Note: This article first appeared earlier this week in my Substack newsletter.
Not long ago, I wrote an essay about the supposed “curse” of James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder, inspired by the recent announcement of the rediscovery of one of the few original parts of the car to have survived since the crash that killed Dean and totaled the car in 1955. The transaxle assembly went up for auction at the end of May, and the auction ended in the most predictable and disappointing way possible—with all of my various intellectual interests colliding into a flaming mass of stupidity. Paranormal cable TV star Zak Bagans purchased the part for $382,000 in order to install it in his Las Vegas museum dedicated to horror and the paranormal, where he will present the “cursed” car part in an exhibit room dedicated to James Dean and the occult.
Recently, UFO propagandist Leslie Kean had her book on the afterlife adapted as a Netflix series. Her writing partner, Ralph Blumenthal, is about to publish his long-gestating biography of alien abduction researcher John Mack, endorsing Mack’s ideas about reaching a transcendent afterlife through aliens. The pair came to renewed national attention in December 2017 when they revealed the existence of a Pentagon UFO office, a report instigated through the offices of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, staffed by refugees from both the government office and its major contractor, wealthy UFO believer and hotelier Robert Bigelow’s flying saucer research organization. The relationship between these various data points wasn’t entirely clear until now. Today, the New York Times ran a new piece by Blumenthal rhapsodizing over Bigelow’s newest venture, an effort to prove life continues after death.
As part of my book research, I came across several references to the suicide of either one or two girls in Hamburg, Germany sometime between 1959 and 1964, connected in some way to James Dean. They were said to have killed themselves, as David Dalton put it in his 1974 biography of James Dean, "on the anniversary of his death, leaving a note to their parents that 'this was the anniversary of the day Jimmy died and life was intolerable without him.'" James Howett repeated the story, in briefer form, in his 1975 biography, obviously copying from either Dalton or their common source. The lack of primary sources and citations led me to think the story was an urban legend, but it turns out to be true (though Dalton recounts details incorrectly), and worse than Dalton summarizes. Since no English source seems to have reported the account given by the Germans, I want to make it available after reading it today.
For years now, I have ended each trip around the sun with a summary of the preceding twelve months in fringe history, space aliens, and the weird. Most years, these summaries run into the thousands of words because so much happened. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and the American presidential election severely curtailed the number of extreme claims made about ancient history, as conspiracy theorists turned their attention toward disease and politics. Last year, I said I was ready for a long, difficult year to end, and now those look like the good old days. This year I published a new book and wrote two more, and I look forward to what I hope will be big things next year when publishers get a look at my newest manuscript. In the meantime, we can look back in sadness and anger.
I must confess that I have found researching my planned new book about midcentury moral panics to be surprisingly amusing. Typically, when I research a topic, the people involved turn out to be somewhere on the spectrum between unpleasant and evil. Many are wildly racist, and most have all the color and excitement of the sepia-toned photos in which they now exist. For the most part, the people I learn about don’t really do things so much as write about them, and many of the people are known only as names (cough, Annianus and Panodorus, cough), and that makes most of the research an exercise in textual analysis.
I feel like it says something about Graham Hancock that he has devoted a growing percentage of the guest articles on his website to UFO and ancient astronaut claims, even though he himself purports not to believe in the ancient astronaut theory. How much of that is the case is debatable, since his rejection of ancient astronautics in Magicians of the Gods contrasts rather heavily with his frequent appearances on Ancient Aliens and the ancient astronaut book he coauthored, The Mars Mystery. At any rate, it was rather surprising to see Hancock follow up publishing a guest article about Hopi ancient astronaut encounters with one from infamous UFO abductee Whitley Strieber excerpting his new book about ancient “visitors” and their “human allies.”
The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul of the World
Gary Lachman | May 2020 | Inner Traditions | 448 pages | ISBN: 978-1620558102 | $32.00
Occult histories can be interesting, provided that we don’t take them over-seriously. It is a rare occurrence when occultism takes the wheel and steers history toward mystical ends, though it is less rare to find powers and potentates making use of occultism to drive their policy goals. For Gary Lachman, however, occultism is the secret stream of knowledge animating all of world history. His last book, Dark Star Rising, tried to envision Donald Trump as a literal chaos magician harnessing supernatural forces to enact an evil agenda. Continuing to mistake incompetence and arrogance for supernatural genius, Lachman’s new book, The Return of Holy Russia, casts the whole of Russian history as a centuries-long conversation with occultism about Russia’s supposedly unique place in the world as the embodiment of Christian virtue (hence, holy) and occult power.
Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, 2019 was the year in which fringe history stopped being fringe and went completely mainstream. This year, we saw pseudohistory and conspiracy theories top the literary bestseller lists, multiply across cable channels like mushrooms on a rotten log, and attract record crowds to traveling carnivals masquerading as pseudohistory “fan” conventions. It perfectly captures the tenor of the times for the post-truth era that the very notions of fact and fiction ceased to have meaning. This was a long, hard year, both for the world and also for me personally. After dealing with family health problems, buying and selling a house (and still not being able to close on selling the old one until early 2020, nearly half a year after the sale), writing two books, and a knot of lawyers for many different developments, I am ready for this unpleasant year to end. Let’s look back in anger:
My wrist is still in pain, so I will have a brief post today and then wait until I review Ancient Aliens on Friday to write again so that I can give it some time to heal. (I will have a special brief post Friday morning, so stay tuned.) Today, I’d like to talk a bit about some weird speculation that occurred at the Cucalorus Connect festival at the University of North Carolina Wilmington this past weekend. At the festival, two professors entertained the possibility that we are living inside a computer simulation. So far, so boring. But when it came time for computer science professor Curry Guinn to provide some evidence for the speculation, he first reached for an argument from authority—Elon Musk believes it!—and then turned to the paranormal, according to WRAL.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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