I have always been interested in monsters. They are compelling subject matter. Upon them, our various cultures have placed blame and hatred, and we use them to build up societal rules, norms and paradigms. They are our antithesis, that which humans attempt to subvert or kill, yet they are also a reflection of humanity itself, as many famous works of literature remind us, we ourselves suffer from being monsters. Monsters, in every iteration ranging from aliens to yetis, challenge us not only physically, but philosophically.
Two years ago, I was told about the work of Dr. Jeffrey Kripal, a professor of Religion and Philosophy at Rice University. For those who are unaware of his genius, he regularly dabbles in the world of monsters, ghosts and aliens. In an essay from 2014 concerning Whitley Strieber’s famous book Communion, he wrote,
“And what of real monsters? By ‘real’ I do not mean to point to some future biological taxon. I do not think that we will someday shoot a Sasquatch or net the Loch Ness Monster. By real I mean quite simply ‘really experienced,’ I mean ‘phenomenologically actual.’ I mean to remind us that many people, including many modern people, have experienced monsters not as ‘discourses’ or as cultural ‘deconstructions,’ but as actual incarnate, discarnate, or quasi-incarnate beings.”
Kripal raises a compelling idea; a monster that is not objective or subjective, but objective AND subjective. It exists in a dualistic state, it is fact and fiction. Real and not real. A psychosocial construct that is as physical as the smartphone in your hand or the computer you are looking at.
This is not a new idea, if anything, it is ancient. Even William Shakespeare points out in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that,
“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
The point, I suppose, is that monsters are everywhere and nowhere. They haunt us from the gaps which form between the mind, culture and the physical objective world.
Several days ago, I was given the opportunity to view Seth Breedlove’s latest monster documentary, The Bray Road Beast. Originally, I promised Mr. Breedlove a film review. After seeing the film however, I wish to deal with the broader philosophical messages the film raises. That being said, I want to appease Mr. Breedlove as he deserves credit for an excellent film.
The film itself is a great investigation into the story surrounding a large upright dog-like creature, a werewolf if you will, which has appeared multiple times in and around Elkhorn, Wisconsin. A rash of sightings in the early nineties along the quiet rural Bray road was investigated by reporter Linda Godfrey, who today, enjoys great fame and accolade for her books concerning various other monster stories (many of essential reading if you ask me). The film features great interviews with Godfrey herself, multiple witnesses, and other investigators. It also has some hair-raising reenactments and computer-generated scenes which helps the viewer visualize the events. Breedlove works with a shoestring budget, but his expert ability to tell a story and use a camera makes the film look spectacular. The narrative keeps the viewer engaged, and strangely nervous that the beast, whatever it may be, is waiting just out of sight. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and any fan of the paranormal will too. It tells a great story with some really interesting new pieces of evidence.
Can we get back to some theory now?
The film reminds us that the lines between real and mythological, human and monster, are incredibly tenuous. It matters little if the Beast of Bray Road is real; if enough people “see” it, talk about it, and tell stories about it, the beast begins to haunt us in a very real way. This is where the film is successful. It assumes that nothing ought to be taken for granted.
Depending on your personal philosophical bend, reality itself tends to work along a similar vein. The world around us, our daily lives, are a symbiotic blend of truth and myth. We tell ourselves stories all the time.
What is the ‘objective’ truth or value of a one-hundred-dollar bill versus a one-dollar bill. It’s the same paper and the same ink, the only difference is we have all agreed to mythologically value the number 100 more than the 1. Why value money at all? Simply put, as a society, we have agreed to do so. There is no inherent “capital T” truth to money itself. We can go beyond this into any past or present paradigms, such as gender, race, power and politics. Our entire reality is mythological in nature. Societal definitions of “manliness” and “femininity” are great examples of ideological storytelling, and those stories are constantly changing. There is nothing objectively real regarding how a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ ought to be or act; it is simply mythology.
The overall point here is that, on a daily basis, you and I exist in a world of fiction and storytelling. The drive to Burger King or your son’s swimming lessons is as full of myths as the monster which stalks the backcountry Bray road. If we continue to tell stories concerning the myths we take for granted, such as the value of money, those myths continue to be real. They, for all intents and purposes, are “true.” Yet, in some curious twist, the myths we don’t take for granted, or perhaps would rather not take for granted, such as monsters, remain on the fringes. The funny thing about myths though, and monsters too, is that they tend to pop up every once in a while. Uninvited. Whether through witness accounts or blurry photographs and videos, monsters seem to be a myth that won’t go away.
If we are prepared to say that monsters are not real, then we need to be prepared to throw away all of those other myths we tell ourselves and our children, or at least appreciate that they are illusions. However, we won’t. We will continue in our myths because they form and inform us. We become part of those myths, and we live in a sort of communion with them (no pun intended).
We need to be prepared to accept Kripal’s framework; that monsters are real and unreal. They are from the blending of reality and storytelling, and people encounter them at times. Breedlove’s film presents us with this interesting idea. As individuals, we must accept that monsters are both part of us and apart from us. They exist in our psychosocial reality as well as our objective reality; the big question is how? We do not know, but perhaps we can all agree that speaking and writing about them is the necessary first step to breath anything into existence. We do dwell in mythology after all.
Breedlove expresses a wonderful idea in his film towards the end. Monsters are everywhere. No “hot spot” is really a hot spot. We mythologize places. We tell stories about certain areas and put more “skin in the game” as it were. Perhaps due to the spinning of those tales, monsters tend to pop up a little more. It is not that Bray road in Elkhorn is some special place. Monsters haunt us in our books and films, in our dreams, and perhaps most frightening of all, in our backyards where our children play. It is not that we need to hunt the monsters to find the truth behind them. Rest assured, they are most definitely hunting us.
Seth Breedlove's Latest Documentary and Why We Should All Be Afraid of Monsters.
In a small lonely town, in a dark lonely wood, a lonely monster withdraws from its strange lonely world and enters the realm of human myth. Seth Breedlove’s latest Small Town Monsters production, The Flatwoods Monster, tells the tale of a strange tall sentinel and the May family which bumped into it one evening in 1952.
Significant research has been done on the Flatwoods monster, a complex collection of both real information and fiction, but Breedlove’s documentary successfully tells the story from the perspective of two of the witnesses who were present, Edward and Fred May, the sons of Kathleen May, who also was present at the event. Bolstering the famous encounter, other stories from the West Virginian community of strange objects in the sky and curious creatures in the woods support the county’s long standing history with anomalous activity.
The documentary’s stellar visuals and animated sequences are an eerie mixture of computer generated graphics and stop motion. The original musical score adds to the general creepy feeling of events which come off as both horrifyingly true and absurd. Whether you believe in monsters or not, you walk away with the hope that they are not real.
Breedlove does not waste his time in this film asking the same old questions which many of his uninspired peers continue to ask. It doesn't matter who or what the monster is, for that question can never really be answered. Instead, he touches upon the only question worth our time. He proposes a world where monsters are real, but more importantly, the monsters themselves evolve with their legends. Can monsters be both objective and subjective simultaneously? Are they what we make of them, yet at the same time, truly haunt quiet deserted areas of a forest where an unsuspecting mother and her sons can bump into them?
This is where the film truly makes its deepest impression. Not rehashing old tales of the things that go bump in the night, but the possible reality that the bumping is simultaneously fact and fiction, true and absurd, and that the arbitrary lines we draw between what is real and what is not are illusions. We do not need to believe in monsters for them to exist, yet in some quiet and lonely place within our minds, a gap inbetween worlds, monsters come out to roam dark highways where automobiles stall and hapless victims throw themselves upon their wives and children in vain attempts to protect them from that which cannot be explained.
The documentary is well worth your time, and I recommend it for anyone with an interest in UFO lore. It cuts through the usual nonsense, and focuses on what truly matters; the people who were forever changed by seeing something the rest of us hopefully never will.
Whatever lurks in the hills around Flatwoods and stalks farmer’s fields scaring children, it is in metamorphosis; ever changing with the times and in communion with our imaginations. Breedlove’s film is not frightening because he suggests that monsters may be real, it is frightening because we make them so.
- MJ Banias
Archetypes, Tricksters, and Divisions in UFO Discourse
In an April 21st blog post, Jeff Ritzmann wrote,
“Folks have written me asking about the literary Trickster themes and how they play into, or pertain to the phenomenon.
Wikipedia says of literary Tricksters: "In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a Trickster is a character in a story (god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphisation), which exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour." Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as 'boundary crossers'.”
Ritzmann explores the Trickster archetype in this blog post, and its connection to various paranormal phenomena, including that of the UFO. Reading through this article several weeks ago, I was drawn to it again by an interview with Susan Demeter-St. Claire and Greg Bishop on the Radio Misterioso podcast. A day later, I was given the opportunity to preview Seth Breedlove’s The Mothman of Point Pleasant, and as I was watching the documentary, my jaw literally dropped.
Just as the film’s narrator mentioned the name Woodrow Derenberger, the podcast and Ritzmann’s article came rushing into my mind. Just as the main ideas for the blog post you’re reading began to form, I was shown on the screen an animation of the man named Indrid Cold. I had to press Pause. I stood up. I went to have a think outside.
I’ll return to the above point in a moment.
I’ve mentioned before on my blog that there is a divide within UFO discourse. On one pole sits a belief that the UFO narrative stems from scientific nuts and bolts extraterrestrials from other planets. On the other, the UFO and associated events are somehow mystical in nature, an aspect of human consciousness, influenced by some Other (or not), that exists outside of our physical realm. This division, and the debate around it, is old hat. It’s been debated for decades. More importantly, it’s also merged into complex systems of beliefs that tie in both ideologies. Physical and spiritual. Nuts and bolts technology blended with metaphysical states of reality not totally clear to our everyday life.
That being said, the UFO community has yet to find consensus. It continues to engage in this exophilosophical debate, citing evidence, cases, incidents, events, and various other forms of data that attempt to prove “the reality of the situation.” This debate is not a bad thing. It simply is part of the Ufological discourse.
Back to Indrid Cold. In 1966, a sewing machine salesman by the name of Woodrow Derenberger was driving down Interstate 77 near the famous Point Pleasant, in his truck when he noticed a large object move past his vehicle and land on the road. Pulling up to the large object, the shape resembling “an old fashioned kerosene lamp chimney,” he witnessed a man exit the craft and approach him. Wearing a strange greenish metallic topcoat, and a strange grin, the odd man introduced himself telepathically to Derenberger as Indrid Cold.
The story of Indrid Cold is an old one. It was first featured in John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, and received significant attention from the media. You can hear an interview with Derenberger here (#47). The man even went on to write a book about Cold, called the Visitors from Lanulos, and the two allegedly enjoyed multiple visits together.
Keel himself went on to claim that he received many phone calls while investigating the Mothman legend from a person said to be Indrid Cold. This story, this very bizarre story, leads us down an interesting path in UFO discourse. Many other people came to have experiences with a strange man bearing a huge grin, and their tales vary from stark contrast to identical similarity with the Derenberger event.
Before us lies odd situation, one that calls into question the Ufological divide that exists between scientific and the mystical. What is the difference between the two? What series of arguments can one make to suggest one side is right, and the other is wrong?
The sides would both use scientific language, such as “look at the evidence” or “use logic and reason” to establish their cases. They would dive into the realms of psychology, citing deep seeded genetic archetypes established by evolution. They dive into religion, Buddhist and Hindu philosophies, and even provide historical evidence to prove that the UFO phenomenon is spiritual or scientific, or some mix of the two. They would provide big data, UFO sighting information, shapes, sizes, colours, and the rest. Whatever form the debate takes, it will ultimately run into the ever present brick wall; what differentiates the mystical from the scientific? What objective fact present in UFO discourse will shout, “Eureka!” and end the debate?
Nothing. There is no fact. No objective truth. That is the point of Indrid Cold. No member within the UFO community can claim with any objective truth that one Ufological event occurred, and the other did not. There is no fundamental difference between a witness seeing odd lights in the sky defying the laws of physics, and one man on a lonely stretch of highway bumping into a grinning man in a shiny suit. What is the difference between twenty people staring up at a strange disc hovering over Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 2006 and twenty people having telepathic conversations with a man named Cold over several decades? Even the physical trace evidence can be called into question, is typically inconclusive, and is often fraught with issues concerning provenance and legitimacy. Does our interpretation of truth simply boil down to what sounds less crazy, and what fits more nicely into our consensus reality? It can be argued that both events are equally mind boggling. Yet, what evidence do we have for either case that proves one is true beyond the shadow of a doubt? What evidence exists that, without question, proves there is a UFO phenomenon, and it is caused by X?
Jeff Ritzmann’s definition of the archetypal trickster as that which “disobeys the rules and conventional behaviour” is the cornerstone to the UFO question. The debate rages around the extraterrestrial hypothesis, co-creation, mysticism, the psychosocial hypothesis, and many others because the UFO itself is that which “disobeys the rules.”
I do not claim that the Indrid Cold case is legitimate or a hoax. I honestly don’t care. What does matter is the symbolism of Indrid Cold, and that these three events lined up for me to write this post. Cold did not literally visit me in my basement as I watched Breedlove’s film that evening, but in a way, he did “tell” me something as his eerie visage appeared on the screen before me.
He showed me, as Ritzmann says, to explore the idea of being a “boundary crosser.” I do not believe in one UFO reality over another, and the luxury of my work within UFO discourse is that very freedom. Critical theory and philosophy allow me to dwell in many thought worlds, in the various systems of truth, and there are essentially no limits to logic experiments of the mind. This is the beauty of working with, what many have come to call, “exophilosophy.”
Some will argue that these thought experiments are useless, and only add to the “pile of bullshit” that is UFO discourse. Perhaps. To those who make that argument, I would ask them to provide tangible evidence that their scientific or mystical approach has made any headway. The filing cabinets and internet databases of sighting reports, cold case files, rehashed UFO events, charts, tables, declassified documents, hypnotherapy evaluations, psychological reports, and testimonies from ‘credible’ witnesses are all well and good, but they still form one big pile...and I don’t have to tell you what it all smells like to me. The razor cuts both ways.
Whatever is responsible for the UFO phenomenon, much like the trickster, it seems to sow chaos. Much like Derenberger on that night in November, we find ourselves in an unsettling place trying to figure out what is going on. As every second passes, we are left with only more questions, and significantly fewer answers. Praying that some light can be shed on this bizarre moment, we are greeted by a strange grinning man named Cold.
A Review of Seth Breedlove's New Documentary
Seth Breedlove’s The Mothman of Point Pleasant opens with an eerie approach to the doorway of an old abandoned TNT bunker. It is a dark place, a silent place, a solid building constructed by men in a bygone age and destroyed by time and mother nature. The open door beckons the viewer to enter this shadow world, but the courage never musters.
Breedlove’s documentary about the Mothman takes us to that doorway, and like his other three films, dares us to enter knowing full well we never will. The Mothman, and the other mysterious creatures of paranormal folklore, dwell inside that shadowy place, often escaping from it into our world where countless people see and interact with them. However, their world is not our world, and we are reminded of that fact by the haunting voice of Lyle Blackburn, the film’s narrator.
The documentary is spooky and beautiful, with a chilling original soundtrack by Brandon Dalo, that stalks the viewer as they travel down the banks of the Ohio River and into Point Pleasant. Breedlove provides a chronological timeline that follows the sightings that pepper the 1960’s and truly culminate in 1966 and 1967. The collection of interviews provide great insight into the events, and draw the viewer ever deeper into the world of the winged monster. It is intelligent, concise, and does not waste time on tropes. It is authentic and thought provoking.
For fans of the Mothman, this film is essential viewing. It offers a significant amount of original newspaper articles, audio interviews, and wonderfully animated recreations. The documentary provides varying interpretations of the Mothman, and its identity. However, it gives no special treatment to any of the theories; a large bird, a depressed and sad otherworldly being, or an evil demon- the documentary does not seek that answer. Rather, this is a documentary about the people who were affected by the Mothman, their stories and their lives after their sightings, and after the tragedy of the collapse of the Silver Bridge.
Where this documentary truly shines is the encapsulation of all the paranormal and strange events that occurred in and around Point Pleasant during the mid to late 1960’s. Breedlove goes beyond the large bird sightings. He treats the viewer to the various UFO reports, close encounters with the grinning man named Indrid Cold, and other strange happenings that hit the area like a wave. He builds a powerful case that the men, women, and children of Point Pleasant were not only being watched by a pair of glowing red eyes, but by the shadows themselves, ever present, reaching out from their obscure and bizarre world. In the film’s opening, Blackburn refers to this collection of strange events as a “carnival of horrors” and Breedlove expertly crafts that notion into the film.
The documentary does not scare or shock. It does something much worse to the viewer. It unsettles them. It creates a picture of the world that is not quite right, awry, and exposed to a thing we’ve come to call the Mothman, and all the strangeness that it brings.
For fans of anything paranormal, weird or strange, this is a must watch. Click here to check it out.
On November 11th, Denis Villeneuve’s The Arrival (2016) hits theatres. The film clearly touches upon many facets of the UFO discourse, and delves deep into the fundamental principle that the UFO phenomenon is more of an exploration of the self, than that of physical or metaphysical objects occupying our skies. The UFO question is not about an objective other, such as flying saucers, ET or “light beings”, rather, it is subjective - the real phenomenon is within ourselves.
It must be noted that I am not suggesting that there is no physical UFO phenomenon. There is enough evidence, at least in my own opinion, to suggest something strange is occurring in our skies. What that strangeness is, I can only speculate. Even though there may be a physical UFO phenomenon, we can only truly begin to understand how it affects us, the subjective self, as the actual objective cause of the phenomenon may be forever out of reach.
So why is The Arrival, potentially, an important film? It calls into question one fundamental principle of Ufology; how much does our subjective interpretation shape the objective UFO?
The new Ghostbusters trailer has been out for a few days now and the reviews from the fans have been pretty critical. The "die hards" are wondering if Ghostbusters really needs a reboot.
I loved the Ghostbusters films, and I watched the cartoon as a kid; let's be honest though, to most young people, the Ghostbusters franchise has been pretty irrelevant since the nineties. In fact, most of the kids going to see this movie have no idea of the franchises' long and respectable heritage. So who cares if it's different- it's not like the franchise is going to die. It was dead, for 20 years, and now it's being resurrected by two brilliant comedic actresses and two of Saturday Night Live's best and brightest.
Overall, I'm happy with the trailer and the concept. It's simple, fun and has a powerhouse comedy cast. It's Ghostbusters. Relax. Many voices bashed the recent Star Wars trailers when they first came out; fools are allowed to have their opinions, so let them howl into the night if they want, no one is really listening anyway.
- M. J. Banias