Not As Sharp As Occam’s Razor

As previously documented here, The Black Alchemist was Andrew Collins’ self-published sleeper hit which kicked off a flurry of interest in psychic questing. His followup would actually get issued via Arrow, a mainstream publisher, and would be his magnum opus: whilst he had written accounts of psychic quests before and after, none would be as massive, wide-ranging, or take in such a broad picture of his questing career from its inception in 1979 to the book’s emergence in 1991. That book would be The Seventh Sword, perhaps the deepest dive you could take into psychic questing without getting up and actually dabbling in it yourself.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part constitutes Collins’ definitive account of the finding of the Green Stone and the associated Meonia Sword – as he’d previously recounted in his self-published pamphlet The Sword and the Stone, and as Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman detailed in The Green Stone. Far from redundant, this involves Collins going into the subject in substantially greater depth than any previous recounting of the story, and delving into subjects that Phillips and Keatman had only glancingly addressed.

The second part picks up a few years later and takes in a span of some six years; after Collins learns that the Meonia Sword was not a unique artifact, but part of a set of seven, bit by bit the other swords are uncovered. It turns out that the occultists who’d hidden them in past centuries had intended that they be used in a ritual known as the Form of the Lamb, to unfold at a location known as the Heart of the Rose, in order to herald the coming of the Messiah and other such high spiritual and utopian goals. Eventually six swords are discovered, leaving only the titular Seventh Sword – which, due to its association with the powers of darkness, was known as the Black Sword. The book concludes with Collins still searching for it and encouraging readers to help out in the quest.

Over both parts, Collins and his allies must tangle not only with the difficulties of searching out the artifacts but also believe that they are opposed by a grand occult conspiracy – one which the Black Alchemist and his Friends of Hecate were only a local franchise of. With an Illuminati-esque level of power (and the appropriate tangled Masonic heritage), this conspiracy is never too far away. Can Collins and his questers avoid being ground down by… the Wheel???

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 1: In the Light of (Turquoise) Experience

There is today an active Gnostic sect. Few people can be said to be consciously enthusiastic members, but it is nonetheless a sect. It teaches a worldview which has evolved somewhat over the sect’s existence, but was from the beginning rooted in Gnosticism and has become increasingly reminiscent of Gnosticism with the passage of time, and in recent years has openly switched to some specifically Gnostic terminology to explain its ideas.

Its adherents wouldn’t necessarily think of it as a religious movement, and many of them actively follow other spiritual traditions in parallel to it – but if they have taken the teachings of this sect seriously, then that will inevitably affect their relationship with those other traditions and how they view them. Different levels of involvement exist, ranging from people who just read a few books or watch a few DVDs to more enthusiastic members who discuss the leader’s teachings enthusiastically on his website forums, or who attend massive, day-long lectures which the sect’s leader holds in major venues like Wembley Arena in order to endlessly restate, reiterate, and reinforce his essential points.

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I Swear I’m Not Trolling, This Movie’s Actually Good

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Unfairly overshadowed by the infamy of its sequel, I would actually go so far to say that Troll is a pretty good movie – certainly, from the mass of dreck that Charles Band’s movie empire has churned out of the years, it stands out as a particularly fun and imaginative one. The Potter family, presided over by one Harry Potter (Michael Moriarty) – no, not the Hogwarts one – and Anne Potter (Shelley Hack), are moving into an apartment building in San Francisco. Eldest child Harry Potter Jr. (Noah Hathaway) – no, not the Hogwarts one either – doesn’t do a great job of looking after his young sister Wendy (Jenny Beck) and she gets captured in the laundry room by Torok (Phil Fondacaro), a gross little troll.

Torok, it turns out, is a wizard, and he’s quickly able to hide Wendy away in the faerie realm he calls home and take on her form to make a bit of havoc in our world. In between bouts of terrorising Harry Potter Jr. – still not the Hogwarts one – and generally alternating between being adorable and a horror, Torok-Wendy one by one enchants the various inhabitants of the apartment building. Each time Torok slays an adult, they turn into a chrysalis from which emerges a twisted mass of vines, foliage, and fae creatures summoned. As one by one Torok turns the apartments in the apartment complex into elfin groves, Harry Potter Jr. – not the Hogwarts one – must face down Torok, save Wendy, and close off the gate to Torok’s realm again – with the help of Eunice St. Claire (June Lockhart, with Anne Lockhart as a younger version of her), the guardian witch who has stood guard over the apartment complex against the day of Torok’s return.

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Phillips & Keatman, Questers Extraordinaire

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

“Psychic questing” was a short-lived fad, primarily originating in British New Age and paranormal circles. It largely ran its course in the 1980s and 1990s before largely dying down, largely as a result of the prime instigators behind the concept – Andrew Collins and Graham Phillips – largely moving on from it. Both of them shifted gear into pseudo-academic “alternative history”-type books in a Graham Hancock sort of vein; though apparently they occasionally refer to using psychic sources in their material (and Collins himself has made at least one return to the genre – Twenty-First Century Grail – even after primarily shifting into fringe archaeology), they no longer put it front and centre, and tend to play it down when dealing with audiences they know it won’t fly with.

The idea is simple: rather than just deploying psychic talents in a mediumistic manner, sat around a table interviewing any spirits who happen to float by, psychic questing involves going out and about – seeing where your intuition takes you, psychically attuning to the lay of the land (or the ley of the lines), and discovering what there is to discover out there. Psychic questing expeditions tended to involve a lot in the way of uncovering lost artifacts, unravelling the hidden histories of sacred sites, befriending benign spiritual presences and getting spooked by malign ones – in short, all the ingredients of a fun story.

Maybe the participants in the fad were all making shit up, but if they were, everyone seemed to be willing to be mutually taken in. The objective reality of what they were getting up to has, of course, severe question marks over it. (For one thing, as much as participants in the scene were convinced that they had moments of genuine spiritual and psychic danger, I’m not aware of any instance where a quest went wrong to an extent that this danger actually came to its full fruition.) Nonetheless, it’s a field of paranormal research where, even if it’s all nonsense, at least the participants are telling an interesting story that’s a bit different from the usual table-rapping seances or channellings of New Agey platitudes.

To my knowledge, the first authors whose psychic questing chronicles became published via a major publisher (as opposed to releasing their results in self-published pamphlets) were Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, who collaborated on two books that got published through Spearman and Grafton and paved the way for later offerings in the same microgenre.

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Ferretnibbles 5 – Wrecking Elven Cities and Drawing Elf Porn

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Note: Ferretnibbles 4 is not conserved here since it was not my own work.

The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. Christopher Tolkien)

The Fall of Gondolin is the third of Christopher Tolkien’s standalone presentations of major narratives from Middle Earth’s First Age, following on from The Children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien. Since he’d hit his early 90s by the time the latter volume was done, Christopher had played down the hopes of his being able to complete this one, but thankfully he has been able to; this time around, he’s much more emphatic that this is well and truly the end of the line as far as his delvings into his father’s Middle Earth manuscripts go.

The three stories in this trilogy constitute the three stories which J.R.R. Tolkien himself thought could sustain an entire novel by themselves, and in each case he made multiple concerted attempts to set down and revise the narrative to a point he was happy with, but all were unfinished to a greater or lesser extent. As I’ve previously detailed, The Children of Húrin is presented mostly as a single, continuous narrative, Christopher Tolkien taking the most complete version of the narrative available and then drawing on other texts to patch over the gaps here and there. On the other hand, in the case of Beren and Lúthien no one version of that narrative was developed and polished to the point where that was possible, so Christopher instead presents the different versions of the texts in order of composition so readers can trace how the story developed from its early, Lord Dunsany-esque prototype into more distinctly Tolkien-ish later forms.

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The Sega Mascot History Tour

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

People have given a lot of stick to AtGames’ recent Sega Mega Drive Flashback HD model. AtGames have produced emulation-driven handheld and TV-hookup consoles under licence from Sega for a while now, and the most recent Flashback which hooks up to your TV with an HDMI cable to allow for mild upscaling to 720p quality has come in for a barrage of criticism. AtGames claimed that the bad early reviewers were down to a bad production batch and the issues were corrected in the retail version; since the product is pretty cheap and cheerful I decided to give it a go and I’m actually inclined to believe them. I can spot small but important distinctions between the menu presentation on mine and in the reviews, for instance, which suggests that these got an urgent firmware update.

Yes, there’s a bunch of shovelware non-Mega Drive games on here which AtGames could have happily left off without complaints from everyone, and yes the main menu system is a bit off – but Sonic the Hedgehog feels like it plays like it always did for me, and the controller feels close enough to my recollections of the Mega Drive controller that I have no complaints there (though I didn’t have a Mega Drive myself – ours was a SNES house, I only occasionally got to play with friends’ Sega consoles). I hadn’t noticed either the wireless controller lag or the emulation issues others have flagged, and I suspect part of the enduring animosity towards the product hails from the fact that emulation geeks can get incredibly fussy about stuff like dropped frames which no human being would actually notice by themselves unless you drew attention to them or analysed the output from the emulator.

In general, the box feels like it accomplishes what these retro consoles are supposed to accomplish – giving you the experience of playing a cross-section of classic games from the console in question, in something which feels like the original hardware without taking up a bunch of space with a stack of cartridges. (That said, a nice touch is the inclusion of a cartridge slot, which means that many – but not all – Mega Drive cartridges can work on the system.)

One of the nice things about Sega was that they were a bit friendlier about backwards compatibility – one of the first peripherals they put out for the Mega Drive (and perhaps one of the few which actually constituted a good idea) was an adapter that let you play Master System games on it, and because the Game Gear shared enough of its guts with the Master System that it could run its games, some Game Gear titles are included here too. That’s a really nice touch – in particular, it’s nice to have a collection with all four of the original Phantasy Star games in the first place. (Though Sega have put out numerous compilations of their games over the years, many irritatingly don’t include the full run of Phantasy Star I to IV.)

There’s some frankly odd gaps in the collection – why include Sonic & Knuckles without also including Sonic 3? Why leave out Alex Kidd In Shinobi World when it was considered to be one of the better Alex Kidd games? Still, there’s enough here that you can actually use the flashback to explore a fascinating cross-section of Sega’s history – and in particular, their multiple attempts at producing a corporate mascot who could compete with a certain rotund plumber who was drawing lots of dimes for Nintendo at the time.

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Disenchanted With Disenchantment

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Bean (Abbi Jacobson) – Princess Tiabeanie to her parents – is the violent, hard-drinking heir to the financially embarrassed fantasy realm of Dreamland. To seal an alliance, her father King Zøg (John DiMaggio) is determined to marry her off to the useless, somewhat Zap Brannigan-like Prince Merkimer (Matt Berry). Elfo (Nat Faxon) is an elf who’s sick to death of living a joy-filled, idyllic existence in a candy forest, and whose blood might be the key to the Elixir of Life. Luci (Eric Andre) is a very diminutive demon who was sent by a sinister duo of sorcerers (voiced by Lucy Montgomery and Berry’s Snuff Box partner Rich Fulcher) in order to act as a sort of anti-conscience for her in order to drag her down the path of evil. Together, they… don’t fight crime. But they do get up to a lot of mischief!

Like fellow Netflix exclusive Bojack Horseman, Matt Groening’s Disenchantment takes a while to hit high gear. The biggest laughs I got in the first seven episodes came from Matt Berry’s character – particularly his delivery of the line “Then let this be a warning to your other allies!” in a particularly ironic context. In general I found it perked up a little after the first couple of episodes, once it becomes clear that the series was going to move past the forced marriage angle rather than stick with it perpetually. (In fact, it’s quite good at shaking up its central premises every few episodes, rather than leaving things in a Simpsons-esque steady state in perpetuity – for instance, in episode 5 Bean gets disowned by the King due to shit she did in episode 4 and she has to go get a job as an apprentice for Noel Fielding’s excellent town executioner.)

Unlike Bojack, however, that high gear isn’t quite good enough to justify sitting through the early material – like I said, it does perk up, but it only perks up a little, and in the process of that perking it makes a number of additional blunders. I confess that I haven’t watched the whole series – I stopped watching after episode 7, and I note from episode guides that the plot develops rapidly from episode 8 to 10. However, I am left with little to no faith that Groening will keep up that pace in season 2, and there’s issues with the foundations of the series which I feel will remain an issue going forwards.

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