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BOOK REVIEW: "Mutants & Mystics" by Jeffrey J. Kripal

University of Chicago Press
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BOOK REVIEW: Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal by Jeffrey J. Kripal (University of Chicago Press) 2011

A day after I finished reading Jeffrey J. Kripal’s astonishingly insightful 2011 book Mutants & Mystics, I had one of those weird, synchromystic experiences that a few of the subjects highlighted in the book might have appreciated.

As a result of this curious experience, which might have seen mundane or “coincidental” to most, I was able to analyze it in the context of developing world events and post a piece here on Red Dirt Report in an hour or two.

Was my experience the result of paranormal forces? The “universe” sending a message? I really don’t know. But I’ve learned over the years to pay attention to the signs and symbols put before me, and from it share it, via my preferred method of sharing my insights – through the written (or typed) word.

And so I think that synchromystic process is the core theme of this book, by Kripal, a religious historian at Rice University who has taken a particular interest in the inspiration behind many works of science-fiction stories, metaphysical films and superhero comic books, as highlighted over the 300-plus pages of Mutants & Mystics.

It appears that the paranormal often needs the pop-cultural form to appear at all,” writes Kripal, early in the book. The paranormal, he writes, has helped make these aspects of pop culture so popular, because it is “understood as a dramatic physical manifestation of the meaning and force of consciousness itself.”

Adds Kripal: “No wonder this stuff is so popular. It’s us.”

And while Kripal is not striving to make us believe in UFOs and ghosts and the supernatural, he is putting it out there that many of the creative people he highlights - from Promethea comics creator Alan Moore to Communion’s Whitley Strieber to Philip K. Dick to Alvin Schwartz – utilized deeply personal, paranormal experiences to create their publicly-held popular creations, be it Superman comics (as we recently noted in Schwartz’s autobiography An Unlikely Prophet) or in Dick’s many novels, including Valis, that was inspired by a 1974 “download” of information he claims to have received after a mundane encounter with a woman delivering medicine to the door of his Fullerton, California home.

Kripal himself admits to having a somewhat similar and shocking metaphysical experience with a “conscious and superintelligent” energy entering his body while in India in 1989, participating in the annual Bengali celebration of the goddess Kali.

Again, Alan Moore is an important figure in the book, with Kripal telling readers that the British writer Moore had a “full blown magical experience that I could not really account for.”

And that theme follows across these pages, each experience simply strange and inexplicable.

Christopher Knowles, a sync blogger at The Secret Sun and a brilliant mind we have followed for years, is admired by Kripal, and he quotes Knowles’ work when talking about comic book artist Jack Kirby, noting how in the mid-1960’s, Kirby “transformed … from an already imaginative man into a psychedelic shaman disguised as a freelance pencil pusher.”

And what is interesting, is that Knowles also points to Kirby’s synchromysticism, which we noted above. This term, Kripal and Knowles notes is “the uncanny ways” Kirby acted as an “unconscious prophet” via his art, prefigured actual historical events which include the “Face on Mars” and the use of a technology called “smart bombs,” which did not exist at that time.

As a side note, this very day, Knowles writes that sync has become stronger: "So I've had people ask me whether or not I believe in Synchromysticism anymore since I've been taking a hard look at all this blatant dark ritualism we're seeing everywhere. And my answer is that I believe in Synchromysticism more than I ever did before. Why? 

Precisely because if there are so many people in high places going to such great efforts to try to manufacture synchronicity and manipulate symbolism, it shows that they believe these things have a power that they can misuse to their advantage.

I mean, I knew all that already but a little reinforcement never hurt anyone."

It's as if since 2011, when Kripal's book was published, the sync currents have been sweeping and swirling at an even faster rate.

But back to Mutants & Mystics ... 

Barry Windsor-Smith, another artist, is also featured in the book, and shares his own, mind-shattering experience where he sees events in 1970 that would not occur until 1973. And when they do occur, three years later, his life is changed forever, as he is given a glimpse of what can be called infinity or the "Endless Waves of Time." Was it drug-induced? Windsor-Smith insists it was not. 

But the experience, like those of others before and after, did inspire him in his creative pursuits. 

Kripal breaks down the chapters into: Orientation; Alienation; Radiation; Mutation; Realization; Authorization; and The Third Kind. Each chapter highlighting the effects the paranormal has on each person in their work. 

And when it comes to author Whitley Strieber, with whom Kripal co-wrote the book The Super Natural, which we reviewed here, the author takes special care to put it all out there, with Strieber's deeply personal encounters with the "visitors," as told in 1987's Communion, and explaining that Strieber, a lapsed Catholic, was on a "long and sophisticated spiritual quest" and that for half of his life, Strieber was "engaged in a rigourous and detailed search for a finer state of consciousness." And that through his experiences with these alien beings, he achieves "mystical union" or "communion," and in the process he is "changed into something Other, something alien."

Kripal, being an expert on comparative religions, offers his own philisophical analysis of these experiences are part of a larger Consciousness of Culture, where "paranormal currents and mythical themes" interact.

That more or less sums up what Kripal is getting at in Mutants and Mystics. This is an important jumping off point in better understanding the basis for a lot of pop culture influences and inspiration these days. And it's been happening for far longer than any of us realize.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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