Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review of The Black Diary: M.I.B., Women in Black, Black-Eyed Children and Dangerous Books, by Nick Redfern

(Lisa Hagan Books, 2018). ISBN: 9781945962110

Embedded in the upper righthand cover of this book is a red and white warning label: “Just picking up this book invites them in.”
Given the publishing industry’s penchant for sexy marketing strategies, it might be easy to dismiss this warning label as more of the same—a clever ploy on the part of the publisher to grab your attention and get you to buy the book.
But I know better.
And that’s what this review is about.
First of all, Nick Redfern is one of the most respected and published authorities on the subject of the paranormal, and the enigmatic (Wo)men in Black. I have read several of his books, and, having spent the past nine years studying and experiencing the paranormal, I have no reason to question anything he reports in them. He mixes field experience, interviews, and extensive research into his work, in the kind of self-checking triangulation that many investigators could learn from.
Second, and even more important, I know several of the people whose stories are quoted at length in the pages of The Black Diary. I also know them to be solid, honest folk with a genuine interest in the paranormal. I have been privileged to do field investigations with some of them.
Third, and most important, I have experienced many of the phenomena discussed in this book.
The Black Diary couples Redfern’s experiences—ranging from hard-to-explain-away synchronicities to damage to his apartment to threatening phone calls—with firsthand accounts from people who have contacted him or whom Redfern has met during his extensive travel and interview schedule.
At the heart of this complex mystery of the (Wo)Men in Black (this is the third in a trio of books Redfern has published on the subject) is just who or what they are. This question has been asked by researchers of the paranormal for decades, including by Fortean researcher and journalist John Keel. Answers are slow to come.
If you are interested in these oddly dressed, oddly behaving, weird-looking entities who drive classic black cars and seem to be unfamiliar with modern technology and at times even the most fundamental of cultural ideas, The Black Diary is for you. The range of visitations and experiences is considerable—they can turn up anywhere at any time and disappear again as quickly, instilling fear and wreaking havoc in a matter of moments.
Right in line with the debate about nuts and bolts/flesh and blood versus ultraterrestrial phenomena (from UFOs to Bigfoot), the (Wo)Men in Black mystery is deepened by two age-old nagging questions: Who or What Are They? and What do They Want?
I doubt it’s all one thing. In some cases, military-industrial-intelligence complex misdirection and intimidation seems to be in play. In others, it seems like they’ve crossed into our plane through a portal or other dimensional door and leave the same way, evoking a sense of dream-like disorientation in the people who encounter them. Oh, and speaking of—they will invade your dreams as well.
How’s that for menacing?
It’s all in the book.
My experiences with the Men in Black have been of the spectral variety, in a library in North Carolina my team recently investigated over the course of two years, and on the road home from an investigation in Point Pleasant, WV—an MIB hotspot. The phenomena reported in this book—the clothes, the facial features, the menace, and in one instance violence (choking a spirit trying to intervene on our behalf)—were right in line with our experiences in the library. The mysterious appearance (out of thin air) of a 1974 Eisenhower Silver Dollar, two UFO sightings in tandem with MIB appearances, and our encounter with a hairy, fanged interdimensional deepened the mystery of our encounters with the phenomena that are the Men in Black.
The Black Diary provided some context and a reminder that we are not alone in what we’ve seen.
The MIB are insidious, and not to be messed with unless you know what you’re getting in to—and perhaps not even then. The documented experiences in The Black Diary, collected by Redfern between 2014 and 2017 but spanning decades, are necessary reading. At times they bring warnings to forget what you’ve seen and keep silent; at other times they seem as keen to investigate a site or sighting as you are; at others their behavior is so bizarre as to defy rationale explanation.
The Black Diary includes some of each and plenty more.
Here’s a final suggestion. If, when you start to read this book, the phone rings in the middle of the night with all 0s or 1s on the caller ID (as has happened to me after several investigations)—don’t pick up.
You can’t say you weren’t warned.


Friday, August 3, 2018

“Horror with a Heart”: A Review of Locker Arms, by Zakary McGaha

 (KGHH Publishing, 2018). ISBN: 978-1-912638-27-7
In Danse Macabre, Stephen King postulates that great horror has at its core a collection of dark tropes gleaned from our reptilian brains and deepest primordial fears. In other words, it is all about character. Following the journey of an interesting, relatable (which is different than likeable) character as he or she crosses the threshold into a subterranean (literal or metaphorical) world of monsters to be battled and souls to be saved is the essence of well-constructed horror.
Applying this idea, the debut novel by Zakary McGaha, Locker Arms, is a success. Set in modern times but with a strong ‘80s feel (think Stranger Things meets Heathers meets Teachers), this splatter-fest of a tale centers around two sets of characters—one the students of your typical suburban high school and the other their teachers. The latter are joined by Henry, one of the (anti-)heroes of Locker Arms—a washed-up, aging never-was who had big dreams of making it in music after he left this very same high school decades before the story begins.
Henry’s return has almost everything to do with the unsolved mystery of a girl who disappeared into a locker when he was a student. In Henry’s mind—where we spend a good bit of time—if he solves the mystery, he just might solve his life.
Henry’s analog among the students is Tommy, a working-class kid who sounds and acts like Henry, just decades later. I kind of regret that they never do meet. This is your typical American town, where mostly everyone wants to get out but only some do—and then they come back.  
Tommy’s girlfriend is Autumn, a girl with a brain and a future who continually wrestles with the question of whether or not she is slumming-it with Tommy, who lets her down more often than not simply by being himself.
Tommy and Autumn are not the only kids in a quandary. Emily is a hypersexual fantasizer with a dark and active imagination. For all those in favor of the literal or metaphorical castration of males in the era of “the Donald,” she’s your ultimate dream-girl. Emily enters the story at just the right time in the second act to liven things up as the inevitability train starts rolling toward an ending reminiscent of Cabin in the Woods.
The teachers in Locker Arms will seem familiar to you too. Like Henry, they have a love–hate relationship with the high school and the town. They fancy themselves writers who never got the chance, who never had the material.
Until, decades after the first incident, another girl goes missing in a locker.
McGaha tells a vivid, well-paced story, using the under-used and at first hard to get used to present tense. It livens up the pace and, despite literary dogma to the contrary, helps to create complex characters and heightened suspense. His use of first person also allows him to shift points of view quickly and efficiently, making the story engagingly cinematic. We get bits and pieces of the story from multiple characters, which also contributes to the energetic pace.
What is most impressive about this novel from a young, inexperienced novelist (McGaha is a college student) is how much humanity emerges through the horror. Students or teachers, the characters in Locker Arms are thinking all the time—about unexpectedly heady things along with the “what have I done/will I do with my life?” kinds of questions. They are also given to wry observations like “why are they called textbooks; don’t all books, excluding art-books, have text”?
As good horror should, McGaha’s story makes the uncertainties of the characters’ lives just as scary—if not more so—than the monsters, which, as one would expect from splatter horror, are physically violent but that’s about all. The fact that arms are coming out of lockers and snatching people away is not important—it's what this change in circumstances does to their victims’ lives that drives the narrative and ultimately matters most.
Reading the interview with McGaha in the back of the book, it is no surprise that he has far-ranging interests across the arts. Like many of Stephen King’s characters, McGaha’s characters are trying to write or otherwise create their way out of their tiny, frustrating lives. Both adults and students are writing about the macabre goings on while the budding peddlers of cut-rate cinéma vérité record it all on their cell phones. The detachment from the horrific in the modern age is palpable—hence the outsized ending. It takes a lot to shake these characters up (and most modern readers/viewers as well).
For this reason, and in common with the third act of most splatter horror—or any boundary-pushing storytelling, including the standup routine of a raunchy comedian—Locker Arms gets increasingly sexually and violently explicit as it nears its end. The situation around the characters—who have all shown hints of their depravities and fringe fantasies throughout—has by now seriously deteriorated, so it all makes sense, and I thoroughly enjoyed the descent (literal and metaphorical) into madness they all undergo. As the story entered the third act, Oingo Boingo’s “Nasty Habits” and “Private Life” were playing repeatedly in my head.
In short, Locker Arms is an entertaining ride well worth taking. And, in doing so, you’ll be supporting the efforts of a promising young writer with much of interest to say. 


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

“An Investigator’s How-To Handbook”: A Review of The Van Meter Visitor: A True & Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown,

By Chad Lewis, Noah Voss, and Kevin Lee Nelson (Eau Claire, WI: On the Road Publications, 2013). ISBN: 978-0982431467

Thanks in large part to horror films and cable “reality” paranormal shows, the immense amount of time and effort legitimate paranormal investigators spend in libraries and historical societies chasing down leads is largely ignored. Most people are only interested in the “sexy” aspects of the haunting or cryptid visitation—who got chased, frightened, possessed, or injured? What dark menace is lurking in the corner? Are there “jump scares” as the investigators walk insane asylum hallways in the green glow of night-vision technology? Viewers don’t realize that paranormal investigators are in large part journalists and historians, tracking down the history that provides the context for the paranormal phenomena at play.
One of the world’s best known paranormal investigators was John Keel, of Mothman fame. He was also a journalist. So was his counterpart in the film The Mothman Prophecies. It is the journalist’s instincts for finding the hidden facts buried beneath or adjacent to the known ones that drive the good paranormal investigator. Christopher O’Brien’s Stalking the Herd, about cattle mutilations, is a thick, exhaustive testament to the value of mining newspaper clippings, police reports, and other firsthand accounts.
My forthcoming book, Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina, co-authored with my wife Tonya, a talented medium, owes as much to dozens of hours of research as it does to the 150-plus hours we spent investigating the library itself. There were plenty of dead ends, but also corroborations and finds in the form of documents and photographs that made all the hours worth it, illuminating the messages we heard and physical phenomena we experienced.
So I can appreciate the work that the three authors of The Van Meter Visitor put into this volume. I am taking my time with this aspect of the book because there are a surprising number of negative reviews of the book that sadly confuse indispensible research with “filler” of some kind. I hope this review serves in part to undo some of this mistaken criticism.
Lewis, Voss, and Nelson (all of whom have impressive resumés in the field, as evidenced by the About the Authors section) situate a limited sighting of winged, horned cryptids over several nights in the small town of Van Meter, Iowa in 1903 in a series of expanding circles of interest. As one would expect, they begin by laying out the history of Van Meter, as well as all of the major players—the town’s business owners and other prominent citizens—who encountered the creatures. In this first section, appropriately titled “History,” they relate the story, which is fascinating reading, recalling similar winged cryptids like the Mothman, but with its own unique twists. This section is authored almost entirely by Lewis.
The second section, “Theories,” is as strong as it is because the authors took the time to provide plenty of historical, geographical, economic, and human context. We already feel, 40 pages in, that we know and trust both the people of Van Meter and the authors themselves. In the “Theories” section the three authors look at a variety of possible explanations, including a primer on cryptids (featuring several similar cases such as the Jersey Devil), another on large birds of prey, the UFO/Alien connection that is prevalent in many cryptid sightings (such as of Mothman, Bigfoot, and Skinwalkers), thunderbirds and thoughtforms (the latter of which is currently of great interest because of the Slenderman phenomena), and ultraterrestrial theories (a standout survey chapter that runs 30-plus pages; the section on quantum physics and the holographic universe demonstrates that the authors are using all of our modern tools in their work).
The three authors all contribute chapters to the closing section, “Final Thoughts.” Their summations responsibly explore a number of possible explanations and there are no firm statements made about what the citizens of Van Meter encountered 115 years ago. Their theories all connect back to the information from the previous two sections.
Overall, The Van Meter Visitor serves a dual purpose: as a primer about the Van Meter mystery that allows the reader to pick up where the authors left off in their investigation, armed with abundant historical, sociological, and cryptological context (the two appendices offer a list of businesses operating in Van Meter in 1903 and an array of local and national newspaper accounts of the incident) and also as a handbook on the components—and countless hours—that go into a thorough paranormal investigation.
As if these two aspects were not enough, an extra bonus is the Foreword by the recently deceased author of over 80 books on the paranormal and spirituality, Brad Steiger. The book also features abundant historical photographs of the people and places in Van Meter, many provided with help from the local library, which help to close the century-plus time gap for the reader.
The Van Meter Visitor is a textbook example of how to do a thorough investigation written by seasoned, passionate professionals who bring to light a fascinating cryptid that has not yet gotten its fair share of attention and consideration. It should be a part of any investigator’s or enthusiast’s library, alongside Keel, Guiley, Redfern, Steiger, and the rest of the pillars of the field of paranormal investigation. Kudos to the authors on a job well done. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review of The Slenderman Mysteries: An Internet Urban Legend Comes to Life, by Nick Redfern

(Newburyport, MA: New Page Books, 2017). ISBN: 9781632651129
In June 2009, two photo-shopped images of a “made up” entity dubbed “ the Slenderman” were uploaded to the Internet as part of a contest. The creator used as inspiration such well-known horror/paranormal tropes as the Men in Black (MIBs), the tentacled creatures of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, and the Mothman—all of which have been a part of my life as a paranormal researcher, content creator, and experiencer for the past 10 years.
Within weeks, the Slenderman was jumping its frame as a made up monster and appearing in the woods, bedrooms, and computers of people all over the world, culminating in several high-profile murders and attacks in which Slenderman was professed to be the inspiration. By the time of these events, Slenderman was the subject of hundreds if not thousands of short stories and graphic images on the Internet, at horror websites such as 4chan and Creepypasta Wiki.
This phenomenon is complex, with many strands and theories to follow and parse  to make sense of what is happening. Although other authors and journalists have tackled the subject the past nine years, Nick Redfern—author of over 40 books and a frequent guest on television and radio—does a masterful job of pulling together the data, situating it in centuries-old lore and paranormal case files, and interviewing a broad array of researchers and experiencers.
Having experienced both a Mothman-like interdimensional (also in 2009) near Point Pleasant, WV and spectral MIBs that match the description in many ways of Slenderman at a library in North Carolina where my wife and I spent 150+ hours the past two years doing investigations (our book on the subject will be published by Visionary Living this summer), I was in familiar territory as the chapters unfolded. There is no question that this tall, thin, faceless (or distorted-faced) entity dressed all in black exists, passing back and forth between dimensional planes—and over the centuries I believe that it has gone by dozens of names.
Redfern sets out early on to find possible explanations for why the Slenderman phenomenon spread on the Internet and crossed the plane into our reality so quickly (whatever “reality” might mean anymore in the face of increased evidence that we exist in some form of other-controlled Matrix). One explanation is that Slenderman is a tulpa, a term that has been distorted from its original Buddhist origins the same way that the Greek daimon become a demon and satan (an adversary) became the Satan, king of all demons. Another is that it has existed from time immemorial and Slenderman is the latest incarnation.
There are recorded instances of magical practitioners the likes of Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley summoning or creating entities through rituals and their imaginations, as Redfern catalogs, pointing out that these tulpas grow more powerful, independent, and mischievous over time. This is not something you want to mess with.
Two points resonate for me here. First, as a content creator who often works in the horror genre, I know that H.P. Lovecraft experienced nightmares of entities called the “Night Gaunts” that fit the Slenderman archetype and Stephen King has written thousands of pages of stories where monsters move across the veil because of people’s fears and intentions—conscious and otherwise. It has long been whispered that Lovecraft did not so much create his monsters as describe those already existing beyond the threshold. In the kind of synchronicity that often arises when exploring the darkness beyond, I began reading a collection of Thomas Hardy’s supernatural stories while preparing this review and in the first (1881’s “What the Shepherd Saw”) was the following description of a spectre: “his dress being a dark suit … his figure of slender build.” Redfern also shares an anecdote of graphic novelist and ceremonial magician Alan Moore, who saw one of his creations—John Constantine—in our reality once.
The second point stems from my work as a paranormal investigator. It is clear—whether it be the Ouija “mama” personality or spirits (human and non-) that haunt buildings and landscapes—that there are opportunistic tricksters who will wear the visage and take the name of archetypal monsters to suit their own ends. There was a human spirit in the library we investigated that would appear as a sinister clown to my wife, because he knew they frightened her. We have also experienced Shadow People (another model for the Slenderman, especially when it comes to “night terrors”) and other dark entities that have taken the form of familiar archetypes in order to lure or frighten our investigative team in various places.
Another archetype that Redfern explores in detail is the Pied-Piper of Hamelin. This lurer of children is both inspired by and has inspired dozens of other monsters. I believe he is in part the inspiration for the evil Andre Linoge in King’s Storm of the Century. He certainly is for the clown in King’s It.
What is most problematic about Slenderman is that we are not talking about mere lore and legend here, nor is he/it merely a “craze” that comes and goes without real consequence. As mentioned earlier, he/it has been the inspiration for murderers and would-be murderers, some as young as 12 or 14 years old.
Space does not permit details—Redfern lays it all out better than I could here—but of the several cases involving Slenderman the most disturbing and well known is that of two 12-year-old girls who plotted, lured, and attacked one of their “best friends.” Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser are currently incarcerated in mental institutions for 25 and 40 years, respectively, after being tried for attempted murder in adult court in Wisconsin and being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Morgan stabbed their victim 19 times with a 5-inch kitchen knife. According to Beware the Slenderman, a heartbreaking 2017 HBO documentary I watched while reading this book, Morgan has schizophrenia like her father and had become increasingly divorced from reality following the attack.
I was honestly appalled at a sequence in the documentary where there was what could only be termed “fan art” of the two girls with knives, posing with the Slenderman. Dozens of images exist. These images feed the perhaps numerous entities manifesting as this insidious thing.
The stakes are high when it comes to Slenderman, and the consequences of mucking about in his auric field, as it were, are real. Abundant energy—oftentimes the sharp, angry energy of lonely teenagers whose only socialization comes through the Internet—is offered daily to this untrustworthy archetype of sinister origins.  As researchers and experiencers, it is our duty to keep improving our understanding of what is going on. The Internet will only get more powerful and ubiquitous as Virtual Reality takes further hold. How long before someone is literally “scared to death” by some version of this tall, thin, dark-suited entity?
Equally contributive to the deification of those who have done Slenderman’s bidding is the horror film about Slenderman due to be released in August 2018. Where do we draw the line as content creators? Where is our duty to not feed the beast with attention and the potent energy of fear, despite the lure of sure box office profits?
Redfern lays out the facts and dangers for us through thorough research, engaging prose, and a rich array of interviews. As he says in closing, “The trick to beating the Slenderman, and keeping him at bay, is not to think about him. The problem is, that’s not the easiest thing to do. Good luck, though…” (p. 267, emphasis in the original).
If you have a teenager (as I do) who spends a lot of time on websites such as Creepypasta Wiki and has a fascination with other dark and macabre Internet and YouTube channels, this book should be a priority read. I was brought to tears by the genuine surprise and sense of guilt and helplessness of Anissa and Morgan’s parents in the HBO documentary. A little insight goes a long, long way, because those things that lurk at the edge of the woods sometimes steal our children in ways that we know not.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review of The Healing Journey: How a Poor Chinese Village Girl became an American Healer, by Sue Maisano, PhD

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2018). ISBN: 9781942157236
A spiritual practitioner and healer that I am serving as book editor for emailed me a few days ago after attending a writer’s conference. “I got a literary agent,” she said. “But he says that Eat, Pray, Love memoirs are out. No one wants to hear your story.”
No one wants to hear your story. What a horrible view of things. Plus, it’s a falsehood. No one wants to hear your story. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Telling (and thereby owning) your story, to paraphrase Brené Brown, is one of the bravest things that anyone can do. Stories are the stuff of which we are made, as fundamental to our makeup as atoms and cells. Governments, religions, multinational corporations, and the military are expert storytellers. They have raised it to a high art (in collusion with the media), making it more necessary than ever for those with alternative, holistic, and healing views to tell their stories.
If anyone needs proof about the importance and value of story, they should read Dr. Maisano’s book. Heavily weighted to memoir, with self-help aspects reserved for the end, The Healing Journey is exactly as advertised in both title and subtitle.
It follows the classic three-act structure of the Hero’s Journey, as explicated by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell decades ago, with a clear cycle of Separation (leaving China), Initiation (graduate schooling, marriage, children, and career paths), and Return (the part of the journey when the Hero shares what she has learned with the “village”).
In a time of controversy over immigration and the path to U.S. citizenship, Dr. Maisano tells an underdog’s tale of determination against all odds. From her childhood in China to her defying the predictions of the so-called experts and attending the best possible schools at each level of her education, The Healing Journey reminds us that the fundamentals we were taught (and perhaps I am showing my age here)—honesty, integrity, self-discipline, respect for family, and commitment to education—do bring to fruition our hopes and dreams.
The Separation of Maisano’s hero’s journey comes when she decides to go to America for her graduate work in biology. Every high school junior should read this section. She diligently ignores the advice of “friends” urging her to aim lower, identifies the right program, reaches out to its lead professor, and makes a case for herself. As with all her levels of schooling, Maisano did not test well on her entrance exams, so it was her commitment to her career path and persistence that got her into the school she wanted to attend.
From there it is a blur of marriage, three children, and the struggles that come with being a postdoctoral fellow with a small salary and long hours. This is the major arc of her Initiation into adulthood.
Along the way, she amasses considerable knowledge and experience that leads her toward a different path. This kind of decision—especially for a married mother of three with a new mortgage and a nervous husband—takes tremendous courage. It truly is the hero’s path. It is following one’s Bliss—sat chit ananda in Sanskrit. People often mistake the word Bliss to mean “easy” or “pleasantly spiritual,” but it is rarely easy to change paths, to start over, to say that all that came before was a Prologue to something new.
And what this new path leads to for Maisano, most importantly, is her Return. She wanted to do more to help people—to guide them in finding their passion and their path. To help them achieve their full potential, despite all odds. This book is just one aspect of her work.
These are the strengths of The Healing Journey and, as you can see, they are many. If you are struggling to find your path, or have found it and are unsure how to make the commitment to change direction and fully follow it, this is an excellent book for you.

People do want to—and need to—hear your story. Dr. Maisano has proven this once again, and done it in a very inspiring—and inspiriting—way.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review of Parting the Veil: How to Communicate with the Spirit World, by Stuart and Dean James-Foy

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2017). ISBN: 9781942157212
More people than ever before (at least in modern times) believe in the existence of ghosts. Popular polling organizations such as the Pew Research Center are reporting that as many as 50% of the population believe in ghosts and some 20% have actually seen one. Just twenty years ago, in the mid-nineties, this number was 9%.
The mid-nineties were also the time of Dionne Warwick hawking the Psychic Friends Network on late-night TV while Miss Cleo—and her fake Jamaican accent—solicited more laughs than legitimate interest in the fields of mediumship and psychic arts.
In the 2000s we had mediumship enter the mainstream consciousness through the TV shows Medium with Patricia Arquette and Ghost Whisperer with Jennifer Love Hewitt. John Edward also had his platform reading non-fiction show on TV and mediums such as James Van Praagh and Theresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) were gaining a considerable following.
As a paranormal investigator and experiencer married to a gifted professional medium and father to a teenager who has seen ghosts at least since she was old enough to talk (which means probably before), I am interested in learning as much as I can about the art of mediumship. I have read several books by John Edward and was called upon to edit my wife’s recent book, Living the Intuitive Life: Cultivating Extraordinary Awareness.  My studies and experiences served me well when I was hired to write a screenplay based on the true story of the Berardis, a family of mediums from upstate New York.
My own psychic abilities are limited, but slowly developing. If the conditions are just right, I am able to see spirits, at least partially (normally just the head and a bit of one shoulder). I am also developing my clairaudience, which means to be able to hear spirits. Developing these skills not only helps me to better understand what my wife and daughter have experienced their entire lives, but also to become a better paranormal investigator.
Given these circumstances, I was eager to read Parting the Veil. It did not disappoint. The James-Foys have studied with the best mediums England has to offer, and—as demonstrated by their individual stories that open the book—they have been experiencers since childhood. They came organically into their vocation much like my wife, wanting to understand and enhance their natural abilities so they could help others.
Parting the Veil is truly a beginner’s guide, taking the reader and potential practitioner through a historical survey of mediumship from its roots in ancient times and the Spiritualism movement of the 1800s into modern times. The fundamentals of developing the art and craft are explained in accessible and encouraging language. Even if you do not want to do readings or hold séances, the early chapters will help your understanding of this often misunderstood and at times demonized field of practice. The exercises are conveniently blocked off in grey-scale boxes so they can be easily found and returned to as one continues to work with them.
Although I have used some form of each of the exercises in Parting the Veil for the better part of a decade (and the visualizations for even longer in my work as a theatre and creative writing teaching-artist), I was impressed with the tone and detail provided by the James-Foys. If you are like me, and have some prior experience, you will still find much of value here.
In the chapter “Laying the Foundation” there are excellent explanations and exercises for strengthening both your aura and chakras. Again, these are valuable practices for anyone wanting to live and full and healthy life, physically and spiritually.
As one would expect, the exercises become more challenging and complex as the book progresses. I appreciate the focus on not only opening oneself to spirit but closing the door for protection and mental rest as well. This emphasis gave me confidence when working with the exercises to open the third eye (something that has frightened me in the past) and to further develop my clairaudience (as a professional writer I am often bombarded with voices in my head; when I am not in a place to commune with spirit or the Muse, it is comforting to have the ability to turn that mechanism off). I shared the exercise on developing clairaudience with my wife and it enabled her to better receive the spoken messages from spirit during her readings with clients.
Chapters 7 and 8 offer exercises for meeting and working with your spirit guides and for meditating. Once again, these are essential tools for any spiritual practitioner. Through my training in shamanism and other spirit-world journeying techniques I have worked with similar exercises for nearly two decades and the James-Foys have infused their unique take on these exercises with a powerful energy. It is clear that their training and experience are both at a high level, steeped in tradition but also benefitting from their unique and complementary voices.
Next, the book provides descriptions of and instructions for using such tools as Ouija boards, scrying (dark) mirrors, table tipping, and séance trumpets. All of these tools have had their share of criticism through the years; the authors do an excellent job of addressing them point by point and offering thorough guidance in using these tools correctly and protecting yourself in the process. In the section on scrying mirrors they mention Rosemary Ellen Guiley (who also wrote the Foreword). Guiley is one of the world’s foremost experts on all things paranormal and spiritual. I have one of Guiley’s handmade scrying mirrors, along with her book, The Art of Black Mirror Scrying, and I recommend both to anyone interested in learning to use this powerful tool for spirit communication.
The remainder of the book looks at private and group readings and séances. This last section is particularly thorough, from the space needed to the types of people to invite, to the décor and timing of bathroom breaks.
If the Pew polls are any indicator, acceptance of mediumship and acknowledgment of life beyond the boundary of life and death will continue to grow, as will the demand for able practitioners to minister to the needs of those who wish to contact their deceased loved ones. I have seen first hand on many occasions the immense healing power of such contact.
If you are called to be a medium, I cannot imagine better initial guidance than that provided by Parting the Veil. And for those that wish to enhance their spiritual life and practice this book is also recommended.




Monday, April 23, 2018

Review of Weird Winged Wonders: The Twilight World of Cryptid Creatures, edited by Timothy Green Beckley

 (New Brunswick, NJ: Global Communications/Conspiracy Journal). ISBN: 9781606112489
Over the past few years, there have been dozens of documented sightings of flying humanoids over the city of Chicago, IL, reigniting interest among the general public in this phenomena, which has been a part of human art and culture since the earliest civilizations up through the well-known Mothman sightings on the Ohio River in the late 1960s.
I am what is referred to among crypto-zoologists and paranormal investigators as an “experiencer,” as is my wife. In August 2009, while exploring outside of Point Pleasant, WV, where the Mothman was first seen, we saw a flying humanoid cross the road in front of us. Since that time, we have also witnessed interdimensionals. All of these experiences are detailed in our upcoming book from Visionary Living.
I grew up at the Jersey Shore, near the fabled Pine Barrens, home of another winged cryptid—the Jersey Devil.
If you consider human fascination with dragons, griffons, gargoyles, angels, demons, and all manner of winged creatures, it is clear that there must be some truth in all of the mythology. Given the considerable number of witnesses—many who are police officers and others who are deemed by researchers as “highly credible”—it is clear that this isn’t all imagination. These can’t all be sandhill cranes, like university professors and other gatekeepers tried to convince the public about the Mothman, or mistake raptors and other birds of prey. There is something legitimate going on here, and some very reputable, seasoned researchers have been amassing data for decades.
For newcomers to the field, Weird Winged Wonders: The Twilight World of Cryptid Creatures is an excellent primer. Its authors cover the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians right up through the latest sightings over Chicago (October 27, 2017 being the last entry in a handy timeline). With such veterans of the subject as Beckley (his chapter on the Jersey Devil is a highlight of the collection), Brad Steiger, Allen Greenfield, and Steve Ward contributing chapters, the reader is getting the best from the best.
A mix of case studies, interview excerpts, and theory, Weird Winged Wonders’s diverse methodologies cover the subject from numerous angles—a practice absolutely essential in these types of investigations. Whether your interest is from a purely mythological point of view, from dragons to griffons, or from the flesh and blood versus interdimensional debate, there is something here to meet your focus. There is even a compendium of “aerial beings” compiled by Hercules Invictus.
One important aspect of the phenomena of flying cryptids is the debate over whether what people are seeing are some type of pterosaurs. Jonathan David Whitcomb contributes an excellent chapter on the subject, while Greenfield and Steiger’s chapters on the Thunderbird are essential reading.
For those readers interested in the Mothman, Greenfield and Ward provide the broad strokes to get you started. In addition, they situate the Mothman in the work of Gray Barker and John Keel, two of the foremost researchers in this field.
With the dimensions of a coffee table book, filled with newspaper clippings, eyewitness sketches, fantasy art, and lots of photos, Weird Winged Wonders should have a place on any paranormal researcher’s shelves. Many of the contributors have their own radio shows, and each chapter ends with a bio and list of works by the author, making this primer an entryway for going as deep as the read cares to.
Whether or not you are a cynic, skeptic, true believer, or experiencer, Weird Winged Wonders is a trip worth taking. And keep your eyes open next time you’re outside—you never know what you might see coming at you from the skies.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“Between Life and Death There is Nature”: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s Garden Metamorphosis

“Between Life and Death There is Nature”: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s Garden Metamorphosis (Deltona, FL: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, 2018), ISBN-13: 978-0-9979517-4-5

Smoky Zeidel has a way with words. This five-time Pushcart nominee is able to plumb the depths of human experience with a simplicity of language that makes accessible what the philosophers, rhetoricians, and many poets render (at times on purpose) vague and therefore useless.
Garden Metamorphosis is much more than a book of poems (and a bonus short story that rends the heart); it is a meditation made in nature’s Cathedral—the garden. As Voltaire advised in Candide, we each must “tend our own garden.” Gardens have served for centuries as masterful metaphors for the soul, the human condition, and the mystical nature of Nature. Zeidel’s powerful poetry captures this alchemical mixture-in-a-bottle in book form, and the reader is wiser for the journey.
Monarch butterflies figure prominently in the collection, in both poems and the short story. The transformation of the butterfly (caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly) is perhaps the most tried and true metaphor of all of the many nature metaphors that have graced the page from the author–mystic’s pen. It is the three-act model in action, a pattern that happens not once, but many times in a person’s life. It is proof that our lives are a process, a chance to continually move from “I am this” to “I am becoming something new.” Another core theme is the sacredness of the soil, the plant life, the bugs and beasts encountered when one is down in the dirt—rooted and connected, away from the brain-draining, connection-dampening technological construct into which so many of us are patched.
There is a lot of talk in recent years in the scientific world of entropy—the natural decay and death that drives all of existence. Playwright David Mamet has made it the center of his work and Dan Brown’s most recent novel, Origin, explores entropy in existence-critical ways for humankind. Zeidel advises in “Sacred Soil” that we to “celebrate decay.” She then asks:
“…when I die/bury my ashes in a garden…/and plant a tomato or orange tree/as my grave marker” so that she may become “sacred soil” and “nourish new growth.” Entropy in action.
Interdicted with the garden poems are poems that create a push and pull in the author’s life, from past to present and back, revolving around key people she has known (see “Guitar Man” and “My Father’s Trains”). Here again is the three-act structure at work—metamorphosis comes in stages, and Zeidel takes us to childhood, to young adulthood, and to the present. In “Wind,” stanza one ends with her “aged, arthritic hands” while the second stanza takes us back to when she was six. It is a poem about Kennedy’s death, and death is perhaps the ultimate metamorphosis—a theme prevalent in the poetry in these pages.
Zeidel is also working here with schisms and gaps—those created by or between such things as young/old, magic/logic, the safety of “grandmother’s arms”/the bombing of Aleppo. These are the ritual spaces for transformation.
All of this leads seamlessly to—and operates as a primer for—the short story “Transformed.” Reviewing Zeidel’s prose is always tricky (I have reviewed three of her novels) because, like in her poems, she moves back and forth in time, creating mystery boxes that are only opened in the final act. It would be a sin to reveal a single secret thing. Thematically, “Transformed” is closely linked with the poems in the ways I’ve already discussed. The protagonist, Marina, is isolated, her garden having become her whole world. She styles herself (like Zeidel in her bio) a “monarch rancher.” How she comes to this place of isolation, awaiting the cracking of her own chrysalis to become something new, something transformed, is unfolded through Zeidel’s beautiful, evocative prose, which, in this particular tale, utilizes the syntactical simplicity of Hemingway with the depth of the great Persian poets. All surfaces are reflective here—of Marina, of monarch, of us. Nature is never one thing, though it always is the Teacher—and the lessons can be hard.
Read Garden Metamorphosis multiple times. Read it a poem at a time, and meditate in between each of them. Carefully, spiritually cultivate your garden or, if you don’t have one, create one—even if it’s on a windowsill, in an egg carton (something new from something old). And, should you see a monarch butterfly beating its wings against the breeze, think of who you’ve been, who you are, and what you might become.
And when you do, say a silent thank you to Smoky Zeidel—monarch rancher and writer extraordinaire.




Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of The Road to Strange: UFOs, Aliens and High Strangeness

by Michael Brein and Rosemary Ellen Guiley (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2018). ISBN: 9781942157250

Disclaimer: I have two entries in this collection. Also, a book that I am co-authoring with my wife about our two-year investigation of a haunted library in North Carolina (subject of one of the two entries in this book) will be published by Visionary Living in the summer of 2018.
Followers of my blogs and my work know that I have long been an advocate for Telling our Stories. I have seen the power of story on stage in social justice theatre productions, in legislative lobbying for equal rights, and in swaying public opinion. In the news as of late are the powerful stories of teenagers demanding changes to gun laws.
Although the field of paranormal investigation may seem worlds (and dimensions) apart from my three decades of work as a content creator and storyteller, I have found the parallels to be considerable. As I begin to establish myself as a paranormal investigator, I will be centering my talks and workshops squarely in the world of Story. Whether spirits, interdimensionals, or extraterrestrials, the entities that we encounter beyond the veil are characters, with backstories, motivations, and even in many cases, clear personality traits that change over time.
With this in mind, I am approaching this review of The Road to Strange: UFOs, Aliens and High Strangeness, by Michael Brein and Rosemary Ellen Guiley as both a storyteller and a paranormal investigator.
There is no question that a greater percentage of the population is experiencing and reporting paranormal activity. Each month there are new stories and new footage released by governments and organizations like NASA making a case for everything from UFOs to portals.
So why is the field still so far from anything close to resembling mainstream? In part, because the scientific community is quick to dismiss anecdotal evidence as no evidence at all and demands proof that is in most cases “round” so that it will never fit into the “square” space of traditional science. I have spent enough hours in the field to be able to say a few things with assurance: (1) what we are encountering is more in line with the principles of quantum physics than traditional science; (2) these entities are super intelligent and know how to disrupt, manipulate, and ignore scientific measuring equipment—even the most sophisticated and well funded; (3) anecdotal evidence (supported by research, understanding of narrative and story context, and technical data when it can be reliably gathered) can be as compelling and legitimate as a reading on an electromagnetic frequency meter.
Using these three points as our metric, The Road to Strange is the future of paranormal research.  Michael Brein, the world’s only “travel psychologist” and Rosemary Ellen Guiley, one of the most acknowledged experts in the field of paranormal research in the twenty-first century, curate a collection of stories that they support with the kind of research, story contextualization, and understanding of nontraditional science that provide the increasing legitimacy this important field demands. This book is a follow-up to their very successful The Road to Strange: Travel Tales of the Paranormal and Beyond, and they plan more books in the series—an indication that this multi-level approach is gaining traction.
The book is broken into four parts: “I Know what I Saw,” “Mystery Lights and Craft,” “Alien Encounters,” and “High Strangeness.” The first section derives its title from the unfortunate fact that experiencers/witnesses are often ridiculed by their family and friends, the traditional science gatekeepers, and in the media. Those who claim abduction experiences (the third section) are particularly targeted. As a storyteller, I always go back to one key idea: characters are driven forward to action by their motivations. What possible motivation could there be to lie about seeing a UFO or being abducted by aliens? I once heard a Mothman witness remark during a lecture that, in the 40 years since he went public, he has made enough money from what he saw to pay his mortgage for a single month. And the ridicule he’s faced in the small towns where he lived and worked far outweighs money or attention being key motivators. Are they just mentally ill attention seekers?
Brein and Guiley’s commentaries in the first three sections focus considerable word count making the case that these experiencers are not such a low percentage of the population that they can be dismissed as crazy and mistaken tale-tellers. The stories in the section titled “Alien Encounters” can test the width and breadth of what the reader is willing to believe about the nature of the alien hierarchy and their designs on Planet Earth and its inhabitants. I am a fan of skepticism: it invites research and respectful debate, which are necessary for any field to maintain its growth. Again, the commentaries provide context, parallel cases, and situate the stories on solid ground that a pure anecdote would fail to provide.
Exploring the limits of our own beliefs is essential. I find it particularly so as a paranormal investigator. A number of years ago I read Ingo Swann’s Penetration. I called the investigator who had given me the book and said, “Do you believe this is truthful, because if it is, it changes everything I’ve ever known.” I found myself asking the same questions reading some of the anecdotes in this book. Knowing Guiley personally, having been in the field with her on numerous occasions going back almost a decade, I trust her like I trust Ingo Swann. By extension I believe the people whose stories are told in this book. And it does change everything. It literally opens doors to other worlds.
“High Strangeness” takes its title from a term coined by researcher and author John Keel. This is the trickster aspect of UFO/paranormal phenomena. The interplay of deception, synchronicity, and flat out bizarre occurrences in these encounters puts these encounters on the very fringe of what might be happening. These cases may be the hardest to make sense of and therefore breed some of the longest commentaries of the book.
In addition to these four sections there are a Preface and Introduction by the two authors, respectively, as well as two Appendices. The first is an interview Brein did with J. Allen Hynek, an investigator and researcher who worked on several government UFO projects and, in the process, moved from cynic to skeptic. His journey could be instructive for others who, to quote X-Files, “want to believe” but find it difficult to do so. The second is a list of “UFO and Related Organizations.” This is another resource for those who want to know more about this subject from professionals from an array of backgrounds, from journalists and police to technicians and scientists who have spent decades amassing and analyzing reports. Like the experiencers themselves, their motivations are certainly not money or attention. The hours are countless, the work often thankless, and the laughter of the gatekeepers aimed their way loud and derisive.

The Road to Strange is long and wide. It is my belief that this excellent book will invite fellow travelers on the journey and, in the process, bring legitimacy to the experiencers who are brave enough to tell their stories in its pages.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

“Metaphorical, Intentional Poetics”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’s Murder, Death, Resurrection

(Loveland, OH: Dos Madres Press, dosmadres.com, 2018). ISBN: 978-1-939-92999-0

Eileen Tabios’s newest collection of poetry could be called a sum total of a life’s work (in progress). Created from her MDR poem generator (as have been a few other collections before this one), Murder, Death, Resurrection (to me aptly named, although an email exchange in the back of the collection indicates not everyone agrees) is 1,166 lines of her previously published poems. (The final line is 1,167, but in a Postscript Tabios says that she eliminated one line—I did not notice which—and, should your own means of generating poems from these lines [a key aim of this project] point to that missing line, insert one of your own, or another poet’s.)
Boy, that’s a complex opening paragraph—lots of clauses, parens, brackets, em dashes… but that seems to be okay in this case. Complexity is part of this endeavor, which Tabios undertook for a few reasons. I will summarize them quickly here, because there’s lots to do, but do not ignore the Introduction and back matter of Murder, Death, Resurrection—it is a treasure trove of exercises, explanations, and that email exchange is really not to miss. If Tabios wants to provoke thought and even pushback, she is succeeding.
This is my twelfth review of Tabios’s poetry, and almost all of the collections I have reviewed have lines represented in the MDR. So there was a familiarity for me in all of the new. After nine years of reviewing her poetry, I see the MDR work as a Culmination rather than a divergence or some (mere) experiment in recycled language. Comparisons can be made to the “cut-up” work of William Burroughs or even Philip K. Dick’s use of the I Ching to generate storylines and character choices, but they will ultimately fall short. Very much in line with Tabios’s previous work on the Filipino Diaspora, the MDR is an expression of taking back language through breaking it down. Briefly, this is a response to colonialism and American imperialism. Fittingly enough to mention here, I am preparing to do a Chautauqua tour as Ernesto “Che” Guevara in mid-2019, so I am living daily with the reality of what American colonialism and imperialism have done to the Philippines and Latin and Central America. Politics hinges on language (Rhetorical Studies is obsessed with this). Slang, jargon, and such art forms as Rap are expressions of this as well. An interesting aspect of this is the notion of “Babaylan” poetics, which (quite shamanically) states that everything is connected and in harmony, no matter how different it may seem.
Always one to blur the boundaries between poet and reader and to ask of the reader more than most writers do (a key reason I am so engaged year after year with her work) Tabios provides instructions for the reader on how to construct a poem of your own.
I could not resist the urge to try.
I decided on seven lines for my poem (as an homage to the theatre company I cofounded, Seven Stories). To generate line numbers, I went to the eleven reviews I have done of Eileen’s previous books. I used a variety of devices for generating line numbers, from dates of oldest and newest reviews, number of words in a review, and summing all of the numbers referenced in a review. The following lines make up “my” poem:
I forgot the years when I wore uniforms of darkened wool shaped by machines, lined by grey.
I forgot the mud in monsoon season always sucked at the ankles, non-discriminating, a placid surface but camouflaging sharply edged stones, goooey, goooey, goooey and brown as the hide on rotten bananas.
I forgot the advantage of an ignored chandelier.
I forgot my father is not Mao Tse Tung of China.
I forgot I admired encaustic for protecting forever the fragility of paper.
I forgot green calyx emphasizing the burden of generously-watered corollas.
I forgot there is a country somewhere on then opposite of where I stand on this earth, a country whose scents stubbornly perfume my dreams.
By the second line, a narrative began to form, and each ensuing line dropped securely into place as I read it. I witnessed a metaphor being born: Eileen’s lines were the bricks and the subtext I was creating to link the lines was the mortar. In the following, I have inserted the subtextual lines that “adhere” the poem into a unified whole in brackets (I have also titled the poem, as Eileen suggests):
“Echoes of Mortar and Brick”
I forgot the years when I wore uniforms of darkened wool shaped by machines, lined by grey.
[He insisted on uniforms; not everyday children’s clothes]
I forgot the mud in monsoon season always sucked at the ankles, non-discriminating, a placid surface but camouflaging sharply edged stones, goooey, goooey, goooey and brown as the hide on rotten bananas.
[Scrubbing the cuffs at midnight, so he wouldn’t know]
I forgot the advantage of an ignored chandelier.
[Some things better left in the black]
I forgot my father is not Mao Tse Tung of China.
[Though he surely acted that way]
I forgot I admired encaustic for protecting forever the fragility of paper.
[Notes from mother: “He cares; he just can’t show it”]
I forgot green calyx emphasizing the burden of generously-watered corollas.
[Signaling she was home, and I was somewhat safe]
I forgot there is a country somewhere on the opposite of where I stand on this earth, a country whose scents stubbornly perfume my dreams.
[I wished it into existence but now I can’t return].
Have fun creating your own poems from the lines in Murder, Death, Resurrection. Don’t hesitate to think outside the box. This is especially true for those who want to use this for workshops and classes. Some lines could be used as story prompts; some urge visual from textual: Line 547: “I forgot the laughter of weary men as they shared a wicker-covered bottle.” What an oil painting that would make. I think that this collection could serve as a “daily meditation” generator as well. Some of the lines make beautiful koans and sutras.
Tabios has left a breadcrumb trail of clues as to her poetry’s core thematic treasures. An e-copy of the manuscript could generate a thematic keyword search that would illuminate Tabios’s preferred words, images, metaphors, source material—the list could go on awhile, depending on the researcher’s interests and questions. Put it through statistical analysis software and what might be revealed, one could only imagine. But you couldn’t stop there. You’d have to DO something poetic with the data. That would be a must.
Murder, Death, Resurrection is the latest reason why Eileen Tabios is one of the most important poets working today.