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Three fascinating books cover the Heaven's Gate cult, an Internet-inspired monster, and the power of the imagination

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A split image of Heaven's Gate cult leader Marshall Applewhite.
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Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion by Benjamin Zeller (New York University Press) 2014

There was a lot of interestin the Hale-Bopp Comet back in 1996-97. And yet no one predicted that a California-based cult of UFO enthusiasts would take things so far as to kill themselves in hopes of joining a spacecraft believed to have been behind the comet.

And yet it happened, as led by Heaven's Gate cult leader and Texas native Marshall Applewhite. 

As spiritual seekers, the individuals who joined Heaven’s Gate sought self-transformation and development, though they might not have used those terms,” writes Zeller.

Comparing them to those in the New Age and Human Potential movements, Zeller quotes American religious historian Sarah M. Pike, who notes that the Heaven’s Gate members are like New Agers in that they “are committed to the transformation of both self and society through a host of practices that include channeling, visualization, astrology, meditation, and alternation healing methods such as Reiki … or iridology.”

It was a weird and toxic mix, with Applewhite convincing his followers to follow his lead - to suicide.

Zeller's grippng book gets into the "why" of what drew these otherwise sane people to take their own lives, having been dipped into a broth of evangelical Christianity, Star Trek episodes and the aforementioned New Age philosophy. And some strange ideas about sexuality to boot. Zeller captures it all in a style that easy to read and understand.

This is one of the few books that I've come across that actually addresses the Heaven's Gate mystery, which still leaves us with plenty of questions more than two decades later.

4/5 Rusties

The Slenderman Mysteries: An Internet Urban Legend Comes to Life by Nick Redfern (New Page Books) 2018

Two years ago I delved into Alexandra David-Neel’s classic Magic and Mystery in Tibet, a book the French explorer wrote after her remarkable experiences in the land-locked mountainous place of mystery, high in the Himalayas, where she engaged in creating a tulpa.

Tulpa, you ask? What is that? It is, as translated from Tibetan: “an emanation … apparition … or magical illusion.

And anyone who caught Twin Peaks: The Return last year will recognize the Tibetan term as referring to an entity created merely through intense thought and concentration, along with certain secret rites.

David-Neel did this, creating a short, fat, jolly monk. But, as I noted in my review: “it took a few months for the Frenchwoman to create her tulpa. He soon materialized like a real person, yet was still a bit of a puppet to David-Neel. Visitors took the tulpa – which went from a rotund appearance to a more lean, malicious look - for a real lama.

It would take David-Neel “six months of hard struggle” to rid herself of this tulpa.

Writes David-Neel: “In spite of the clever efforts made by the Tibetans to find rational explanations for all prodigies, a number remain unexplained, perhaps because they are pure inventions, or perhaps for other reasons.”

Well, it’s still unclear what these entities – a seemingly, living human, created by pure thought – are, or how they appear in our “reality.”

I also point to Superman and Batman comics script writer Alvin Schwartz shared his own encounter with a tulpa he had with a Tibetan monk – and later, Superman, believe it or not – which had been unwittingly, physically created – brought to life, as it were. Schwartz realized there were powers beyond his control that were secretly directing the storylines of these well-known superheroes.

It’s an area of the paranormal that seems to be gaining attention. And one entity that seems to have been created, via the Internet, just less than a decade ago, is Slenderman.

And who but author Nick Redfern to investigate that disturbing mystery in his new book The Slenderman Mysteries, a book that looks at the tulpa angle, amongst other ideas, including the seeming increase of Slenderman sightings - much like the "Men in Black" of the 1960's UFO scene - and the tragic case of two teen girls who nearly took the life of their friend in a Waukesha, Wisconsin forest, hoping to appease Slenderman, whom they believed lived in said wood.

Redfern does his usual tip-top job in investigating this Internet-spawned creature that took a life of its own after Eric Knudsen posted the tall, pale, tentacled wraith, with no discernible face. Truly terrifying. Redfern even notes the possibility that the "Pale Man" featured in Guillermo Del Toro's fantastic 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth may have somehow inspired the "creation" of Slenderman. In fact, Redfern delves into some synchronicities related to Pan's Labyrinth and some of the people connected to the film - and Slenderman.

Just as The Mothman Prophecies' Alexander Leek (based on author John Keel) tells Richard Gere's baffled Washington Post reporter John Klein (also based on Keel), after being targeted by the Mothman and its spooky spokesman Indrid Cold: "You noticed them, and they noticed that you noticed them."

Like so many paranormal investigators of the past (1950's flying saucer enthusiast Albert K. Bender comes to mind), sometimes looking a little too closely into a phenomenon like UFO's, ghosts or even Slenderman can have dire consequences for the mental health of the investigator. Proceed with utmost caution, particularly in regards to Slenderman.

3.5/5 Rusties

Lost Knowledge of the Imagination by Gary Lachman (Floris Books) 2018

Gary Lachman is one of my favorite authors alive. Scholarly in his approaches to esoteric topics and historical figures, Lachman has blessed us with a deep crop of books (many reviewed here at Red Dirt Report, from Madame H.P. Blavatsky to Rudolf Steiner and Emanuel Swedenborg

With Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, Lachman's latest book, coming in at only 140-or-so pages, he highlights how the human imagination has been increasingly sidelined in our hyper-rationalist world, where "make believe," as the scientism-embracing elites call it, is dismissed as the realm of dreamy-eyed children who don't understand how the world really works.

Thankfully, Lachman is here to emphasize the importance and power of the imagination, and the inner and outer worlds of the mind, something Swiss psychologist and discoverer of synchronicity - "meaningful coincidence" - embraced ethusiastically. 

And Lachman is most definitely on board with that approach, noting that is merely a part of the creative force of the imagination, a force that is not entirely understood, but is part of what makes us human.

The author writes: "I am convinced that synchronicities are real, true phenomena, and in my book on Jung, I recount some examples of my own, as well as those of Jung. I have no idea how they happen nor am I convinced by any attempt so far to explain them in terms of quantum physics ... (i)n some ways I suspect that we will never explain them in any scientific way, except to say they seem to be an experience in which what is happening in our heads and what is happening int he outside world are directly related throuygh meaning, and that some intelligence other than our own that knows more than we do is in some way behind them."

For anyone who follows this website, they know that my Dust Devil Dreams posts address that very subject. I went through a hyper-rational phase of my own, but the synchronicities kept presenting themselves in a way I could no longer ignore. I finally gave in and embraced them and actually started writing about them. 

4.5/5 Rusties

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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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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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