$13.13

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I took NC to the drive-through at In-N-Out Burger today. After we placed our order, the attendant told us our total was $13.13. Like an idiot, I made a superstitious comment about it and NC went into panic mode. “Thirteen Thirteen? What does that mean? Is it a bad omen? Is something bad going to happen?” After getting my laughter under control, I explained that it didn’t actually mean anything, that it was just a number. Did that calm her down? Of course not. She said you can’t order food and have the total come to $13.13 without it meaning something. To placate NC, I asked the cashier if we could pay $13.14 for our food. She agreed. NC said it didn’t matter because you can’t fool nature.

While we sat in my car eating our burgers, NC told me that the spirit of a dead person had attached itself to her cat. I’ll admit, she had some compelling evidence:

1.   When her cat looks at you, you can see that there’s a human soul in its eyes looking out at you. And it’s not a nice soul either. It’s a devious, malicious soul.

2.   Her cat purposely does things to piss you off.

  • slickShe gets into the linen closet and swats one towel onto the floor, then another and another. She does this on a regular bases.
  • When the dog harassed the cat, the cat peed on the dog’s bed.
  • She doesn’t like NC’s grandmother so she peed in the grandmother’s slippers.
  • She peed in her own Kibbles. Why? Well, we’re not really sure on that one, but there’s got to be a message in there somewhere. Basically, the cat does a lot of peeing.
  • She clawed the kitchen chairs.

Once you add all of this evidence together, what conclusion can you reach other than a human soul has attached itself to NC’s cat? I’m convinced. How about you?

After we finished our burgers, we both felt a little sick, which NC took as evidence of the curse of $13.13.

Nature’s Rorschach Test

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Face in cloudsI cooked an omelet today and found Elvis staring up at me. Not literally, of course. It was just his image in the eggs. I should have saved it and tried to sell it on ebay, like the woman who found the Virgin Mary in her cheese sandwich and sold it for $28,000. I’m not sure if Elvis would fetch as much, but even a few grand would be nice.cheese sandwich

It seems that no matter where you look – the clouds, the grain in the wood, the kitchen tiles – you find faces or animals or trees. The whole world is a Rorschach Inkblot Test offering a glimpse into your psyche.

The most common images we see are faces. Recognizing faces is hardwired into our brains. Infants develop this skill as soon as they can see. So it’s not surprising that we see faces in the snowy hillside or in the rocks on Mars. The meaning we give to these faces, however, depends where they are located and whose face they resemble.

In 1976, when Viking 1 sent back images of Mars, people saw a humanoid face in the landscape and speculated that it was evidence of a Martian civilization. The Mars Express disproved the myth with higher resolution photos that revealed the face to be nothing but an optical illusion.face_on_mars

Getting right up close to the face, however, doesn’t always dissuade the true believers. The Virgin Mary cheese sandwich is a prime example. If you cut through the trunk of a tree and find an image that resembles Michael Jackson, you’d probably consider it an amusing coincidence. But if that image resembles deity, suddenly it’s a miracle. In fact, it doesn’t even have to truly look like the deity to be considered a miracle. Yes, I can make out a face in the cheese sandwich, but does it really look like the Virgin Mary? Do we even know what the Virgin Mary looked like?

The water stains on the windows of the Seminole Finance Company in Clearwater, Florida, and the knot in the tree trunk in Sleepy Hollow, windowsNew York, resemble Our Lady of Guadalupe, an icon of the Virgin Mary. Thus, many people view them as signs from God. Both of these images existed long before someone pointed out the resemblance. That’s often the case. We don’t see the similarity until someone shows us what we’re supposed to be looking for. We can then use our imaginations and fill in the missing details.

Such images give a lot of people hope. Crowds flock to these miracles and often weep at the sight. Many believe the apparitions hold mystical powers. And it isn’t just Jesus and Mary that cures the afflicted. Sometimes it’s a demon. A recent news story told of a man who looked at his wedding photos eight years after they were taken and saw a demon peering over his left shoulder. The sight convinced him to straighten up his life and liberate himself from drugs. Oddly, the demon took on the appearance of a dog. When I look at the photo, I think it is indeed a dog. He claims there wasn’t a dog at the wedding. Then again, the photo was taken eight years ago and he was on drugs at the time. So yes, I’m skeptical of the whole demon scenario, but if it convinced him to better himself, then we’ll just say it’s a demon.

demon dog

Satan or photo bomb?

What we see reflects our beliefs. As I mentioned in my article on subjective validation, we see what we expect to see and interpret the world according to our personal belief system. Those who believe in aliens may not buy into the scientific explanation of the face on Mars or may think the government is trying to cover up their real findings. Religionists are more likely to see Jesus in the clouds or the Virgin Mary in the woodwork and feel it is a sign from God.

Psychologists refer to this as pareidolia, which basically means we see patterns and assign significance to them even though they are actually meaningless. We look at an inkblot and see a butterfly when in reality it’s an image of absolutely nothing. We’re merely trying to make sense of things that make no sense.

We don’t only do this with images, but with sounds as well. When I was young, many religious leaders were riled up by the hidden messages found in rock music. I attended a seminar where the speaker pointed out many of these offending songs and encouraged us to destroy our albums.Jesus iron

These hidden messages come in two forms:

  • Backmasking – intentionally reversing the audio so that it only makes sense when played backward. When played forward, it sounds like gibberish.
  • Reverse Speech (aka phonetic reversal) – actual words that happen sound like other words when played backward.

The Beatles popularized both forms. Songs such as “Rain” and “I’m So Tired” contain backmasking. An example of reverse speech can be found in the song “Revolution 9,” where the words “number nine” played backward become “turn me on dead man.” Many of the hidden messages in Beatles songs reveal that Paul McCartney is dead, which incidentally, a lot of people still believe. Just go to YouTube and search “Paul is dead” and you’ll be amazed how many videos pop up detailing the evidence that the current Paul McCartney is an imposter.

Another famous example of backmasking can be found on Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. When you reverse the gibberish in “Empty Spaces,” it says, “Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm.”tree trunk

Perhaps the most famous example of reverse speech is in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” When you reverse the sentence “There’s still time to change the road you’re on,” it sounds a lot like “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”

Backmasking is deliberate and most of the messages are innocuous. Reverse speech is unintentional and what you hear is subjective. In the seminar I attended, many of the examples they gave came from albums that I owned. Back in the days of turntables, the only way to play a song backward was to manually spin the table in reverse, which I did. I wanted to hear Queen say “It’s fun to smoke marijuana,” which allegedly is what “Another One Bites the Dust” says once you reverse it. And yes, if I really, really force it, I can see how it sounds a bit like that. But I’m sure I’d have never thought they were saying that if someone hadn’t first planted the seed in my brain so I knew what to listen for.

During the seminar, I kept asking myself, “Who in the hell listens to songs backward?” They must have listened to hundreds of albums in reverse to come up with the dozen examples they were providing. Backmasking I get. It sounds like gibberish when played forward, so you listen to it backward to see what they’re saying. But reverse speech? Wow, that takes dedication to find lyrics that almost sound like something backward.Jesus wall

According to the critics, our subconscious picks up these backward messages, deciphers them, and then influences us to do bad things. Apparently, if you listen to “Another One Bites the Dust” enough, you won’t be able to control yourself from smoking pot. If you listen to “Stairway to Heaven” or “Hotel California,” you’re going to start worshiping Satan. Sorry, that’s just the way it is and you have no control over it. A 1983 California bill said backmasking “can manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist.”

There’s no scientific evidence to prove this theory. I’ve listened to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, including all of the songs mentioned above, and so far I have no desire to chant “Hail Satan” or to sacrifice a goat. I’m sure the true believers would argue that my disbelief is evidence enough that the subliminal brainwashing has taken its toll on my morality. I’d argue, however, that if you played religious hymns backward, you could also find just as many examples of passages that sound unwholesome or Satanic. In fact, the same would be true of all the conversations you have everyday or hear on TV. If we’re truly influence by every sound that could be misconstrued when played in reverse, then we’re all doomed.dog butt

What are your thoughts? Do we need to guard ourselves against backward subliminal messages? Are apparitions of deity coincidental or the work of God? Can these apparitions have genuine healing power or is it merely the placebo effect?

The Aliens Have Landed!

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They finally came to take her home.

They finally came to take her home.

I guess the alien invasion is old news by now, isn’t it? Yet in all these years, no one has been able to provide substantiated evidence of any extraterrestrial visitation. Sure, we’ve all met people who seem to be from another planet. My friend NC is a prime example. But the authorities reject all of my claims of her being of alien origin.

Nor are they convinced by all of the eyewitness accounts or by the numerous videos on YouTube. I’ve personally watched footage of an alien autopsy dating back to a 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico, and watch an interview with an alien filmed inside Area 51 in Nevada. But then again, I’ve also watched the videos that debunk these claims.

So now I’m confused. Have the aliens invaded or not? Is it a series of hoaxes fabricated by people wanting publicity? Or perhaps a massive cover up by the government?

Do Aliens Exist?

Before we can discuss the likelihood of aliens visiting Earth, we should establish whether or not they even exist. For a planet to sustain life, it must reside in what scientists call the Goldilocks Zone. In other words, it has to be just the right distance from a star so that it’s not too hot and not too cold. Too hot and water vaporizes. Too cold and water turns to ice. Since life requires liquid water to survive, Earth is the only planet in our solar system capable of sustaining life (unless of course you classify bacteria as life).

But that’s just our solar system. The universe is pretty vast with lots of other planets orbiting their own stars. In our galaxy alone, scientists estimate that there are at least 50 billion planets. Out of those, over 500 million are potentially Goldilocks planets

Hence, to paraphrase Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, it would be improbable for life not to exist somewhere other than Earth.

Have Aliens Visited Earth?

I think we can safely say that we’re not alone in the universe. But have any of these neighbors stopped by for a visit?

So far, scientists have identified 68 potential Goldilocks planets. The closest one to the Earth is Gliese 581 c. When looking at the vastness of the universe, Gliese 581 c is relatively close, yet it’s still 119 trillion miles (192 trillion km) away. That’s 20.3 light years (a measurement of distance, not time). In other words, it would take light 20.3 years to travel from Earth to Gliese 581 c. Unfortunately, we can’t travel anywhere near the speed of light.

Light travels at 186,282 miles per second (670 million miles per hour). It could circle the Earth 7.5 times in one second. It takes light:

  • 1.3 seconds to reach the moon
  • 8.3 minutes to reach the sun
  • 4.3 years to reach the nearest star

The space shuttle travels about 17,500 – 18,000 miles per hour. The fastest manmade object ever sent into to space was Helios II. It traveled at 157,070 miles per hour, four thousand times slower than the speed of light. Voyager 1 has covered 1/600th of a light year in 30 years and is currently moving at 1/18,000th the speed of light.

Though light travels from the Earth to the moon in 1.3 seconds, it takes our space crafts over four days to travel the same distance. With our current technology, it would take us roughly 350,000 years to travel to Gliese 581 c. Even if we could travel at one-tenth of the speed of light, it would still take about 220 years to reach Gliese 581 c.

Granted, there could be alien civilizations that are far more advanced than ours, but can they travel at the speed of light? It seems improbable. How about wormholes? That would certainly cut down on the amount of time it takes to traverse the universe.

There is no observational evidence for wormholes, but in his theory of general relativity, Einstein hypothesizes that they might exist. However, they would be miniscule and too unstable to allow a craft to pass through.

To me, the evidence doesn’t bode well for aliens visiting Earth. What are your thoughts?

Subjective Validation

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When I was teaching English in Hawaii, one of my students told me that she saw ghosts almost every day. I asked if there were any ghosts in the room at the time. She examined the classroom for a moment and said there weren’t.

This incited a debate among the class about the existence of ghosts and why some people see them and others don’t. Personally, I’ve never seen a ghost. According to my students, only true believes of apparitions can see them. At the time, I didn’t buy into that theory. Now I think there may be a lot of truth to it.sleep paralysis

In psychology, they refer to this as Subjective Validation. We see what we expect to see. In other words, we interpret the world according to our personal belief system.

We all have a bias toward our own beliefs. Once we accept something as a fact, we start filtering information, looking for things that validate our belief and ignoring everything that disproves it. As adults, we’re not looking for new ways to interpret the world. We merely interpret our experiences in ways that validate what we already know, or at least what we think we know. We become selective in what we see and hear to a point that we’re blind to anything of the contrary. Hence, selective validation. sleep paralysis2

Often, as I sit at my computer, working on a story, I catch glimpses of movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turn, I find nothing there. My personal explanation is that my eyes are fatigued and I’m merely seeing spots. However, I know people who contribute such images to spirits, claiming they are easier to see with our peripheral vision and when we’re not actually looking for them. Thus, our belief, or lack of belief, in ghosts influences how we interpret the experience.

A prime example of this occurs with sleep paralysis. In this state, your body is asleep while your mind is partially awake. Thus, you’re mentally aware for the most part, but are unable to move. It’s often accompanied by vivid hallucinations and an ominous feeling that there’s a presence or entity in the room with you. This is something I’ve experience many times and it can be frightening, especially if you don’t know what’s happening to you. When I was a kid, it used to terrify me. Now that I know what is happening to me, it’s much less frightening but still very unpleasant. sleep paralysis3

The psychological significance of sleep paralysis isn’t the experience itself, but rather how people interpret the experience. In ancient times, people believed they were being attacked by witches. Others claimed they were being possessed by demons. This used to be my interpretation, especially after seeing the Exorcist. I believed the devil was trying to take possession of my body.

Many experts believe that sleep paralysis accounts for most stories of alien abductions. In today’s space age society, people no longer see witches or demons while in this state between sleep and wakefulness. Instead, the presence in room has become a terrestrial being performing experiments on them.sleep-paralysis4

What are your thoughts on the subject? Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? What was your interpretation of it? Can you think of other examples of selective validation? And, here’s an interesting thought, are people seeing ghosts because they’ve been indoctrinated to believe in them or am I not seeing ghosts because I’ve been indoctrinated to believe they don’t exist?

A Mirror Full of Spirits

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A post from one of my readers inspired me to look into the legend of Bloody Mary. And no, I’m not talking about Queen Mary Tudor of England, the daughter of the lovable King Henry VIII, who earned her nickname by persecuting the Protestants.

This is a different Mary with a different sinister legacy. I’ll let Mike tell us about her:

I’d like to recount a scary story I heard as a child and maybe get some input from you or your readers. This story floated around the school yard many years ago and involves a ghost named Mary. Mary was a young girl who was bludgeoned to death by her mother in a fit of insanity. The story goes that if a person is brave enough they can conjure up the ghost of Mary by going into their own bathroom, turning out the light, and with their eyes closed, turning 3 times counterclockwise in front of bathroom mirror while saying out loud, “Mary, Bloody Mary; Mary, Bloody Mary; Mary, Bloody Mary” and when they stopped and looked in the mirror they would see Mary standing behind them. I actually tried it and the only thing I saw was STARS – because I got dizzy and fell backwards hitting my head on a towel bar. Anyhow I’m fairly certain that this type of story has circulated all over. Does anyone else have a story that is similar? Love to hear it. Which begs the question – If this story is well known is there some fact in the origin?

NC and I decided to give the legend a try. My bathroom seemed ideal because it’s large and it’s easy to block out the light. In my reading, I found that it’s best to light a small candle in the room, since you do need some light. And for some reasons ghosts find candles enticing. I suppose they’re like moths in that respect.

Bloody Mary

NC & Bloody Mary

We chanted Bloody Mary and turned in a circle three times. Neither of us banged our heads and saw stars (sorry Mike), nor did we see Mary. Afterwards, a friend told me you’re supposed to turn around thirteen times, not three. I’m sure that was the problem. I did, however, get a good scream out of NC when I dropped the cigarette lighter in the bathtub.

I’ve heard many tales over the years claiming that if you stand close to the mirror, with nothing more than a candle lighting the room, and gaze into your eyes for several minutes, you’ll be able to see what you will look like when you grow old.

NC and I tried that as well. And yes, it’s a bit creepy. I don’t know if it’s a trick of the eyes or a glimpse at your own soul, but give that one a try. NC said that what she saw was pure evil. An old English saying states “if you look in a looking glass too long you are sure to see the devil.” I think that’s what NC saw as she gazed at herself.

Like Mike, I’d love to hear from anyone with more knowledge on the subject or with your own experiences with this or other legends.

Harbingers of Death and Doom

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NC called, totally freaked out. A crow had landed on her windowsill and cawed at her.

She said, “You know what that means, don’t you?”

crow

Hello, NC. I’m watching you.

I said, “Yes. It means there was a crow on your windowsill.”

“No. It means I’m going to die or something really bad is going to happen.”

Laughter on my end of the phone.

“I’m glad you find this funny,” she said.

Now the crow has been hanging around her place, not a good omen for someone who believes in omens.

Crows are smart birds. If you threaten them, they will remember your face and tell all of their crow buddies about you. They memorize the route of garbage trucks so they know when and where to find food. This ability earned them a bad reputation during medieval battles as a murder of crows followed the foot soldiers across the battle field. Perhaps this is why they’re called a “murder of crows,” not a group, not a flock, but a murder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0CXSVrIt5w

Crows soon figured out that the marching soldiers would ultimately bring bloodshed. And to a crow that means dinner. So of course they followed the soldiers, who then began to see the presence of crows as a bad omen. They were harbingers, foreshadowing the evil that would soon fall upon them.  Once the battle was over, the crows would swoop in and feast upon the dead, adding to their sinister image.

I called NC and got her voicemail. I cawed a couple of times and hung up. She didn’t think it was funny. But don’t worry, she’s going to be fine. She bought some sage and burned it in her living room to ward of the evil. That should do the trick.

Halloween: A Time for Exchanging Curses

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Tali & Jeff’s Pumpkin

Halloween: a holiday filled with ghosts, monsters and demented friends. Last year I went all out, adorned my place with ghoulish décor and had a big party with lots of friends and enough noise to drive my neighbors batty. This year I decided to give the neighbors and myself a rest.

Since I wasn’t using all of the decorations I purchased, NC wanted to know if she could borrow them to create her own haunted party. We had a pumpkin-carving contest. Tali and Jeff won with their werewolf, but basically they cheated since Jeff does makeup for horror movies.

When NC returned my plastic crate of Halloween decorations, she said I might as well stuff it in my living room closet, since I recently cleaned it out and now had extra space. Normally, I keep the decorations in a storage cabinet in the garage. Being a suspicious soul, I had to wonder why NC would suggest that I keep the crate in the living room closet. Why would she care where I put it? So, as I was putting the crate away (in the garage), I opened it up, dug through it, and guess what I found. That’s right, the evil nutcracker. Now NC, the devious little brat, thinks she’s pawned her bad luck off onto me. Since she’s too lazy to even read this blog, she’ll never know that I found it. What do you think, should I tell her?

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NC’s cursed nutcracker somehow found its way into my box of Halloween decorations

The Nutcase and the Nutcracker

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Cursed Devil Nutcracker

October. The season to celebrate ghouls, demons, and all things dark and beastly. A perfect time to start a blog devoted to such grim topics.

I’m a skeptic by nature. After all, this is the age of enlightenment. Superstitions are a thing of the past. Spirits don’t actually roam the earth. An object can’t be cursed and bring on a string of bad luck. Right?

Yet sometimes, despite our better judgment, we can’t help but wonder if that noise in the other room was indeed the house settling. Or if the presence you sense behind you is strictly your mind getting the best of you.

Most of my friends are like me. Skeptics. But not NC. She believes it all. Ghosts, voodoo, bad juju, evil curses. It’s all real in her world. And sometimes those beliefs, no matter how ridiculous, can be contagious.

NC bought a nutcracker modeled after Satan. You’d think her beliefs in the paranormal would scare her away from the darker side of life. Instead it draws her to it. Basically, she’s nuts. NC isn’t her real name, by the way. Not even her initials. She’s a bit of a nutcase. Adorable, yes. But still a nutcase. Hence, NC.

Her new nutcracker was a creepy thing, but she adored it. That is until she developed strep throat, got in an argument with her boyfriend, and ran her car into the side of a bus. Dumb luck? Most people would think so, but not NC. That string of events could only mean one thing: her devil nutcracker was cursed!

Nutcase & Nutcracker

Nutcase & Nutcracker

“You’re prone to strep throat,” I told her, trying to convince her the nutcracker had nothing to do with her bad luck. “You and your boyfriend argue all the time. As for the bus, what can I say? You’re an idiot.”

No amount of logic could dissuade her. She had a cursed nutcracker. The tag on the bottom said it’d been made in China. NC was convinced that a factory worker, underpaid and bitter toward Americans, passed his bad juju onto the nutcracker before it was boxed up and shipped off to the States.

The only reasonable thing to do now was to pawn her little devil off onto one of her closest friends. Throwing it away wouldn’t work, you see. She needed somebody else to take the nutcracker so she could see if this dear friend also became plagued with misfortune. NC does employ logic from time to time. Too bad it has to be at someone else’s expense.

Unfortunately for NC, her rantings about her evil nutcracker had made all of us weary, despite our skepticism. For some reason, no one wanted to be her guinea pig. She could have brought the ugly thing over, presented it as a gift, and I would have stuffed it away in my cupboard without thinking a thing of it. But now she’d awoken the irrational part of my brain that claims there are still many things in this universe we don’t understand and maybe that ridiculous, satanic nutcracker might be one of them. So no, I didn’t want it. Nor did anyone else.

NC came up with all sort of crazy schemes to rid herself of the curse. My personal favorite involved stuffing the nutcracker in a paper bag and leaving it in the car of a friend who had already stated he wanted nothing to do with the cursed object.

Did I mention that NC is slightly demented?

Ultimately, her boyfriend, a fellow nonbeliever, locked the nutcracker outside on the balcony. I can’t declare that no other misfortunes have befallen NC since its banishment, but at least now she no longer attributes it to the devil. Now it’s all God’s doing. Apparently He doesn’t like her very much. At least that’s her take on it.

What do you think? Can a person infect an object with bad energy, either intentionally or otherwise?

QuaintLore is back online

The Black Garden by Joe Bright

The Black Garden
by Joe Bright

I changed hosts, but my blog didn’t transfer with me. So I’m blessed with the wonderful chore of reposting all of my articles. Yay! Lucky me!

I’ll also be posting them on tumblr, just in case I have this issue again.  If you have a tumblr account, please stop by and follow. While you’re at it, check out joebrightbooks.com and read a sample of my novel, The Black Garden.

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