Rob

Finally, I have finished a manuscript for publication, and I have a breather while my collaborators have their turn with it.  The story of shapeshifting shall return next time.  This is about a friend who has recently passed, and will forever remain unknown, but was no less in stature than Lincoln, sitting eternally in the National Mall in Washington DC.

Their family has owned the land since the 1920s. Or rather, the land owns them. They are so native to it as to have sprung out of the Michigan clay. Pasture and woodland, accompanied by a nearly feral sense of ancientness and renewal–the land still remembers the footsteps of the Ottawa and Potawatomi across it. The farm isn’t too far out of town, far north enough to have lots of whispering firs, but still a good smattering of leafy trees, glorious in autumn. Out a couple of miles on a dirt road, it’s frozen in time; it’s the same now as it was thirty years ago, and probably has been for longer than that.

I showed up when they needed a roommate. The older son, Kevin, had built a house next door to his parents’ farmhouse, and needed someone to help with the bills. My problem was that I had a dog. A big dog, who didn’t necessarily get along with other dogs that well. Kevin didn’t have a dog, but he did have a rabbit, whose name, pragmatically, was “Rabbit.” On walking in the door, Yiannis immediately poked his head in his pen, and slowly wagged his big flag of a tail. I took that as a good sign, as did Kevin. I moved in the following week. Kevin and I immediately slipped into an easy familiarity as roommates. We’d known each other for lifetimes, except we had just met.

Rob was Kevin’s Dad. Dark curly hair, wire-rimmed glasses, he had sort of a nerdy look before there really was such a thing.

 

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He and his wife, Jan, had lived on the farm their whole lives. Rob was born there, his father had been a dairy farmer. As well as the surrounding land, they owned a pasture that was just up the street; Rob walked the dairy cows up to graze up and back every day to be milked from the time he was in grade school until his Dad retired.

The land feels bigger than life, with a sense of the slow swing of the seasons that quietly pulls you into its rhythms. Surrounded by woodlands, ponds and creeks, the squirrels, skunk, deer, and fox are more common than people, even nowadays. You can still run into the occasional ramshackle one room schoolhouse overgrown by trees and brush. Even as late as the 60s, they were still in use. It can get fairly forbidding in the winter, as is usual for Michigan, and driving the mud slalom out to the main road in the spring means you have to put your foot down hard until you hit the tarmac, or you’re going to need a tow.

Rob didn’t follow in his Dad’s footsteps. This was the center of Ford country, with memories still remaining of the excitement and innovation of the early part of the 20th century, and the resourcefulness of those first generation immigrants. The sprawling old Ford plant downtown, and the science museum in Dearborn memorializing its industrial Golden Age, still has the feeling of the bustle of their former glory. His Dad worked for Ford intermittently, and would bring Rob to work with him–so he learned about gas reciprocating engines from the moment the first “combustion driven contraption” rolled off the line. This suited him better than cows, which Rob had a tendency to lose track of, as his eyesight was very poor. Cars were less unpredictable, and didn’t need milking.

It wasn’t long before Rob could strip and rebuild in an engine in a day or two. He had a engineering bent that defied logic–he had what most people would call a naturally scientific mind. To him, it just made sense. His two sons are the same way, all three of them could be considered mechanical engineering geniuses, they could build or create anything. And they were always helping Rob build something as they grew up out in the metal shop behind the house.

They had pole barns full of miniature steam engines, reciprocating motion machines, popcorn makers–the big ones you see at the Fair–every conceivable kind of gas-powered vehicle–and tractors. Rob like to rebuild antique tractors. These were from the times when these stalwarts of the farm were made to be beautiful as well as functional. Red and green with graceful curves and high seats; Ford, Farmall, Case, others no longer in business, usually nothing more than 10 horsepower. Marvelous creatures that reminded you of plow horses, each with its own personality, snorting and blowing to get to the day’s work. I used to go the engine shows with them, where you’d come home sunburnt, stuffed with cotton candy and home-made bologna sandwiches, hoarse from yelling over the perpetual grunt and bellow of the engines.

They also adopted strays; animals and people. They had tons of cats, dogs, chickens, geese, bunnies, you name it, they took them all in. They took stray people in, too. I had just moved out from a roommate situation where all three of us were crazy, to put it generously, and in the case of threes, one usually gets pushed out, which in this case was me. When I showed up on Rob’s farm, a peaceful bit of land and a family were exactly what I needed. It cast its spell, as it does to everyone who comes there, and I was hooked.

025_25The land is the reason they are the way they are, quiet, tough, hard-working and big-hearted.  Later when Kevin was a teenager, Rob would get up in the morning at five AM, take Kevin in early to school, then he went back to the dealership to sleep until it opened.  Kevin would attend school until noon, then go back to the dealership to work. They would then rebuild engines till quitting time.  Like most Americans, it was a busy life.

He met his wife Jan at a roller rink; she still has the white high-tops–wooden wheel contraptions, stowed away in one of the barns out back. Their wedding pictures are typical of the times, she looks happy and a little scared, he looks ecstatic, she in a white lace gown, Rob in an dapper tuxedo. It was the one time he would ever wear one; he was buried in his blue suit. Just to remind you of gender roles of that time, he bought her a new General Electric stove as a wedding gift, which she absolutely still loves, to this day.  Some sixty-odd years later, it still works.

Both were of Germanic stock, so the idea of arguing–or even expressing your feelings–was a foreign concept to both of them. Dinner at their house was always interesting. Nobody ever said a word. Until I became used to it, there were times I was tempted to slit my own throat with a blunt dinner knife, absolute utter silence was the ruling theme. But it also taught me something; silence is a not an enemy. Theirs was a peaceable silence, no drama, no strangled, venomous resentments so common to other families. Just together. Having grown up with the complete opposite, it was an odd feeling at first.

One day after I’d been there for a month or so, I dropped by the screened-in porch where Rob and Jan were sitting, enjoying the first burst of mild Spring weather. The daffodils in the barnyard poking their heads out were visible from the picnic table, which took up a large portion of the space. Not knowing my place yet, I felt a bit timid to drop in on them unannounced, but this was the country, they invited me in.

We were just sitting around the table and chatting, when Rob spoke up and said that he and Jan had been talking, and how glad they were that I had moved in. I came to realize later how unique this was in the midst of their usual taciturnity.  An early spring day, a vinyl tablecloth with a floral design, and new flowers blooming in the yard is what I remember. It was my first really good day in a long time.

Rob was a union man. Rather, he was one of those dauntless pioneers that brought the union to his dealership. The guys in the factory were already making a living wage, but the workers in the dealership were being forced to work long hours for very little pay and free overtime. He managed to get a vote of the guys that worked there in favor to join the local union, and faced considerable opposition from management doing so. He got his car vandalized, tires slashed, the works, more than once, with the bosses turning a blind eye. At the end, corrupt union officials killed the initiative on a technicality. But Rob was way more than they reckoned for.

He knew the dealership was double-dipping the plant downtown for engine rebuilds, so Rob hatched a plan. I don’t recall the details, but the manufacturing plant in Detroit was paying for full rebuilds on defective motors within warranty, and the dealership was only partially rebuilding them. The mistake they made is that they kept records of it. So what Rob did was a little “social engineering,” before there was such a thing. He used to work odd hours, and on the weekends, he had the run of the place. He made friends with the secretary, who filed all this paperwork. He took Kevin in with him one day, as he often did, to help with the engine work. As a teenager, Kevin liked to wear those tall cowboy boots. He often went out back to the parking lot for breaks, or to fetch tools for his dad. He often swung through the front office, so no one really paid attention to the fact that Kevin was stuffing reports of overcharges in his boots, supplied by the secretary.

Somehow or other, these reports ended up at the main office in Detroit. They were of special interest to the bosses, who then billed the dealership for all these overcharges. Rob eventually got his union representation in the shop. He wasn’t someone to be monkeyed with.

Political battles were his thing. He confronted the neighborhood, the city council, his union. They kept him going. Like most Americans, he didn’t put up with much. Smart, tough, a pragmatic thinker and talker, he rarely didn’t get his way in the political arena. He loved children, though, and was a patient teacher and storyteller.

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One of Rob’s contraptions

He was a solid Oak tree, tall and wide, who covered all with his tough, brilliant mind and compassionate heart. When I look at the issues we face as a society today, I remember where I came from, and those who came before me. Their footsteps are large to fill, and the stride they left behind is wide, but those of us gifted with such people have their strength forever knitted in their bones. Whatever we face, whatever the outcome, people like Rob were the prototype, and the example. We will do it together.

 

Shapeshifting – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So a redditor saw a post I wrote in response to a girl who saw a cryptid of some sort, as well as a white wolf, driving down a country road in northern Alabama a few years back.  It was an interesting post, and dovetailed with a lot of anecdotal reports about cryptids in its details.  Here’s the post; Northern Alabama cryptid.

Before I entered graduate school, I apprenticed to a psychic/healer/shamanic practitioner for a over a decade.  I did my graduate work on this topic, and also interacted with other practitioners as well during that time.  I do feel not comfortable with  “shaman” or “shamanic practitioner,” or even the name, “neo-shaman.”  Eliade called these practitioners by this name, a degradation of a Siberian word, Shasin, and even the practitioners of that region do not use this nomenclature.

There are a multitude of designations, Medicine men/women, bruja/brujo, curandera/curandero, chaote magician, a number of other names.  A witch was known in their respective European villages to conduct similar types of healing and manifestation work, and you can always tell a neophyte fantasy writer by their calling a practitioner a “warlock.”  Perhaps I’m just ignorant, but I’ve never heard that term used.  You always get a bit of a giggle from practitioners when lay people use that term, at least the ones I know.  A “wizard,” or “mage/magician,” perhaps, but “warlock,” no.

So anyway, back to our story–this young woman was driving down a country road in northern Alabama, old Native American country.  This particular area was not used even by them very much–they soon realized that it was swampy ground, and unhealthy–but suitable for hunting.  So they had never lived there.  The country itself has been witness to messy confrontations with settlers, and the land has a lot of forgotten spilled blood in its soil.  The energy of the place is old and tangled.

Driving down this isolated country road one night, she saw a beautiful white wolf watching over a small house on a corner lot.  Its presence felt totally benevolent, and she felt comforted by its presence.  It seemed unearthly to her as she drove by it.  She thought about it a lot, and drove back a few nights later, looking for it, and got the shock of her life.  The wolf and the house were gone, burned to the ground in an  odd circular pattern, and in its place was a “dogman” of sorts.  That’s the closest description she gave, bipedal, elongated and misshapen.  She knew better than to look it in the eyes, and managed to speed past it.  She got a glimpse of it chasing her car.  This occurred over a decade ago, and it’s just now, her terror softened by a move 1000 miles away from Alabama, that she is able to talk about it.  I don’t blame her–it sounded horrifying.

Of course, the strict pragmatists scoff, and I’m not going to get into that particular argument.  There are a lot of natural occurrences for which we have no explanation.  Some tales, you can tell that the author is offering them as spooky stories, suitable for sitting around a campfire.  Other people, you can tell that this is an event that they perceive as having really happened.

I have been interested in tales of this sort, dogman, wendigo, skinwalkers, djinn and the like because of some of my experiences with the teachers I with whom I apprenticed.  Not that I think you can group all of these manifestations together, but we just don’t know.  What interests me is what they can tell us about human cognition, and epistemology.  What do we know, how do we know it, and are we overlooking some other means of perception?  What clues can these appearances give us?  We’ve been getting a number of sightings in and around Chicago/Wisconsin of a flying humanoid for the last year or so, interestingly, although they’ve been going on for longer than that.  Lon Strickler has been collecting stories of these encounters on his website.  Where are these sightings coming from?

So I had replied to this poster, giving her some hypotheticals based on my experience, and another poster popped up and asked me further about them, specifically werewolves, lycanthropes.  I don’t write about these cryptids at all, nor have I studied them.  My teacher covered them as part of my training, and after my initial curiosity–I have no interest in chasing them–I dropped it.  My teachers made it clear that some practitioners go that route, shapeshifting to quasi-animal, human shapes to gain power–which lycanthropes may be a manifestation of, but that it was a dead end, and a nasty one at that.  Because once you’re in it, and stay too long, you forget you were ever human.  And it doesn’t take long.

I had one instructor who did go that route.  He was more of a brujo, a chaos mage, a hired gun.  He would get into petty fights with nearby practitioners, and conduct work that was not quite above board, if the price was right.  Curses were right up his alley, and he had a short temper, so you had to be careful.  He was real fun at parties.  Another instructor went so far as to say that if she even got a whiff that you were indulging in working with negative energies and entities, or shapeshifting for material gain–that she would cut you off without explanation.  What was so striking about it was that she remains the most powerful practitioner I’ve ever known, and she cut off this work at the neck, and wanted absolutely no connection with it.  OK, teach, enough said.  I’ve had enough run-ins with them myself to keep the energetic boundaries around myself, my family and my home water tight.  And I never forget to do this.  It’s not that I can’t deal with entities like that–I have–I just don’t go looking for trouble.

Ghosts, manifestations generated from negative intention –what some would call demons–interdimensional flotsam out there making a mess, I quickly found boring.  Their motivations are the same, they see themselves as separate, and that is incorrect information, and ultimately serves no purpose.  But what struck me by the question is that others might be interested.  To the extent that their observed existence is a commentary about humans’ neurological basis of cognition–why we perceive what we perceive–in that sense, they’re interesting.

So what are these things?  Dogman, skinwalkers, cryptids, flying humanoids, lycanthropes, wendigos?  From a scientific point of view, there’s not much to say.  As far as I know, there’s no hair strands, DNA or physical remains that I can point to.  Nothing, nada.  But from a multidimensional, magical, for lack of a better word, shamanic perspective, maybe there is.  I don’t think you can lump them all together, but there may be a thread that connects them.

Your intentionality, in whatever technique you use to manifest your goals in life, is the master key.  On the top of the “real world” pile we have people like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett.  These people have been true visionaries, and have manifested what they envisioned with creativity, innovation and focus.  Then we have men and women like Einstein, Hawking, Watson and Crick, scientists who pushed our understanding of the material world in big steps forward.  There are great artists, writers and musicians, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach–all of them have had a particular vision.  Civil rights activists, MLK, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, a multitude of others.  You have a vision as well, and we are always manifesting what we project as reality.  But we have been so ingrained to think that the material world is immutable, and cannot change without material intervention, that we don’t go beyond that view, as a rule, ever.

Practitioners know better–and here’s the thing–by manipulating the causal level of reality, they know they can manifest any material thing that they wish.  Now, of course, it depends of skill, training, experience, and of course, talent.  Most practitioners have some “specialty” that they are best at.  Mine was–or is–healing work, on the physical and emotional level, for the dying patient.  Students of mine had varying talents–one as a psychic and medium, another as an artist, one was even talented as a psychic car mechanic!  But the center of the issue is knowing you can.

So, shapeshifting. So how is this done?  Well, it’s easy, and it’s hard.  Sometimes I think it falls perilously close to what we would consider mental illness.  Kids and young adults manifesting tulpas through focusing their intention–dissociating slivers of personality into autonomous entities to interact with because of loneliness or feelings of inferiority, only serve to enhance those feelings of isolation.  We are healthier when we manage to keep connected with the rest of humanity, however flawed we may be.  So we are capable of manifestation on this level by dissociation, but in my view, it serves no productive purpose.

That instructor who was not the most ethical, his favorite manifestation was as a grey wolf.  But he was small potatoes compared to some of the others I’ve met, or heard first hand reports of.  I’ve experienced several shapeshifting episodes, but it’s been a while since the need arose.  That’s the key to all of this–you have to really, really, want, in the center of your being, heart, mind and soul, to shapeshift into what you need to manifest.  Mine was a hawk, I needed the qualities of clear-seeing, long endurance for flight, and the knowledge that when one thing dies, another is reborn.  But here’s the clincher–on this level, my physical body remained, but uninhabited; but on another plane of reality, I had shifted into a hawk.  I felt feathers, flight, and was far-seeing and clear-hearing.  In that realm, I was as real as I am here.  It was weeks back on this plane–the “real world”–before I lost the craving for mice.  They simply looked delicious.  Go figure.

The same is true of those who wish to do it solely for the sake of power, other wise known as skinwalkers.  Native peoples who still follow tribal beliefs are remarkably circumspect about these practitioners, so some of what I know is hearsay, some from individuals who know parts of the lore, and some is speculation on my part based on my experience and training in shapeshifting.  The belief is that they must commit some heinous crime, killing a family member, incest, to actually manifest as they wish to appear, usually a dogman or wendigo type manifestation.  I personally doubt that’s necessary–perhaps to their mind it is.  The Natives–who still follow the old ways– believe that talking about them draws them to the speaker.  Perhaps–but if you have sufficient defense, that’s not an issue.  But here’s why I think that might be true–these manifest on another plane, and are then attracted to this plane in response to negative–fearful and angry–thought forms.  Many of these reports mention that some very negative event had just happened in their lives, such as a murder or suicide, or other catastrophic emotional event.

So if skinwalkers are drawn out by negative thought forms, this may apply to other cryptids and specifically, the flying humanoids of Chicago.  Some people, Lon Strickler included, suspect that these are drawn to people who are having negative thought forms, anger, characterized by verbal dissension with others.  It seems to have been the case in several instances.  The witnesses were arguing, or mourning, or in some other form of emotional distress.  Perhaps–we most likely need more data.  It’s an interesting contention.  But this would NOT be true of our young lady above.  So what may have happened in that case?

To be continued…