crop circles.

They aim to create rituals that are practical, satisfying and unique but feel profound and genuine, and their intentions can be summed up in three words: Honesty, appropriateness and participation.

They have strong feelings about the funeral industry, particularly embalming, current cremation practice and design, family disempowerment, corporate takeovers, assembly line rituals, faux Victorian aesthetics, inappropriate religious services and exploitative and unnecessary prepayment schemes.

You can read more about Claire and Ru's thoughts in this Vice magazine interview from last year.

Apollo Astronaut's Realisation: "We Are All One"

The good folk at the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS) has posted the lovely short video above in honour of the passing of their founder, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. As they explain in "In Memoriam: Edgar Mitchell, ScD, PhD", Edgar Mitchell's view of the heavens on the journey home from the Moon delivered an epiphany, inspiring him to create IONS as a research centre that could deliver "a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming".

From the video:

I had completed my major task for going to the Moon, and was on my way home, and was observing the heavens and the Earth from this distance...

As we were rotating I saw the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens. The magnificence of all of this - what this triggered, in the ancient Sanskrit, is called samadhi. It means that you see things with your senses the way they are, but you experience them viscerally and internally as a unity and a one-ness, accompanied by ecstasy.

All matter in our universe is created in star systems. And so the matter in my body, and the matter in the spacecraft, and the matter in my partner's bodies, was the product of stars.

We are star-dust, and we're all one in that sense.

Related:

The Cult of Mary: How Supernatural Apparitions and Miracle Healings Led to Veneration of the Mother of Jesus

The Virgin Mary

The cover story for the latest edition of National Geographic. "How the Virgin Mary Became the World's Most Powerful Woman", looks at the rise of the 'cult' of the Virgin Mary, specifically through the lens of the miraculous/supernatural/Fortean apparitions of - and 'healings' by - the mother of Jesus throughout history. Award-winning journalist Maureen Orth looks at how the iconic religious figure has permeated Western culture (as well as Islamic culture to some extent as well), and how alleged miracles in her name provide sustenance to her on-going mythos:

Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fátima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as poetry, liturgy, and music (Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin). And she is the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.

Praying for the Virgin Mary's and being devoted to her are a global phenomenon. The notion of Mary as intercessor with Jesus begins with the miracle of the wine at the wedding at Cana, when, according to the Gospel of John, she tells him, “They have no wine,” thus prompting his first miracle. It was in A.D. 431, at the Third Ecumenical Council, in Ephesus, that she was officially named Theotokos, Bearer of God. Since then no other woman has been as exalted as Mary. As a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings. Her mantle offers both security and protection. Pope Francis, when once asked what Mary meant to him, answered, “She is my mamá.”

Her reported appearances, visions experienced often by very poor children living in remote or conflict-wracked areas, have intensified her mystery and aura. And when the children can’t be shaken from their stories—especially if the accounts are accompanied by inexplicable “signs” such as spinning suns or gushing springs—her wonder grows

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been reported throughout post-New Testament history, but in the last 450 years alone there have been more than 2000 reported sightings (see the map below for a graphic representation - the National Geographic story has a larger version for ease of viewing).

Virgin Mary Sightings Around the World

The Catholic Church however is very careful in officially recognising such events, with only sixteen of those being sanctioned as true miracles. Their pain-staking process of investigation covers many aspects of each sighting, though "the 'authenticity' and mental stability of the seer are prime, and anyone suspected of trying to gain fame or riches from contact with the Virgin Mary is ignored or condemned". Furthermore, "the Vatican would never approve an alleged apparition whose message contradicted church teachings, and the faithful aren’t required to believe in apparitions."

The locations of apparitions and healings, such as Lourdes and Medjugorje, have become famous the world over.

Here's a video made by National Geographic to accompany their story, "Five things to know about Marian apparitions":

One aspect unfortunately not covered in the story is the Fortean interpretation - are these apparitions actually Christian/Islamic, or are they something else, simply being interpreted through that lens? Jacques Vallee covered some of these thoughts in his book Passport to Magonia, in which he discusses VM apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and another at Knock in Ireland, and how some elements also match those found in sightings of other strange phenomena, such as UFOs and 'fairy folk', throughout history. (I also specifically covered the similarity in 'sounds' heard during these sightings in my article "Her Sweet Murmur: Exploring the aural phenomenology of border experiences".) From spinning disks to falls of 'angel hair', there are some distinctly strange aspects to a number of 'Virgin Mary' apparitions.

An interesting article nonetheless, although one can only wonder how much criticism it might receive from scientific quarters given recent concerns that Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of National Geographic, and the subsequent cuts to staff within the organisation, might lead to a less scientific approach from the iconic science magazine.

Related stories:

Samsaric Sarcasm: A Humoristic Explanation for Reincarnation


(Click on the image for a clearer version)

Beat that, Dawkins!

Nina Paley is the artist behind the highly-acclaimed indie film Sita Sings the Blues, as well as the short This Land is Mine. She also collaborated in the film The Prophet, based on the famous book by Khalil Gibran.

H/T Mark Brady

This Must Be the Place: Reflections About Life and Death from an Old Mariner

In our present culture, growing old is viewed as an hourglass tragically running out of sand. For an old Danish mariner it means becoming "full of days," and hence the opposite.

This Must Be the Place is a touching reflection about how a life well lived can only result in a good death.

Have YOU found your place yet?

Stephen Colbert: On Faith & Humor

I was born and raised a Catholic. As a Mexican, there's nothing exceptional about that; but there was a time in my life when I was really committed to my Catholicism. I went to Mass (gladly!), took Communion, despaired when I had 'unclean thoughts' --which was pretty much *all* the time-- walked dozens of miles to see pope John II at San Juan de los Lagos --I was so tired I slept through most of the Eucharist-- and even went with a group made of fellow high-school students to a few 'evangelization journeys' at some of the poorest communities in Mexico.

And, for a little while, I seriously considered the possibility of taking the vows to become a priest.

Eventually I became evermore disenchanted with the church --even though to this day I still hold a special fascination for Jesus, thanks to J.J. Benítez's "Caballo de Troya" novels-- until a day came when I realized in my heart I no longer felt as a Catholic; to the point that nowadays I can barely stand being inside a church during one of the usual social events my family drags me to.

As a renegade Catholic, you keep telling yourself that you 'smartened up', and finally opened your eyes about the many things in the religious dogma which doesn't make any kind of sense; you also tell yourself that if someone decides to remain in the church, is because they haven't yet looked hard enough to those logical fallacies, thus suffering some sort of cognitive dissonance. Some people even have a complete 180° and become rabid anti-religious atheists; there's no greater zealot than the late convert...

Which is why it was so interesting for me to listen to Stephen Colbert, one of the smartest Television figures in the world today, discuss with Fr. Thomas Rosica on the video above how much he loves his Catholic faith, and how for him there doesn't seem to be any conflict between it and his intellect. The conversation was recorded on April 1st, for the Salt and Light media organization.

"Logic itself will not lead me to god... but my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will."

In a way it's interesting to think how there seems to be an interesting rapport --see what I did there?-- between Faith and Humor: Both require a fair amount of intelligence --you cannot make a good joke if you don't understand WHAT things are funny-- and yet at the same time both have to be able to transcend rationality --you cannot 'overthink' a joke; it has to be a visceral reaction in order to be funny.

A strange thing to consider, especially in a time in which Religion and Humor have become something of a mortal combination. While Stephen mentions during the interview how he was glad he was not on the air when the Charlie Hebdo news broke --because he wouldn't have been able to respond-- later in the interview he might have inadvertently hit the nail on why the satire of Charlie Hebdo provoked such a caustic reaction, by discussing how according to C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, 'flippancy' is the only type of humor which doesn't bring joy, and thus moves you away from God.

I also enjoyed how Stephen shares my concept of a Jesus who was laughing all the time.

if Jesus didn't laugh [at Peter falling on the water like Wile E Coyote] then I'm in trouble, because that's the God I worship

Well, I worship a 'God' --however you choose to define 'It'-- who put someone like Stephen Colbert in the same space rock I happen to inhabit at the moment.

New Gods and Monsters - A New Book From Ian 'Cat' Vincent and Daily Grail Publishing To Be Released in 2016

Holy Yoda

I'm excited to announce that in 2016 we will be publishing a new book from Ian 'Cat' Vincent on the development of new, strange, myths and religions in the modern world. Darklore readers will no doubt be familiar with Cat's fascinating explorations of the modern Slenderman mythos and 'hyper-real religions' in our recent releases - but now we'll be getting a full-length book treatment from Cat - titled New Gods and Monsters - that will surely blow all of our minds.

Here's a précis of New Gods and Monsters:

“To a new world of gods and monsters!’
-Dr. Pretorius, in The Bride Of Frankenstein

Despite the predictions (and hopes) of some, the early 21st Century of the Common Era is not a time of less religion than before - 85% of the planet’s population profess to hold some religious belief. But... some of those beliefs are a long way from orthodoxy.

As a result of the rise in popular culture in the last century and the increasing speed and density of communications media to carry it, the modern world has a plethora of stories - avowed fictions among them - about religion, myth and magic to chose from. Increasingly, peoples’ beliefs are directly affected by these stories. Some believers take metaphorical comfort and confirmation of their own orthodox beliefs from them, some incorporate part of pop culture into their belief system... and some even take these fictional tales and treat them as the basis of their own new religions.

New Gods And Monsters is the story of these stories - how they began, how they became popular, the influence they can have on us and what they imply for a future seemingly ridden with religious strife.

Super excited about this, can't wait to get it into your hands next year! For a taster of the themes that Cat will be riffing on in New Gods and Monsters, see the embedded talk below on "Science Fiction's Gifts to Paganism" and the 'Sample Articles' page at the Darklore website for his essays on Slenderman and hyper-real religions.