News Briefs 25-06-2015

Maybe we should get rid of ALL flags…

Quote of the Day:

"Protection? What the f#$k are you talking about? You have guns because you like guns."

~Australian comedian Jim Jefferies

"The Hallow" Official International Trailer

Very apropos for International Fairy Day. Upcoming film The Hallow reminds us of that age-old advice: Don't. F#$K. With fairies!*

A family who move into a remote milllhouse in Ireland find themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.

The Hallow premieres in November of 2015

[H/T to Joshua Cutchin]


(*)Unless the fairy in question is a hot ondine. Then it's totally OK**

(**)You'll probably regret it the rest of your life afterwards, but you should still totally do it, mate...

News Briefs 24-06-2015

Wakey, wakey!

Quote of the Day:

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

Henry David Thoreau

Strange & Norrell : IV- Magic and Madness


Susanna Clarke's 2004 historical fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been adapted into a seven part television series by Peter Harness, currently airing on BBC One and BBC America. John Reppion plucks out some of the more easily disentangled fragments of folklore, magic, and the like from the book (and the show) and takes a closer look at them.

All posts in this series:

IV - Magic and Madness

"I am not at all surprised that you could not help His Majesty," said Mr Norrell. "I do not believe that even the Aureate magicians could cure madness. In fact I am not sure that they tried. They seem to have considered madness in quite a different light. They held madmen in a sort of reverence and thought they knew things sane men did not –things which might be useful to a magician. There are stories of both Ralph Stokesey and Catherine of Winchester consulting with madmen."

"But it was not only magicians, surely?" said Strange. "Fairies too had a strong interest in madmen. I am sure I remember reading that somewhere."

"Yes, indeed! Some of our most important writers have remarked upon the strong resemblance between madmen and fairies. Both are well known for talking without sense or connexion."

Talking without (seeming) sense or connection, in the world of Strange & Norrell, is one effect of what is referred to only as a "muffling spell" - an enchantment signified by a phantom rose at the mouth of the subject (to those magically inclined enough to see it). The apparent nonsense spoken by those thus enchanted in the book and television series proves, in fact, to be old Fairy and Folk Tales which, though unrelated to what the person is trying to say, are nevertheless coherently told. So it is that those who have had a muffling spell cast upon them may appear insane but not (necessarily) be so. Clearly, this can be read as a metaphor for depression, and any number of mental health conditions in which the sufferer feels unable to articulate their problems, or is unable to imagine them being understood (or taken seriously) if they do so.

Madness and otherness are themes that run throughout Strange & Norrell. In one footnote we are given a note on the thoughts of Richard Chaston (1620-95), an author who the practical magician Mr. Gilbert Norrell agrees with (on this matter, at least):

Chaston wrote that men and Fairies both contain within them a faculty of reason and a faculty of magic. In men reason is strong and magic is weak. With fairies is the other way round: magic comes very naturally to them, but by human standards they are barely sane.

Here then, magic seems to be the very opposite of reason, but does that make it madness?

In Clarke's world fairies and Faerie may seem at first to be the opposite of Englishmen and England but, in fact, (as Chanston hints) they prove to be more like mirror images of the same; their characteristics merely inverted.

Strange & Norrell draws on various Romantic literary traditions and is set during the Romantic Era - an era when England was itself ruled over by "mad" King George III. The self-elected poster-boy of Romanticism Lord Byron was infamously described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" by Lady Caroline Lamb; a phrase which has become synonymous with hell-raising, raucous, rebellious behaviour ever since. Madness then, was and is an important part of the Romantic aesthetic.

Poets cultivated the association among insanity, eccentricity, and genius in their life-styles and their work to distinguish themselves from the philistine public and from writers of lesser talent. [...] Two general reasons for the prevalence of genuine and feigned madness in this period were the increased acceptability of public displays of emotion and the cult of the genius poet. [1]

Yet while Byron's madness may have been something of an affectation, other poets such as William Blake, and Friedrich Hölderlin did unquestionably struggle with their mental health (the latter almost certainly being schizophrenic). Another was John Clare, the "Peasant Poet" from Northampton, who was in and out of asylums for much of his adult life.

In 1837 he was admitted to Dr Allen’s High Beech asylum near Epping and was reported as being “full of many strange delusions”. He thought he was a prize fighter and that he had two wives, Patty and Mary [a girl Clare fell in love with as a boy but who, in reality, he seems to have never had any actual relationship with]. He started to claim he was Lord Byron. There is an interesting letter that Dr Allen wrote about Clare to The Times in 1840:

It is most singular that ever since he came… the moment he gets pen or pencil in hand he begins to write most poetical effusions. Yet he has never been able to obtain in conversation, nor even in writing prose, the appearance of sanity for two minutes or two lines together, and yet there is no indication of insanity in any of his poetry.

An interesting picture of Clare during [his time at Northampton Asylum circa 1860] comes from the asylum superintendent, Dr Nesbitt, who wrote of his condition:

It was characterised by visionary ideas and hallucinations. For instance he may be said to have lost his own personal identity as with the gravity of truth he would maintain that he had written the works of Byron, and Sir Walter Scott, that he was Nelson and Wellington, that he had fought and won the battle of Waterloo, that he had had his head shot off at this battle, whilst he was totally unable to explain the process by which it had been again affixed to his body. [2]

Clare's own affliction apparently working as the mirror opposite of the muffling spell of Clarke's world - him being able to speak with absolute clarity and mastery through one medium alone. The madman as genius in his single field of specialisation.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2001, Allan Beveridge wrote the following:

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, two major factors contributed to the awakening interest in the art of the insane—the Romantic movement, which identified madness as an exalted state allowing access to hidden realms; and the emergence of the asylum, which provided a location for the production of patient-art. Romanticism saw madness as a privileged condition: the madman, unrestrained by reason or by social convention, was perceived as having access to profound truths. The Romantics emphasized subjectivity and individualism, and hailed the madman as a hero, voyaging to new planes of reality. Although the equation of madness and genius originated with Plato, it was only in the nineteenth century that it became an important feature of cultural discourse. From the proposition that the genius was a kind of madman it was logical to ask whether the mad themselves create works of genius. [3]

The art of the insane, along the art of children, and the "primitive" art of other cultures, were studied and admired by the likes of the Expressionists and the Surrealists. To them such art represented an absolute break from the conventions of western formalism - from the established etiquette and symbolism of art as it stood (just as the wild magic of fairies contrasts with Mr. Norrell's controlled, formalised English Magic). In the first Surrealist Manifesto, André Breton, the leading theorist of the movement, wrote:

The confidences of madmen: I would spend my life in provoking them. They are people of a scrupulous honesty, and whose innocence is equalled only by mine.

A quotation worthy of Lord Byron himself in terms of its apparent pomposity.

One cannot write of magic, madness, fairies, and art and not include the tragic, talented Richard Dadd.

Richard Dadd was born August 1, 1817 in Chatham, Kent, England. At age 13 the family moved to London, and in 1837, Dadd, age 20, was admitted to the Royal Academy of Art. Dadd showed talent at the Academy and gathered a number of painterly friends, known collectively as 'The Clique'. He won several awards while at the Academy, and began exhibiting his work during his first year.

In 1841, he received a commission to do the woodblock illustrations for a book called the Book of British Ballads, as well as an oil painting called Titania Sleeping, which is perhaps the best example of his early work. Overall, his style was not particularly remarkable, no more so than any other moderately gifted painter in Victorian England during the stylistic phase now referred to as "The Fairy School". [4]

In 1842 Richard Dadd set out on the not-yet-quite-out-of-fashion Grand Tour (of Europe and the Middle East) with Sir Thomas Phillips, who had employed the artist to document his travels. All went well until the duo reached Egypt where Phillips and others believed that Dadd must have caught sunstroke. Dadd himself was under a rather different impression however, namely that he had been possessed by the ancient Egyptian God Osiris. Osiris is the God of the afterlife, of the dead, and, perhaps crucially, of the underworld (the connections between Hades, Hell, the classical underworld, and Faerie having already been discussed in part previously).

Upon his return to England Richard was clearly changed and troubled. He was taken by his family to rural Kent for a bit of rest, relaxation, and recuperation. There, in August 1843, Dadd took a knife and murdered his father, who he now believed was not his father at all but a supernatural double (a "fetch", or a "waff", as some might say). Richard fled the country but was arrested just outside Paris when he attempted a second murder, this time with a straight razor. Dadd confessed to killing his father and was returned to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of Bethlem psychiatric hospital, better known to many as Bedlam.

The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke

In Bedlam (and later in the equally infamous Broadmoor Hospital where he died in 1886) Richard Dadd was encouraged to continue with his painting. His artwork was, as is perhaps to be expected, somewhat changed ("possess[ing] a strange compelling quality absent from the work he completed when sane", according to Beveridge[5]) but it was no less wonderful. So wonderful in fact that in 1855 the then Head Steward at Bedlam, George Henry Haydon, asked Dadd if he would paint a picture for him. Dadd spent nine years on the painting - a canvass measuring a mere 54 x 39.5 cm (21 x 15.5 inches) - which, though it remained unfinished in his eyes, now hangs in London's world famous Tate Gallery. The painting (shown above) is entitled The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke and is described on the Tate website thusly:

With the exception of Shakespeare's Oberon and Titania, who appear in the top half of the picture, the figures are drawn entirely from the artist's imagination. The main focus of the painting is the Fairy Feller himself, who raises his axe in readiness to split a large chestnut which will be used to construct Queen Mabs' new fairy carriage. In the centre of the picture the white-bearded patriarch raises his right hand, commanding the woodsman not to strike a blow until the signal is given. Meanwhile the rest of the fairy band looks on in anticipation, anxious to see whether the woodsman will succeed in splitting the nut with one stroke.

The magician-like figure of the patriarch wears a triple crown, which seems to be a reference to the Pope. Dadd saw the Pope during a visit to Rome in 1843 and was apparently overcome by an urge to attack him. Although the patriarch may be interpreted as a father figure, the tiny apothecary, brandishing a mortar and pestle in the top right of the picture, is in fact a portrait of the artist's father, Robert Dadd. [6]

Yes, Dadd's father was depicted by the artist among the fairies.

Dadd's dad put to work in Faerie

In the very first issue of the Tate magazine, Tate Etc, published in May 2004 (four months before Strange & Norrell), the German Capitalist Realist painter and photographer Sigmar Polke (1941–2010) wrote a piece on Dadd's Fairy Feller's Master Stroke entitled "Private View". While I do not pretend to be familiar with Polke, either as a painter or a writer, there are nevertheless perhaps some insights to be gained from an artist's perspective on Dadd and his master-work. Here are a couple of choice quotations from the piece:

I’ve known Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke 1855–64 since the 1970s. When I look at it again today, it’s as if I were looking into a tapestry and losing my way. Its composition is quite unlike any other Victorian fairy painting. The point of view is not clearly defined. Instead, the individual elements appear to be linked by almost invisible forces.

At that time, the fantasy life of fairies – from Grimm to Shakespeare – enjoyed widespread popularity as an imaginary world fully integrated into reality. Dadd’s appropriation of this world is, however, neither kitsch, nor facile, nor garrulous, because it does not obey the then current pictorial conventions. Nor does his vision echo the spirited confections of popular draughtsman J.J. Grandville’s fantastic book Un Autre Monde 1844. Instead, one senses the extraordinary intensity of an enduring dialogue between the artist and the universe of figures that he created. Isolated from the outside world, he painted the picture for the director of the hospital. Did he perhaps want to present it as proof of his sanity?

A strange idea; attempting to prove one's sanity by creating a hyper-realistic representation of Faerie.

In the final paragraph Polke talks briefly about Dadd's madness but in place of a conclusion to the piece there is, instead, a rather curious quotation.

One more curlicue, a whorl, my coda follows in the form of an ancient Celtic saying:

A city lasts three years,
A dog outlives three cities,
A horse outlasts three dogs,
A person outlives three horses,
A donkey outlives three people,
A wild goose outlives three donkeys,
A crow outlives three wild geese,
A hart outlives three crows,
A raven outlives three harts,
And the Phoenix outlives three ravens. [7]

I have not been able to find the source of the quotation and I'm left wondering exactly what Polke was trying to communicate, and whether he was freely able to do so.

In Strange & Norrell madness and magic may not be the same thing but they are bedfellows nonetheless; each having some bearing and effect upon the other. Even so...

There were remarkably few spells for curing madness. Indeed he had found only one, and even then he was not sure that was what it was meant for. It was a prescription in Ormskirk's Revelations of Thirty-Six Other Worlds. Ormskirk said that it would dispel illusions and correct wrong ideas. Strange took out the book and read through the spell again. It was a peculiarly obscure piece of magic, consisting only of the following words:

"Place the moon at his eyes and her whiteness shall devour the false sights the deceiver has placed there.
Place a swarm of bees at his ears. Bees love truth and will destroy the deceiver's lies.
Place salt in his mouth lest the deceiver attempt to delight him with the taste of honey or disgust him with the taste of ashes.
Nail his hand with an iron nail so that he shall not raise it to do the deceiver's bidding.
Place his heart in a secret place so that all his desires shall be his own and the deceiver shall find no hold there.
Memorandum. The colour red may be found beneficial.”

However, as Strange read it through, he was forced to admit that he had not the least idea what it meant.


[1] Laura Dabundo (2009) Encyclopedia of romanticism: culture in Britain, 1780s-1830s
[3] Allan Beveridge (2001) "A disquieting feeling of strangeness?: the art of the mentally ill"
[5] Allan Beveridge (2001) "A disquieting feeling of strangeness?: the art of the mentally ill"
[7] Sigmar Polke (2004) "Private View"

Abduction Animations

Trying to transmit the narrative of the abduction mythos in all its surreal, quasi-oneiric complexity to an outsider is an almost insurmountable task, due to both the limitations of language as much as the intrinsically personal nature of the experience itself.

Because of this the medium of classic, hand-drawn Animation seems to provide a more suitable approximation than other conventional methods of expression. It's not just about the cliched "a picture is worth a thousand words," though. To me there's something in creating the illusion of life and movement out of lines drawn into some canvas or piece of paper, that is nothing short of magical --and, perhaps, closer to the mystery of what's behind these liminal experiences.

The first clip, above, was produced in 1995, based on recorded interviews of some of the subjects researched by the late Budd Hopkins --a recognized visual artist on his own merit-- including a few sessions of hypnotic regression. The second one, below, is a sand animation created in 2009 by artist GingerAnne, to tell the story of what happened to her own mother in 1986. Both videos choose the approach the subject from a different perspective, both artistically and narratively, and both IMO make a very good job in communicating their message to the viewer in an honest, and almost visceral way.

Please note this is not about 'endorsing' the veracity or validity of these stories. As you may or may not know, by the end of his life Hopkins and his research methodology came under heavy attack by both skeptics and UFO advocates alike, particularly with regards to the controversial Linda Cortile/Napolitano case, which is featured in the video. Likewise we don't have ways to vet the account portrayed by GingerAnne, and the fact that it seems similar to the famous Hopkinsville 'goblin attack' of 1955 would be perceived to either corroborate or undermine the story, depending on your particular bias.

What I'm interested here is in how the medium shapes these narratives, which in my mind are the ultimate cultural paradox; because on the one hand the alien abduction mythos has penetrated every instance of our civilization, particularly when it comes to pop culture --what teenager in the Western world doesn't know what 'probing' is thanks to South park?-- yet on the other hand, not one of these mass-consumed artistic representations has ever done justice in capturing the TRUE alienness of these experiences.

The artists responsible for these videos came close, and for that they get my praise.


Thanks to 'Burnt State' for pointing out to these great vids.

Aliens Under the Scanner: Similarities Found in Brains of Alleged Abductees

I've never been to Hawaii, but since my days of watching Magnum P.I. on TV, I always thought of it as a true paradise --especially if you had a red Ferrari and an epic 'stache like Tom Selleck.

But even these tropical islands would seem like Hell on Earth, if you thought you were kidnapped by strange non-human creatures, subjecting you to all sorts of horrendous experiments.

This is exactly what Neurologist Dr. Michael B. Russo was hearing from his patients, who were been referred to him by their primary physicians after complaining about migraines or other problems, once they felt comfortable enough to share their terrible secret. Following the logical guidelines of his career, and armed with a powerful dense-array electroencephalography (DEEG) machine --the only one of its kind in Hawaii-- Dr. Russo scanned the heads of his patients, and instead of metallic implants left by their alien tormentors, what he found was certain consistent abnormalities in their parietal lobes, which is the area of the brain in charge of processing visual and auditory stimuli, and integrating them into higher thinking.

“The parietal areas process visual and auditory data, but they can intrinsically create it themselves and then send it to the prefrontal region, where you become aware of it. … Our thinking is that there’s something in the parietal areas that’s generating (the feeling that transmissions from aliens are being sent to the brain).”

The electrical brain wave activity of the alien abductee patients looks similar to that of patients who have experienced traumatic brain injury, he said.

Ahá! We finally found a purely biological explanation for abductions. Mystery solved.

Well, not so fast: Even Dr. Russo himself does not seem willing to dismiss the stories of their patients as pure fantasy-induced hallucinations:

“All I’m saying is that these areas of the brain are similar between patients. … Patients would not come to me if I did not take them seriously and their problems seriously. I don’t discount what they’ve said. I try to make the pain or discomfort or anxieties diminish.”

His patients are also responding well to both his diagnosis and treatment. After all, he's helping them cope with the pain.

This is not the first time researchers have tried to propose a biological mechanism behind the alien abduction experience. Before Russo's parietal abnormalities, there was the 'temporal lobe epilepsy' disorder which Dr. Michael Persinger thinks is responsible for a broad spectrum of 'mystical experiences.' He followed his research by producing what he nicknamed the 'God helmet' --which only caused a 'slight headache' in Richard Dawkins when he tried it on…

There's also the 'sleep paralysis' syndrome, a favorite among skeptics, because it seems to fit so nicely with the traditional stereotype of your typical abduction: Happening at night, when people are in their beds, coming right out of deep sleep. Never mind that MANY people have reported abductions on different circumstances, like driving on their cars or standing on their kitchen fully awake...

My own personal opinion is that I see no problem in trying to find out more about the possible biological components behind these experiences. After all, even the researchers who advocate for a non-conventional explanation --i.e. hybridization experiments performed by extraterrestrial geneticists-- also look into certain 'biological markers' or commonalities between people who claim to have been taken by alien beings: Rh-negative blood type, Celtic or Native American ancestry, etc. They are using different 'narratives' to substantiate their ideas, true, but they are still looking into the particulars of the abductees' physicality.

The fault I see in BOTH approaches is in stopping there, and not going further enough. A chemist will know the precise molecular composition of DMT; a botanist will know the exact taxonomical nature of the plants containing a high concentration of it in their tissue, and an anthropologist will record the particulars of an Ayahuasca ceremony performed by an Amazonian shaman.

But that will still NOT explain the nature, origin and potency of the rich imagery and sensory data 'downloaded' into the consciousness of the person who drinks the Ayahuasca brew. Likewise, we still don't know why a parietal abnormality found in different auto-proclaimed abductees, would end up rendering 'hallucinations' with such a persistent narrative.

Some people get banged on the head and become mathematical savants. Others, like the famous John Nash --who recently lost his life in a tragic car accident-- believed they were in contact with alien beings, just when they are at their peak of mathematical thinking. And others, like Chris Bledsoe, claimed to have had a close encounter experience, only to suddenly find their creativity has received a mysterious 'boost'.

Which example is more 'paranormal' than the other? And does the 'origin story' demerit the value of these people's achievements?

Let us look for commonalities, but do not let them diminish our sense of awe, nor should we confuse them for the REAL mystery.



Thanks to Mike Clelland and Stephen Miles Lewis.

News Briefs 23-06-2015

Of suns and stones and floods, and mummified bishops with fetuses in their coffin...

Thanks @AnomalistNews.

Quote of the Day:

Yeah we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.

John Lennon

Mr. Bolden (Head of NASA) Goes to Area 51

ETs exist, and so does Area 51.

That statement, which would have made the headlines of every single newspaper in the world 25 years ago, nowadays barely manages to captivate the attention of a child --"Duh! we know about Area 51, mister. We've seen it in the movies!"

During a Q&A with British school-children, NASA administrator Major Charles Bolden responded to the question of 10-year-old Carmen Dearing, who wanted to know whether he believed in aliens or not, with the customary answer every NASA representative gives: The Universe if ginormous, ergo they are out there… somewhere.

“Today we know that there are literally thousands, if not millions of other planets, many of which may be very similar to our own earth. So some of us, many of us believe that we're going to find...evidence that there is life elsewhere in the universe."

Mr. Bolden also mentioned Area 51, which until 2013 wasn't still officially recognized by the United States government --making it arguably the worst-kept secret in military history, and a stubborn remnant from the old Cold War mentality. Not only does Area 51 exist, Bolden, admitted to the children, but he's actually been there:

“There is an Area 51,” he said. “It’s not what many people think. I’ve been to a place called that but it’s a normal research and development place. I never saw any aliens or alien spacecraft or anything when I was there.

“It think because of the secrecy of the aeronautics research that goes on there it’s ripe for people to talk about aliens being there.”

Well now, Mr. Bolden: If it's such a 'normal' place of research, then why all the secrecy?

Let's all forget about Bob Lazar and his claims for a minute. What I would like to see is someone asking Bolden --or even president Obama-- whether some of the secret prototypes which have been tested in the Nellis Range complex are based on technologies so radical and unconventional, that they could easily be confused as alien vessels even by trained observers.

I wonder what Mr. Bolden would care to say about the leaks given to aerospace journalist James Goodall by several Area 51 insiders during the 1980s and 1990s. One of those contacts told Goodall "we have things in the Nevada desert that would make George Lucas envious." That same source, when asked by Goodall if he believed in UFOS, answered "absolutely, positively they exist" but wouldn't expand on his statement.

I also wonder if Mr. Bolden ever met Ben Rich, the so-called 'Father of Stealth' who run the Lockheed Skunk Works division for many decades, and oversaw the development of the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. Rich was never explicit of how much he knew, but the sentence with which he close his lecture at the UCLA Schoold of Engineering in March 23, 1993 --"we now have the technology to take ET home"-- is suggestive that perhaps Mr. Bolden wasn't shown everything that's going on around the famous 'secret' base --perhaps so he wouldn't worry how one day he might be out of a job...


Read More:

News Briefs 22-06-2015

If it felt like a long day at work, then you probably live in the northern hemisphere...

Thanks @djp1974.

Quote of the Day:

Bush v. Clinton for Prez. Jurassic Park, Terminator, & Star Wars in theaters. Believers in 6K year old Earth. Our timeline is broken.


Uplifting Civilisation 2: The Atemporal People's Republic

We Were Always the Monolith.

This is a loose sequel, as the title may suggest, to an earlier post: Uplifting Civilisation into the 22nd Century... and Beyond! That post largely concerned itself with sketching out a future where humanity and the coming AI have joined together, along with some Uplifted Animals, to form a next-level, pluralistic space faring civilisation. Putting forward the idea of a truly posthuman culture that was an attempt to offer up...

[a] vision to help chart a course through the current extinction crisis towards a twenty-second century full of sentient beings in space; a living universe populated with the physical and virtual, human, machine and animal, and multiple combinations of them all. And that's just for starters. Science only knows what comes after that.


The territory of the future moves beyond a human-machine civilisation, to a richer, space faring cyborg ecology.”

In this post I want to look forwards once more by looking backwards to our earliest origins – to cast our vision over that entire timeline, no less - and see how naturally we've merged the biological and the technological to get here, and will only continue to do so.

To draft an “Atemporal People's Republic” that stretches from what we know of our first tool-using ancestor species to what we imagine our posthuman descendants will be and sideways to ... Read More »