“Obeah is notoriously difficult to define for those searching for a coherent system by this name. Obeah is, like witchcraft, a sorcerous art exercised by the one who possesses the ‘obi’ – or power. The Obeahman or woman inherits a particular power that aids effectively in enhancing the potency of their spellcraft, duppy-catching and sorcery.”
– From Obeah: A Sorcerous Ossuary, by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold
It was Santa Muerte who lead me to Obeah, or rather lead me more deeply into the question of Obeah after I had touched on it earlier while researching the cultural influence of mail-order occultist L.W. de Laurence. In searching out the popular streams, occult ephemera, and urban materia magica that attend to La Nina Bonita’s contemporary public emergence I encountered a deeper understanding of Obeah, an Afro-Latin spirituality that shares with Her a similar confusion in terms of practice and public persona.
These are ghost spiritualities, names spoken in hushed tones, complicated by fear, adoration, respect, and care. To find and understand their devotions is not possible through texts and dispossessed investigation, one must seek their very heart, and in doing so accept the price of seeing beyond the social boundaries that hold us safely in our comfortably commodified identities.
After a recent investigation into the public presentation of anomalistic science (as detailed at The Teeming Brain,) it’s fairly clear to me (if it wasn’t painfully so already) that much of the information being fed into the popular consciousness is nothing more than hyped up fantasy fixed and formatted for mass mediated consumption. With Dean Radin’s new book, Supernormal, reaching the top if it’s sales categories on Amazon, and ranking high in the Nielsen ratings, there is an obvious desire for more detailed investigations of these areas that go beyond the paranormalist freak show and the skeptical sub-culture’s deflated debunking.
The binary argument of real vs. fake, of truth vs. fraud, or any such division, is merely a set up to market to one side or the other, and both proponents and defamers alike rely on each other to stoke the fires of contention so that an audience lulled by the rhythms of the work place will feel called to seek some solace in the untenable possibilities of the unknown, or the thin empowerment of a pseudo-scientific righteousness found in the knowledge that all their dreams and fears from childhood have been firmly put to bed by the cold light of rational, technological progress.
“Might we contrive one of those opportune falsehoods … so as by one noble lie to persuade if possible the rulers themselves, but failing that the rest of the city.”
– Plato in The Republic
“If you read it, you will be infected. If you are infected you will be InFicted. If you are InFicted, you will get UnFucted. “
– Joseph Matheny
Those who entered the digital world in the late 80’s and early 90’s were introduced to a nearly unfathomable host of possibilities for media and creativity. DVD’s offered the potential for integrative experiences that tracked user preferences and allowed for multiple story formats which changed with each viewing based on previous use, virtual reality models held the possibility for turning these experiences fully immersive, cell phones and wireless technology promised an unthought of openness to it all, and the internet allowed everyone to dream of a fully connected, creative global conversation that synchronized each aspect into a beautifully coordinated whole. Looking back on those dreams in light of growing concerns over surveillance, advertising, neuromarketing and the like one might wonder what happened to turn the dream into a lousy cold war sitcom.
It was a recent note from my friend Joseph Matheny that shuffled the dust around in my memory and made me realize that my current experience with technology isn’t quite as conducive to creativity as promised. Matheny is about to begin a series of classes for University of California – Santa Barbara (Click Here for More Information) that will cover the basics of multimedia and transmedia production, and I was glad to hear that his insights were going to be available to creatives coming into the field at a serious level. Hopefully it will bring some focus back to what these tools were intended for originally in the minds of their creators.
As one of the early pioneers in multimedia, his alternate reality game Ong’s Hat has become a reminder of what is possible with today’s technology, and a kick in the ass to today’s creatives that are allowing this potential to be misused, abused and denigrated by marketers and media corporations. Matheny’s vision of transmedia production doesn’t end with a shiny bit of intellectual property, it ends with reformatting the mytho-poetic infrastructure of consensus reality.
An experiment in digital tractology with inspiration from Deonna Kelli Sayed, author of Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits(Llewellyn, September 2011) and So You Want to Hunt Ghosts: A Down-To-Earth Guide (Llewellyn, October 2012).
Sayed’s article Why Ghost Hunter’s are Culturally Cool brings a sharp focus on community storytelling, cultural responsibility and collective memory to the field of paranormal investigation. This digital tract attempts to condense some of these ideas into a cohesive vision through the use of digital bibliomancy, cut-up technique and collage.
Note: Use of the ‘Pause’ button on the slide show is recommended for maximum comprehension and readability.
Shannon Taggart and Liminal Analytics: Applied Research Collaborative recently hosted George Hansen, author of the seminal Trickster and the Paranormal, for a series of talks at the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY. For those who were unable to attend in person, the talks are now available on Youtube!
A History of Parapsychology and Psychical Research
Whatever Happened to Parapsychology?
George Hansen was professionally employed in parapsychology laboratories for eight years—three at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, and five at Psychophysical Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. His experiments included remote viewing, card guessing, ganzfeld, electronic random number generators, séance phenomena, and ghosts. His papers in scientific journals cover mathematical statistics, fraud and deception, the skeptics movement, conjurors in parapsychology, and exposés of hoaxes. He has been active in a number of psychic, UFO, and New Age organizations, and he helped found a skeptics group. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
(For the second installment of this series please see: Entering the Theatre of Manifestation – The Art of Possession)
It’s a fool’s quest to go seeking strange angels and emergent archetypes in the muddled minds of the contemporary world. What more to seek to manifest them, confront them, engage with them in the hopes of giving some sense of trans-spiritual renewal to the blighted urbanism and abandoned traditions of today. So it is that the FoolishPeople step forward to take a task that few would be willing to see through, they have sought entry into the Theatre of Manifestation, and the gifts that they return with are pregnant with the possibilities of art and magic.
It is my pleasure to announce an ongoing project documenting these FoolishPeople and their living legacy, to share their tale of travel from avant-garde theatre, if one must fall into transient terminology, to manifesting Strange Factories, a cinematic spell that takes their tradition of magic and ritual into the digital age. With Theatre of Manifestation Unveiled we are invited to join them on a jocund journey, a rare opportunity for exploring a contemporary artistic tradition that remains well tried in the mysteries.
“What Flowers Indicate:
I have always noticed that wherever you find flowers, no matter whether in a garret or in a palace, it is a pretty sure sign that there is an inner refinement of which the world is not cognizant. I have seen flowers cultivated and cherished by some of the lowest and poorest of our people. Where these emblems of purity are found, you may rest assured that they represent a hope, and speak of a goodness of heart not to be found where they are absent.”
– from My Prayer Book – Happiness in Goodness: Reflections, Counsels, Prayers and Devotions by Rev. F.E. Lasance (Benzinger Brothers, INc. Printers to the Holy Apostolic See, 1944)
Tracking the flowering of the Santa Muerte tradition is a fascinating way to study the development of an “official” religion from the seeds of folk practice. In the United States alarmist media has spurred the interest of popular kitsch, and the images of La Madre Poderosa that have become part of the commercial aspect of Her cultus are an interesting way to engage in the changes that occur when a tradition begins to develop enough efficacy in the social domain to elicit commodification.
What do you do with a technologically aided telepathic connection to a rat’s tail?
Odd questions like this become more relevant as developments in cybernetics and communication technology allow for strange interactions with the world around us. Without the aid of creative imagination you get a bizarre bit of cultural kitsch, delving deeper you can encounter profound questions that crack into the mystery of mind and body, and the synaptic symetry defining so much of our self perception. If you tread carefully you enter the realm of Sacred Geometry, encountering applications of mathematics and ratio that bridge the gap between material science and the more aetheral realms of human existence.
An Open Mind from Russell Lizzie on Vimeo.
“I’ve learned how to separate the psychic signal from the mental noise.” – Russell Targ
“The mind is no longer limited to the perimeters of the body.” –
Russell Targ’s most recent book The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities provides an essential overview of his experiments with anomalous cognition. As a laser physicist he worked as a Senior Staff Scientist at the Lockheed Missile and Space Company, receiving two National Aeronautics and Space- Administration awards for inventions and contributions to lasers and laser communications, but his passion for exploring the human mind put him at the center of the U.S. government’s attempt to tap psychic abilities for operational concerns.
Working with the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970’s, Targ taught 6 Army intelligence officers the Remote Viewing process and laid the ground work for the development of the U.S. Army’s psychic corp. in 1978. In this short video, created by Lizzie Rose, he discusses his career, and reflects on the nature of what he discovered in his quest to find the limits of human potential.
(Note: Thanks to the Rhine Research Center for pointing out this video.)
“It is doubtless a peculiar psychical state that confers mediumistic power, but we know nothing of its nature, and we often ruin our experiments and lose our results by our ignorance. Certainly it is very probable that the psychical state of those present at a seance will be found to re-act on the medium. We should get no results if our photographic plates were exposed to the light of the room simultaneously with the luminous image formed by the lens. In every physical process we have to guard against disturbing causes.
If, for example, the late Prof. S.P. Langley, of Washington, in the delicate experiments he conducted for so many years – exploring the ultra red raditation of the sun – had allowed the thermal radiation of himself or his assistants to fall on his sensitive thermoscope, his results would have been confused and unintelligible. We know that similar confused results are obtained in psychical research, especially by those who fancy the sole function of a scientific investigator is to play the part of an amateur detective; and accordingly what they detect is merely their own incompetency to deal with problems the very elements of which they do not understand and seem incapable of learning. Investigators who, taking an exalted view of their own sagacity, enter upon this inquiry with their minds made up as to the possible or impossible, are sure to fail. Such people showuld be shunned, as their habit of thought and mode of action are inappropriate, and therefore essentially vulgar, for the essence of vulgarity is inappropriateness.
Inasmuch as we know nothing of the peculiar psychical state that constitutes mediummship, we ought to collect and record all conditions which attend a scucessful seance. Mediumship seems in some points analogous to ‘rapport’ in mesmeric trance, and it would be interesting to know whether a mesmeric sensitive is more open to mediumship than the rest of mankind. Again, are those who are good percipients in telepathic experiments also percipients in spontaneous telepathy, such as apparitions at the moment of death, and are these again hypnotic sensitives? Similar questions also arise as to somnambulists; in a word, is there anything in common between the obscure psychical states of these different classes of sensitives? Very probably there is, for all psychical phenomena, as we shall see directly, involve to a greater or less extent the operation of an unconscious part of our personality, a hidden self which in a medium emerges from its obscurity, as the normal consciousness and self-control subsides. This fact does, indeed, afford some clue to the peculiar psychological condition of mediumship.”
– from p. 120-122 of On the Threshold of the Unseen, by Sir William Barrett, F.R.S. (1917)
In researching parapsychology it has been fascinating to see how these studies have developed over 130 years of scientific scrutiny since the official founding of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. Existing in a liminal realm of inquiry which penetrates both the center and the periphery of human experience, studying the history of investigation into exceptional human experiences provides a very potent ground for understanding the intellectual development of the past century.