All posts by Mike Huberty

Co-Host of See You On The Other Side podcast Lead Vocalist & Bassist for Sunspot

264 – Coming Out of the Shadows: New Orleans Voodoo with Rory Schmitt and Rosary O’Neill

No other American cities have mysticism associated with them like New Orleans does with Voodoo. And that’s because, more than any other city, New Orleans is its own thing. It is firmly ensconced in American culture from jazz to football to Mardi Gras to the outporing of support after Hurricane Katrina and holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who has visited (I’m always looking forward to my next trip!)

And for paranormal fans, it’s where Anne Rice wrote her vampire series, it’s where Trent Reznor bought a house, Nicolas Cage bought a pyramid in the city’s most famous cemetery for God’s sake. It’s a city full of haunted history and vampire tours, rich with culture as a crossroads of French settler, African slave, American Indian, Carribbean and English culture have all collided into a gumbo (see what I did there?) of something completely unique. The place has something for everyone… Spring Breakers like Mardi Gras for the Girls Gone Wild aspect, paranormal lovers enjoy all of the legends and strangeness, music lovers can appreciate the one-of-a-kind Jazz, foodies can find a special cuisine, historians can enjoy one of America’s oldest cities, etc…)

Rory O’Neill Schmitt and her mother Rosary O’Neill are New Orleans natives who have taken a lifelong interest in voodoo and have written a book New Orleans Voodoo: A Cultural History. It’s a respectful and eye-opening exploration of a topic that is easily demonized. Voodoo isn’t the black magic of The Serpent And The Rainbow or Angel Heart, it’s not a religion practiced by the “other” that Hollywood can often make things out to be. It’s a normal way of seeing the world and finding spirituality in everyday life that has amalgamated from West African animism, Roman Catholicism, and New World neccessity.

When I read their book, it gave me an insight into Voodoo that I hadn’t seen before. It was more than just superstition and spells, but it provides some understanding of how the world’s oldest kind of spirituality (animism) can combine with more modern religion (Christianity) to create a cultural force that helps guide people’s lives. In this interview about New Orleans Voodoo, we learn about:

  • How did the practice of Voodoo come about, where do the ceremonies and the beliefs come from?
  • How slaves could use Voodoo to maintain a sense of control in a world where they were in chains
  • Who are the lwas?
  • What Catholic saints match up to which ancient African spirits and how they’re similar
  • Why is New Orleans such a unique place for this kind of spirituality?
  • What are some common misconceptions about Voodoo?
  • Rory and Rosary’s personal experiences with Voodoo practitioners

When I was reading the book, the idea of possession in a voodoo ceremony really struck me as something different and interesting to my religious upbringing. Instead of being possessed by the Holy Spirit like the Christians who speak in tongues, they get possessed by a variety of different lwas (a variety of spirits who act between humans and God), whether it’s a lord of the dead like Papa Gede, or Papa Legba, the Trickster of the Crossroads. In the ceremony, the participant becomes a vessel for the spirit to speak through and will often not remember it. That kind of surrender to the invisible powers of the world seems so dangerous to me, but it’s an exiciting idea. It’s exactly the type of thing that people who tell you you shouldn’t play with Ouija Boards would warn you against, but it’s also the kind of thing that seems like a powerful spiritual experience . “Possess Me” is our song inspired by the idea.

I walked with a zombie
somewhere on Bourbon Street
Coming out from the shadows
midnight on St. John’s Eve
So if you go go go
go see the queen
Please let her know know know
she’s gotta pray
she’s gotta pray for me

Ooh darling
I wanna bathe in your blue sea
When the mambo calls your name
I need you to possess me

Close your eyes and listen close
You can feel the Invisibles
flesh and blood, spectres and ghosts
some things aren’t divisible

So if you go go go
go see the queen
Please let her know know know
she’s gotta pray
she’s gotta pray for me

Ooh darling
I wanna bathe in your blue sea
When the mambo calls your name
I need you to possess me

263 – Dream Telepathy: From Inception to The Grateful Dead

We live as we dream – alone…

– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Or do we?

– Me
Me, getting ready for a little Ganzfeld-style dream research

We’ve talked about dream interpretation before (Episode 129 and Episode 53 in particular are a good place to start) and we’ve discussed the idea of dreams as parallel universes. Of course, we’ve talked about the Succubi and the demons of our nightmares as well. And trying to control your dreams through lucidity was our second episode! Dreaming is the the ultimate looking inward, it’s us actually living inside our own thoughts.

For millennia, humans have considered the dreamstate to be something mystical. After all, it’s a place where anything can happen. Dead loved ones can appear to you, friends can return, you can imagine what life would be like if you had made a different choice, and it all feels real. The thing about dreams is that it feels just as real as regular waking life.

You might not meditate, drop acid, or take magic mushrooms, but you experience an altered state of consciousness every night. When you fall asleep, you dream. Even if you don’t remember your dreams, you still dream when you enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

And if we believe that paranormal experiences happen to us in an altered state of consciousnesss, when are they most likely to happen except for the altered state that we naturally go into every single night?

What if we don’t have to be alone while we dream? What if someone can communicate with us, or even join us?

Inception was the latest movie to use this idea, but of course, we’re also big fans of Dreamscape (one of our friends even worked in the art department for that Dennis Quaid classic!) So, when it comes to dream telepathy, we’re trying to find out what is real and what isn’t, what scientists have proven and what they haven’t.

In this episode, we’ll talk about the most famous dream research, from Sigmund Freud (he’s the man who really introduced dream interpretation into the modern era with his “talking cure”) to Dr. Stanley Krippner, who did dream ESP research for decades, to the latest studies that prove there’s actually something significant (even if it’s only statistically right now) more to our dreams than just a “undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, or a fragment of underdone potato”! Here’s what we cover:

For the song this week, we picked a track off our first album where “dreams”, whether they be of the “wake up in a cold sweat” kind, or of the daydreaming your future kind, can have a huge impact on your life. They can paralyze you as well as energize you. Because no matter where the dreams are coming from, you have to pay attention to them, so you don’t get stuck!

Woke up this morning paralyzed by a dream, 
Stared at my ceiling for an hour, 
Prayed a little, thought a little, then got outta bed. 
Then I went to work at nothing for what seemed like forever. 

The days turn to hours, 
the minutes race past. 
Dreams have this way with me, moving too fast. 
We danced until dawn under endless sky, 
but when I woke up, it had passed me by. 

I’m falling behind in the human race, 
cuz all of my life I’ve been running in place. 
The boys with big dreams have to pick up the pace, 
or all of our lives we’ll be running in place. 

This room looks so old and worn and beat, 
I stared out my window for an hour. 
When you have too much ambition than it’s worse than none at all, 
when you’re waiting for a sign that will never come. 

The days turn to hours, 
the minutes race past. 
Dreams have this way with of outreaching my grasp. 
We danced until dawn under endless sky, 
but when I woke up, it had passed me by. 

I’m falling behind in the human race, 
cuz all of my life I’ve been running in place. 
The boys with big dreams have to pick up the pace, 
or all of our lives we’ll be running in place.

262 – Beyond The Lost Ark: Nazis And The Occult

80 years ago this week, on September 1st, 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. 2 days later, on September 3rd, Britain and France declare war on Germany and the deadliest conflict in all of human history began. Only a little more than two decades after suffering defeat in the previous most devastating war of all time, the German people were compelled to lose another generation of young men in war as well as slaughtering millions of innocents in the Holocaust, all seduced by the racial ideology of Adolf Hitler.

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that was the movie for my generation that solidified the idea that the Nazis weren’t just conquerors determined to rule Europe, but straight up evil monsters who were seeking to use demonic forces to their advantage.

Remember the first time you saw that one Nazi’s face melt? Pure nightmare fuel.

But the idea that the evil of the Third Reich was more than just human and had a supernatural flavor wasn’t limited to Indiana Jones. 1960’s The Morning of the Magicians discussed the neo-Pagan and magical organizations that exisited in 1920s Germany. Later generations had the Wolfenstein video games which provide an alternate reality of Nazism and occult research to create an undefeatable soldier. In the comics, we got Hellboy, who was born in a Nazi ritual designed to bring about the end of the world. Even Rob Zombie used the idea of occult Nazis in his faux trailer for the movie Grindhouse, “Werewolf Women of the SS”.

Hitler strikes a pose, but was he really casting a spell?

But Nazis didn’t need the demonic to be evil. The Holocaust was not a supernatural Final Solution, it was a very human answer. It was mass murder meets the assembly line and perfected with German engineering. But what are the underpinnings that enable otherwise normal human beings to be able to commit atrocities?

That’s where the Nazis used the occult. People need something to believe in, and the Nazis manipulated Pagan legends, racial pseudo-science (that was just as prevalant in America as it was in Hitler’s Germany), ancestral hatred, and an entire country’s inferiority complex to transform an educated 2oth Century modern nation into a people complicit with genocide. Hitler weaponized belief like a Crusade and set fire to a continent.

Mythology means something and it can unify a people. Science of the early 20th Century was constantly finding ways to justity horrible behavior based on racial identity, there was a resurgence of Spiritualism at the same time (particularly after all of the corpses created during the First World War), and the German people were in need of a morale boost after a devastating loss. The seeds of the Master Race were already planted, but Hitler cultivated it and provided a path to destiny for the Third Reich. He gave a nation of millions something to believe in.

And something to kill for.

The occult was a tool in the Nazi playbook to inspire and manipulate the German people. Did they conduct demonic rituals to summon a Hellboy-style monster to destroy the world? Probably not. Did spreading the myth of an empire destined to last a thousand years while reinforcing the idea that they are genetically superior help inspire a tired people sick of war to attack their neighbors? Definitely.

The Nazis were propaganda experts, and when you seek world domination would the spiritual be any less immune to manipulation than the political? For the 80th anniversary of the Second World War, Wendy and I jump into Nazis and the Occult. Here’s some of the topics we discuss:

  • Why the Nazis were cruel to humans but kind to animals
  • How the Hindu religion and Eastern mysticism was important in the creation of the “Aryan” myth
  • Carl Jung’s psychoanalysis of Hitler and his nearly magical control over crowds when he was speaking
  • Hitler’s strange search for Noah’s Ark
  • How Nazi mysticism is the biggest holdover to modern Neo-Nazi groups alive and active in the modern Unites States

This week’s song is about tribalism which is the basis of the identity politics that inspired the Nazis. Are you defined by your DNA? Should other people be categorized by the tribe they’re born into? Are we “blood and soil”? Are we delineated by who our parents are?

When I was 17, I was friends with a group of ethnically Croatian soccer players and they were proud of starting fights with the ethnically Serbian teams. This wasn’t in Yuogslavia. This was in Wisconsin. Almost all these kids were born in Milwaukee. But they kept their ancestral hatreds alive.

When does this end? Who gets to be the group that beats on all the other ones?

This week’s song is called “Fatherland”.

Run me up the flagpole, 
I bleed red white and blue 
I’m the trueborn son of Uncle Sam 
with an eagle tattoo 
So straight white males are bad guys 
defined by what we’re born into 
so if you wanna play with DNA 
I’ve got a game for you 

It’s time we all made a stand with our tribe. 
It’s time we picked the side where we belong 
We’re all looking for a scapegoat 
And don’t we all love a good bomb? 

I pledge allegiance to the Fatherland 
the corporation for which it stands 
And I cast my vote for apathy 
and I don’t give a damn about autonomy 
If stupidity is democracy 
I hope they blow it up 
I hope they blow it all up 

If identity is destiny 
and our lives are all programmed 
Then like should stick with like I say 
or our empire will be damned 
the legacy of heroes 
a new order of the Golden Dawn 
purity, blood and soil, 
My country right or wrong. 

It’s time we all made a stand with our tribe. 
It’s time we picked the side where we belong 
We’re all looking for a scapegoat 
And don’t we all love a good bomb? 

I pledge allegiance to the Fatherland 
the corporation for which it stands 
And I cast my vote for apathy 
and I don’t give a damn about autonomy 
If stupidity is democracy 
I hope they blow it up 
I hope they blow it all up

261 – Greening The Paranormal: A New Way of Investigating with Dr. Jack Hunter

Last time we spoke with Dr. Jack Hunter, it was upon release of his book Engaging The Anomalous : Collected Essays on Anthropology, The Paranormal, Mediumship and Extraordinary Experience. He’s an anthropologist who has devoted much of his research to exploring paranormal experiences from a more holistic perspective. Instead of just searching for physical evidence in paranormal experiences, he factors everything in from the culture of the experiencer to the history of the surroundings to try and get a deeper understanding of the phenomena.

Dr. Hunter giving a presentation

Humans seem hardwired for extraordinary experiences, so why can’t we prove it? Everyone knows someone that they trust that has had some kind of strange psychic experience or seen something that they absolutely can’t explain. So why is it so hard to prove it? One theory lies in the idea that the very words “paranormal” or “supernatural” are part of the problem. Those words say that metaphysical phenomena is something outside of normal experience.

In our interview with J. Van Ysslestyne, the author of Spirits From The Edge of the World, which is a study of one of the oldest continuous cultures on the planet as well as the one that gave us the very word “Shaman”, she says that to that tribe, the very idea that we’re separate from our surroundings, our land, our ecological system, is an alien thought.

We are part of the land as much as a tree and as much as a bird and they have a spirit or an energy that we can connect with. Paranormal experiences reflect that energy and when we isolate ourselves from it, or try to study the physiology of the experience instead of what happened as a whole, we’re not getting the entire picture. When we do that, we become observers instead of participants. And being a participant seems to be essential in having a paranormal experience.

That form of belief, animism, is one of the oldest kinds of religions, and it’s less of a religion with “rules” and more of a system of belief and conduct. The idea that we’re all connected to the world around us and that spirits are in everything whether it’s an inanimate object or not is how our ancestors viewed their surroundings for much longer than we’ve had modern religion.

Okay, so in this belief system does that mean that rocks have souls? Well, maybe not like humans, but sure, they have their own type of souls. Their own type of energy and it interacts with all the other energies around it and the system itself becomes its own entity. From Bigfoot to faerie sightings to UFO encounters to ghosts, people have often experienced the extraordinary outside in nature. What does that mean?

The new book, feeling at one with his feline friend.

Well, that’s what Jack is tackling in the new book he has edited, Greening The Paranormal: Exploring The Ecology of Paranormal Experience, is a collection of essays that goes deep into the idea that everything in the world is connected. In fact, he took his inspiration from the recent trend of “Greening Religion”, which means that certain churches and faiths are becoming more interested in environmental activism because they realize that pollution and man-made climate change will destroy the wonderful planet their God has created.

And that’s part of the idea of this new book, that perhaps understanding how important nature is to our own ecstatic and spiritual experience will give us new inspiration on how to battle harmful global warming or plastics in the ocean or smog over our cities. If we destroy the system, we could destroy our paranormal connection to it. That’s all very Avatar, sure, but that doesn’t mean that tens of millennia of human nature doesn’t have some ring of truth to it.

My fellow weirdo and sister Allison Jornlin joins Jack and I in this conversation where we talk about:

  • The roots of animism in human belief
  • The modern countries where rivers have been given legal personhood(!)
  • Jack’s own paranormal experiences and how they relate to some classic legends
  • How to approach paranormal investigation from a more holistic anthropological angle
  • How we can open ourselves up more to the spirits and energy that are surrounding all of us

For the song this week, we were inspired by Chapter 9 of the new book, “Ancient Webs, Modern Webs, World Wide Web” and the idea that we’re re-creating with LTE and 5G and the already-here Internet of Things a kind of communicative web among humans and inanimate objects that’s been there all along. And when we thought about that, well, Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” was the first song that came to mind. We used a little homage to that in the lyrics to be an inspirational starting point for this episode’s Sunspot track, “The Web”.

Inside the web
it’s all alive
inside the web
we’re all aligned
from the rocks to the seas to the dirt and the trees, our pets and the breeze, our love and disease,
it’s the wifi you see with your mind’s eye
it’s the wave in the air, our line in the sky.

I can feel you
always with me.
I can hear you
when I can’t see
from the whisper in my ear
to the hair upon my neck
I know you’re somewhere out there
Inside the web.

inside the web
it’s not a trap
inside the web
it’s our wiretap
from the land to the snows, the worms and embryos, mushrooms
and rhinos, our pain and shadows,
it’s the radar love that we dreamt of,
a hidden network we’re all part of

I can feel you
always with me.
I can hear you
even when I can’t see
from the whisper in my ear
to the hair on my neck
I know you’re somewhere out there
Inside the web.

260 – Crossroads: The Devil And Robert Johnson

While he was an obscure and impoverished traveling musician while he was alive, the larger-than-life legends and posthumously released music of guitarist and singer Robert Johnson has turned him into the “King of the Delta Blues” venerated by some of the world’s greatest rock guitarists, from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones to Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

One of the only two confirmed pictures of Robert Johnson

The 81st anniversary of Robert Johnson’s death was this last Friday, August 16th, and we talked about Robert Johnson in our very first podcast episode about musicians who sold their soul to the Devil. After all, the legend that he sacrificed his soul for musical talent at the Crossroads is probably even more famous than his music. They did make a film with The Karate Kid about it!

With songs like “The Crossroads Blues” and “Hellhound On My Trail”, Johnson certainly wasn’t afraid to use some of that occult imagery in his own music and in this episode, we delve much deeper into the truth behind the Robet Johnson legend. We cover his massive influence on the musicians that would cover him and use their own occult imagery to sell records and create a mystique around their songs.

Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com joins Wendy and I as we cover these topics:

  • The real musician who told people he sold his soul to the Devil
  • The tragedies of Robert Johnson’s first two wives
  • The trickster god who lives at the Crossroads and the reason people mistake him for the Christian Devil
  • Were there two Robert Johnson’s touring the south in the 1930s and that’s why he has multiple gravestones?
  • Where he really learned his guitar tricks that made him a legend
  • The similarities between Robert Johnson and another flamboyant musician who was rumored to have made a deal with Satan, Paganini

We also talk about our appearance at the Michigan Paracon in Ste. St. Marie this weekend and we hope to see YOU there!

For the song this week, we knew that we wanted to do something bluesy but with a dark twinge. I just finished reading The Thicket by joe R. Lansdale and there’s a quote in there that really struck me:

Robert Johnson’s upbringing in the deeply religious South and the fact that anyone playing non-religious songs was playing “The Devil’s Music” reminded me of the fierce faith of the early Twentieth Century East Texan main character in The Thicket, so like Led Zeppelin borrowing from Robert Johnson, we thought we’d grab a great line from Joe Lansdale and then form a song around it.

When Johnson embraced his legend and the hardened life of women and booze of the juke joint circuit, the terrifying “Hellhound on his trail” instread becomes his faithful companion, so we inverted the idea of his song a little to make “Man’s Best Friend”.

Look back behind my shoulder 
I’m always on the run 
Look back behind my shoulder 
Is there some kind of phantom 
But Lord don’t strike me down 
I was just having fun. 

Ain’t no one keeping score 
for a broken promise 
Ain’t nobody keeping score 
for just a little weakness 
God’s a good idea 
but the Devil is us 

And every night 
in every town 
I get lost and I get found 
I tried so hard to shake this hellhound 
but he’s my best friend. 

Ain’t no one keeping score 
for a broken promise 
Ain’t nobody keeping score 
for just a little weakness 
God’s a good idea 
but the Devil is us 

And every night 
in every town 
I get lost and I get found 
I tried so hard to shake this hellhound 
but he’s my best friend.

259 – Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests

Premiering this Friday August 16th at 8pm Central on the Travel Channel, Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests features the return of one of our favorite ghost hunting crews. Based out of Atlanta, Dalen Spratt, Juwan Mass and Marcus Harvey are real-life friends who investigate paranormal claims and seach for evidence of the supernatural.

To prepare for the new season of the show, we watched a screener of the first episode as they travel to Michigan to help a family that claims an entity in their home as actually physically harmed the mother of the family living there. With a small child in the house, they’re worried about what might happen, so they call in the Ghost Brothers to investigate and see if they can help.

I watched the premiere and it’s full of the things that makes this show stand out from other paranormal reality programming. It’s the guys themselves that make it fun and while they take the investigation seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They just seem like actual human beings and their interactions with the experiencers at the house feel genuine and full of empathy. And they also play well off each other with jokes and an easy comraderie that doesn’t feel made up for a TV show. They’re definitely the ghost hunting team I’d like to have a beer with (well, I wouldn’t mind hanging out with Jack Osbourne, but I’d just pump him for stories from his dad’s heavy metal glory days.)

While the premiere is a lot of fun to watch, I always get a little wary when the show relies too much on what a psychic medium experiences for paranormal proof and I don’t always trust the SLS camera as a ghost-hunting device for actually getting paranormal evidence (it’s designed to see patterns of movement because it’s trying to capture motion for a video game, it’s like a mechanized version of Pareidolia!) But when the REM Pod goes off and all other Hell breaks loose when the team sees something, it’s a great TV moment.

Plus, the stages of the investigation make for some good drama. The first night, they investigate with the family, then the next day they go off and try to do some research around the house. The second night, the team investigates alone or with a medium, and then the next day, they go through evidence and experiences and try to provide some kind of resolution.

As we’re getting to the next wave of paranormal entertainment, it’s no longer just about validating the “haunting”, it’s about solving it for the family. Almost like a priest coming in to perform the Roman Rite on a possession, the Ghost Brothers do what they can to make the family more comfortable in their home.

The sincerity that you feel in the show seems to hold over to real life, that’s if our interview with them that you’ll hear in this episode is any indication. We talk about:

  • Their first paranormal experiences as individuals
  • What their favorite ghost hunting techniques are and what they think works the best for obtaining evidence
  • The moments in their investigations where they felt they had their own most authentic paranormal experiences

For the song this week, we couldn’t pass up a great quote from our interview with the guys. When I asked them if they ever sugarcoat their findings for the families who have to live in those houses, the answer was a quick, “We keep it real, we keep it funky. Yeah, we keep it straight funky”. That seemed like the perfect inspiration to start a song about the Ghost Brothers with. Here’s some Sunspot with “Ghost Funk”.

We keep it real, we keep it funky.
I know there’s something out there
I’ve seen too much to pretend
Well I know in my soul there never is an end
But it’s more than just a leap of faith
it’s gotta take some proof
and my EMF detector is jumping through the roof

I’m not an actor
or just here to debunk
No I came for answers
So gimme some of that ghost funk
You might play it straight
in your normal life
but when we’re on the other side
Keep it funky.

When you won’t go in the attic
or the basement all alone
We’re the team you can call on to see
who’s haunting your home
You don’t have to run out the door
or need to sell the place
We’ve got a history with mystery
and babe we’re on the case cuz

There are some things you can’t unsee
once you have touched infinity
It might stretch your reality
to know the truth that’s lying just behind the screen

I’m not an actor
or just here to debunk
No I came for answers
So gimme some of that ghost funk
You might play it straight
in your normal life
but when we’re on the other side
Keep it funky.

258 – The Ghosts of Charles Manson: Music, Mind Control, and Murder

Years after his demise in a California prison, Charles Manson is back in the news. First of all, the crimes of his “Family” provide the backdrop to the latest Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and second, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the murders, providing a grim reminder to the world of one of the twentieth century’s most brutal, infamous, and ultimately pointless killing sprees.

While the title of Tarantino’s film is yet another homage to the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western aesthetic that he aped in Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, it’s also fitting. His movie is about the end of an era for an actor, who enjoyed fame and popularity in the 60s but whose star was fading, just as Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns at the end of the decade reinvented a genre to give us violent anti-heroes and a more complicated morality of the American West than was shown in the earlier white hat versus black hat Lone Ranger-style films.

Weird figure and picture of Manson left at the site of the Spahn Ranch where his Family lived. Photo credit: Scott Markus

And that’s the symbolism of the murders committed by the Manson Family. The ’60s were such a cultural milestone because of the 60 million people born in the Baby Boom after World War II. It’s the biggest generation in American history and it’s the first generation to come to prominence with the United States being a political and economic superpower. The culture war was at its peak. It was the hippies vs. the squares, fighting the repressive sexual Puritanism of their parents, fighting against the war in Vietnam that seemed like a useless waste of life, fighting the racism and segregation laws that kept communities apart based on the color of their skin, fighting the corporate excesses and dehumanization of unbridled capitalism, etc…

Charles Manson ran a free love psychedelic cult and worked with the Beach Boys, he had long hair and a beard, spoke in poetic peacenik vocabulary, played folk songs on guitar, and claimed religious and apocalyptic revelation. He represented everything that ever terrified the parents of the Baby Boomers. He prostituted out the girls of his Family for access to Hollywood elite, he did massive amounts of drugs, and he was an ex-convict. He was the über-hippie and knowing that he engineered such carnage and waste of lives seemed to vindicate exactly what they believed about the movement. Americans celebrated a unique human and distinctly American achievement a few weeks earlier with the moon landing, now we mourned the violent ends that years of debauchery, drugs, and fornication had lead to. New Year’s Eve wasn’t for another four months, but Sharon Tate’s murder was the real end of the 60s. Charles Manson was proof that everything your square parents or local sheriff told you about hippies was right.

The abandoned home of The Family in 1969. Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

The thing about Charles Manson is that we picture him as the crazy guy with the swastika on his forehead from all the jailhouse interviews he has done since being convicted. We don’t hear the honey-voiced singer playing songs about peace, love, and “submission” on his acoustic guitar around a California campfire for impressionable young women, made even more suggestible through their rampant psychedelic drug use. He sounds terrifying and volatile, not anything like the person who dropped to his knees and kissed Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys’ feet the first time they had met and said, “Do you think I would ever hurt you, brother?”

That’s the Charles Manson who could draw people to him, that’s the “Charlie” who could convince people that he was a manifestation of Jesus Christ. After all, it was Jesus who famously washed his disciples’ feet in his most famous act of humility. And that’s the Charlie who killed nine people while never pulling a trigger or wielding a knife himself. Not a madman, but a charismatic leader of 100 souls, who could hob nob with music industry elite like the Mamas and the Papas and Neil Young or at Hollywood parties with Michael Caine, who all describe meeting him and his family members.

Here’s an important quote from former Manson Family member, Catherine Share, who didn’t engage in the murders, but did try to intimidate witnesses during Manson’s trial and eventually served five years in prison for Armed Robbery:

Never let anybody else do your thinking for you. Get your self-worth from God and from inside. If someone tells you to do everything they say and claims to have all the answers, and you find yourself nodding a lot, then you’re probably in a cult, whether it has a church’s name or is the Manson Family.

Catherine Share, Los Angeles Magazine, July 1, 2009
The LaBianca House in Los Feliz. Photo credit: Scott Markus

And of course, in a truly modern twist, Ghost Adventures’ star Zak Bagans decided to purchase one of the Manson crime scenes, the LaBianca house where a couple was killed by Family members the night after the Sharon Tate/Cielo Drive murders. He was already interested in Charles Manson, because he featured several “artifacts” like Manson’s hospital gown he died in, the TV he had in prison, and bone fragments from his ashes in his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. Bagans purchased the house for 1.8 million dollars and hasn’t yet expressed what he’s going to do with it, but announcing the purchase the same week as the Tarantino movie and just weeks before the 50th anniversary means that he timed the purchase for maximum public relations effect.

Now Zak believes these places affected by the Manson Family are haunted and we bring Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com and formerly the guide of Los Angeles Hauntings Ghost Tours to discuss the ghost stories surrounding the Spahn Movie Ranch, the Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski house at Cielo Drive (since torn down), and the LaBianca house that Bagans just purchased. Scott has investigated these areas himself and delivers his own impressions of the site in this episode. We talked with Scott about the strange premonitions that Sharon Tate herself received before her murder in Episode 230 and you can check that out right here.

It’s singalong time with Charlie…

One of the things that is often overlooked in people’s examinations of Manson is his music. Musicians were such a dominant force in the culture in the 1960s, they were considered heroes and truth tellers and that’s really where we get the idea of the “Rock Star” from. They weren’t just celebrities and artists, they were deified and their fanbase was maniacal. Manson used music to entice his followers. The subtle properties of subliminal influence in the guise of “peace and love” in his songs is insidious. We talk about that before we play our own version of the song that Manson sold to the Beach Boys, “Cease to Exist.” They recorded it as “Never Learn Not to Love You” and Manson was so incensed that they changed some of his words, he left a bullet in Dennis Wilson’s bed, so we didn’t mess with it too much!

256 – Conspiracy Theories: From Sword Of Trust to The Moon Landing

The new film Sword of Trust features a deep-dive into a fictional conspiracy theory that the South actually won the Civil War. Directed by mumblecore veteran Lynn Shelton and starring everyone’s favorite curmudgeon Marc Maron, Sword of Trust is a comedy about a couple who inherit a Confederate sword that actually proves the South won the war and their journey into tinfoil hat-land to sell the sword to the highest bidder.

Our colleague Scott Markus from What’s Your Ghost Story.com got to work the Sword of Trust red carpet at the film’s premiere at SXSW this year for the International Screenwriters’ Association and he asked the cast and crew (including director Lynn Shelton and lead Marc Maron) about what their favorite conspiracy theory was for this episode.

In addition to that fun segment, Scott joins Wendy and I for a discussion of our favorite conspiracy theories. Because of course, July 20th 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon and the idea that we faked it because we needed a big propaganda win at the end of the 60s continues to this day. Who doesn’t love this video of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin punching A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon filmmaker Bart Sibrel…

In addition to discussing the movie and the moon landing conspiracy theories, here are some of the other topics we talk about:

Because Sword of Trust features a Civil War conspiracy theory, we wanted to record a song that was popular during the era. Released in 1861, you could hear “Aura Lee” on any night around army campfires on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. You might recognize the melody because it was repurposed for Elvis’ classic, “Love Me Tender”.

As the blackbird in the spring, ‘neath the willow tree,
Sat and piped, I heard him sing; sing of Aura Lee.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee, maid with golden hair
Sunshine came along with thee, and swallows in the air.

In thy blush the rose was born, music when you spake.
Through thine azure eye, the morn, sparkling seemed to break.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee, birds of crimson wing
Never song have sung to me as in that night, sweet spring.

Aura Lee, the bird may flee the willow’s golden hair
Swing through winter fitfully, on the stormy air.
Yet if thy blue eyes I see, gloom will soon depart.
For to me, sweet Aura Lee is sunshine through the heart.

When the mistletoe was green, midst the winter’s snows
Sunshine in thy face was seen kissing lips of rose.

Aura Lee, Aura Lee, take my golden ring.
Love and light return with thee,
and swallows with the spring.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee, take my golden ring.
Love and light return with thee,
and swallows with the spring.

253 – Haunchyville: Wisconsin’s Miniature Murderers

I grew up in a tiny town called Big Bend on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While we could get to the city in less than a half an hour, it was also incredibly rural with half my fellow classmates living on farms and the rest families who had left Milwaukee proper in the migration out of the Rust Belt cities that happened in the 60s and 70s.

One of my favorite things to do was to go our for what we used to call “Fright Nights”, which is find abandoned places that had urban legends associated with them and check them out. One of my friends who often came out on Fright Nights worked in the little hamlet of Muskego, Wisconsin at a Supper Club. Muskego was only a few minutes away from Big Bend towards Milwaukee, we passed through it all the time just to go get groceries. So when he told me about a supposed village of little people that are bent on revenge, I was like “how have I never heard this story before?!” and “When are we going?!”

His workmates who went to Muskego High School told him about the legend of Haunchyville. And here’s the story as it was told to me:

Near the end of Mystic Drive in Muskego is a barn where a farmer hanged himself. Underneath the body, in the dirt, you could see many child-sized footprints all around where he was hanging. On the wall there was a message written in his own blood that said “The Haunchies made me do it. The Haunchies made me do it.” If you go down to the end of Mystic Drive, you can still see the barn and sometimes people report the phantom of a hanging body at night. And as you go down the road, you’ll see houses with small doorways and the stop signs are at a much smaller height.

The Legend of The Haunchies

What?! Of course, I wanted to check that out, so we picked a night and went out to Haunchyville to find out what we could see. It was a hot night and we parked our car before we got to the No Trespassing sign and just started walking down the road and it was mostly just an empty field. We did see a few signs that maybe were lower than normal, but nothing special and some backyard shacks, but no hanging ghost body!

As we got farther down the road, we heard a powerful scream that sounded like a gigantic bird. And that was it for me, I ran back, abandoning my friends and being a gigantic wussy for which I was mercilessly ridiculed by my friends for awhile afterwards (sigh, I deserved it!)

But we weren’t the only people who ventured down Mystic Road to Haunchyville, on the hunt for a paranormal experience (I really wanted to see the hanging body more than I wanted to see any murderous little people!) In fact, it was a popular Milwaukee area legend that started in the 1950s. And it was more than the colony of little people, there was the idea that:

  • They were former circus sideshow dwarves that murdered the ringmaster
  • They would attack you with burning torches
  • They would saw off your legs at the knees and make you live with them
  • They had a full-size protector who was an albino(!) that would fire off shotgun warnings to make you leave the land
  • The legend was invented as a front for a distillery/liquor operation during the 1920s

In this episode, we discuss the various aspects of the urban legend, as well as similiar legends throughout the United States (we tackled San Antonio’s Midget Mansion in a previous episode on location in Texas!) as well as some other Wisconsin cases with witnesses who actually claim they’ve seen groups of little people doing mysterious things.

For the song this week, what else could we call it? Let Sunspot take you to “Haunchyville”!

Going down the old farm road
and you’re not alone
there’s something in the cornfield
Are you fast enough to outrun
an albino with a shotgun
He’s got a secret he ain’t gonna reveal

watch out for the little guys
they’ll cut you down to size
you don’t want to pursue it
the haunchies made me do it
Trespass on Mystic Drive
now you’re playing with your life
no one will hear your cries
When they drag you straight to Hell
don’t go down to Haunchyville

You should have stayed away
and now their debt has been repaid
a trail of tiny footprints left in the mud
You might hear their evil laughter
when you’re hanging from the rafters
there’s a message for you written in blood

watch out for the little guys
they’ll cut you down to size
you don’t want to pursue it
the haunchies made me do it
Trespass on Mystic Drive
now you’re playing with your life
no one will hear your cries
When they drag you straight to Hell
watch out for the little guys
they’ll cut you down to size
you don’t want to pursue it
the haunchies made me do it
Trespass on Mystic Drive
now you’re playing with your life
no one will hear your cries
When they drag you straight to Hell
don’t go down to Haunchyville
don’t go down to Haunchyville
don’t go down to Haunchyville
When they drag you straight to Hell
don’t go down to Haunchyville

251 – Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me: Aladdin and the Truth About The Djinn

In Disney’s race to re-monetize every single piece of their intellectual property, they’re recreating their best animated films as live-action movies. They’ve already done Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and Dumbo and used their unlimited checkbook to snag directors like Kenneth Branagh and Tim Burton to do it. They’ve finally come to the only Disney film that I actually liked (I know, I’m a total hater), Aladdin and they somehow thought that the director of the wonderful London petty crime drama, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels would be perfect for a story about a Middle Eastern orphan who meets Wil Smith, the magic genie.

Welcome to Earf!

Much of the discussion about the film is related to how Will Smith is going to fill Robin Williams’ shoes in a role that was specifically made for the deceased comedian, or the original pictures of Will Smith in blue made him look kinda silly, but now that the film hit Number One at the box office and made hundreds of millions of dollars, no one’s really making fun of it anymore. Which means we should probably get to the real issue: genies aren’t friendly magical wish-granting buddies who are charming like Robin Williams or sexy like Barbara Eden, their history is much darker as a race of beings known as the Djinn.

The Djinn are mentioned in the Koran as beings made of “smokeless fire” who were created before humankind. They have Free Will just like humans and when God created humans, he asked the Djinn to be subservient to us. The Djinn, specifically the most powerful among them, Iblis, said “Hell No!” and they took off to their own dimension where they live alongside us only to come into our lives and mess with our affairs.

Now, we’ve talked before about the Yazidi, who believe that Iblis eventually got back in God’s good graces, but in traditional Islamic folklore, he’s the most powerful and evil of the Djinn and he’s plotting humanity’s downfall. But he’s not the only one, there’s an entire hierarchy and variety of Djinn that we talk about in this episode.

In a previous episode, we also talked about how King Solomon used what medieval Biblical scholars considered demons to build the first temple of Jerusalem), but the Koran says, nope, it was the Djinn.

We also get into more about The Thousand And One Arabian Nights where the story of Aladdin came from (hint: it’s not an ancient Middle Eastern tale) and how that book first brought to the Western World by a Frenchman in the early Eighteenth Century basically shaped our ideas about the djinn for the past several centuries.

Much like demons, the story is that the Djinn can possess humans and cases aren’t just limited to the Arabic-speaking world, there’s lots of cases in the United Kingdom) and sometimes they don’t just want to possess your soul and make you burn in Hell with the Devil, it’s because they’ve fallen in love with you!

Some of the names of Djinn are the same as the different gods in pre-Islamic Pagan religions in the Middle East, like Baal who was the Canaanite god of fertility or Pazuzu, the Mesopotamian lord of the wind, who would eventually be used to great effect as the demon who possesses Regan McNeil in The Exorcist.

So Christianity and Islam are much alike in the way that as they spread throughout their various continents, Christianity through Europe and Islam through the Middle East, they took the original gods of the people they were converting and turned them into supernatural enemies of the one true God. And you can’t really argue with the logic, it’s a great way to cement the belief of the people you’re trying to assimilate. Don’t tell them that they’re gods are bullSh!t but tell them that their gods are real, however they’ve been tricked into believing the gods are good when they’re actually evil.

So the Djinn become a catch-all for any kind of paranormal activity in Islamic culture, from rocks being thrown out of nowhere (classic Poltergeist activity) to spirit possession to weird things happening around the house like manifestations that we would consider ghostly activity. And it all works because the Djinn are right there in the theology. They’re listed in the holy book, so

I made fun of Rosemary Ellen Guiley when she was on her Djinn kick a few years back,  because she seemed to put everything on the Djinn, from Shadow People to alien abductions. I thought it was goofy, but in the format of Islam, that’s completely accurate.

It’s not part of the Koran that dead people come back as ghosts, but the Djinn are, and they’re shapeshifters that can take the form of our dead relatives. Of course, you use Djinn to explain the paranormal or when you see something weird.

It’s like when we connect faerie lore with alien abduction and poltergeist activity or Bigfoot to accounts of high strangeness. Yes, faeries ain’t like Tinkerbell, and Djinn aren’t like Barbara Eden (which breaks my heart), they’re part of something much stranger. The Djinn are just another way that us humans are trying to explain our relationship with events that we cannot find a terrestrial explanation for.

For the song this week, let Wendy and I show you “A Whole New World”!