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.