Before the links, a brief screed that arose spontaneously from some well in my psyche:
If you’re a writer or another type of creator, never compare your gift to that of others. Your particular gift of vision, subject matter, passion, skill level, style, approach, and the life circumstances in which these all exist and unfold neither gains nor suffers through comparison. Just write or create what you have to write or create, and do it in whatever way you’re inexorably called and driven to do it. Do the necessary inner and outer work of finding out exactly what those things are (your personal subject matter and style). Then make good on them.
(A brief gnostic/cryptic aside on “having to” create: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” – Jesus, Thomas 70)
And while you’re at it, enjoy the hell out of it whenever you see other people doing the same. Their gains aren’t your losses, and vice versa. It’s not a zero-sum game. When you live out your creative calling, you’re part of the rising tide that elevates everybody.
From the Illuminati to Alex Jones, how did conspiracy theories come to dominate American culture? “[S]omething new . . . has transformed the conspiratorial landscape: conspiracism — a mental framework, a belief system, a worldview that leads people to look for conspiracies, to anticipate them, to link them together into a grander overarching conspiracy. Conspiracism has been building for some time, and by now it appears to have emerged as the belief system of the 21st century. “
On the danger of off-loading human memory onto machines: “A new kind of civilisation seems to be emerging, one rich in machine intelligence, with ubiquitous access points for us to join in nimble artificial memory networks. . . . But dependency on a network also means taking on new vulnerabilities. The collapse of any of the webs of relations that our wellbeing depends upon, such as food or energy, would be a calamity. Without food we starve, without energy we huddle in the cold. And it is through widespread loss of memory that civilisations are at risk of falling into a looming dark age.”
Synthetic biology could bring a pox on us all. “There’s no telling when a manufactured disease will become a reality. If that occurs, the culprit might be a lab-trained terrorist or a basement biohacker, a bumbling grad student or a Russian microbiologist on the lam.”
Beware the panopticon in your pocket. “You’re not using the phone; the phone is using you. The smartphone is a Trojan horse, and you are Pavlov’s dog. The machine studies you with an alien’s eye, serving you with injections of warmth and affection (grandchildren, frolicking dogs) in order to suck out information, assembling a dossier — noting where you have been, what you have said, what you have bought and thought, your very footsteps and heartbeats — reproducing you as a useful commercial or political object, as if in a 3-D printer. . . . It’s not entirely paranoid to assume that, not far down the road, smartphones and electronic appliances may fulfill old science-fiction fantasies by figuring out what we are thinking or even dreaming, and that the thought or dream — unless it is of an approved nature—will be enough to condemn us. Intellectual endoscopy, why not? Privacy of mind, an atavism already under siege, will vanish.”
Also beware the mindfulness conspiracy. “Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. . . . [But n]eoliberal mindfulness promotes an individualistic vision of human flourishing, enticing us to accept things as they are, mindfully enduring the ravages of capitalism.”
A question raised by recent startling reports from mainstream outlets such as Politico and The Washington Post: What the hell is going on with UFOs and the Department of Defense? “Someone or something appears to have some extremely advanced technology and the Pentagon is actively changing the nature of the conversation about it.”
The Navy says UFOs are real. UFO hunters are thrilled. “So why is no one freaking out about these revelations making front page news? As UFO author Chris Rutkowski once explained, perhaps it is because we have become acclimatized to seeing UFOs invading Earth in books and on screen. Whether you are of the Spielberg generation, watching a candy eating E.T., or a millennial who grew up watching The Avengers fight off hordes of evil intergalactic aliens, we are used to seeing this archetypal other in our media. UFOs, as a result, have become much less frightening and perhaps much more interesting. Have we negotiated UFOs into our cultural framework and identity?”
Alien Abductions, Flying Saints, and Parapsychology: Grappling with the “Super Natural”(paywall). An article (not free, alas) in the academic journal Religious Studies Review on Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Strieber’s The Super Natural, Michael Grosso’s The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation, and my Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies. “[These three works] raise questions about exactly which questions scholars studying the paranormal ought to be asking. . . . Ultimately, Kripal, Strieber, Grosso, and Cardin dare us to take their work and the ‘super natural’ seriously.”
Exorcism goes mainstream: Combined Churches assemble in Rome to learn “best practice” eviction of demons: “The Roman Catholic Church has for the first time opened up its annual exorcism class in Rome to representatives of all major Christian faiths. . . . [T]he doors of the 14th Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation Course have been thrown open to groups once considered heretical and demon-infested only a few short centuries ago. Now some 250 Catholics, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox and Protestant priests have assembled to arm themselves with the sword of the holy word to battle Satan amid the souls of their parishoners.”
On forgetting how to read in the Internet age: “For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic — and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.”
Missives from another world: Literature of parallel universes. “Alternate history functions to do what the best of literature more generally does — provide a wormhole to a different reality. . . . We are haunted by our other lives, ghosts of misfortune averted, spirits of opportunities rejected, so that fiction is not simply the experience of another [person’s thoughts and viewpoint], but a deep human connection with those differing versions on the paths of our forked parallel lives.”
YOU ARE NOT ALONE: A Conversation with Christopher Ropes on Stigmas, Writing, and Mental Illness. “Writing is not easy for me to begin with because I dredge up all my own demons in my stories. When you have mental health issues, you have some pretty terrifying demons to encounter. I think we all face down those demons to some extent in our writing, even those writers who are writing more to entertain than to create an abiding sense of terror or awe. Human life is a process of coming to terms with those things that frighten and hurt us. I just go through that process in a very raw way that can sometimes actually damage me more in the process. . . . Possibly the best reason for creating art for mentally ill creators is that some other mentally ill person can look at, listen to, read, watch that art and say, ‘Someone out there sees me, hears me. I am not alone.’ Never underestimate that power.”
Speaking of books, reading, writing, and horror fiction, now see this: Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, “an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate. Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new.” Featuring stories by Ramsey Campbell, Michael Wehunt, Christine Morgan, Richard Gavin, Kristine Ong Muslim, Nicholas Day, Austin James, William Tea, Duane Pesice, S. L. Edwards, Matthew M. Bartlett, S. E. Casey, Justin A. Burnett, Daulton Dickey, C. P. Dunphey, and Jon Padgett. Introduction by Christopher Slatsky.
The following two paragraphs are excerpted from what’s basically your everyday, run-of-the-mill article about the reality of demonic possession as distinct from mental illness. Written by a board-certified psychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. For The Washington Post.
Move along. Nothing to see here.
For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness – which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.
Is it possible to be a sophisticated psychiatrist and believe that evil spirits are, however seldom, assailing humans? Most of my scientific colleagues and friends say no, because of their frequent contact with patients who are deluded about demons, their general skepticism of the supernatural, and their commitment to employ only standard, peer-reviewed treatments that do not potentially mislead (a definite risk) or harm vulnerable patients. But careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way.
Here’s Alexander De Foe, a Ph.D. candidate in Psychological Studies at Monash University, writing for Australia’s respected online news site The Conversation and asserting the importance of non-judgmental psychological help for people who have suffered from traumatic paranormal experiences:
The therapy room should be a place where clients feel safe and comfortable talking about anything. But some people are reluctant to discuss their paranormal experiences for fear of judgement, ridicule, or that they will be incorrectly diagnosed with a mental disorder. Many practitioners challenge the validity of their client’s [sic] claims rather than focusing on the emotional significance particular experiences might bear. Part of the issue may be therapists’ rigid perspectives on paranormal phenomena — they tend to err on the side of diagnosis rather than hearing clients out and exploring a client’s inner world.
It is the role of the therapist to encourage their clients to talk about their experiences, rather than jumping to a diagnosis or criticism about the validity of their claims. In many cases, their paranormal accounts relate to spiritual, rather than pathological, experiences and exploring the symbolic nature of the accounts may be more beneficial than focusing on a diagnosis.
. . . There is good reason to be sceptical of claims about the paranormal. After all, rates of fraud are quite high, with proclaimed psychic tarot card readers and mediums profiting from unsuspecting clients. Organisations such as the Australian Skeptics have attempted to counter such fraud by offering A$100,000 to anyone who can demonstrate psychic ability under controlled conditions. Yet, our mainstream scientific understanding of human consciousness is by no means complete. There is still much argument among researchers about what constitutes “normal” and “abnormal” or “altered” states of consciousness.
. . . Regardless of the opinions one has about the potential existence of a paranormal reality, it is important to understand the subjective significance of altered states of consciousness.
The Teeming Brain explores news, trends, and developments in religion, horror, science fiction, fantasy, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, and culture. It also tracks apocalyptic and dystopian trends in science, technology, politics, ecology, economics, the media, the arts, education, and society at large. Its founder and primary author is Matt Cardin.
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"[Dark Awakenings is] a thinking-man's book of the macabre...Cardin's tales are rich with references to Lovecraft, Nietzsche, and other writers whose work gives them unusual philosophic depth." – Publishers Weekly
“Matt Cardin ranks among the foremost authors of contemporary American horror.” – Laird Barron
“It’s a bold writer who, in this day and age, tries to make modern horror fiction out of theology, but Cardin pulls it off.” – Darrell Schweitzer
“In the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft, Cardin's accomplishments as a writer are paralleled by his expertise as a literary critic and theorist.” – Thomas Ligotti
“Matt Cardin is one of those rare horror authors who is also a true scholar and intellectual.” – Jack Haringa
FOR RICHARD GAVIN:
"Literate horror fans who have yet to encounter Canadian author Richard Gavin are in for a treat. The lyrical prose is often at a higher level than usual presentations of otherworldly demons and malevolent forces." – Publishers Weekly
"Richard Gavin is one of the bright new stars in contemporary weird fiction. His richly textured style, deft character portrayal, and powerful horrific conceptions make every one of his tales a pleasure to read." – S. T. Joshi
"Gavin's storytelling can be masterly. As with Machen and Blackwood at their best, an epiphany or illumination is achieved, though Gavin's mysticism is darker and distinctly his own." – Wormwood
FOR STUART YOUNG:
"No one can accuse Stuart Young of avoiding the big issues -- with insight and verve, he tackles head-on the existence of God, the mystery of human consciousness and the transformative effects of psychedelic drugs." – Mark Chadbourne
"Wow, what an impressive story ... [The Mask Behind the Face is] ambitious, in fact downright audacious." – T.E.D. Klein