The Unexplained: Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult by Ataraxia (RCA, 1975)

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Ataraxia is a pseudonym for Mort Garson, a Canadian-born electronic music pioneer who released a number of occult-themed albums starting with 1967’s The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds, a musical interpretation of each zodiacal sign and one of the first albums to feature the Moog synthesizer. In 1969, using the same lucrative premise, Garson released 12 separate full-length LPs in a series called Signs of the Zodiac. Black Mass, which Garson released under the pseudonym Lucifer, was released in 1971. Also of note is Garson’s The Wozard of Iz, a parody of The Wizard of Oz casting Dorothy as a hippie seeker. I’ll be covering all of these albums in later posts. Equal parts innovator and opportunist, Garson is unique in that he gave up a successful career as a traditional composer-arranger for the challenge of creating “pure electronic sounds.”*

The Unexplained is an impressive menagerie of weirdness. It has elements of the theremin-heavy scores of early sci-fi and horror, the early electronic music of Tom Dissevelt and Dick Raaymakers (compiled in the U.S. as Song of the Second Moon in 1968), exotica, and even “spy music,” but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Garson occasionally descends into noodling, but all in all he manages to conjure the mysteriousness of his subject while separating the various tracks (each named after an occult phenomenon) conceptually.

The idea of using electronic sounds to capture esoteric ideas, to fashion them into moods, was novel at the time, and Garson’s work has had a lasting influence on space and dark ambient. Jacques Wilson, who wrote poetry and dialogue for many of Garson’s late-period albums, writes in the liner notes of The Unexplained that

A new music has evolved, so limitless in its possibilities it can embrace the regions of man’s other world, and evoke the wonders of The Unexplained…

As mysticism widens and deepens man’s understanding of himself and the universe, so does electronic music expand the horizons of his creativity.

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that space age synthesizers can “evoke” the magical, naturalistic worldviews originating in primitive antiquity, but, as I’ve mentioned before, the West’s progressive embrace of occult ideas is deeply related to the precipitous rise of the scientific and technological worldview, which displaced the dogged religious one that preceded it.

You can stream The Unexplained here. The album’s cover design is by Gribbitt!.

A History of the Bermuda Triangle in the Popular Imagination (Part Four): Vincent Gaddis and Invisible Horizons

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Vincent Gaddis and alleged psychic Nancy Bradley, circa 1990

Vincent Gaddis’ Invisible Horizons (1965) introduced the Bermuda Triangle into popular culture. The book is a compendium of sea mysteries (the “vanishing” crew of the Mary Celeste, the “cursed” S.S. Watertown) and includes a chapter called “The Triangle of Death” expanded from his 1964 article for Argosy, “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.” Gaddis, a journalist by trade before he went freelance, was a member of the Fortean Society and wrote for the Society’s magazine, Doubt, starting in the 1940s. He was also a contributing editor for the San Diego-based The Round Robin (1945-1959), “a bulletin of contact and information for students of psychic research and parapsychology” edited by N. Meade Layne, a former English professor whose theory of a parallel dimension called Etheria influenced Gaddis as well as the ufology field.

Gaddis’ coining of “Bermuda Triangle” very likely owes something to Charles Fort’s “London Triangle,” first mentioned in New Lands (1923):

There is a triangular region in England, three points of which appear so often in our data that the region should be specially known to us, and I know it myself as the London Triangle. It is pointed in the north by Worcester and Hereford, in the south by Reading, Berkshire, and in the east by Colchester, Essex. The line between Colchester and Reading runs through London.

The “triangular region,” according to Fort, experiences a high degree of disturbances including earthquakes, “repeating explosions in the sky,” “luminous” aerial phenomena, and falling meteorites—“the type of phenomena that might be considered evidence of signaling from some unknown world nearby.”

Invisible Horizons was first published by Chilton Books in hardcover in 1965. A paperback edition was rushed out the same year, minus the voluminous photographs, by Ace Books, a publisher specializing in science fiction, horror, and the booming “strange but true” genre since the late 1950s. Ace released new editions of all four of Charles Fort’s books throughout the 1960s, starting with The Book of the Damned in 1962.

Gaddis spins a compelling yarn, and, unlike almost all of his genre contemporaries, he cites his sources, even if many of them are ultimately unreliable (i.e., Fate magazine). Gaddis presents his peculiar combination of Fort, Freud, and Jung in the introduction:

We are led to believe that all our awareness, all our knowledge, is derived from the five senses. But consciousness is only the surface of a great mental well that drops deep into the unknown—the outer light of a spectrum that radiates far into the infrared of the subconscious and the ultra-violet of the superconscious.

Man… is influenced by innumerable invisible forces that, in turn, respond to the ceaseless ebb and flow of the universe.

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First edition of Invisible Horizons, Chilton Books, 1965

Later, he explains that “the supernatural of today is the natural of tomorrow,” a sentiment originating with Fort* and best expressed by Arthur C. Clarke years later: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”*

“The Triangle of Death” covers all the disappearances mentioned by E.V.W. Jones in his 1950 AP article, with a big section devoted to “the most incredible mystery in the history of aviation,” the disappearance of the five Navy TBM Avengers of Flight 19 in 1945. (Flight 19 is a myth unto itself that dates to a 1962 American Legion article by Allan W. Eckert called “The Mystery of the Lost Patrol.” The article is poorly researched and includes much sensational hearsay repeated by Gaddis, Charles Berlitz, and many others.)

Gaddis even “borrows” the beginning and end of the Jones article. Here’s Jones:

It’s a small world? No, it’s still the same vast world the ancients knew, with the same misty limbo of the lost.

We think it is small because of speeding wheels and wings and the voice of radio which comes out of the void. A mile is only a minute’s travel by wheel or a few seconds’ flight—but it is still a mile.

But it is the same big world the ancients knew into which men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.

And here’s Gaddis:

The Bermuda Triangle underlines the fact that despite swift wings and the voice of the radio, we still have a world large enough for men and their machines and ships to disappear without a trace. A mile is still a mile, and the miles can add up to a vast unknown—the same misty limbo of the lost feared by our forefathers.

Gaddis’ conclusion about the nature of the “limbo of the lost” is that

occasional aberrations of an unusual type occur in the air and on the surface of the ocean. These aberrations might cause magnetic, possibly gravitational, effects; in which case might for all practical purposes be referred to as “space warps,” and cause deadly turbulence ending in total disintegration of planes and ships…

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Gaddis and wife Margaret circa 1970

Earlier in the chapter Gaddis refers to the aberration as a “hole in the sky”—shades of Fort’s Super-Sargasso Sea and Meade Layne’s Etheria. Gaddis makes a few more observations of interest in the chapters following “The Triangle of Death.” In the first, as if anticipating Fox Mulder, Gaddis remarks that

in an apparently limitless universe, extending into nobody knows how many dimensions, all phenomena cannot be neatly classified. The realm of the unknown will ever ‘surround’ us, and it is a realm without end.

And from his conclusion, “Invisible Horizons”:

Could some of these crews have been kidnapped by extra-terrestrials? To those who have investigated this question, the evidence that there is interplanetary or interstellar traffic is impressive. We may  be ignored for the same reason that savages on a jungle-clad isle are ignored by passing merchant vessels… Still, occasional visitors from the void may pick up some of us for exhibition in their zoos!

So Gaddis popularized not only the Bermuda Triangle but a foundational trope in ufology and ufo lore that became cemented in the mainstream with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the conclusion of which shows the crew of Flight 19 and other alleged abductees being released from the Mothership.

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Joshua Blu Buhs, an independent scholar researching the early Forteans, has written the most comprehensive biography of Gaddis on record at his blog, From an Oblique Angle.

Images of Gaddis are via Blu Buhs and Nancy Bradley.

Gaddis and Meade Layne are mentioned in this 1948 North American Newspaper Alliance article about a proposed Atlantis expedition.

Atlantis by Sun Ra (Impulse!, 1973)

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Originally released on Sun Ra’s Saturn Records label in 1969 (below), the LP, a collection of live recordings made between 1967 and 1969, was re-released on Impulse! in 1973, when the Atlantis legend had gone mainstream. (John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis [1969], Charles Berlitz’s The Mystery of Atlantis [1969], and Brad Steiger’s Atlantis Rising [1973] all followed the bestselling Edgar Cayce on Atlantis [1968]).

The liner notes of both releases include this passage:

THE DEAD PAST: The civilizations of the past have been used as the foundation of the civilization of today. Because of this, the world keeps looking toward the past for guidance. Too many people are following the past. In this new space age, this is dangerous. The past is DEAD and those who are following the past are doomed to die and be like the past. It is no accident that those who die are said to have passed since those who have PASSED have PAST.

Interesting, since every track on the album is named after a mythical civilization of the past. (I’m assuming “Yucatan” refers to the Mayans and their supposed relationship to Mu, even though there’s already a track named “Mu”). Unless you’re a diehard free jazz completist, the album is a tough listen.

Album cover art on the Impulse! release is by John Lykes. Art on the Saturn Records release is by James McCoy.

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(Some images via Discogs)

Confessions of a Warlock by Curtis Lavender (Lancer, 1970)

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This is the only book credited to Curtis Lavender. From Chapter One:

I will call myself Curtis Lavender in these pages. Curtis Lavender because that was my name in another life. I cannot tell you my real name or where I work because that would jeopardize my life and my religion. I am pledged in blood to secrecy and the curse of Satan will be upon my head if I reveal too much.

Witchcraft and Satanism are wholly different practices, but the two are frequently muddled, especially after the phenomenal success of Rosemary’s Baby, both Levin’s novel (1967) and Polanski’s faithful film adaptation (1968).

Cover art to the Lancer edition of Confessions of  Warlock is by Ron Walotsky.

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #29 (March, 1970): ‘Creature of the Sargasso Sea’

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Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery ran from 1963 to 1980. Gold Key published a number of comics centering on supernatural horror, including the underrated The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor (1973-1977), which appeared long before Hellblazer or Hellboy.

Karloff, always a favorite among horror buffs, was fresh in the public eye after narrating the TV anthology Thriller (1960-1962).

John Keel Interviewed by David Letterman, 1980

Keel is cogent and personable here, although I don’t find his unexplained phenomena particularly unexplainable (red snow is caused by a species of algae, for one, and anomalous thunder seems to me a reasonable explanation for “skyquakes”). Letterman does a good job with the material and is funny without being condescending—the venue is The David Letterman Show, a morning show that lasted only a few months but won two Emmy Awards. (Late Night with David Letterman debuted in 1982.) Keel did not have a new book to promote at the time, and it goes to show how far into the mainstream the paranormal had penetrated.

The cast shown by Letterman and identified by Keel as a “bigfoot print” from New Jersey is actually a cast of a print found by a Mount Everest expedition in 1951. The print was found in snow and photographed by Eric Shipton, the expedition leader. A plaster cast can’t be made in the snow, and the party had no materials to make a cast regardless, so all reproductions were based solely on Shipton’s photos.*

I found some news reports (1975-1976) of the “Illinois kangaroo” here, here, and here. I did not find anything about police chasing a dinosaur in Italy, but I immediately thought of the Ray Harryhausen classic 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).

McCall’s (March, 1970): ‘The Occult Explosion’ (Part One)

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One of the first of many articles to appear in popular magazines and newspapers (see below for partial list) focusing on the “Occult Revival,” “Occult Explosion,” or “Occult Boom” of the late 1960s, cited in nearly every book-length occult overview of the following decade, including Nat Friedland’s The Occult Explosion and John Godwin’s Occult America, both published in 1972. The McCall’s issue is notable because the occult theme runs throughout, and major authors contribute, including Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. McCall’s was a very popular women’s magazine, and it’s telling that, scattered among the various articles on esoteric and somewhat rebellious ideas, you’ll find very bubbly, very gender-specific ads for Campbell’s soup recipes, Revlon shampoo, washable drapery, microwave dinners, Wonder bread, Tide, liquid douche, etc.

The lead article, “Occult,” is written by Nicholas Pileggi, best known today as the screenwriter for Goodfellas and Casino, which he adapted (with Martin Scorsese) from his own books. Pileggi was a crime reporter in New York City starting in the ’50s and became a contributing editor for New York Magazine in the late ’60s.*

Some interesting quotes from the article include Pileggi’s neat if demeaning description of “the current metaphysical mood” as a “mystical form of dropout primitivism,” a reference to Timothy Leary’s 1966 invitation to “Turn on, tune in, drop out” (see here for a video of Leary discussing his mantra). On page 140 there’s a long list of supposedly occult-related books on parade at university bookstores, including the “supernatural” Steppenwolf and “the Hobbit series.” (I’m guessing Pileggi hadn’t read either Hesse or Tolkien.)

Pileggi quotes Sally Kempton, a culture journalist at the time for Esquire, among other big publications, as saying that astrology allows the younger generation to “feed on interplanetary mysteries of the astronomic universe rather than be terrified of them.” I think that’s a pretty good summation of astrology’s (and the occult’s) power in general. (Kempton later had a prolonged mystical experience and became “a student and teacher of spiritual awareness.”)

But what of religion, the social institution charged with providing higher meaning and spiritual sustenance to those of us, regardless of age, struggling with the mysteries of the “astronomic universe”? Says an “advocate” of Reverend Arthur Ford:

Many organized religions have systematically avoided dealing with their own spiritual foundations… Many religions today have become much more the offices of social change than the cathedrals of spiritual awakening. This, I believe, is one of the reasons so many of today’s young have turned toward the occult in all its variety…

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Time, “Is God Dead?” (April, 1966); Harper’s Bazaar, “The Cult of Zodiac” (October, 1968); Time, “Astrology and the New Cult of the Occult” (March, 1969); Wall Street Journal, “Strange Doings: Americans Show Burst of Interest in Witches, Other Occult Matters” (October 23, 1969); Harper’s Bazaar, “The New Atlantis” (February, 1970); Esquire, “Evil Lurks in California” (March, 1970); Newsweek, “The Cult of the Occult” (April, 1970); Columbus Dispatch, “Occult Boom Runs Rampant in America” (May 21, 1970); Vogue (UK), “Clothes for New Druids” (October, 1970); Look, “Witchcraft is Rising” (August, 1971); Time, “The Occult Revival: Satan Returns” (June, 1972)

The Morning of the Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier (Avon, 1968)

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Originally published in France in 1960 as Le Matin des Magiciens, the first English edition (UK) appeared in 1963 as The Dawn of Magic. The first US edition, titled The Morning of the Magicians, was published by Stein and Day in 1964. This is the first U.S. paperback edition, released the same year (1968) as Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? Although Däniken’s book loosed the ancient alien hypothesis upon popular culture, the idea is broached by Pauwels and Bergier and had been circulating in the literature of the unexplained for many years. Here’s Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned (1919):

I think we’re property. I should say we belong to something: That once upon a time, this earth was No-man’s Land, that other worlds explored and colonized here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it’s owned by something: That something owns this earth—all others warned off.

In fact, The Morning of the Magicians is a book of Forteana: both authors were great admirers and self-described heirs of the author’s specific brand of anti-rationalism. The book was a sensation in France upon publication, and Pauwels and Bergier started the magazine Planète in 1961 to further explore their brand of “Fantastic Realism.”

The cover art of the Avon edition is by Mati Klarwein, best known for his psychedelic, anti-Eurocentric album covers (Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Santana’s Abraxas, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Last Days and Time).

From Outer Space by Howard Menger (Pyramid, 1967)

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Originally published by Saucerian Books in 1959 as From Outer Space to You. Remarkably similar to George Adamski’s narrative (first published in 1953’s Flying Saucers Have Landed), Howard Menger claimed to have been contacted by morally, intellectually, spiritually, and technologically superior “space people,” many of them appearing as strikingly beautiful women, beginning in 1932 at age ten:

There, sitting on a rock by the brook, was the most exquisite woman my young eyes had ever beheld!

The warm sunlight caught the highlights of her long golden hair as it cascaded around her face and shoulders. The curves of her lovely body were delicately contoured—revealed through the translucent material of clothing which reminded me of the habit of skiers.

Starting in 1956, Menger relates taking journeys in various spaceships, eventually traveling to the Moon and Venus, both of which he describes as having an oxygen atmosphere, lush vegetation, native settlements, and so on. You can hear an interesting NBC interview with Howard and Connie Menger—from the First Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention at the Menger farm, 1958—at archive.org.

Photos from the book, via Universe People, are below. Note how similar the Menger saucer is to the Adamski saucer,

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