Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 24: Haunted Roads

Clinton Road, NJ, USA.  Image Source: Weird Worm.

It's that frightening hour again, when we see whether investigative experts can take on the paranormal unknown.  In this case, haunted roads are a staple of ghost lore.  There're such old standbys that it seems nothing could drag the haunted road narrative kicking and screaming into the post-Postmodern Millennial era.  In the end, it was the Brits who managed it in 2010.  But first off, we need some good, solid, scary haunted road accounts as 'controls,' as points of comparison.  The best classic haunted road story currently floating around has got to be Clinton Road, New Jersey, USA.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 25: Bhangarh

A Bhangarh gallery. Image Source: My Travels Private Limited.

Perched in India's ancient northwestern hills between Jaipur and Delhi, Bhangarh (भानगढ़) is a ruin of a fortified palatial town near the Sariska Tiger Reserve.  Bhangarh is also reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the world.  It is seen as a terrifying, cursed place where the living will not survive to see daybreak if they are unfortunate enough to get trapped there after sunset.  Those who enter until recently encountered a sign ordering them not to remain after dark.

Bhangarh warning, no longer posted. Image Source: My Travels Private Limited.

Translation for the above: The Government of India
The Archeological Survey of India, Bhangarh
Important Notice: 1) It is strictly prohibited to the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset.
2) Shepherds are not allowed inside Bhangarh area, violators will face legal action.
3. The Kewda or Pandanus trees belong to the Archaelogy Survey of India. It is forbidden to cause any kind of harm.
Note: Anyone violating the rules mentioned above will face legal action.
By order: Supervisor, Archaelogical Survey

Here are two accounts of twilight in Bhangarh:

Paritosh Kumar Singh (Ranjay) – New Delhi Director Info-tech Company.
I went to Bhangarh with my friends last December. We somehow tricked the watchmen and entered the premises of haunted ruins. The ruins were looking like a set of horror films as I have seen in many horror movies since my childhood. It was dark and silent. There was no one till the far end of the area. We were three people and we tried to brave our fears that night. We were walking to the old temple and then we felt that someone is following us. We heard crazy sounds and then we were too afraid so we immediately ran out to our vehicles.”

Rannvijay Singha – Mumbai MTV VJ & Actor.
My Friends and I visited Bhangarh a few years back. There was nothing scary in the day but we were late to come out of the gate at the given time. It was evening and was going to get dark any moment. We were heading to the gate and one of my friends heard a loud voice. He freaked out as he thought there was big cat in front of him which growled. I did not care much to believe him but throughout the way back he was shivering.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Time is Limited

Introducing Apple II (1977). Image Source: Macmothership.

"Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

-Steve Jobs, from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University

Hallowe'en Countdown 26: Aokigahara Forest

A dragon sleeps in Mount Fuji. Ogata Gekko's Views of Mt. Fuji (1897). Image Source: Wiki.

Some may have already heard of the Aokigahara Forest (青木ヶ原), the so-called Sea of Trees (樹海) that sleeps at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, an area known as well for its volcanic caves.

Mount Fuji and the forest that sleeps at its foot. Image Source: Tout & Rien.

This wood is a notorious magnet site for suicides, and the forest floor is scattered with skeletons and dead bodies (for disturbing examples - do not click if you do not want to see troubling images - go here, here, here and here).  The authorities clear bodies away with the help of volunteers every year.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 27: The Ghosts of Cambodia's Genocide

Unidentified Prisoner, Tuol Sleng Prison, Cambodia (1975-1979). Image Source: Tuol Sleng.

The era of the Khmer Rouge (the Communist Party of Kampuchea) in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 saw the country renamed as Democratic Kampuchea in the wake of a deadly civil war connected to the Vietnam War.  The country's leaders, Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, and Khieu Samphan helmed the party. Pot, cleaving to a vision of agrarian socialism, declared that 1975 marked the 'Year Zero,' the year in which he intended to 'restart civilization.' The more brutal the dictatorship, the greater the desire to control time and reset the clock of history. According to filmmaker John Pilger, even the word 'sleep' was banned.  Only the word, 'rest' was permitted.  During Pol Pot's rule, one of the world's bloodiest genocides took place as part of that effort to reset time and restart civilization, resulting in the deaths of some two million people.

The ghosts of this disaster, whether they are literal or metaphorical, haunt Cambodia to this day. In this case, reality was worse than any supernatural horror. And in the end, it's the ghosts that explain this Cambodian reality, not the other way around. The Khmer people's belief in spectres is the only thing that makes this madness make sense.  So in this case, it's not a question of trying to debunk the ghosts and their Netherworld. It's a question of trying to comprehend this world and living its nightmares with something that goes beyond reality.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 28: The London Underground

Image Source: sophieadamsdesign. Image (1 May 2011) © Sophie Adams. Reproduced with kind permission.

It's the witching hour again - a time when experts try to outwit, debunk and explain away disembodied and disturbed souls that witnesses claim are still tied to earth. For this installment in this Hallowe'en countdown, I'm turning to the London Underground (Hat tip: Ghostwatching). London's famous subway is the site of mortal crimes and accidents, and many suicides. To build the subway lines, crypts, graveyards and mass burial plague pits had to be excavated and the bodies removed. With this morbid history, it's no wonder that the Tube is reputed to be a frightening place, especially after hours. In a 2005 Channel Five UK television special, Tube workers testified to strange experiences, particularly in areas of the system that are closed to the public. And paranormal investigators have tried to account for these happenings. The late Vic Tandy from Coventry University assessed a deep, closed section of the Tube, and the results were hair-raising.

Tandy pioneered a theory that what we perceive as ghostly presences are in fact infrasound - sounds that exist outside our normal hearing range. He called the particular sound at 19 Hz, the 'Fear Frequency.'  The Wiki entry on infrasound states:
Infrasound has been known to cause feelings of awe or fear in humans. Since it is not consciously perceived, it can make people feel vaguely that supernatural events are taking place. The infrasound and low-frequency noise produced by some wind turbines is believed by some to cause "wind-turbine syndrome" (headaches, dizziness, nausea) in humans. ... On May 31, 2003, a team of UK researchers held a mass experiment where they exposed some 700 people to music laced with soft 17 Hz sine waves played at a level described as "near the edge of hearing", produced by an extra-long-stroke subwoofer mounted two-thirds of the way from the end of a seven-meter-long plastic sewer pipe. ... The participants were not told which pieces included the low-level 17 Hz near-infrasonic tone. The presence of the tone resulted in a significant number (22%) of respondents reporting anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine and feelings of pressure on the chest. In presenting the evidence to British Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Richard Wiseman said, "These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound. Some scientists have suggested that this level of sound may be present at some allegedly haunted sites and so cause people to have odd sensations that they attribute to a ghost—our findings support these ideas."
In the 1980s, Kate Bush wrote a song called Experiment IV about the use of sonic weapons that could kill (a recent remix is here). There is something to this; the Wiki entry on sonic weapons is here, which notes that exposure to infrasonic frequencies for periods longer than fifteen minutes injures brain tissue. One can see how a site, say, a house, which for some reason has infrasonic sounds constantly emitted would cause people to be fearful. And if they remained there over time, they might actually experience brain injuries and possible associated hallucinations.

Vic Tandy tested his theory about infrasound in the scariest parts of the Underground. He believed the sound of 19 Hz (or below), does not just give us the creeps because it's a sound we can't hear. Sound waves cause vibrations. Specifically, according to NASA, a sound wave at 18 Hz is the resonant frequency of the human eye; in other words, we see things because that level of sound causes our eyeballs to start vibrating. From Wiki:
Research by Tandy, a lecturer at Coventry University, suggested that an infrasonic signal of 19 Hz might be responsible for some ghost sightings. Tandy was working late one night alone in a supposedly haunted laboratory at Warwick, when he felt very anxious and could detect a grey blob out of the corner of his eye. When Tandy turned to face the grey blob, there was nothing.

The following day, Tandy was working on his fencing foil, with the handle held in a vise. Although there was nothing touching it, the blade started to vibrate wildly. Further investigation led Tandy to discover that the extractor fan in the lab was emitting a frequency of 18.98 Hz, very close to the resonant frequency of the eye given as 18 Hz by NASA. This was why Tandy had seen a ghostly figure—it was an optical illusion caused by his eyeballs resonating. The room was exactly half a wavelength in length, and the desk was in the centre, thus causing a standing wave which caused the vibration of the foil.

Tandy investigated this phenomenon further and wrote a paper entitled The Ghost in the Machine. Tandy carried out a number of investigations at various sites believed to be haunted, including the basement of the Tourist Information Bureau next to Coventry Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 29: The Resurrection Men and Night Doctors

'Resurrectionists' stealing a corpse from a cemetery to be sold for anatomical study and dissection, circa 1840. Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Image Source: Roots Unearthed Wiki.

It's hard to find a creepier overlap between science and superstition than Resurrectionists.  When medical science needs human bodies for research and study, sometimes the demand was - and is still! - met through grave robbing and body snatching. That reality is unsettling enough.  But Resurrection Men, as organ thieves, body snatchers and grave robbers are called, have also inspired superstitions and urban legends.  This is an example where scientists, rather than being the voices of reason to counter the credulous, created the bogeymen.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 30: Poveglia

Poveglia.  Image 31 October 2008 © IlGrandeInquisitore. Reproduced with kind permission.

I was first introduced to the chilling mysteries of Poveglia during last year's Hallowe'en blogathon. Bryan White, blogger over at Cinema Suicide, published an incredible post entitled, Poveglia, Island of Madness.  This carved-up island in the Venetian Lagoon has a centuries-long history of grief, suffering, violence - and above all, death.  Since Roman times, it has been a penal colony, a site of war, a plague quarantine zone and lazzaretto, and most recently - an insane asylum and home for the indigent aged.  Ugly things happened at that hospital, and it has been abandoned since 1968.

Even in the 16th century, Poveglia already had a terrible reputation.  When the Doge offered it at that time to Camaldolese monks, they refused to accept it.  With approximately 160,000 dead remaining on the island, its use for agriculture has been discontinued.

Image Source: Forensic Geology.

As a result, the island is closed to visitors. White summarized its history:
Poveglia ... has a really nasty reputation. See, in the 1500′s epidemic plagues had found their way to Italy again and the island became a quarantine zone for sailors seeking port in Venice. Sanitary conditions during this period of the middle ages were pretty bad and just about everywhere you went was a prime breeding pit for disease. Venice was mad obsessed with sanitation at the time and even though they managed to contain the victims on Poveglia, the city still lost half of its population during The Black Plague’s last great push through Europe. Oh yeah, I didn’t mention that yet, did I? Poveglia began as a lazaretto and became a holding pen for anybody even so much as suspected of having plague symptoms. It didn’t matter who you were, if it looked like you getting sick, off you went to Poveglia to die a miserable animal’s death and when the pile of bodies got too high, they toss the corpses in a pit and set fire to it. There are some serious mass graves throughout Europe; in places like Germany and Poland. They’re still turning up pits of corpses in the Baltics. The leftovers from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is also pretty heavy but none of them hold a candle to Poveglia. 50% of the island’s soil is made up of human remains. Bones routinely wash up on the shore and in the nets of sailors who fish too close to the island. Poveglia is a place of profound suffering. The estimated body count there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 and as a result has come to be known to paranormal enthusiasts as a “thin place”, where the membrane between here and the other side is particularly thin and while a shit ton of people exited through the plague pits of Poveglia, a lot of nasty energy was left behind and a lot of nasty energy came back through to influence and corrupt the events of the future.

Following the ebb of disease, the island was left mostly uninhabited. Being the place where over a hundred thousand people went to die, you gain a reputation and nobody wants to live in a place like that. With the exception of a couple of farmers tending to the particularly awesome crops that came as a result of rich soil infused with the remains of a shit ton of terminally ill people, nobody lives there. In 1922 a sort of retirement home was established there where local indigents went to wait out their final years. A portion of the newly built facility was dedicated to the mentally ill, as luck would have it. Legends of Poveglia state that the occupants of this home, not just the crazy ones, reported hearing sounds and seeing things. It’s all stock ghost story stuff, strange lights, apparitions, sounds of wailing, crying and screaming. 160,000 souls locked down to a place on Earth so rancid they can’t move on. Poveglia’s dire reputation affected the staff of the hospital, too, allegedly. An unnamed doctor in the island’s mental facility experimented on his patients, urged on by their babbling about plague victims, he developed sick and savage new ways to lobotomize his patients until his suicide attempt put the kibosh on continued medical malpractice. The unnamed doctor, suffering from what he thought were his own hallucinations, plunged from the hospital’s bell tower and managed to barely survive the fall. Disappointed, Poveglia’s non-corporeal population rose up from the ground as a mist and finished the job by choking him to death. ...

Since that time, there have been attempts to buy the land from the government, which is off limits to visitors. Private buyers have, on occasion, bought the island, moved in and then booked it the fuck out shortly thereafter, perpetuating the mythology of this black mark on the planet. To this day, Italy shows no sign of relinquishing the location to anyone. Business deals go sour. People move in and more out and it’s said that one such buyer beat a hasty retreat when their daughter sustained a mysterious facial injury requiring 20 stitches. Since that time, Poveglia has remained closed and rotting.
What strikes me is the sheer enormity of the Black Death; Poveglia's and neighbouring islands' relics are all that remains.  These sites bear the physical and spiritual scars from one of the most hellish pandemics the world has ever seen.  It killed as many as 200 million people in Europe in its first wave in the 14th century, from which the continent took over a century and a half to recover.  Plague epidemics recurred in Europe until the 19th century.  The photo below shows just how horrific the epidemic was.  It's no wonder that it still haunts us.  Places that were central to that history are still alive with long lost pain.

Mass grave - a plague pit with some 1,500 skeletons near Poveglia on Lazzaretto Vecchio. Image Source: Forensic Geology.
A Poveglian skull with a rock forced in its mouth - evidence that workers believed the corpse had become a vampire.  The rock was meant to prevent the corpse (which would still have had flesh on it when this ritual was performed) from drinking blood. Image Source: Forensic Geology.

During plague epidemics, people became convinced that Poveglia was home to vampires.  Forensic Geology:
During the worst outbreaks, the islands were quickly overrun with the dead and dying, who were hastily shoveled into grave pits, and when those were full, burned. Work crews on nearby Lazaretto Vecchio were digging the foundation for a new museum when they came across one such grave pit, filled with the remains of more than 1,500 plague victims. ... According to an MSNBC article, during epidemics, mass graves were often reopened to bury fresh corpses and diggers would chance upon older bodies that were bloated, with blood seeping out of their mouth and with an inexplicable hole in the shroud used to cover their face.

"These characteristics are all tied to the decomposition of bodies," Borrini said. But they saw a fat, dead person, full of blood and with a hole in the shroud, so they would say: 'This guy is alive, he's drinking blood and eating his shroud.'" Modern forensic science shows the bloating is caused by a buildup of gases, while fluid seeping from the mouth is pushed up by decomposing organs, Borrini said. The shroud would have been consumed by bacteria found in the mouth area, he said. At the time however, what passed for scientific texts taught that "shroud-eaters" were vampires who fed on the cloth and cast a spell that would spread the plague in order to increase their ranks. To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire’s mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.
Further from Forensic Geology:
The soil on Poveglia island, combined with the charred remains of the bodies, formed a layer of sticky ash on the land. The top layer of ash has dried in the sun to form a fine dust that swirls in the breeze and catches in lungs. Part of the island core consists of a layer of human remains. Fishermen avoid this area, as the chances of catching a body part or two are high. ... Most boats refuse to call at the death isle, another of its names, but those who have landed report treading on ashes, hearing screaming, seeing moving shadows and having the urgent desire to flee. ... A few people have dodged the light police patrol that guards the island, and all have sworn never to return. They say the moans and screams that reverberate around the island are unbearable, fishermen tell of seeing mystery lights on the island. There is a feeling of the most intense evil, and one misguided thrill-seeker, upon entering the deserted hospital, was told by a loud disembodied voice, "Leave immediately and do not return."
Many people have reported ghostly phenomena on the island, and locals and non-locals alike believe Poveglia is home to angry, vengeful spirits who cannot rest. It is a place where thousands upon thousands of dead souls, so the stories go, have no peace.

The bottom part of Poveglia's triad of connected islands is called the Octagon. Image Source: Forensic Geology.

Poveglia is a magnet for ghost hunters and paranormal investigators. Below the jump, see the results when a team of three American ghost hunters, Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin, spent the night there for the program Ghost Adventures, with only their electronic detection equipment to keep them company.