Singular Cerebrations: Supernatural Cynicism

There was a time when I believed in everything.  I was young, I'd had a lot of weird things happen to me, and I was open to anything.  It was a time in my life when I hadn't yet been hoaxed. Now, I've got some years on me, and I'd like to think that I'm not just older, but maybe a little bit wiser, too.  I've seen some shenanigans in the fortean field, and I've reexamined certain beliefs after better understanding the evidence in favor of them.  But I can't help but think I've lost something.  Certainly that childlike innocence has been shed, but it's more than that; I can't help but think that perhaps I suffer from something I see too often, especially on the internet--I may be becoming cynical.

This occurred to me recently after a few brief exchanges online with people who questioned why I bother writing articles on certain supernatural subjects.  They rolled their digital eyes and asked "Why bother?  It's clearly bullshit.  People are so gullible."  And I got unreasonably angry at their response.  Not just because they were wrong to say that--although they were--but because it reminded me of all of the times I've thought the same thing, and I felt guilty.  I felt like I let myself down by letting the world rob me of the magic and mystery that once colored how I viewed the universe.  This field of study is rife with con artists and madmen, and if you let them, they won't just take your money, they'll take something even more precious--they'll take your belief.  And it's our ability to believe that keeps us questing for evidence.  If I lose the ability to entertain a belief or idea without actually succumbing to it completely, then I've lost everything.

But is it too late?  I don't think so.  I have brief flashes of wonderment that exist in the moments when I am witness to the miraculous.  I still see the occasional apparition, or hear a strange voice calling longingly from the ether.  And in those moments I'm a child again, capable of imagining any explanation for them.  Maybe I just need to remember that the rest of the time.  Maybe we all do.  

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

Singular Cerebrations: Happy Saint Patrick's Day

If there were an award for least offensive Irish imagery in honor of St. Patrick's Day, then I think this would win it.

If there were an award for least offensive Irish imagery in honor of St. Patrick's Day, then I think this would win it.

It's Saint Patrick's Day, and I really hope you'll check out last week's column about the origin of the holiday and its most iconic imagery, if you haven't already.  Naturally, we've released a feature today in honor of the holiday.  It's about the otherworldly origins of real-life Irish fairy music, and you can find it here.  As always, I hope you like them, and please share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions on them both.

I was speaking earlier this week to my partner, Emily, about St. Patrick's Day traditions, and she surprised me by telling me about one family tradition that was completely new to me.  It was called a leprechaun trap.  She and her siblings would, as children, place small traps around the house to try and capture leprechauns on St. Patrick's Day.  Her parents would wait until the children weren't looking, and set off the traps, leaving chocolate coins behind as their reward for "trapping the leprechaun."

"The most fun thing we did was make leprechaun traps," she told me.  "I can't remember all the methods my three siblings and I used, but I can think of one example.  I balanced a box upside down on building blocks, and expected a little fairy to be so dumb as to just walk into the blocks and knock the box over onto itself."

Apparently, the attempt met with little success.  It's not surprising, really, based on leprechauns' reputation for cunning.  It's said that you can capture one and force him to tell you where to find his treasure, but the moment you take your eyes off of the leprechaun he'll disappear.

"They always made it out of the traps, but left behind gold chocolate coins," Emily explained.  "My brothers were bummed, as they wanted real gold"

I would honestly be okay with these coins being made of chocolate.

I would honestly be okay with these coins being made of chocolate.

As for Emily, she "just wanted a little leprechaun friend."  I assume it's that intrepid friendliness towards the unknown that has her searching for monsters with me today.  In any case, leprechauns probably don't make favorable companions, since their reputation as hardworking cobblers implies they probably haven't the time for such foolishness.  They do have plenty of gold, however, since that same dedication lends itself well to collecting treasure. 

I find it delightful that such a whimsical tradition still exists, and furthermore, that it so clearly stems from traditional folklore.  So I'll be over here checking my leprechaun traps if anybody needs me, and I'm counting today as a win even if all it nets me are a few chocolate coins.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias 

Singular Cerebrations: Shamrocks and Shenanigans

This is totally the face of a man judging you for ruining his holiday.

This is totally the face of a man judging you for ruining his holiday.

Once upon a time the feast of Saint Patrick was a religious holiday meant to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland, held on the traditional date of his death..  Saint Patrick was largely responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity in the 5th century, and received an official holiday in the early 17th century.  Celebrated by many Christian sects, but most famously by Catholics, the day became popular in part because of Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol being lifted for the feast.  Naturally, this encouraged and propagated the consumption of alcohol, which has led to most sane people barricading themselves inside to avoid being puked on during the festivities.

What an adorable example of 19th century bigotry.

What an adorable example of 19th century bigotry.

Over the years Saint Patrick's Day has become more secularized, and is seen by many as simply a celebration of Irish culture.  Participants are encouraged to wear green, carry shamrocks, and dress as leprechauns.  But why?  Well, the green one is easy to explain.  The color green has been associated with Ireland since the 1640s and the adoption of the green harp flag by Irish nationalists.  And shamrocks, at least, have a religious connotation, since legend has it that Saint Patrick used them to explain the idea of the Holy Trinity to his pagan disciples.  The leprechaun thing, unfortunately, is just plain bigotry.  

The modern image of leprechauns that exists in popular culture is based upon 19th century caricatures of the Irish that were, well, let's just say less than ideal.  The Irish were a marginalized people, and were depicted as brutish, drunken louts.  Over time that unfortunate image was sanitized by converting it into the much friendlier representative of Ireland--the leprechaun.  The bigotry behind the depiction is all-but-forgotten, and generally today leprechauns have become a more gentle, toned-down version of their much more offensive progenitors.  

So, this Saint Patrick's Day, regardless of your race, religion, or ethnicity, please try to remember that at one time--and still today for some people--this holiday actually had powerful religious significance.  And for God's sake, if you want to dress like a mildly offensive stereotype and drink green beer until you puke, please leave your keys at home.  Seriously, don't drink and drive.  Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

Singular Cerebrations: Spring Fever

What exactly do leprechauns have to do with a Catholic saint, again?

What exactly do leprechauns have to do with a Catholic saint, again?

This is an exciting month for us at The Singular Fortean Society.  Spring is almost here, and we can't wait to get back out in the field and do what we love--investigating all of the weird and wonderful corners of the state of Wisconsin.  We'll be initiating a few new things coming up, too, the first of which will be a monthly guest blog.

Our first guest blogger is Colin Schneider, and if you haven't heard of him yet, you soon will.  He's an ambitious teenager and cryptozoologist out of Ohio, and we really think you'll enjoy reading what he has to say on the facts and folklore surrounding some of your favorite fortean topics.  Look for that this month, and let us know what you think.  And if you'd like to be featured in the blog, then contact us here, and we'd be happy to work with you.

Naturally, if there's any kind of faerie or nature spirit attached to a holiday, we're going to obsess over it.

Naturally, if there's any kind of faerie or nature spirit attached to a holiday, we're going to obsess over it.

Also, in March, we'll be focusing on fortean phenomena from the Emerald Isles in honor of Saint Patrick's Day.  I've always wondered what some of the significant symbols, like shamrocks and shillelaghs, have to do with the holiday--not to mention how a holiday celebrating a Catholic saint managed to become intertwined with stories of the fair folk.  So join us as the ground once again becomes green, and we dig into the stories behind leprechauns and other Irish folklore.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

Monster Monday: The Four Living Creatures

The angels known as the Four Living Creatures are described in the bible's book of Revelation as having six wings, and being covered in eyes.  They are said to exist to sing God's praises at the side of His throne.  These odd-looking angels resemble biblical depictions of both Seraphim and Cherubim, but are not explicitly categorized as either.

Singular Cerebrations: The Divine Narrative

The supposed angelic etching. 

The supposed angelic etching. 

The original image taken from the Thames Embankment page at Wikipedia.

The original image taken from the Thames Embankment page at Wikipedia.

In 2006, a man named David Grant made an angel.  He took some photos, some of which are definitely photoshopped, and some that may not be, but fit his narrative, and he built an angel from the ground up using nothing but the power of belief.  This angel purportedly haunts the River Thames, and is best known for invoking feelings of well-being and happiness in tourists and passersby.

Every bit of information you're going to find on the phenomenon of this angelic being, which he calls the Angel of Promise, is either to be found on his website, or uses it as a source.  You can look all you want, but you're not finding anything else to support its existence.  Some of the pictures on the site, like the one pictured above, are clearly faked to fit his narrative; others, I believe, may just happen to conveniently have a bit of lens flare or a water droplet in the right shape to suit his needs.

Faked photo or convenient smudge?  WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

Faked photo or convenient smudge?  WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

Right about now you might be wondering why he bothered.  Well, it's unlikely that the advent of the charity Global Angels, which he strongly supports, coincidentally coincides with the launch of the world's best--and only--source of information regarding this mysterious angelic being.  He faked an angel on the River Thames to support a charity with angel in its name that--you guessed it--at the time was preparing to hold a major charity event on the banks of the Thames.  You can't make this stuff up.  

Did it work?  Yeah, sure it did.  But at what cost?  I don't care that it raised money or created awareness for Global Angels*, because now people believe in an angel that isn't there.  A quick internet search will provide plenty of links to 'real' angel sighting websites that use this as evidence of their divine narrative--and this evidence is 100% demonstrably false.  The fortean field gets a little dimmer and a bit more difficult every time this happens, and I'm certain that there's a better way of getting people to donate to your charity other than tricking them into believing a comforting lie.  So please, let's all do our homework and remain incredulous in the face of the impossible, because sometimes an angel is just a devil with wings.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

*I mean, sure, I think raising money for charity is good, I'm not a monster.  But creating a new piece of internet folklore that's going to continue to confuse the credulous for who-knows-how-long is, in my humble opinion, very bad.  

 

Monster Monday: Angelic Accoutrement

Angels are commonly depicted holding harps, despite the fact that the bible never mentions any of them playing one.  The reason could be twofold.  The gods of ancient Greece were often portrayed as performing with lyres, which look remarkably harp-like.  It's not a big leap to say the practice could have made its way into early christian art, and after a while we simply stopped questioning it.  

Some argue that harps are meant to represent the music of the spheres.  People once thought that the Earth was the center of the universe, and all other celestial objects revolved around it, encased in their own transparent spheres.  These spheres resonated with each other as they moved through the ether, creating divine music.  This 'music' wasn't considered audible to human ears, but rather represented how the tone produced by the interaction of these heavenly bodies affected the quality of life on Earth.  Naturally, angels, as divine servitors, must have aided in the maintenance of this process, helping to create the 'music' that brought harmony to the universe.  

Singular Cerebrations: Angelic Attributes

Pictured: An angelic starter kit.

Pictured: An angelic starter kit.

Angels are often pictured in popular culture as winged humans with bright, golden halos floating above their heads.  The bible doesn't support any of that, of course, but why start going by what it actually says at this point, am I right?  Like so much other religious imagery, the origin of these angelic attributes begins in paganism.

Halos are based on the Egyptian Crown of Justification.  Such crowns were made from laurel, palm, feathers, or papyrus, and worn by devotees of the sun god Ra.  Ra's worshipers believed that these crowns symbolized a circle of light that distinguished the god's divinity.  They believed that wearing the crown, or halo, gave them the divinity of their god, and this idea was later used in Christian art to represent the divinity inherent to angels.

Winged human-like beings have been a consistent part of mythology since at least ancient Greece, so it's no surprise that they made their way into Christian art.  No human-looking angels have wings in the bible, though, nor does early Christian art portray them as winged.  It wasn't until the 4th century or so when they began to be depicted with wings, and the most popular idea to explain it came from Saint John Chrysostom, who essentially said that they're a way to show the angels' elevated nature.

If you asked anyone on the street to draw you an angel, I bet 9 times out of 10 you'd end up with a stick figure drawn with wings and a halo--and that 10th person probably just didn't have time to do it.  And I think that's amazing.  The fact that artistic license developed over a thousand years ago is still informing our ideas on spiritual beings today is a testament to the power of art in culture, and it makes me wonder what effect our art might still have in the 31st century and beyond.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

Singular Cerebrations: The Curious Case of Cupid

Did we have to make fortean valentines?  Of course not, but sometimes you just climb the mountain because it's there.

Did we have to make fortean valentines?  Of course not, but sometimes you just climb the mountain because it's there.

If you know me, then you know how much I love the pagan origins of our modern holidays and celebrations.  Valentine's Day is no different, and it's even more obviously and deliberately pagan than any current holiday named after a saint has any right to be.  Its mascot, Cupid, may superficially resemble an adorable little cherub, but there's nothing christian about the lecherous little lovemaker. 

Prior to Pope Gelasius I's Christianization of the traditional Roman festival of Lupercalia, Cupid was representative of the pagan god of the same name, and was derived from the Greek god Eros.  This winged Lothario was known to carry arrows that could either inflict desire or aversion in his victims, and was notorious for playing with the emotions of gods and mortals alike.  Cupid more-or-less ran amok among the the Greek and Roman pantheons, seducing and dissuading lovers in equal measure.  There wasn't much of anything really romantic about it, unless your idea of romance plays out like a porno written by a sociopath.

So, this Valentine's Day, when you see that chubby little scamp, just think about the time he cursed Apollo to love the nymph Daphne, while at the same time ensuring she'd be repulsed by him, and remind yourself of how absolutely crushing unrequited love can be.  And go ahead and hate him a little bit.  It's okay, we all do.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias 

*I have a fiance who loves me and whom I love very much, and am in no way in the throes of unrequited love.  But that doesn't mean I can't empathize with those that are, and Cupid is still a jerk.

Singular Cerebrations: Hope

First responders at the Spanish Fork River.

First responders at the Spanish Fork River.

I came across something recently, it's not important what, that reminded me of an article I wrote a couple of years ago for a paranormal website.  The article was about a horrible tragedy that occurred in Spanish Fork, Utah, and the resulting miracle that saved an infant's life.  I'll go ahead and fill you in if you're not familiar.

On March 7th, 2015, emergency first responders heard a voice yelling for help from within an overturned vehicle that was partially submerged in the Spanish Fork River. This mysterious voice prompted rescuers to double their efforts to right the vehicle and rescue those inside.  Upon investigation it was determined that the mother had likely died on impact, and her baby daughter was too young to have yelled for help. That voice and the extra effort it induced likely saved that baby's life.  Many people have speculated on the origin of the voice, but the only thing that matters is it let those men wading into the frigid water that day know someone in the car was still alive.

Those first responders--who all claim to have heard that miraculous cry for help--didn't care about the culture, politics, or ethnicity of the people in that car.  They didn't hesitate or think twice once they heard that cry.  They acted quickly, efficiently, and with maximum effort because they knew another human being was in trouble and they knew they could help.  And that was a uniquely and purely good act.

I want us all to remember that.  I want us to remember that, fundamentally, human beings are social animals and when one of us is in trouble we help; regardless of our differences.  That being good isn't the exception, it's the rule, and in these seemingly dark times we all have the potential to be first responders.  We can all help.  And that gives me hope.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias 

Monster Monday: Yeti in Popular Culture

The Yeti has enjoyed a wide audience in popular culture since the first half of the 20th century. However, unlike its american cousin the Sasquatch, Yeti are consistently portrayed in a way inconsistent with sighting reports.  The trademark white fur of the Yeti, as discussed earlier this month, is likely an artistic choice based on its snowy habitat, but holds little resemblance to the reddish-brown coloration as reported by witnesses.

Singular Cerebrations: Animals After Life

His Lordship Admiral Montgomery Flufferbutt

His Lordship Admiral Montgomery Flufferbutt

Our feline friend and family member Monty died suddenly this past Tuesday of an unforeseen illness.  It was very shocking and saddening, and Emily and I are still processing the event.  But one thing that she asked has stuck with me.  What do I think happens to our pets after they pass on?

I don't know, frankly.  I'd love to have that kind of comfort, but I don't even necessarily know what lies in store for me, let alone poor Monty.  However, I will say this: people report sightings and interactions with ghostly pets almost as often as they do with departed humans.  And it's not just cats and dogs, either.  I've read and heard stories of ghostly horses, cows, and even elephants.  Basically, any living thing we are capable of caring about seems to be able, under certain circumstances, to return from the great beyond to make its presence known.

Anecdotal evidence doesn't prove much, of course, but it does point towards some actual phenomenon.  Is it that all animals survive death in some energy form?  Or are we able to sometimes see things fourth dimensionally and witness events from the past or future, and if we're in close spacial proximity to one of our past pets, then we see them as they were?  Perhaps, those we love live on only in our memories, and we merely project their presence onto synchronicitous events in our lives.  I like to give people a little more credit than that last option implies, and if I had to pick one paradigm to live under for the rest of my life I'd pick the first one; although even the second is a kind of immortality.  I can't really know for sure, though; nobody can.

One thing that I will tell you, is that where there's life there's hope--and as long as people keep sharing their sightings, then I'll keep believing in the possibility of the persistence of personality postmortem for our Monty.  And I hope that gives you as much comfort as it gives me.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

Monster Monday: Distant Relatives

The Yeti bears a striking resemblance to North America's Sasquatch.  They're both large, powerfully-built, apelike hominids with black or reddish-brown fur.  They both seem alternatively curious and fearful about humanity, and they both have a talent for disappearing into thin air.  Could they be related?  There are no shortage of hairy hominid sightings on this planet, and it's certainly something to consider.  Perhaps this species has lived beside us forever, or perhaps they're a distant relative of our own who has survived past our current scientific understanding of the origin of humanity.  Or perhaps they are an archetypal representation of something that exists within all of us--a wildman--and we're simply seeing something of ourselves in nature where there is no mystery at all.  

Singular Cerebrations: My Paranormal Attention Span

This is me, but, you know, with the paranormal.

This is me, but, you know, with the paranormal.

Emily and I are writing our first book this year, and the hardest part for me is going to be concentrating on one thing for so long.  I have a paranormal attention span somewhere between a goldfish and my dog at the dog park--in other words, not good.  There are so many fascinating subjects to be studied that I have real difficulty concentrating on just one for any length of time.  I mean, wasn't it Fort himself that said "One measures a circle beginning anywhere?"  I take that to mean that each area of the paranormal informs our understanding of every other area, and to focus exclusively on any one area is to blind oneself to the larger reality.

I just want to be able to see the forest, instead of being distracted by trees.  The other side of that coin, though, is that flitting from subject to subject won't ever garner enough specialized knowledge to be able to apply anything useful to further subjects.  It's no more helpful to forget that the forest is largely composed of trees than it is to lose the forest in favor of them.  So I'm left to find a happy medium.  And I think I can do that.  I've been talking to some friends lately, and I've received some very helpful advice.  I won't repeat it all here, for the sake of brevity, but it boils down to this: I can do both.  That's the best thing about the fortean field of study.  It's all so wonderfully weird and complicated that you can't really separate it, at least not much.  

So let's say Emily and I start with a book on Madison's haunted places.  That's plenty weird, and maybe it won't include many monster sightings (a personal favorite), but that doesn't mean a haunted site or two won't be associated with any.  And that's the beauty of it all.  I couldn't escape Fort's circle even if I wanted to, and if I just keep reminding myself of that, then I think we can all look forward to a few very fun books in the future.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias     

Singular Cerebrations: Fortean Friday the 13th

How can anyone stay mad at that face?

How can anyone stay mad at that face?

For people of a certain age, myself included, Friday the 13th will forever evoke images of our favorite hockey mask-wearing monster tearing through a cabin full of lascivious teenagers.  But for many people the day is simply one of bad luck.  Some believe that particular belief stems from the number of apostles present at Jesus' last supper (there were thirteen), and others think it has to do with the date Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of Knights Templar (Friday, October 13th, 1307).  

There are, of course, conflicting reports on the actuality of the day's misfortune.  A 1993 study in the British Journal of Medicine found that there "is a significant level of traffic-related incidences on Friday the 13th as opposed to a random day, such as Friday the 6th, in the UK."  Yet a 2008 study by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics found that "fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventatively more careful or just stay home."  So there you have it, Friday the 13th either is or is not far more dangerous, or much safer, than any other day of the year, depending on your nationality.  

It's difficult for me to see today as unlucky, honestly, because I've got a lot to which I'm looking forward.  I'm working on my first book this year along with my partner-in-all-things Emily, and we're looking at covering even more conventions and other weird, wonderful things to share with all of you.  So, instead of letting a few bad acts done centuries ago fill me with dread, I'll just be over here enjoying the present while keeping one eye optimistically toward the future.  I hope you'll join me.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias 

Book Club Update

You should really read this regardless.

You should really read this regardless.

Don't forget that we moved last month's book club to this Saturday, January 14th, due to inclement weather.  It doesn't look like we'll be enduring another temper tantrum from Mother Nature this month, so we're looking forward to discussing John Keel's Operation Trojan Horse at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse from 3-5pm.  It's a thought-provoking examination of the UFO phenomenon from almost four decades ago that was groundbreaking enough to still be relevant today.  It's written with plenty of Keel's trademark wit, and even if you can't make the book club this week, you should do yourself a favor and pick it up.