288 – St. Patrick’s Day: Legends and Lore Of The Emerald Isle

Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, we all hear the story of St. Patrick so we know it by heart, right? Even before most of us were old enough to slurp cheap green beer and scour the streets in search of Jameson, we knew the story of Ireland’s most famous Saint. He used the shamrock to explain to the Pagan Celtic heathens the mystery of the Holy Trinity (three leaves in one shamrock equal the Father, Son, Holy Spirit all God) and he banished all the snakes from Ireland, right?

Not quite, bucko. Patrick was way cooler than that.

Sláinte from the Junior Varsity St. Patrick’s Day Parade! (Otherwise known as our Halloween show at an Irish bar)

How about this?

  • He was captured by Irish slavers
  • An ethereal voice helped him escape captivity
  • He had frickin’ magic duels with pagan wizards
  • He argued with an angel about letting him judge the Irish souls on Doomsday.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, we set the record straight on one of Ireland’s favorite saints in this episode celebrating his Feast day and some of our favorite Irish creatures.

The Lady Wilde, Oscar’s Mother and Author of Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

If you’re looking to learn about Irish legends, faeries, and cryptids, one of the perfect places to start is Lady Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde and her book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland. She wasn’t only a remarkable researcher, writer, and suffragist, but she raised literary giant Oscar Wilde . Even better since her book is in the public domain, you can read the whole thing right here.

Wendy took a dive in to talk about the legend of the banshee, which is steeped in the Celtic tradition of “keening” where a woman or group of women wail a lament over a dead body as part of the burial and grieving process. The banshee would be a premonition of the “keening woman” and it would signal a death in the family, sometimes in the form of an innocent virginal sister of the family who died early.

This banshee image was the scariest I could find, damn.

Banshees could also be a type of fairy and Irish legends are full of those as well, including the Phouka and the Kelpie. The Celtic word for the fae is Sidhe (pronounced “she”). Of course that includes everyone’s favorite, leprechauns, whose legends have even made it off Earth and into (ahem) outer space.

Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com once again joins us to talk about the Hellfire Club, an Enlightenment-era Eyes Wide Shut-style party group whose ritualistic orgies that even Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver’s Travels fame said were “a brace of monsters, blasphemers and Bacchanalians”. Hellfire Club rumors include a huge black cat that haunts the grounds as well as stories of Satanic Black Masses where unwary passers-by were left scarred for life. In reality did they worship the Devil? Probably no more than the modern Church of Satan does, they were just rich pr!cks who wanted to party with no rules or repercussions.

Scott also did a livestream of Irish legends that you might enjoy…

It sounds like it was a lot more like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History than Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, which is actually more frightening. It’s Satan’s job to ruin people’s lives, with humans, it’s our choice.

The Hellfire Club on Montpelier Hill outside of Dublin, where rich playboys used to meet for sex and drinking parties meant to thumb their noses at Christian morality. Photo by Joe King.

Ireland is a place where it feels like anything can happen and the fanciful folk tales are legion, we also discuss:

For this week we decided to create some Irish jigs inspired by our discussion of Irish legends. This “trad set” includes three original tunes by Sunspot: Druid’s Duel, Lady Wilde’s Fetch, and The Fairy Rath!

287 – Portals To Hell: Ghost Hunting With Jack Osbourne and Katrina Weidman

Jack Osbourne and Katrina Weidman return on Friday The 13th to TRVL with the second season of Portals To Hell. Jack, of course, is the son of the rock ‘n’ roll Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, and he grew up in the world of reality television as a star of the megapopular The Osbournes. He’s fully embraced his father’s legacy by not only producing paranormal reality TV but by becoming a ghost hunter himself! Katrina Weidman of course, rose to television fame through Paranormal State (which also featured previous guest Chip Coffey) and three seasons of Paranormal Lockdown with Ghost Adventures‘ Nick Groff.

Jack Osbourne and Katrina Weidman of Portals To Hell

We talked with Jack and Katrina about the upcoming episodes of the show and what they’ve learned about the supernatural and themselves through two seasons of investigating the paranormal together.

Then Wendy and I talk about the legends of the portals to Hell throughout history as well as one of the most famous ones, in Stull, Kansas. We visited there last year and here’s my Facebook live video:

Wendy and Scott from WhatsYourGhostStory.com visited Stull in 2017 and while they didn’t find a portal to Hell, they certainly found some weird burnt dirt by the ruins of the old chapel on the cemetery grounds.

The charred earth that Wendy was talking about in the episode

So, in addition to interviewing Jack Osbourne and Katrina Weidman, we also talk about:

  • The “Gates of Hell” legends in Pennsylvania and Illinois
  • My very own “Gates of Hell” legend from Mukwonago, Wisconsin and the weird remains I found there
  • The various portals to the Underworld in Ancient Greece
  • What exactly is Charon’s Obol?
  • Why did people put pennies on the eyes of the deceased until the early Twentieth Century?
  • The truth about the Siberian “Borehole To Hell”

Now, Jack and Katrina purposefully going to places with a “dark energy” made me think about Nietzsche’s infamous passage from Beyond Good and Evil:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

Friedrich W. Nietzsche

And of course, Portals to Hell is going to make me think about the “Crack of Doom”, which Tolkien called the forge where Sauron from The Lord Of The Rings created the “One Ring to Rule Them All”. It’s where Frodo had to take the ring to be destroyed. But the phrase “crack of doom” originally meant something else. The word “crack” means an extremely loud noise, like a crack of thunder. And the “crack of doom” means the end of the world because that’s the loud noise of angelic trumpets that will sound at the breaking of the Seventh Seal. Which is the beginning of the last Judgement from the Book of Revelation where Jesus will return and bring the good souls to Heaven and cast the bad ones into the Lake of Fire. Catholic filmmaker Kevin Smith played with this idea in his film Red State.

So you throw together a little Nietzsche, the gates of Hell, and the Lake of Fire and that’s how you get this week’s song, “The Crack of Doom”

I took on the Devil so I could make my mark,
I went fighting monsters and I stepped into the dark

Tragedies, infamies, terrible bloody shames,
they were waiting for me
and they knew me by name

I went to the Gates of Hell
and they followed me through
When you look at the abyss
the abyss looks at you.

The crack of Doom
The crack of Doom

I played a game with Evil,
thinking it was just a goof.
I swam in the Lake of Fire
but I wasn’t fireproof.
When you focus on atrocity
the work gets worse and worse.
The self-fulfilling prophecy
will damn you like a curse.

I went to the Gates of Hell
and they followed me through
When you look at the abyss
the abyss looks at you

The crack of Doom
The crack of Doom

286 – Chip Coffey Unfiltered: Messages From A Medium

Friendly and funny, Chip Coffey in person doesn’t seem like the type who seems to have an open line with dead people. At paranormal conventions in the vendor room, he’s the boisterous laugh and endearing voice you can hear from the other side of the room. Living in Atlanta now, Chip’s charm feels more Southern than his Upstate New York upbringing would normally lead you to believe. But his unassuming and friendly manner, belie someone whose messages from the other side must be connecting with people, because his readings are always sold out.

Chip and his very stylish scarves

Chip Coffey first gained national recognition as a psychic consulting on the infamous ghost-hunting reality show Paranormal State and that turned into a deal for his own show Psychic Kids, where he’d help youngsters who were showing evidence of psychic powers to not be afraid and assisting them in developing their gifts.

He’s guested on plenty of paranormal shows since Psychic Kids left the air and he’ll be a full cast member of Kindred Spirits when that show returs for it’s fourth season in 2020.

Is Chip for real? I dunno, he didn’t read me and I wasn’t testing him. He has delivered comfort to tens of thousands of people across the country and he has a message of tolerance, compassion, and hope. I respect all of those things.

I never trust anything I see on TV, but people that I know and like have sworn that he’s received messages for them of things that they cannot believe he could have known. What I do know is that he’s a good talker and in our conversation we talk about:

  • How Chip started receiving messages from the dead suddenly in his mid-40s
  • How regular people (normies like me) can develop more of our psychic abilities
  • His answer to the Bay Area Skeptics that tried to hoax him with a fictional deceased family member
  • More on The Phillip Experiment and how intense belief creates paranormal experiences

EDIT: Chip Coffey’s Wisconsin Dells show has been moved to July 30th, but you still can get tickets for a special discount by using the code GHOST15 to save 15% (which means that you can see his gallery reading for as little as $20!) Click here to grab those tickets.

Now, one of the most significant things he said in our conversation is that he asked his spirit guides about the meaning of life and what’s the purpose of everything. Their direct and simple response was “Don’t harm yourself or others” and “Be happy.” Chip summed it up succinctly as “Don’t be a dick” and that’s the title of this week’s Sunspot track inspired by our conversation.

I was as low as you could go
like a flat tire in the heat
underneath the pileup
at the bottom of the heap

I said to my old man, heywhat’s the point of it all
Well you brought me in to this anf you got some kind of balls.
He said Son, you know I love you,
but I don’t know that much.
I tried to put you on the right path
about being good and such.
But I know it doesn’t mean alot to hear the same cliche
but if you remember just one thing
remember when I say

When my worries and the troubles were more than I could bear
I came to a crossroads
and I said a little a prayer

I fell down on my knees and screamed up at the sky
For the first time in my life there was a reply

Don’t fret my child, think the lillies of the field
just waving with the wind, their serenity their shield
There are things you can’t control and some will leave your life destroyed.
I made a lot of rules, but there’s just one that counts my boy,

Don’t be a dick
you aint got much time
every moment you spend mad
is one less moment of your life
Don’t be a dick
Let me be clear
Righteous anger has a way of taking time off your good years
so don’t be a dick

285 – Listening To The Gut Punch: Sallyanne Monti and the Power of Intuition

Sallyanne Monti always thought that her story was already told. Growing up in the same Italian-American Brooklyn neighborhood as the characters in Saturday Night Fever, getting married to her high school sweetheart and having four kids, she was on the path that was always expected of her. That’s until a typo in an email address would change her life forever.

In her memoir, Light at the End of the Tunnel, Sallyanne details her journey from New York to California, from a married mother of four to editor and author in the Golden Crown Literary Society, a non-profit dedicated to promoting lesbian-themed literature. Light at the End of the Tunnel won the non-fiction award at the 2019 Imaginarium Convention and Sallyanne’s personal journey is littered with paranormal events that seemed to be leading her towards her destination.

Sallyanne looking sharp in some of the world’s finest fashions…

From apparitions of her mother to psychics who knew things they couldn’t have, to the “gut punch” that Sallyanne has repeatedly felt on days when her life would change forever, her story is how listening to your intuition, and following the signs can lead you to your destiny.

In this episode, we talk to Sallyanne Monti about the paranormal signs in her life that eventually led her down the path to discovering her true self and that would change the course of her destiny and how we all can keep an eye and an ear out for those signs in our own lives.

For more on Sallyanne’s life and writing, please check out her website at www.sallyannemonti.com and if you’d like to learn more about the Golden Crown Literary Society, you can find them at www.goldencrown.org.

And here’s Sallyanne playing some guitar! She’s a musician as well as an author and paranormal experiencer…

The feeling of the gut punches that changed Sallyanne’s life are a testament to the power of intuition and how your body seems to know the right place you should be even when your mind is far behind. It took Sallyanne Monti decades to find out where she was supposed to be, and hopefully we can all find our places a lot faster than that. That’s the inspiration behind this week’s song, “The Closer You Get”.

I didn’t go looking,
but you showed up anyway.
I didn’t go looking
but I guess I’ll share the blame.

Even before I knew what
it hit me like a punch to the gut
Beautiful, wonderful, and strange.

the closer you get
the closer you get
the closer you get to the truth, the less you hide.
the closer you get
the closer you get
the closer you get to me,
the more it’s right.

You don’t have to go looking
to find your perfect lane
you don’t have to go looking
you’ll know when it’s your day

Even before I knew what
it hit me like a punch to the gut
And until it hurts you know it ain’t gonna change.

the closer you get
the closer you get
the closer you get to the truth, the less you hide.
the closer you get
the closer you get
the closer you get to me,
the more it’s right.

284 – Death From Above: When Big Bird Attacks

Gigantic birds. They’re fricking terrifying . And there might be some kind of genetic memory (or epigentic inheritance) as to why when CNN posts headlines like “Bones reveal Neanderthal child was eaten by a giant bird”. We’ve had Seth Breedlove talk about his Terror In The Skies documentary which talks specifically about giant birds in Illinois, but in this episode we wanted to widen the net.

Photo Credit: Burfalcy 2008

First of all, we recorded this episode in Alton, IL during the American Hauntings 2020 Dead of Winter event. Alton is famous not only for birthing the tallest man in the world, but for a giant scary bird mural on the side of a cliff on the Mississippi River. The “Piasa Bird”

We’ve discussed in the past where the word Piasa came from and the original Indian legends surrounding it but Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts has some really interesting research in how the Piasa bird might not have originally been a bird at all, but a very different monster of Indian legend and can even trace its origins to a very real predator. So, is the Piasa monster really supposed to be a scary giant bird? We delve in.

Then it’s time to talk about other monster bird attacks in history and actual newspaper reports and eyewitness sightings. My personal favorite is this one in Texas where you can just hear the racism dripping off this Police Captain’s words…

However this next story is a little too sad and this 1926 article about a 2 year old infant being murdered by a giant condor in Argentina was too much for even a stone heart like mine to take.

We also tell the story of our cousin who saw a Thunderbird himself in the late 80s while in a Southeastern Wisconsin hospital awaiting the birth of his first son. Here’s how he describes the size of what he saw:

In this episode, we tackle all these giant bird stories as well as coming up with a brand new Sunspot paranormal rock song.

Winston Churchill famously said, “He who controls the skies controls the war.” and as earthbound creatures, there’s something extra terrifying about being attacked from the sky. Airborne predators pick their targets from far away and swoop in to snatch their prey. The stories of these giant bird attacks are certainly arbitrary and horrifying. It makes us realize how precarious and precious our life is when we we live on a knife edge of randomness. Whether it’s cancer, tsunamis, car accidents, or gigantic condor kidnappings, we all live under the constant threat of “Death From Above”.

Scratch marks on the shoulders
clawed holes in the chest
A victim of capricious randomness
Mice under the eagle
picked off from the dirt
carried somewhere far beyond the earth

The thief in the night
that takes everything you love
There’s a killer in the sky
Death from above

Chance and serendipity
and the consequence of luck
We’re just fate and fury
Death from above

Until you’re back on solid ground,
You just can’t let it go
terra firma, illusion of control

A casualty of chaos that was
cast out of paradise
To pacify, we need a sacrifice

The thief in the night
that takes everything you love
There’s a killer in the sky
Death from above

Chance and serendipity
and the consequence of luck
We’re just fate and fury
Death from above

283 – Call Of The Wild: Jack London And The Paranormal

When you think of turn of the Twentieth Century writer Jack London, you immediately think about of the Yukon and his most famous works like White Fang or Call Of The Wild. And in fact, Harrison Ford returns to the screen next week with the latest version of the classic novel (written from the dog’s perspective, there are few works like it!)

When the mushrooms wear off and you realize you’re not an intergalactic smuggler with a Wookiee…

Jack London led a tumultous and adventurous life, just like his characters. And he didn’t just write stories about the Gold Rush to Alaska, but also wrote plenty of ghost stories and science fiction. And even though he was an avowed atheist, that didn’t mean that the rest of his family was. And that doesn’t mean that the people around him didn’t experience paranormal activity like:

So whether it was the rejection of his real father or the fact that his mother famously attempted suicide twice after she found out she was pregnant, Jack London wasted little time in his life. In fact, two months before he died he said this quote to his friends that would later be known as his credo:

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

Jack London

And that’s the theme of this week’s song, “I’d Rather Be Ashes Than Dust”.

‘fore I was born my mother did her best to die 
but the bottle and the bullet didn’t kill her 
So I came out a little stronger, stronger than the average guy 
Gonna write my bio as a thriller 

Ohh ohh 
I got to hit the road 
ohh ohh 
Don’t you hear the call 
I’m gonna go out shooting ‘fore my body turns to rust 
cuz I’d rather be ashes than dust 

Half a world away is where I will find my passion 
Someone told me that there’s mountains full of gold 
Headfirst into the fray looking for some action 
I’ve got to see this world before I’m old 

Ohh ohh 
I got to hit the road 
ohh ohh 
Don’t you hear the call 
I’m gonna go out shooting ‘fore my body turns to rust 
cuz I’d rather be ashes than dust

282 – Coronavirus Conspiracy: A Pandemic of Misinformation

Here we go again, it’s a new year and there’s a new type of flu going around that’s going to kill us. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) first originated in Wuhan, a city of eleven million people in China, and since it began, internet rumors have been flying fast and furious, in many places spread through memes.

Some are fun…

Some aren’t:

How does bogus information spread so quickly? Trust.

Trust in the media is at an all time low. Only 41% of Americans have a lot or a good amount of faith in the veracity of mass media. Trust in the government is even lower. In 1958, 73% of Americans had faith in their government, in 2019, it was at 17%. People just don’t believe what they’re told. And it’s not like the government hasn’t lied to them before or that the media has completely gotten a story wrong. When you don’t trust the institutions that are supposed to tell you the truth, conspiracy theories start looking a lot better.

How are people just supposed to trust the party line when official stories look ridiculous (looking at you Jeffrey Epstein)?! And we know that China censors the Internet, how can we trust anything coming out of there? That’s what we tackle this week as we discuss conspiracy theories, the Coronavirus, and why people are attracted to misinformation.

So what are some of our favorite Coronavirus conspiraces?

  • That the Virology Institute of Wuhan is a “real life” Umbrella Corporation like in the video game and movie, Resident Evil
  • Bill Gates patented the Coronavirus in 2015 and now he’s going to use it to depopulate the planet
  • It’s a Chinese bioweapon that escaped from the lab
  • That using a special soution called MMS (miracle mineral solution) can cure you of the Coronavirus, even though it’s actually just bleach
  • That China is doing a media blackout as crematorium employees report hundreds of bodies being burned so the disease won’t spread
  • That the virus contains 4 “protein inserts” from HIV that show the virus was designed and didn’t just occur naturally

For conspiracies to work like crackpots think they do, it would require geniuses at the top. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Whether it’s UFOs, cars that are powered by water, or bioengineered virii, the truth would get out. We keep believing that humans are actually smarter than they are, when the truth is that the inmates are running the asylum.

And in the jungle we’d be compost,
in the Savannah we’d be meat.
We’re so petty and we’re so mean,
We are everything we hoped we wouldn’t be.

Just so you know, the inmates are running the asylum.
Just so you know, they’re just as dumb as they seem.

And in the water we’d be sharkbait,
In the Taiga, freezer burn.
How old were you, when you finally knew,
that no one really has a clue?

Just so you know, the inmates are running the asylum.
Just so you know, they’re just as dumb as they seem.

281 – It’s All In Your Mind: The Paranormal Imagination of John E.L. Tenney

“What you think is weird is weirder than you think” – that’s the slogan that’s on the website of John E.L. Tenney and his weird lectures. That’s a fun turn of phrase but it took me a little bit to figure out what it means. We understand the idea of ghosts, we understand the idea of UFOs, we understand the concept of Bigfoot. Ghosts are the spirits of our consciousness surviving death after the physical body has died. UFOs are populated by beings that evolved on planets in some far off solar system and developed ships that can traverse the universe and they’re coming to visit. Just like us visiting the moon. Bigfoot is a kind of ape that we just haven’t been able to capture and put into a zoo yet. Even if we don’t believe in them, we grok the concepts.

But those explanations are fairly unsatisfactory because they don’t make a ton of sense. If aliens are just travelers from another planet, why are they so secretive? If our consciousness can survive bodily death, why do only some people show up sometimes? Where the #$%! are Bigfoot’s bones?! The way these things operate just doesn’t make sense with the rest of the way our universe works. So what we already think is weird (ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot) has to be weirder than we think (we don’t know how to wrap our heads around it!)

John explains his Near Death Experience

That’s why John Tenney is fascinating to listen to. Number one, it never sounds like he’s trying to get one over on you (he’s not selling salvation or life after death) and number two, he’s willing to entertain all kinds of ideas that you don’t usually hear from paranormal investigators because they don’t fit the established model.

While John has been researching the paranormal for over 30 years (his cut his teeth in the weird world by apprenticing to a Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theorist and then by becoming a researcher for Unsolved Mysteries), his interest was peaked as a young man by being pronounced dead in 1988 and then coming back. His heart stopped for two minutes and he was given a choice to either come back to earth or stay where he was. The next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital.

From left in the back – Robyn Davis and Ted Williams from Galena Haunted Tour Company, Lisa Van Buskirk from Madison Ghost Walks. From left in the front – Mike Huberty, Allison Jornlin, and Wendy Lynn Staats from See You On The Other Side.

He had a show, Ghost Stalkers, on Destination America and you might have heard him on our podcast before right when the New York Times decided to get into the UFO business. But John really shines in person, when you just put a quarter in him and let him go. The very first time we met him, he was in a casino bar regaling us about witnessing an exorcism and had even met the notorious Father Malachi Martin and we were spellbound. We’ve seen his lectures before at the Michigan Paracon (he lives near Detroit) and when we found out he was coming to Wisconsin, we weren’t going to miss it!

John onstage at the Palace Theater in the Wisconsin Dells

In this episode, we take some time to talk to John before the show and then we take some of the concepts that he discussed in his lecture and try to unravel them a little bit for ourselves, including topics like:

And of course, John’s idea of ghosts as timeslips instead of disembodied consciousness leads “perfectly” into this week’s song. There are some moments where it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the rest of the world, there are some minutes that you wish could be frozen in time and you could slip back to, those moments are “Perfect”.

With flood insurance and bodyguards, 
Humpty Dumpty bought a house of cards. 
I put a heart on layaway, 
but now I think tomorrow may be too late. 
And I say late, and I say late, and I say late, and I say… 

It doesn’t matter if everything’s ugly, 
It doesn’t matter if it’s all unsafe. 
The baby’s out with the bathwater, 
The Rubicon was crossed today. 
It doesn’t matter if we ever notice, 
That the stars have all burnt out. 
It doesn’t matter if things are perfect, 
as long as everything’s perfect right now. 

Some things are done before they start, 
Everything will always fall apart. 
The past is never that far away, 
but do you think that’s where I’m going to stay? 
And I say no, and I say no, and I say no, and I say I don’t think so. 

It doesn’t matter if everything’s ugly, 
It doesn’t matter if it’s all unsafe. 
The baby’s out with the bathwater, 
The Rubicon was crossed today. 
It doesn’t matter if we ever notice, 
That the stars have all burnt out. 
It doesn’t matter if things are perfect, 
as long as everything’s perfect right… 

Now, now now, 
I don’t wanna postpone my, 
Vow, vow vow, 
that this time I will own, 
How how how, 
I don’t care and I don’t know. Don’t know. 
Now, now now, 
I don’t wanna postpone my, 
Vow, vow vow, 
that this time I will own, 
How how how, 
I don’t care and I don’t know. Don’t know. 

Be kind, take your time. 
Be kind, take your time. 

With flood insurance and bodyguards, 
Humpty Dumpty bought a house of cards. 
The past is never that far away, 
but do you think that’s where I’m going to stay? 
And I say no, and I say no, and I say no, and I say I don’t think so. 

It doesn’t matter if everything’s ugly, 
It doesn’t matter if it’s all unsafe. 
The baby’s out with the bathwater, 
The Rubicon was crossed today. 
It doesn’t matter if we ever notice, 
That the stars have all burnt out. 
It doesn’t matter if things are perfect, 
as long as everything’s perfect right… 

Now, now now, 
I don’t wanna postpone my, 
Vow, vow vow, 
that this time I will own, 
How how how, 
I don’t care and I don’t know. Don’t know. 
Now, now now, 
I don’t wanna postpone my, 
Vow, vow vow, 
that this time I will own, 
How how how, 
I don’t care and I don’t know. Don’t know. 

Be kind, take your time.

280 – The Turn Of The Screw: Henry James And The History Of Parapsychology

The latest adaptation of Henry James’ classic 1898 ghost story The Turn Of The Screw is called The Turning starring red hot teenage actor Finn Wolfhard but it’s not the only adaptation being released this year. Mike Flanagan’s sequel to his Netflix smash The Haunting of Hill House is going to be called The Haunting of Bly House and will rework James’ novella into a modern story as well.

One-hundred and twenty years after the initial publication why does James’ work still resonate? After all, in our current society, we’re about as far removed from the Victorian age as you can be. We laugh when we think of their “uptight” sexuality, their treatment of women as the “fairer sex”, and of course, the superior attitude that came along with “the empire on which the sun never sets“.

The Turn Of The Screw is a story about a governess who is hired to take care of a girl and boy whose uncle is a busy gentleman that can’t be bothered with raising them himself. While originally enjoying the job, the governess starts seeing ghosts surrounding the children and her thoughts are eventually consumed by the spirits which raises tensions to an untenable level in the house. Part of the story that makes it the most interesting is that no one else ever sees the ghosts besides the governess, so is it real or is it all in her imagination?

The original illustration from the first page of the 1898 serialization in The Atlantic Monthly

Now, Henry James’ inspiration for The Turn Of The Screw came from a supposedly true story he was told Archbishop of Canterbury, whose wife was involved with the Society for Psychical Research. And James’ equally famous brother, William, was also a member of that English organization and returned to the United States to form the American branch.

William James was not only one of the founders of parapsychology, he was also one of the founders of modern psychology. He was as interested in the study of spiritual pheneomena as he was in the workings of the mind and his psi research help set the template for modern experimental psychology still practiced today.

So Henry James was interested in ghost stories from a narrative standpoint while his brother was investigating them from a scientific standpoint! How might the reality of research into spirit communication have leaked over into the fiction?

We discuss the real-life paranormal influences behind The Turn Of The Screw as well as William and Henry James’ views on the paranormal and its effect on the world of parapsychology. Some of the topics include:

  • Henry James’ father’s own strange “vastation”, a spiritual crisis which lasted two years
  • Just what or who did Henry James call “The Others”?
  • William James’ work on religious experiences and how they might be a result of mental illness (a foreshadowing of using therapy instead of exorcism to help the victims)
  • What did Henry James really think about the afterlife according to his article “Is There Life After Death”?
  • Did William James return to talk to the dead after he passed away in 1910?

For this week’s song, we expound upon one of the themes from The Turn Of The Screw. One of the first lines introducing the character of the governess mentions that she’s in love, but that she’d only seen her love twice. That’s because it was the uncle that hired her to take care of the kids and she was constantly thinking of ways to prove her worth to him, because he was a gentleman and she was a commoner. The overwhelming desire to be worthy of your heart’s desire is the inspiration behind the song for this episode, “Mine Without a Holiday.”

Tell me nothing of your life, 
I painted you as an angel, 
These lines, these curves don’t do you justice, 
But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll draw them just as well. 

I can’t believe you’re not on paper, 
I can’t believe you’re made for me to touch, 
I will accept that you are mine without a holiday, 
But not that I deserve as much. 

Tell me nothing of yourself, 
I sculpted you as a goddess, 
This lifeless clay don’t hold a candle to your visage, 
But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll shape it in your image 

I can’t believe that you’re not fiction 
I can’t believe you’re made for me to hold. 
I will accept that you are mine without a holiday 
But not that I should be so bold. 

I will accept that you are mine without a holiday. 
But not that I deserve as much.

279 – Ram Dass: The Spiritual and Psychic Adventures of Richard Alpert

I’ll admit it, I love making fun of hippies. 20 years of living in Madison, Wisconsin (where the Vietnam War never ended, at least the protest part of it) and performing alongside jam bands has jaded me to the culture. Free love and the daily “wake and bake” never seemed to me as much of a spiritual path as it does just another way to get your rocks off. I was disgusted at its patchouli-scented barefoot disguise as spirituality. That’s just another form of control and exploitation, it’s just “gurus” like Charles Manson or David Koresh or NXVIUM’s Keith Raniere looking for easy action and a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I love a party more than the next guy, but I’m not pretending it’s a sacred rite.

However, underneath that susceptibility to hedonism and exploitation is a spiritual quest and open-mindedness that is exactly what I respect and love about the Hippie Movement. While fringe jackets are still pretty silly, the willingness to wear them is not. “Let your freak flag fly” is a call to individuality and self-empowerment, not just group-identification and walking in lock-step with your tribe.

Hippies were hungry for something greater than themselves. They didn’t try to deny that essential aspect of humanity, they embraced it. And since they felt let down by the post-war industrial culture and traditional religions, they went out looking for it on an unprecedently widespread level. No one represents that more than Richard Alpert in his evolution to Ram Dass, tripping his way literally and figuratively, through acid, magic mushrooms, Mexico, and India, from secular Jewish psychologist to meditating New Age spiritual teacher.

The evolution of Richard Alpert to Ram Dass, Harvard psychologist to New Age guru

Richard Alpert was born in 1931 in Newton, Massachussetts. He got his doctorate in Psychology in 1957 from Stanford University and then accepted a position at Harvard in 1958. That’s where he met Timothy Leary and they began exploring the world of psychedelics in their Harvard Psilocybin Project. Through doing experiments on the therapetuic uses of magic mushrooms and LSD, they discovered spiritual experiences, paranormal phenomena, and long-lasting changes in mental health from frequent usage.

Although LSD was legal at the time (it wouldn’t be criminalized until 1970) Alpert and Leary were eventually kicked out of Harvard for giving psychedelics to undergraduates, which the university had forbade them to do. Dr. Andrew Weil, himself an eventual PBS New Age guru mainstay, was an undergraduate at Harvard at the time and when he asked them for psychedelics and they declined, he ratted them out because he knew that they had provided for others.

Dr. Weil, this friendly-looking bald Santa Claus is also a rat!

Leary and Alpert moved to California and created a community out there to continue their research, but Alpert and Leary had a falling out and still spiritually disillusioned even after taking so many psychedelic drugs, he went to India on a quest to discover himself. That’s where he met Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji, a guru who changed his life forever. When Alpert returned to the West, he had changed his name to Ram Dass (which means Servant of God) and released his best known book, the quasi-graphical autobiography and meditation guide, Be Here Now.

He continued to be a popular lecturer through the 70s and 80s and after suffering a stroke in 1996, Ram Dass re-learned to speak and continued teaching spirituality and preaching unconditional love all the way up until his death on December 22nd, 2019.

The cover of his most famous book, Be Here Now

And while it could be argued that Ram Dass was a wealthy Westerner who took Eastern spirituality and co-opted it (Richard Aloert did own a freakin’ plane!), who else could have brought it to the Western audience like he could? Richard Alpert was an incredibly successful psychotherapist and researcher, he was well-versed in the Bible as well as the Bhagavad Gita as well as Madame Blavatsky. His gift was his synthesis of the major religions and his ability to delight audiences with self-deprecating and sometimes painfully honest stories. While he might have appropriated some Eastern mysticism, he was able to communicate its powerful message to an audience hungry for it, because he was once exactly like them.

I mean, two of my favorite TV shows of the 2000s had characters who were at least inspired by Richard Alpert. Walter Bishop was the lovable acid-gobbling scientist from Fringe who would use psychedelics in his experiments (just watch the “Brown Betty” for TV’s first hour-long acid trip.) Nestor Carbonell played an ageless character named Richard Alpert on LOST, a show that never shied away from its philosophical underpinnings, even when they choked in the last season. After all they had a tabula rasa character who reinvented himself after the plane crash who was named John Locke, so you don’t really get any more unsubtle than that.


You know you’ve made it when they named a LOST character after you

In this episode, we discuss the impact, both positive and negative, that Ram Dass had on the New Age movement and modern spirituality, but we also talk about the strange paranormal experiences that occured to him on his journey like:

  • The psychic mind-reading that led him to follow Neem Karoli Baba in the first place, the Hindu guru who would change Richard Alpert’s name to Ram Dass
  • Some of Richard Alpert’s psychic experiences while tripping on psychedelics
  • The time J.B. Rhine, founder of the Duke Parapsychology lab, Timothy Leary, and Ram Dass decided to study LSD’s affects on ESP
  • What does “Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out” really mean?
  • Psychedelic hedonism vs. the tradition use of chemicals to aid spirituality
  • The “Good Friday Experiment” where they took 20 Harvard Divinity students and attempted to induce a spiritual experience in them
  • Ram Dass’ channeling friend, Emmanuel, who told him that “dying was absolutely safe”
  • What are some of the siddhis? What are the powers that manifest themselves through enlightenment and meditation?

For the song this week, we thought it’d be appropriate to put up a meditation track for a little contemplation and intropection Ram Dass-style, “Be Here Now”.