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Synchro-Myth in the Making: HELLIER Review

Although I’ve never directly interacted with them, I’ve been aware of the work of Dana and Greg Newkirk for quite some time. Ever since Greg and his buddies released a very tongue-in-cheek documentary –that almost qualifies as a mockumentary— called The Bigfoot Hunter: Still Searching and they launched a website called Who Forted, it was clear they were not taking the typical ‘oh-so-serious’ approach most ‘respectable’ researchers adopt; which was fine by me, because having a healthy sense of humor is actually a good strategy to retain your sanity in this field –besides, the world could always use more Fortean puns!

But, like everything and everyone, things started to change: Who Forted eventually changed its name to Week in Weird, which was followed by a second site called Planet Weird, and with the Newkirks engaging in a new venture in the form of their Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and the Occult, it looked as if Greg and Dana were trying to move away from their former persona of the ‘goofy new kids on the block (who don’t really take all this too seriously)’ to becoming a younger version of Ed and Lorraine Warren.

It was with this in mind that I started to watch the web docu-series Hellier, co-produced with Karl Pfeiffer and his partner, Connor James Randall. Again, the series dealt with a story I’ve been familiar with ever since the Who Forted days: a strange and serendipitous email Greg received unsolicitedly from someone called “David” who claimed he and his family were being regularly harassed by a band of diminutive, non-human creatures at his property located on a remote little town in Kentucky, which he believed inhabited a nearby cave. The style in which the emails were written suggested someone with a high level of education and not just your typical delusional ‘cracker’, but even though in his blog Greg explained that at first he was suspicious someone was pulling his leg –maybe an old friend from his teenage ghost-hunting years– he decided to play along with “David” anyway; it was until Greg started receiving photos purportedly showing the three-toed footprints the creatures allegedly left all over David’s property, that the Newkirks realized this wasn’t your typical ‘loony letter’.

“David” never used the term ‘goblins’ to describe the nightly assailants, but anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge in UFO lore would instantly recognize the similarities between this account, and the ‘classical’ encounter of the Hopkinsville goblins of 1955, which also happened in Kentucky. Could there be more common threads connecting the two cases, if you were to give “David” the benefit of the doubt? This is the story Hellier starts from, and the multi-year journey Greg and Dana took in order to find out the truth.

[Mild Spoilers Ahead]

The first thing that strikes you when watching the series is that all the accolades and platitudes currently circulating through social media are well-deserved. I’m not the first one to commend Hellier for its outstanding production value –without being ‘over-produced’ like other modern paranormal documentaries *ahem*– moreso when taking into account the series is completely FREE and available to anyone who cares to enjoy it, so double kudos for not putting one of those annoying geo-blocking locks.

The second obvious thing is that the tone of Hellier is not tongue-in-cheek or light-hearted at all! It is most definitely dark and serious all through the five episodes of this first series. Whether that is the right approach or not is up to the viewer, but personally I’m reminded of one of my friend and mentor Greg Bishop’s favorite mantras: “mimic the obliqueness of the subject” –and that also means the humor, since these are trickster-like energies (or entities) we’re dealing with.

And the third obvious thing for me as a viewer AND a seasoned student of the paranormal, is that Greg and Dana (and also Karl are Connor) seem to approach these topics from a direction that heavily resonates with my own: not afraid of showing all the ways in which seemingly different phenomena like apparitions, hauntings, cryptid sightings and UFO encounters have much more in common than we care to admit. This is a good thing, because the story Hellier tries to tell is ultimately much more convoluted than what the Newkirks initially expected –and if the viewer is expecting to watch any actual ‘real’ goblins, they would be left sorely disappointed…

You see, this is not so much a tale of aliens or non-human creatures coming out of some cave in Kentucky. It is a tale involving ‘name games’ played by shadowy figures like someone claiming to be “Terry Wrist”: an identity related to an old and obscure book (Secret Cypher of the UFOnauts) written by Allen H. Greenfield –who SHOULD HAVE appeared in the series IMO. Hellier is also a tale of weird dreams, mental visions, odd-coincidences and happenstance meetings that take Greg and Dana deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.

In other words, this is a tale about Synchro-Mysticism. Although ‘Synchro-mysticism’ is a somewhat modern term used by authors like Loren Coleman and Alan Abbadessa Green*, it actually pertains to things noticed by even older researchers, like James Shelby Donward and John Keel, who is famously known for his book The Mothman Prophecies; and just like Hellier is not really about goblins terrorizing Kentuckians, Mothman Prophecies is not really about a giant winged creature terrorizing the people on Point Pleasant, Virginia. At the time Keel found himself in the middle of a ‘vortex’ of weirdness and cosmic connections that seemed aimed directly to him.

The Hellier protagonists seem to realize the mystic link between Keel’s investigation of Mothman and their own investigation from the get-go, and they make that clear to the viewer. What it’s not so clear, unfortunately, is that also like Keel’s Mothman Prophecies Hellier is not without a bit of, shall we say, embellishment

For example, I think it’s in chapter 2 that the sighting of a ‘cigar-shaped’ UFO over Pike County is mentioned as evidence of all sorts of weirdness abounding in the region where “David” allegedly lived at the time, before he mysteriously disappeared. Unfortunately, that particular sighting was satisfactorily explained as a Google balloon, which is never mentioned by neither the Newkirks nor Pfeiffer.

Google balloon mistaken as a cigar-shaped UFO in 2012

Then there’s the issue of their trip to Brown Mountain in 2012, in which they show Micah Hanks allegedly showing them the entrance to an ‘underground alien base’. Micah Hanks is an author and host of the radio show The Gralien Report which approaches science and paranormal topics in a far more skeptical light than the tone employed by Hellier, and since he also happens to be one of my oldest and best friends in the paranormal community, I was eager to know his opinion of the series. He brought up the subject in his latest edition of the Gralien Report this week during the second segment of the show, and although he fully supports the series and the Newkirks, whom he considers good friends of his, it is clear that the tone and the way in which he was portrayed in the series is not something he can 100% endorse.

For starters that video, he explained, goes back to 2012, and he was never told by the Newkirks nor Pfeiffer that it would be utilized for a new project, something that caught him completely by surprise –this is, IMO, a grave faux-pass on the part of the producers.

Secondly, at the time they made that trip to the alleged ‘entrance to an underground alien base’ as it is portrayed in the series, the tone and spirit of the expedition was totally different as to how it appears in the final cut of Hellier. For Micah, the initial semi-satirical attitude everyone involved took was changed to a much more somber attitude, something he clearly is not comfortable with. That difference in tone can be easily attested in this February 2013 update the Newkirks released on Youtube:

“It was not my intention to convey in a serious sense that there was an ‘alien base’ out there,” Micah said on his radio show. “I do feel –honest and well-intended though the production of Hellier was– some viewers may watch it and perceive it as being that.”

In other words, Micah thought (and still thinks) the whole thing was a big joke. Furthermore, this explanation that they went to explore that cave because “a psychic told him” it was the (supposed) entrance to an alien base is also inaccurate. In truth, it was a local MUFON researcher who referred to him the story, and even though to Micah the whole thing was silly from the get-go, he was nevertheless happy to indulge his friends and take them on a quick road-trip to show them a bit of local ‘weird lore’.

Understand that I’m not pointing this out to ‘shoot down’ or ‘expose’ Greg and Dana. I think Hellier is a valuable and highly enjoyable documentary series, and ultimately any reasonable viewer must be comfortable with the idea that a documentary cannot be final proof of ANYTHING; truth be told, all the weird things shown in Hellier that allegedly happened to Dana, Greg, Karl and Connor could be fabricated so whether you believe the story or not is up to you, the viewer.

Micah is actually more skeptic in his approach to the paranormal than I am, and even though we both agree we should always get to the root of things to see if our ‘spirals of speculation’ as he put it are actually grounded on accurate facts, I on the other hand am of the opinion that within the world of the paranormal even hoaxes play a part in the way a true mystery unfolds.

No, I am not calling Greg and Dana hoaxers (even though there was hoaxing involved in Hellier, but to find that out you need to watch it). I am calling them mythmakers, just like Keel was. And I am at a point in my life as a student of the paranormal when I’m comfortable with the idea that myths *can* have all-too real effects in the world.

This long-term effect of a myth is actually something that is briefly acknowledged at the end of Hellier. The recognition that they’re not really the protagonists of the story —none of us are! We are all just playing a small role in a game played to someone (or something) else’s benefit, for reasons we may never be able to fully comprehend. And, just like some of us eventually find ourselves led to pick a copy of The Mothman Prophecies or Passport to Magonia, perhaps years –maybe even decades– down the road some curious kid will find a link to the first chapter of Hellier, just like they were supposed to, and realize it’s his or her cue to jump in and keep playing the game, which will inevitably lead them to another dark corner of the rabbit hole –perhaps a spot in which small humanoid creatures have been eagerly expecting them.

Hopkinsville goblins

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(*): Jake Kotze is the one credited with coining the term Synchro-mysticism in 2006. Thanks to Robert Oliver for reminding me 🙂

  1. I’m certain this is an original creation, but the sum of its parts show how the Newkirks drew upon other sources to produce a streaming fortean “event”. Let it be known that it should be of great interest to everybody with an interest in the UFO mystery (or in the anomalous or paranormal in general) and to all admirers of the late John A. Keel! Briefly also alludes to involvement in these Appalachian goings-on of alleged possible government “black ops” agents, including a VietNam vet turned minor paranormal author, supposedly sent out to find and exterminate aliens hiding in caves in Southeastern U.S.! The part about Hellier resident “Dave” plagued by “goblins” lurking around his farmhouse and sending e-mails to a paranormal researcher he’d been put in touch with also reminded me a bit of the plotline of H.P. Lovecraft’s novelette *The Whisperer in Darkness* with its reclusive Vermonter, plagued by aliens prowling around his secluded farmhouse and writing about his experiences to a college folklore professor! Skeptdebunkers might of course even dismiss the whole thing as a latter-day HPL ripoff! This article’s black-op Feds supposedly hunting down aliens hiding in caves likewise reminds me of the end of HPL’s *The Shadow Over Innsmouth*, with the Feds arresting and incarcerating human-alien hybrids in a decrepit New England seaport town.

    I am not innocent, as ninety percent of the preceding is plagiarized to draw attention, and encourage some skepticism, towards Hellier’s “true” story and if the resurgence of the Kentucky Goblins / Alien Cave Base Task Force is a Discovery Networks-style attempt to cash in rather than tell a real story like Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell’s brilliant documentaries.

    1. I think everybody involved in the paranormal ultimately ends up drawing from their main sources of inspiration. I know I do when I quote authors like Vallee and Kripal instead of say, Stanton Friedman. The Newkirks admit UFOlogy is not their cup of tea, which is why they ended up approaching the case from a more ‘ghost-hunting’ direction.

      Your reference to Lovecraft is noteworthy, but I woudld hesitate on calling this ‘plagiarization’. Again, in reference to Kripal’s work –especifically Mutants and Mystics– one needs to be aware on the many ways in which real paranormal events ‘crosspolinate’ with popular culture and viceversa. Who’s to say Lovecraft writing about aliens plaguing a secluded farmhouse ended up laying the ground for the original Hopkinsville case, which ended up laying the ground for the Hellier case. Maybe Lovecraft was inspired by an even previous story, too!

      Layers upon layers, and indeed there does seem to be deception involved –not directly from the Newkirks, but from someone else.

  2. Very interesting article.

    You guys have changed the way I look at these stories and happenings. I used to be all in at one time earlier in my life and then I became a hard core skeptic. I’m now in the middle..skeptical but open minded.

    Cheers. I will definitely check out the series.

  3. RPJ,
    I will definitely check this out as I remember the beginnings of the story from Who Forted and always thought the Terry Wrist/Allen Greenfield aspect and other synchronicities were intriguing. (Sometimes I can’t believe how much of this esoteric lore I remember yet most of the time couldn’t tell someone what I did two days ago.)

    And I seem to remember first seeing the term “synchro-mysticism” from a guy named Jake Klotzke? Back around the time I found a book titled ” The Lucid View” and also became aware of “The Secret Sun” blog. Anyway, great article as usual.
    Robert Oliver

  4. Although the docuseries was well-made, after finishing all 5 episodes I felt a little misled. Also, the filmmakers’ interviews on podcasts I listen to, and the title of the series itself, gave the impression that there were diminutive cave-dwelling creatures at the center of this mystery. Instead, over the last 2-3 episodes, it devolves into a series focused on, what I would consider, dubious claims of incredible synchronicity.

    That said, I’m not going to “blow-by-blow” my issues with the series. I will say, however, the most over-hyped section was the entire Spirit Box session. They were freaking out about all the relevance and connections and I kept thinking “what are they going on about? this is a complete nothing burger.”

    Overall, the series had a very “Blair Witch Project” feel to it, just with higher production values. Though not bad, I DO want those 5 hours of my life back…

    1. I wasn’t familiar with the ‘Estes method’ conceived by Pfeiffer and Randall during their previous ghost investigations. Newkirk wrote a lengthy article explaining how it (supposedly) works here:

      http://weekinweird.com/2019/01/24/estes-method-sb7-spirit-box-experiment-paranormal-investigation/

      I would like to ask my other ‘ghost-hunting’ friends their opinion about it, but at least I feel that the idea of using a human being as a ‘receiver’ heavily resonates with my personal speculations about these phenomena –namely, that human beings act as ‘bio-batteries’ powering up paranormal activity. In other words tha there can’t be no ghosts without any people being ‘haunted’ by them… Maybe

      Having said that, I can understand if some viewers are skeptical about the authenticity of the events presented in the series, since we all know how ‘reality tv’ paranormal shows often rely on special effects and fabrication in order to ‘spice up’ their episodes. Ultimately it is up to the viewer to decide whether the people involved in this case were making things up or not. For the moment I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and also I feel if they had had the intention to fabricate things, they could have actually shown us the goblins that were hinted at in the first two episodes –the fact they didn’t gives actually more credence to their allegations IMO, at the price of finishing the series with a ‘bang’.

      Because, in the end, isn’t that often the case with all these phenomena? They never give us a satisfactory resolution. Even with Mothman and Point Pleasant it happened. All these things tend to leave the question unanswered, AND they *always* leave room for possible fakery –that’s the trickster aspect of it.

  5. It’s a great series showcasing multiple threads into the Paranormal. I don’t blame them for using footage from the original Planet Weird project. Perhaps giving Hanks an opportunity to come on camera in the present would have been helpful. There are many people suspecting Micah is the one who sent the Wrist email. I think you may have suggested that in your review if it was the case. I love the way you say someone is going to find it one day and it will lead them deeper into the mysteries.

    One more thing. That Planet Weird promo vid. They keep talking about the scariest thing and Jason. I was the one who did that experiment. 🙂

    Stay Weird!

  6. I was a little disappointed that the goblin angle of the investigation was not more fruitful, but I appreciate that the Newkirks and company were honest about changing the focus rather than making much of something that was not there. I know some people are not pleased with the way the synchronicities became the focus, but at the same time, I could very much relate. The problem is that synchronicites are so highly personal, it can be hard as a viewer to relate to the impact they have on the recipient as they happen. I have experienced some synchronicities that have literally left me in a state of shock, and some of them indeed altered the course of my life. But to outsiders (friends and family, mostly), they just did not seem like that big of a deal because they could not fully appreciate the personal context.
    Some might feel the last part of the story relied too much on the synchronicities, but I have no reason to doubt that the Newkirks’ experiences were true “WTF????” moments for them, even if it did not always translate well into documentary-based storytelling.

  7. I agree with the comment on synchronicity. These things happen when you take a deep dive into locations. There are plenty of strings the group could follow out of Hellier for more fun. Who is David? Wrist? Are there local monster hunters? Check out more towns and more caves. The possibilities are endless, and I’m sure they will do as much as they can to keep chasing the truth. Now, the tongue in cheek not saying it’s a hoax but it could be a hoax stuff. I know the Newkirks. They are good people, and I trust them to never be the hoaxing type. I have interviewed Connor. He’s also a great dude with a great reputation. Again, I trust him. I don’t know Karl and only briefly met him once. I do know his reputation is solid, his work stands on solid ground, and if he’s in that crew I also trust him. They told the story as they experienced it unfolding. I’ll bet there’s much more to come.

    Stay Weird!

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