Monday, April 09, 2018

Fortean A to Z: Ghosts or Spirits?

What is a ghost?

Sometimes called an apparition, haunt, phantom, poltergeist, shade, specter, spectre, spirit, spook, or wraith, ghosts have generally been considered to be the spirit of a dead person in modern times. But are they?

Looking at the origins of the word ghost, one can trace it all the way back to the Latin spiritus--a word meaning "breath" and which referred to a non-corporeal being. Spiritus is distinguished from the Latin anima which meant soul

Turning to one of our oldest books on the subject, the Bible, we learn that ghosts and spirits abound in ancient times, and were accepted as real. But they were not the souls of the departed. In fact, the Bible is quite adamant that the dead do not return:

As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, Nor shall his place know him anymore.
--Job 7:9-10

For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.
--Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.
--Psalm 146:4

While these verses tell us that spirits are not our former loved ones, other passages warn us that the immaterial are indeed very real:

And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter.’ Should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 
--Isaiah 8:19

Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
--Leviticus 19:31

And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,
And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.
And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
--Mark 5:1-13

Yes, spirits were very much real in the old world. What were these spirits reported around the world, for all of recorded human history? Again, the Bible offers us an explanation:

So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 
--Revelation 12:9

But what of the many reports of ghosts--the dearly departed--communicating with the living?

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
--2 Corinthians 11:14-15

In our modern day and age, many believe in "ghosts" but not necessarily in evil spirits. Is it because they are clinging to the hope of an afterlife? If so, why not believe the Bible and the afterlife it promises, not here, but somewhere better?


Friday, April 06, 2018

Fortean A to Z: Frauds of Fortune

Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.

--Leviticus 19:31

The Bible is a great source of daily wisdom, spiritual growth, and historical accounts. In it are a lot f surprising things: dinosaurs, ghosts, and witches. 

As the verse above shows, there were indeed "psychics" in the past. I say were, because while there still may be some authentic speakers-to-the-otherside these days, in fact, most so-called mediums are actually Extra Large Frauds. 

In the old days, mediums chatted up unseen spirits, or submitted to possession, to gain special knowledge of future events. As time went by, however, the "profession" changed. 

In the 1990s, Youree Dell Harris started working for the Psychic Readers Network. YOu might remember her as "Miss Cleo". Harris appeared as an infomercial psychic, claiming she was a mystical shaman from Jamaica. PRN also claimed on their website that she had been born and raised in Trelawny, Jamaica. 

If you don't remember how it worked, callers dialed up the PRN and had pschic readings over the phone. That's quite a leap from palm-reading or holding hands in a dark, candle lit room as so many did in the 1800s. 

In 2001, Access Resource Services (doing business as Psychic Readers Network) was sued in  Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and by the Federal Communications Commission.

In 2002, the company was charged by the Federal Trade Commission (along with company owners Steven Feder and Peter Stotz) with deceptive advertising, billing, and collection practices. A settlement was reached wherein the Psychics erased $500 million of debt from gullible victims. ARS was also fined $5 million.

You see, Miss Cleo, along with her employers, was a complete fraud. She didn't have any psychic powers. No demonic creatures took over her body or whispered supernatural secrets in her ear (the one not pressed against the phone). 

Cleo was actually born in Los Angeles and raised in a Catholic Caribbean family. She attended an all-girls boarding school. After marrying at age 19, she gave birth to a daughter, then divorced at age 21. She later had a second daughter. In 1996, she and a partner opened a theatrical production company in Seattle Washington. 

Her final production in Seattle, in 1997, ended dismally, with some of her cast members claiming to have never been paid, and reporting Harris had claimed to have bone cancer. She even was alleged to have used her imaginary condition as an excuse for not paying anyone, claiming to have excessive medical bills. 

Miss Cleo is not alone in the fraudulent fortune telling business. In 2016, in Mentor, Ohio, a psychic studio owner, Gina B. Miller, was indicted engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, five counts of aggravated theft, six counts of grand theft, two counts of theft, one count of identity theft, 10 counts of telecommunications fraud and three counts of securing writings by deception.

Miller was alleged to have stolen more than $1.5 million from eleven victims. It was further alleged she had threatened her victims' families if she was not paid. 

2002, California--two self-described psychics were indicted on Federal mail fraud charges after persuading people to pay them to be cleared of bad karma.

2006, Connecticut--two psychics tell a woman God was going to kill her unless she paid them to perform various rituals on her behalf.

2013, New York City--con artists running the bujo scam targeted Asian immigrants, infliting "curses" designed around Chinese folk religion on their victims. 

The list goes on and on, but the point is clear: Fortune telling is more fraud than Fortean in  our modern era. The idea of the fortune teller being a seedy criminal is so pervasive and long-lasting it continues to inspire works of fiction embracing the concept.

Despite the obvious evidence that these occult observers are more charlatan than clairvoyant, people will continue to flock to them, desperate to catch a glimpse of what the future may hold. And that is far more mysterious than any medium could ever hope to be. 


You (Don't) Get What You Paid For

This is a lesson in bargain shopping on

So, last night, I spent hours shopping for a new holster for one of my handguns. I chanced upon a holster that can accommodate full-sized handguns made by a company called OneTigris. The price was right--that is, cheap, so I ordered one.

Now, keep in mind, I only needed this holster for range trips. It's for a handgun I don't carry around all the time, or I'd spring for a quality Bianchi or Uncle Mike's. But since this was for plinking, I decided to save some money. I also decided that since it was only a few dollars more, I'd forego the free "two day" shipping Amazon offers Prime members, and get next-day delivery, to ensure my holster would be here in time for my Saturday range trip.

Friday night, "by 8PM" came and went. No holster. I logged onto Amazon and found out that my delivery was "delayed" and shipping was expected for April 7th to 10th". Say what?

I called into, and spoke to one of their untouchables posing as an American. I explained my package hadn't arrived, and that I wanted my express shipping fees refunded.

"Oh, I am sorry, sir, but we cannot do that. It is still friday. We cannot process your refund until tomorrow."

That is complete horsesh*t. It not only shows how much of a scam Prime is, but it also reveals a lot about OneTigris, the manufacturer of the holster in question. I'd never heard of them before, but there were a lot of fake 5-star reviews up for the holster, which led to me buying it.

If a company can't manage to send something overnight in this modern day and age, then clearly, they don't know what they'r doing. It's a nylon holster, not a concrete block. How hard could it really be to Fedex that?

Outsourcing to China to manufacture cr*p to save a few coins is one thing, but if you can't manage to ship your products out, then I don't trust you or your junk.

Order cancelled, never buying from "OneTrigis" again.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Fortean A to Z: El Chupacabra

By now, anyone in Fortean circles has heard of El Chupacabra. The creature has appeared on an episode of the X-Files, has it's on movie, and even has a killer song dedicated to it by the Wisconsin Fortean band, Sunspot

In March 1995,  eight sheep were discovered dead in Puerto Rico, with three puncture wounds in the chest area, completely drained of blood. The legend of the goat sucker was born. 

Over the next few months, the modern mythological creature's victims grew and an eyewitness, Madelyne Tolentino, had the first sighting of the creature in the town of Canóvanas. The creature has been described as a reptile-like creature, with leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back.Estimated to be 3 to 4 feet tall, it is reputed to stand and hop like a kangaroo.

The creature's name, El Chupacabra, is attributed to Puerto Rican comedian Silverio Pérez. 

In addition to Puerto Rico, incidents involving the goat sucker were reported in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Brazil, United States, and Mexico.

It should be noted that in 1975, long before the beast had its name, similar killings in the small town of Moca were attributed to El Vampiro de Moca ("The Vampire of Moca").These were at first blamed on a Satanic cult. Later, more killings were reported and many farms reported loss of animal life. 

While many investigated El Chupa, the most significant events in the story of this strange cryptid happened in 2011, when the beast was shot and killed in Texas. An examination of the corpse revealed what had actually been shot was a coyote with a severe case of mange. This has happened multiple times over the years.

Benjamin Radford conducted a five year investigation of El Chupa sightings, documented in his book Tracking the Chupacabra. Radford concluded that this was a case of life imitating art-- Madelyne Tolentino;s description bore an uncanny resemblance to that of the creature Sil from the science-fiction horror film Species, released in the same year. 

University of Michigan biologist Barry O'Connor concluded in 2010 that all U.S. chupacabra reports were simply coyotes infected with Sarcoptes scabiei, the symptoms of which would explain the reported appearance of the chupacabra; little fur, thickened skin, and rank odor. O'Connor further theorized attacks on goats occurred "because these animals are greatly weakened, they're going to have a hard time hunting. So they may be forced into attacking livestock because it's easier than running down a rabbit or a deer."

For a more indepth history of this modern mytholgical creature, listen to Episode #24 of the Fortean podcast "Otherside Podcast". 

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Fortean A to Z: Dog-Faced Men

His name was Saint Christopher, and legend holds that he was a dog-faced man. 

Venerated in the Catholic Church, the man who would one day become a saint was purported to have the head of a dog--a member of a race of giants who ate human flesh. During his time, it was accepted that several races existed in the world, including the Chananeans, a dog-headed people. 

The German Bishop (and poet) Walter of Speyer told the story of how Christopher met the Christ child and regretted his former ways, accepting Baptism and receiving a human appearance. Christopher then devoted his life to Christian service, eventually becoming a Saint. 

Does this mean there actually were a race of Dog-headed people in the world?

There was a widespread belief in cynocephaly (having the head of a dog or jackal) in the ancient world--and not just Anubis. The Greek physician Ctesias wrote in the 5th Century BC of cynocephali in India--the Indica. The Greek traveler Megasthenes also report a dog-headed people in India who lived in the mountains--barking and wearing the skins of wild animals. Herodotus reported claims from ancient Libyans of similar creatures inhabiting their eastern lands. The Buddhist missionary Huisheng described an island of dog-headed east of Fusang. Li Yanshou, a Tang dynasty historian, also spoke of a 'dog kingdom'.

These are but a few of the historical accounts of dog-headed men. There is also the legend of werewolves. And then there's hypertrichosis: a condition that causes hair to grow from the face--all of the face. Sufferers aren't just footnotes in circus history: people today still suffer from the condition that could indeed cause one to be mistaken for an animal. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Fortean A to Z: Champ

When it comes to lake monsters, most people probably think of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. But there are actually a number of lake monsters around the world--like Champ. 

Champ (also known as Champy) is the nickname of the Lake Champlain monster. Lake Champlain is a 125-mile-long fresh water lake between New York and Vermont. 

There have been over 300 reported sightings of Champ over the years. Legends of the creature(s) date back to Native Americans in the region--both the Iroquois and the Abenaki spoke of the creature; the latter calling it "Tatoskok".

The founder of Québec and the lake's namesake, Samuel de Champlain allegedly claimed to have sighted Champ in 1609. Champlain described it as a  "20-foot serpent thick as a barrel, and a head like a horse." However, the accuracy of this story is questioned, and many believe it a fabrication to further the legend of the region's own lake monster. 

In 1819 a "Capt. Crum" reported sighting an enormous serpentine monster estimated to be about 187-feet long. He further claimed to have witnessed it being followed by "two large Sturgeon and a Bill-fish". He described it as having three teeth and eyes the "color of peeled onions". He also described it having "a belt of red" around its neck and a white star on its forehead.

Today, the Champ legend continues, with the creature serving as a mascot for local sports team, and several businesses using an imagined image of the creature for tourism. 

Just what is Champ? A prehistoric remnant, amphibious dinosaur? Or maybe an illusion?

One of the most common skeptical theories for lake monsters is misidentification. Sightings of long, sinuous creatures mving through the water are often revealed to be merely a wake caused by subsurface currents. Logs and other debris floating in the water can play tricks on the eyes, making an observer think they see something that isn't there. For this theory to hold true--that Champ is nothign more than an illusion--one would expect to see Lake Monsters around the world. Which is entirely true: Nessie and Champ are joined by Caddy (Cadboro Bay, British Columbia) and Ogopogo (Okanagan Lake, British Columbia). 

Then again, maybe there is an undiscovered species of sea and lake creature heretofore undiscovered by modern man...

On March 21, 2018, it was reported across the internet that a strange creature resembling a prehistoric creature had been found on a Georgia beach

Was this an actual, undiscovered carcass, or a hoax? Only time will tell...

Monday, April 02, 2018

Fortean A to Z: The Black Boar

Among the many unusual things I've seen in my life that might fall into the Fortean category is the story of the black boar. 

It was 1991, and I was stationed at Rhein Main Airbase, in Frankfurt, Germany, serving as a member of the USAF Security Police. On the day in question, I was posted at a gate on the west side of the base--possibly the most remote, and unused corner of the base.

As I sat in the gateshack, listening to Armed Forces radio one evening, I looked up and saw a pair of boars come out of the woods outside the perimeter fence. They were like so many other boars I’d seen in the region: about the size of a medium-sized dog, maybe two feet tall at the shoulders, if that. They were brown in color, and trotted long at a brisk pace, crossing the road outside my locked gate, headed north, toward the airport.

A few moments later, after the small boars had vanished into the thin patch of woods northwest of my location, I saw an entirely different boar come out of the woods.

The black boar was three or four times the size of any other boar I’d seen in and around Frankfort. He was jet black, with a single tuft of white hair, several inches long, extending from the highest point of his back—a point I estimated to be about three or even three-and-a-half-feet long.

My jaw dropped at the sight of the black boar—I hadn’t ever seen one like that before (not that I’d seen many boars in my life). This boar didn’t hurry across the road like the smaller ones a few moments before. Instead, he paced slowly outside the fence, walking alongside the closed car gate, as if examining it to see if he could come on base.

I tensed, more than a little nervous, and put my hand on my holstered service pistol, wondering if my 9mm M9 would even be able to stop such an enormous beast. My apprehension was no doubt due to one of my friends in the unit who had tried to impress upon me how dangerous boars could be, and who had recounted many a boar-hunting story from his native Texas.

The black boar and I stared at each other as it went by. The sun was behind the trees now, and there was just enough light to make out details on the beast. It truly was jet-black, completely unlike the mottled shades of brown and gray of the other boars I’d seen in the area. I edged my way toward my gateshack. 

A few more moments passed and the black boar continued to follow the fenceline, entering the thin patch of trees that grew outside of our perimeter fence, stretching north of the access road from the airport. In the dim light he stood out boldly from the gray trees and brush, a great, black shadow, sauntering along, unafraid of anything.

I let out a sigh of relief, thinking to myself how glad I was that the gate had been closed.
Almost as if on cue, the boar veered to the right, now about a hundred feet away—north-northwest of my position—and passed through the perimeter fenceline.

I imagine my jaw dropped, as the fencing around the base was supposed to be secure enough to keep even the rabbits and other small game out—the Air Force is very serious about keeping animals off the runways where they could damage aircraft. Yet this enormous boar walked through the fenceline as if it wasn’t there. It took several more steps, then vanished behind a particularly thick patch of brush on base, north of my gateshack. 

I retreated to the gateshack, closing the door after me. Try as I might, I could not see the boar at all. I wondered if it had been a trick of the light--and remembered how it hadn't appeared to walk through the fence until after I'd thought how glad I was there was a fence between us. 

Still, a hole in the fence was pretty serious. I called for a patrol to come relieve me for a bathroom break. When the patrol arrived, I recounted my story and asked to go check the fence out. My request was denied, and after I relieved myself in the nearby woods, the patrol left the area.

For many years, I have wondered about this black boar, so unlike any other boar I saw in Germany, and about how it silently passed through a tall security fence and vanished so completely from sight. In the years since this incident, I’ve read about black dog sightings near cemeteries, and I have to wonder if what I saw really was a boar, or perhaps something else?

The beast had looked real enough--I could make out the black hair covering its hide as it went by. And I've since learned that boars can get much, much larger.

After experiencing this unusual animal first hand--something I was completely unfamiliar with--I can see how many times people see something and imagine it as something else. 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Fortean A to Z: ALIEN BIG CATS

It's one of my personal favorite topics when it comes to the Fortean field of cryptids: Alien Big Cats.

What is an alien big cat? It's not a little green kitty from another planet with an underactive thyroid and a penchant for cow meat. It's an out-of-place feline, sighted in areas where it just can't be.

I first began reading about ABCs back in the late 1990s. As I looked into the very interesting sighting of large felines slinking around the UK, I was surprised to learn this was no Sasquatch search, but rather a series of very credible sightings--and even some trophies. 

In 1903, a Canadian Lynx was actually shot in Devon, and is even now part of the collection of the Bristol Museum 

In 1980, a puma was captured in Scotland by farmer Ted Noble following several years of sightings. 

In 1989, 1991, and 1994, alien non-indigenous cats were confirmed (the animals' bodies found after death) in Shropshire, Norfolk and the Isle of Wight.

Larger, black cats were photographed and capture on video throughout the 1990s, including the Beast of Bodmin and the Fen Tiger (Cambridgeshire).

Things took a decidedly darker turn when in 2000, when an 11-year-old boy in Monmouthshire was attacked by a reported large black cat that left him with five long claw marks across his left cheek. 

In 2005, a South-east Londoner was attacked outside his home, leaving him with scratches all over his body. 

These and many other reports show that England does indeed have Alien Big Cats--and unlike Bigfoot, they're dangerous. 

So what exactly is going on?

Unlike the modern mythological Black Dog, ABCs may have a much more plausible explanation, and it involves the Dangerous and Wild Animals Act of 1976. In a nutshell, it became illegal to own bobcats, caracals, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, lynxs, ocelots, pumas, servals, tigers without special licensing. The theory has been put forward that people owning these cats may have simply released them into the wild, where they could have mated and thrived, creating a small population of alien big cats that have become more and more common in news reports from around the country. 

But before you breathe a sigh of relief that only our friends in the UK need worry, keep in mind that phantom cats have been seen around the world, including Australia and the United States.