Thursday, January 16, 2020

Hellier - A Review

It always has seemed logical to me that there should be a lot more overlap between magicians and people investigating psychic abilities and other paranormal phenomena. In my magical models series I discussed aspects of the "psychic model" versus the "spirit model" of magick, and concluded that both play a role in successful magical operations. I suspect that the same is true of other paranormal phenomena ranging from cryotids to UFOs to premonitions and synchronicities. Synchronicities, in particular, seem to strongly correlate with both magical practice and the "strangeness" or "weirdness" that paranormal researchers associate with areas where a lot of paranormal activity seems to be happening.

The television series Hellier, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is a good exemplar of this idea. The story begins with a group of paranormal investigators who receive a series of emails describing a series of events in the little town of Hellier, Kentucky that sounds similar to the famous Hopkinsville Goblins case. In the emails, the sender describes goblin-like creatures emerging from a local cave and harassing him and his family. He sends photos of the creatures' footprints and some blurry pictures that are supposed to be of the creatures themselves. But soon after that, the emails just stop.

Season One of the series covers the investigation in Hellier. The investigators travel to the town, ask around, and have some trouble running down leads. The locals seem unwilling to talk, and the few people who sound promising at first turn out to not have much to contribute. The series does a nice job of showcasing various tools used by modern paranormal investigators, especially the use of the SB7 spirit box. The team also tracks what they consider to be highly significant synchronicities and general weirdness as they explore the area.

As a practicing magician, I had a lot of moments of "Use some freaking magick!" while watching Season One. I also was somewhat skeptical about some of the synchronicities that the team considered significant, and how impressed they seemed to be by them. Practicing magicians encounter synchronicities at the level seen on the show literally all the time, and the challenge is less recognizing them and more discounting their importance. The reason is that synchonicities are a side effect of both magical practice and paranormal phenomena, and they don't necessarily have any deeper meaning.

The team seems to have kind of a fuzzy understanding of this. They spend a lot of time chasing after synchronicities based on the idea that synchonicities show them "where they should be going," and those synchronicities keep leading them to places in Hellier and the surrounding area. But that part of Kentucky also has a long history of heightened paranormal activity, which means more synchronicities. So in fact, the only places that synchonicities are likely to lead anyone are places like the area in question. This doesn't mean that there is any direction or meaning behind them - all it means is that more paranormal activity is present in a particular place.

Furthermore, some apparent synchronicities are just coincidences. I'll give you an example. Statistically speaking, very few bridges collapse. In paranormal literature the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, is significant because it is connected to the sightings of a cryptid called the Mothman. A rash of sightings of the creature were reported in the weeks leading up to the collapse, and a film called The Mothman Prophecies based a book of the same name by John Keel was released in 2002. The 1967 collapse of the bridge was linked to the failure of a single steel link in the bridge's suspension chain.

In 2007, 40 years later, the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapsed in my home town of Minneapolis. The bridge carried Interstate 35 across the Mississippi River. The Silver Bridge carried US Route 35 across the Ohio River. The Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967, and the I-36W Mississippi River Bridge opened for traffic in 1967. The failure of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge was attributed to the failure of a single gusset plate.

So is there a connection between the two events? In both cases the bridge design was such that the failure of a single component would cause a collapse, which is just physics. As for the rest, the answer is probably no.

But imagine if there had been an uptick in paranormal sightings prior to the collapse in Minneapolis. Such events happen from time to time, pretty much randomly. And if one happened to accompany the collapse, paranormal investigators likely would have been streaming into the Twin Cities and declaring the event "Mothman all over again" based on the tenuous connections I point out above. Sometimes synchronicities are the result of magick and the paranormal. But sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, which is why they should always be approached with skepticism.

So at any rate, those are a couple of areas where a magician's perspective could have helped with the investigation in Season One. It should be noted that one of the aspects touching on occultism that the team explores is the "New Aeon English Qabalah" cipher from Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts by Alan Greenfield, which seems to connect some of the Hellier emails to the Mothman legend. The cipher is based on The Book of the Law and was developed by Thelemites in the 1970s. Greenfield himself and the cipher take on greater significance in Season Two, as in effect, the team discovers more and more connections between their investigation and occultism.

One some levels the first season is kind of boring, and multiple people have told me they found it hard to sit through. There's a lot of running around following various leads and the team doesn't find much. At the same time, it is a good portrayal of just how frustrating paranormal research can be. The fact is that if paranormal research was easy, it would just be research. Paranormal effects are by definition low-probability phenomena that don't correspond to things that people encounter very often in their daily lives. Hoaxes are also rampant, as are leads that at first look promising and then evaporate.

Season Two gets a lot more interesting. The team expands the scope of their investigation beyond the "Hellier goblins" case and expands into other paranormal events and accounts from the same general area. That part of eastern Ohio and western West Virginia have more than their share of paranormal incidents, which could be due to all sorts of factors. They get an email from a woman in Somerset, Ohio who claims to be afraid of some sort of cult that is going to sacrifice her. Then she disappears. The team eventually does track her down, and it turns out that the disappearance was due to her being in jail on drug charges.

That one I knew was going to be nonsense, just because that whole "ritual abuse" thing was totally debunked by the FBI. They found that aside from a few isolated sickos here and there, there was no large-scale "Satanic network" or anything like what breathless evangelical Christians were claiming at the time. To be clear, this doesn't mean that "ritual abuse" never happened - there are occasional cases today that never fail to make the tabloids - but that it was rare and there didn't seem to be any connection between different cases.

Anyway, one of the bits of the show that seems too impressive to be real concerns the events surrounding the teams interview with Alan Greenfield, who published the "secret cipher" that plays such a role in the series. Greenfield makes a big deal out of a party balloon that the team found at one of their investigation sites. Then he makes the comment that "something may fall across your path." On the drive back from Atlanta (where they met Greenfield), they come across a tree blocking the road. At the base of the tree, they find another party balloon. It's shaped like a blue star, which I'll get back to shortly.

One the one hand, wow. That's a pretty amazing synchronicity, unlike most of the others that I found a lot less impressive. Maybe it's a legitimate paranormal effect, sure, but it's almost too good. Greenfield knows people all over the country. If you know where somebody's from, it's easy to look up their route back with a GPS app because most people just use their phones for directions these days. How hard would it be for Greenfield to call somebody and tell them to knock over a tree and leave a party balloon at the base? It happened hours out of Atlanta. There would have been time to buy a balloon and deal with the tree. The tree wasn't so big that one person couldn't have knocked it down.

And I hate thinking like that, honestly, because one of my biggest complaints about skeptics is that they assume anything weird is the result of fraud. I'm not going to do that here, because personally I'm not so much of a skeptic that I think it couldn't have been paranormal. But it's awfully suspicious, especially the timing of it in relation to Greenfield's comments in the interview. And there's one more synchronicity wrapped up in this that shows up in the last episode of Season Two.

After cracking more ciphers from the emails and other sources, the team finally works out that they seem to be pointing to a particular ritual that they have to perform. They read over the instructions for it, and find it too difficult to even contemplate performing without a couple years of practice. In the episode, they seem overwhelmed by its complexity and the confusing instructions. That ritual is... wait for it... the Star Sapphire!

You know, this ritual that I teach to anyone who wants to learn it at my weekly Ritual Workshop classes. Also - there's a synchronicity here that a reference to the Star Sapphire is encoded in the text using the cipher from Greenfield's book and the balloon they found at the downed tree was in the shape of a blue star. That's another reason I consider the incident with the tree and the balloon a little "too good."

Now, getting back to the Star Sapphire, it's worth pointing out that in fairness to the team, Aleister Crowley's instructions for the ritual in The Book of Lies are legitimately awful. You have to read all the way from Chapter 36 (The Star Sapphire) to Chapter 69 before he tells you what the "Holy Hexagram" is, and that's what you're supposed to draw at the four quarters. The instructions also include this bit:

"Let him then return to the Centre, and so to The Centre of All (making the Rosy Cross as he may know how) saying Ararita Ararita Ararita (In this the Signs shall be those of Set Triumphant and of Baphomet. Also shall Set appear in the Circle. Let him drink of the Sacrament and let him communicate the same.)"

There's a lot of disagreement among magicians about what these instructions even mean. And Crowley doesn't explain it anywhere. Still, in my analysis I have done my best to work out what I think he meant, and I have tested the version as I describe it there. My interpretation appears to be effective, which is why I teach it the way I do.

If the Hellier folks want somebody to do this ritual for them, I'm totally up for it. In fact, I would propose the following ritual series to accomplish their objective, which is to invoke Pan. They do a simple witchcraft-style ritual for that purpose at the end of the season, but are not impressed with the results. I would propose the following, which I did try out at our Ritual Workshop. The result was a definite feeling of altered consciousness, but since I did it without a formal charge it's hard to evaluate the results much further.

  1. Star Ruby
  2. Star Sapphire
  3. The Elevenfold Seal ("The First Gesture" from Liber V vel Reguli)
  4. Crowley's Hymn to Pan
  5. Sit with invoked energies and/or deliver specific charge if desired. The "three tones" used in the ritual on the show could go here too.
  6. Qabalistic Cross (Star Ruby version) to close the rite.
That brings in the operant field (Star Ruby/Star Sapphire), preliminary invocation (Elevenfold Seal), and probably the flat-out best invocation of Pan that's out there - plus it's by Crowley, just like the other ritual forms used in the operation, so it should be nice and harmonious with conjured energies.

If anyone from the Hellier team is reading this, I would also be happy to put all these rituals into a single script for what I have outlined above. Leave a comment if you're interested and we can go from there.

At any rate, one of my students who is a huge fan of the show and also a fellow Ordo Templi Orientis initiate commented that maybe these various paranormal manifestations and weird events have something to do with the Thelemic current of Crowley's New Aeon pushing through into popular culture. CBS also ran two seasons of Strange Angel, which presents a stylized and pretty inaccurate portrayal of OTO but which also is one of the first popular media mentions of the organization in a long time.

I'd love to believe that something like that is true, and maybe it is. I just have to watch myself for confirmation bias and the like, since as I see it a genuine emergence of that current would be of great benefit to the modern world. If it is true, though, the effect should keep going. Strange Angel was cancelled after two seasons and there's no word yet on whether or not a Hellier season three will be forthcoming. I hope that it is, and if it comes out I'll totally watch it.

So it's great to see a show like this where magick and paranormal investigation comes together, and what I recommend to anyone having trouble getting through the Season One episodes that they skip to Season Two and see if it works any better for them. There's a lot of fascinating stuff going on here, and I definitely think it's worth seeing.

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