The Alternate Earth Research Center

And here’s a little site I can’t believe is still online.

The Alternate Earths Research Center is a classic work of early web metafiction, presenting itself as the homepage of a group of interdimensional travelers. Supposedly, the AERC dates back to the 50s, founded by one Yeardley Dekader, who perhaps was not of our Earth. There’s technobabble about the IRTV, the vehicle used to traverse the multiverse, and the AERC’s cataloging system, which ranges from “A -drastically altered” (dinosaurs never went extinct) to the inconsequential D- and F- (the USFL merged with the NFL, New York remained New Amsterdam), and witty asides about a traveler who found six different reports of her own disappearance, and a universe where eggs are known as “pre-chickens”.

Alas, the actual fictional documents at the core of the AERC, the reports on the alternate Earths themselves, are paltry, with just three entries, all supported by gloriously rough early Photoshop. Real Tourist-Guy levels of sophistication here. One details a timeline where Lincoln survived; the travelers squee out over his autobiography, only to find that not much else changed after his term. Another goes deep on the USFL-NFL merger, with faked newspaper box scores and lore about how they merged.

The star of the AERC is the final timeline, one where reptiles – maybe aliens, maybe the descendants of dinosaurs – rule the Earth. The terrible scene is rendered with magnificent skill:

The Alternate Earths Research Center wisely doesn’t take itself terribly seriously, and doesn’t try to be anything more than an excuse for photoshopped lizardmen and puns about Lucky Charms. It’s the kind of weirdo project that proliferated in the era of the personal web (it dates back to at least 2003); I could imagine something more expansive, maybe a SCP-like collaborative project, today, but nothing this personal – except maybe in a timeline where the NBA collapsed or joined the ABA or something.

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Sci-Fi Keeps Happening

In 2015, I dove into how a Sci-Fi Channel ad campaign created a video that, stripped of all context, continues to propagate in UFO and 9/11 truther circles to this day.

When discussing it, I lamented how the other ads in the campaign have gone down the memory hole, lost to the internet…

…until sometime last year, when they were uploaded to Youtube. While the “magnet” promo remains lost, two of the lesser known SciFi Happens promos are now preserved.

UPDATE: The magnet promo is not lost after all – it was uploaded to Vimeo by the campaign’s creator three years ago.

The Therian Temple or, how not to start a werewolf religion

I READ ON ANOTHER THERIAN* WEBSITE THAT YOUR TEMPLE IS AN EVIL CULT. IS THIS TRUE?

People are often afraid and, in turn, hateful of, things they do not Understand.
This often leads them to say uninformed or ignorant things about people who do not share their own viewpoint.
To some people, any group which deals with Magic or the Metaphysical is a “cult”.
To some people, anything unfamiliar is “evil”.
Decide for yourself.

In my post on the Elenari, I discussed how a community of self-proclaimed “space elves” fell down a deep hole of unverified personal gnosis, weaving a tower of memoryscapes that eventually collapsed under its own weight, leaving nothing like it outside certain insular communities.

Therianthropes, people who identify as existent animals in a spiritual or mental sense, never quite had to worry about that. You don’t really need to parse complicated “memories” of where you came from when you’re just an animal. You’re a wolf. You remember being a wolf. Doing wolf things.

But that hasn’t stopped individuals from trying to give therianthropy a more strict, even religious skew, and while the Therian Temple wasn’t the first, they may be the most infamous.

The origins of the Therian Temple are in message board posts trying to sway new members; alas, most of the contemporaneous reaction is lost to the internet’s ceaseless march of site death, though threads like this one capture the general hostility with which they were met (also, random Islamophobia and the r-slur, because 2006). What we can know is that the Therian Temple began in 2006 and was gone by 2010; therianthropy & Otherkin historian House of Chimeras says only a “handful” of members ever joined, if even that, and contemporary accounts confirm that. So why, then, was the Therian Temple controversial?

First of all, the attempt to impose religion, codes, and even a Bible on an individualistic community that already faced false accusations of being a cult or religion.

Said Bible was written by the Temple’s founder and “high priestess”.

Said Bible also cost $30.

More on that later.

The beliefs of the Temple drew notice for a very strange reason. The Temple’s website was redesigned between 2006 and 2007, and the later is more graphical – and more defensive about one of the group’s key tenets:

1. DO NOT PARTAKE IN CANNIBALISTIC ACTIVITY.
As part-Human and part-Animal, we are not to eat the flesh of either kin.
We must maintain a plant-based diet.

Amid guidelines to respect the Earth, avoid prison, and avoid “deadening” activities, the Therian Temple forbids its members from eating animal meat – on the basis of cannibalism.

To say this is controversial is an understatement. Any therian can be a vegan or vegetarian, but there’s something bizarre about urging people who identify as carnivorous animals to not eat other animals, not for environmental or ethical reasons, but for “cannibalism”. Is a wolf eating a deer a cannibal? In what sense do they share close kinship?

A member of GaiaOnline raises objections; elsewhere, one claims the Therian Bible was written “hundreds of years ago”

Obviously sensitive to criticism (or of potential loss of dues-paying members), the 2007 version of the Therian Temple tries to explain their reasoning:

WHY DO YOU FOLLOW A VEGAN DIET? WHAT IF MY ANIMAL SIDE IS CARNIVOROUS, SHOULDN’T I BE AS WELL?
Therians, having Human physiology, cannot digest raw meat as an Animal does,
so therefore there is no way to follow the diet of one’s Animal side, without facing serious health risks.
The plant based diet is one element to help attain the healthiest physical condition
of your Human body that is ideal for Ritual Magic.
In short, we believe the best physical condition
for the most effective ritual magic is attained by a plant based diet.
This does not mean that you may never eat meat, but that it is “most effective”
to abstain from it during times when one is practicing ritual magic.
No one is “excommunicated” from this Temple over diet issues.

This is obvious backpedaling, trying to find a reason that doesn’t also call a predator eating prey a cannibal. A similar tone is taken by the Temple’s FAQ, which keeps flailing at explaining how a group called a Temple is “not a religion”. But it does tie into another controversial element of the Therian Temple: magic.

While many therians are pagan, the two are not synonymous, and there’s no tradition of “therian magic”. But the Therian Temple melded the two, and “Therian Magic” is a centerpiece of the Therian Bible. The six-ranked membership structure required demonstration of “real-world application of therian magic” to reach the advanced ranks, and even more to be entitled to perform therian services, such as weddings, funerals, baptisms (?) and last rites (?), though the site helpfully says you can’t do a therian circumcision. All for a low, low cost of $150 for members and $350 for non-members.

That there’s no such thing as a therian version of any of those rituals goes without saying, though at least by 2007 the Therian Bible became a free download – though a $30 donation was still required for basic membership, and to earn that sweet wedding discount. A version of the Bible with two extra appendices was offered, in case anyone still wanted to give the Therian Temple even more money.

Another sore subject in the therianthrope community is p-shifting, the idea that some people can physically shift into their animal form. To say that this has never happened is a waste of words; while the Temple didn’t outright advance p-shifting as an actual thing, it did promote a more muted variant, where some people reportedly gained enhanced strength or senses without a full transformation.

Still impossible, though.

On the left: the theta-delta symbol for therianthropy.
On the right: the Therian Temple’s theriogram (buyable as a lapel pin, 2 for $1 deal for members!)

The Therian Temple stormed into a community claiming to have all the answers, if you pay a small fee; crafting its own symbols and traditions and foisting them on a hostile audience, all while acting like it was absurd to call a self-proclaimed Temple hawking a literal Bible a “religion”.

But what exactly was in their $30 Therian Bible? We can never know. Unless someone uploaded it online. And unless you can read it now. And unless I read it.

I read it.

Shout out to beginning your book by reminding people to read it from beginning to end, so as to stop people who read books sideways, or middle to front, as they do.

The first pages just repeat the “codes” & “truths” of the site, but with added commentary; the third therian truth, that therians are born, not made (don’t you hear how special you are, reader?) , gains a note that those who aren’t born therians (we know how special you are, you can trust us) can study therianthropy their whole life and die human (but you won’t, not if you give us your money, move up the ranks, and we’ll tell you the truth); it also calls out humans who “get scratched by a Wolf” to become a wolf, you know, as people so commonly do. Sadly, the Bible doesn’t try to defend its rule on cannibalism.

The exclusive bits, the guide to “therian magic”, starts with the extreme basics of basics. “Master” humanity by interacting with people; figure out what your theriotype is first, as if anyone who didn’t already identify with an animal dropped $30 on a Therian Bible. Those who don’t live in an area with abundant nature are commanded to move, lest they “face extinction”; therians are also advised to not tell humans about their nature, as “Humans cannot understand the Knowledge”.

The “mental shift”, a common occurrence in therian communities where people say they temporarily take on the instincts and mindset of their theriotype, the most commonly reported type of “shift” in therianthropy, is described as dangerous, high-level therian magic (only we can truly teach you, not them, $150 please for a therian baptism).

All therian magic so described is a basic part of therianthropy, turned into a ritual that amounts to little more than positive thinking. Call on your theriotype to take your problems away (wolves are famed for their CBT training); p-shifting is that, plus an extra step where you briefly pretend to run around like your theriotype to become them (that’s why four-year olds pretending to be cats are always turning into half-felines).

What the Therian Bible lacked was an editor; humans who try to be therians are “watsing their time”, we’re helpfully informed that “as therians, we ate still human in physical form”, and warned to be physically strong and not intoxicated before we “attemt the M-shift”. The book as a whole runs 24 pages, many of them cribbed word-for-word from the website; with little information on what exactly the book was, many ordered it out of blind curiosity – and got a booklet in the mail. A booklet whose tone verges on insulting.

Acknowledgements are given to Anton LaVey, vampires, and nature, and then this paltry tome  ends with a note that it’s all property of the authors, who now make music about nationalism using a Nazi symbol on the cover, so take that as you will.

As for the Therian Temple itself, it’s long since vanished, the occasional resurfacing of its Bible the only sign it ever existed. While it’s easy to dismiss them for their obvious ridiculousness, we’d be better off if we didn’t. Because everything was in place for the Therian Temple to bilk vulnerable people out of their money & evolve into a full cult, and the fact that they didn’t gain any followers is not a sign that it could never happen, but a happy fluke. Any tightly-bound subculture could birth a Therian Temple, and unfortunately they won’t all be so incompetent.

Living on the Fringe: Space Elves and the Origin of Otherkin

Beyond the normal reaches of our society lies an endless array of others: some living, some dead; some known, some obscure. This is about the fringe of the fringe.

Otherkin were perhaps once best known as “those people online who think they’re dragons”; now they’re best known as “those people on Tumblr who think they’re anime characters”; but in truth, the origins and history of Otherkin date back much further than most might expect.

A quick definition of terms. Otherkin, or “kin”, are a subculture that identify as nonhuman. This is commonly a spiritual, “I was this in my past life”, identification, but some Otherkin believe their identity is psychological in nature. Otherkin traditionally identify with fictional creatures, such as elves, dragons or fae. A closely related concept is therianthropy; therians instead identify with animals that, whether currently living or extinct, exist. A relatively new addition to the nomenclature are “fictionkin”¹, who identify with fictional characters; unlike Otherkin or therians, many fictionkin identify with beings that, while fictional, are generally human.

Otherkin and therians claim to experience their identity in different ways: via memories, and via “shifts” – commonly mental shifts in behavior, sensory shifts in perception, or “phantom shifts”, where they feel their identity reassert its body via phantom, ie mental, limbs. It is important to note that Otherkin and therians do not claim to physically change, and so-called “p-shifters” are usually a laughingstock in the kin community.

Though today it’s seen as a youth subculture, Otherkin trace their origin to the burgeoning pagan & new age movements of the 1970s. An invaluable timeline by Orion Scribner places the first group that we would today call “Otherkin” in at least 1975, when a group called the Elf Queen’s Daughters placed their first public ad in a pagan quarterly. The term itself dates to 1990, invented as a catch-all for the many non-elven identities Otherkin now possessed; therianthropy found a name and a home on Usenet circa 1994.

But all that can wait. Today, we’re zeroing in one specific facet of the Otherkin community: a elfkin subculture with an involved mythology that flourished briefly, but brightly.

The Elenari started on now-lost mailing lists in the late 90s; in 2000, a newly-created site called the Elenari Nexus became the community’s home.

Continue reading

Distant Encounters: The Garbage Cryptid of About.com

Nessie, Area 51, Roswell: names like this define UFO and paranormal lore. This is not a series about them. In Distant Encounters, we tour the strangest, most isolated tales of encounters with the unknown.

About.com was a sprawling lifestyle site, divided into nearly 1,000 pages for any interest under the sun: whether you were a gardener, knitter, or occultist, it was all there. This year, it shut down, rebranded as a more-modern lifestyle brand called Dotdash. Much of its content was lost, and that’s not terribly sad or remarkable, except for the day its Paranormal site spawned a report of a strange creature living in a dump.

A poll asking if readers had seen a cryptid spawned a unique response:

Paula M. had one such sighting. But it wasn’t of a Bigfoot, a sea serpent, or even a chupacabras. In many ways it was much stranger. And try as she might and after diligent research, she has yet to come up with an explanation for what she saw.

1999, Oregon. Paula M.’s hobby is searching junkyards for vintage bottles and glass which, you do you, Oregon. Heading into a off-the-beaten-path dump she had never visited before, Paula M. noticed something unusual:

“As I was staking out the area,” she said. “I happened across some tunnel-like holes in the ground. The holes were of a peculiar size, which made me wonder what kind of animal possibly could have dug them.”

Paula noticed six or seven of the holes, each about two inches in diameter and partially camouflaged by the sparse growth of the recess.

Finding an inviting spot, Paula M. dug in the dirt for nearly an hour in search of vintage bottles with embossed letters which, okay.

Paula decided to take a break from her excavation and stretch her legs. She stood and walked around a bit. “While I was moving about at the bottom of the recess, I thought I saw, from the corner of my eye, a clump of dirt move. It was about the size of my fist”…about 10 feet away from her, the clump of dirt moved, like it was pushed out of the ground from beneath, and rolled down the hill. Paula began to get a little nervous. Whatever had made those tunnel-like holes was apparently making another one. And she wasn’t particularly keen on watching a rat, a snake, or some other potentially dangerous animal come slithering out.

Then she saw it. Something living began to poke itself out of the ground!

The creature emerges, and it’s like nothing Paula M. has seen before:

She stopped about four to five feet away from the creature. What she could see of it was poking out of the ground about five inches. “At this point, I wasn’t sure what end of the animal I was looking at,” Paula said. “It was about two inches in diameter, and the end of it was perfectly smooth and round – like a cue ball. It was light-brown in color, very much like the surrounding earth. It had a worm-like shape, but didn’t taper down at the end as worms do, and was firmer around looking. It had no distinguishing or familiar features to indicate to me what it was.”

Its size made it obvious that this was not a worm – at least not any kind of worm Paula had ever heard of. And she could not see its entire body, only what was poking out of the ground, so who knows what the rest of this thing really looked like…she could not detect any eyes, mouth, nose or ears. It had no fur, scales or worm-like ripples on its skin. What it did have was patches of peach-like fuzz – very fine and spaced apart like the hair on a young human’s arm – covering what looked like soft, dusty skin about the texture of a person’s. It was not wet, slimy or tough looking.

As she studied at the strange, featureless creature, it gave her a startling surprise:

“All of a sudden,” she said, “while I was examining it, two big beautiful crystal blue eyes popped open! Now I knew what end of the animal I was looking at.”

All thoughts of this being some kind of giant worm were immediately dismissed. Worms don’t have eyes – not like that! More curious than frightened of this remarkable animal, Paula began to wonder how big the body was and what its arms, legs, and tail looked like – or if it even had any such parts. “The white of the eye surrounding its blue iris was the whitest I’d ever seen – a pure virgin white. The size of the eyes were quite big in proportion to its body size. I wondered if it were a juvenile.”

The creature remained gentle, undisturbed by Paula’s presence.

“My presence didn’t seem to bother it because it studied me for only a short period of time. Then it ignored me. It appeared content and relaxed while it exposed itself to the sun…Paula was startled when the creature began to move, and she instinctively stepped back. The animal slowly began to sway the top of its body back and forth as it stretched itself upward toward the sky, all the while slowly blinking.

“I tried to get it to look at me again by clapping my hands and yelling, but it continued to ignore me.” Since it had no discernable ears, Paula wondered if perhaps it couldn’t hear sound. So she tried waving her arms and hands about to draw its attention to her. But all it did was stare at the sky, continuing to sway its head back and forth, stretching upward while blinking slowly. It was as if it were hypnotized by the light of the sun.”

After five minutes, the creature retreated back into the ground, leaving more questions than answers:

Paula isn’t quite sure what to make of this peculiar encounter, but it haunts her. “I haven’t been able to erase it from my mind, and it’s driving me crazy! I’ve asked many people about it and have spent countless hours searching the Internet for answers to any known or unknown animal fitting the description of the animal.”

Paula returned to the dump site the following Spring in hopes of getting another glimpse of the mysterious creature. No such luck. Some of the hole openings were there, however. “I am convinced that this animal still exists and lives there. It’s possible that it hibernates, so I will go back again in early to mid-summer and try and get another glimpse of it – and possibly capture it on film.”

No such evidence ever presented itself, but readers eagerly wrote in with their own theories. Someone suggests a misidentified rubber boa, which Paula M. rejects. “Scott” proposes the legendary tatzelwurm. Another says a friend reports seeing a similar creature:

“I have not seen this creature myself, but I know of someone in California who has. It was about more than 30 years ago and the people who saw it were little children at the time. They said they were playing in the backyard in the dirt when all of a sudden this ‘thing’ came sprouting out the the dirt. The brother and sister just watched in horror, holding their breath. The brother described it as a tall, worm-looking thing about 8 feet tall. Up to this day, if the sister asks the brother, ‘Do you remember…?’ he cuts her off and says he doesn’t want to talk about it. I believe in what they saw.” – Natalie W.

The responses contain their own mystery: a suggestion of the “ingots” of Indochina as a solution is complicated by the fact that every result for “ingots” seems to be discussion of this very comment. This e-mail to a defunct website’s coverage of a obscure cryptid is itself the only account of an obscure cryptid.

“I probably won’t be the first or only to inform you that what Paula saw at the dump may indeed be an unidentified Southeastern Asian creature known as an ingot [possibly lingot]. Check with Agence France-Press for stories about ingots during the final years of French involvement in Indochina. They were seen burrowing everywhere, and the descriptions of the bodies and eyes match those of Paula’s story. Old Indochina veterans in the French army could never explain them or where they came from, and there is no record of American sightings during this country’s involvement later. General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, supreme commander of French forces in Indochina, was so unnerved by sighting of burrowing ingots and the lack of information about them that he brought in a special team of researchers, who apparently found nothing.

“The ingot is like no other creature reported on earth, and it contributed to the general weirdness of the French experience in Indochina. Ingots were reported in large numbers in 1953 around the North Vietnamese site where an entire French regiment vanished without a trace. This disappearance may have had nothing to do with ingots, but there are still old veterans in the cafes of Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles who swear there was a connection. Incidentally, the reality of the disappearing regiment is well-documented. For a few years in the 1950s, burrowing ingots made big news in France. But France, like the US later, hid its Indochinese veterans and paid little attention to their stories… about anything. Such is defeat.” – Loic C.

Anton B. suggests that the gentle creature was in fact a vicious predator, sizing up its prey:

“I read the article about that weird creature of the dump that Paula M saw. I just think that she ought to be careful going back to look for the creature. Its behavior seems to me to suggest that it is a predator of some sort…his creature obviously showed no sign of fear from the account that was given. This creature even came out of the ground when it was likely that it would have had some sign that there was a large being somewhere in the vicinity. I assume that it had this knowledge as a creature that lived underground would likely be sensitive to vibrations, and be able to determine that something large was around.

“The next thing that makes this creature seem predatory is how it extended itself and waved in the air in a very obvious manner…Of course, I am not a professional in the field of animal behavior, but…I’d just suggest that she doesn’t approach the creature and that she does not go to look for it alone. Perhaps the reason that the creature is unknown is that no one has ever survived an experience with it before.”

Anton B. isn’t a professional in animal behavior, BUT…Paula M did never report back, as far as I can tell, beyond one interview with Jeff Rense that I can’t find any trace of, so yep she was absolutely eaten by it. That’s just science. And if she did ever report back, I couldn’t find a trace of it either, since all the proof is buried deep in the Wayback Machine. This story about a weird cryptid, who defied categorization and explanation, is itself now a kind of internet cryptid.

The Dump Creature: Part 1, Part 2; Comments: Part 1, Part 2

The Curious Case of Marilyn Monroe’s Purported Reincarnation

marilyn

Here is a vintage case: the tale of a Canadian singer who believed herself to be Marilyn Monroe reborn, and the doctor who believed her. It hails from ye olde 2005, and has been immortalized in the book Marilyn Monroe Returns: The Healing of a Soul, which has a mighty four stars on Amazon after nineteen reviews. Despite the overall positive rating, the top reviews are all distinctly negative – with even believers in reincarnation calling the book’s case a stretch.

You may regard reincarnation as primarily a spiritual matter: a process where, upon death, a person’s soul moves on to another body – which may be completely different, and may indeed – depending on the belief system – not even be human. But Dr. Adrian Finkelstein believes reincarnation to be an altogether different process. Namely, one can decode a individual’s past lives not via hypnotic regression or memories, but because they look similar to their prior self:

Dr. Finkelstein become convinced that Ms. Laird is indeed the reincarnation of Ms. Monroe, not only due to her memories, but also due to the presence of similarities in facial bone structure, hands, handwriting, voice pattern, linguistics and personality traits that exist between Marilyn Monroe and Sherrie Lea Laird.

I can understand the same soul showing the same personality across lives, but the same bone structure? The same physical appearance? Does a reincarnated soul warp their new form into its favored appearance, or does it specifically seek out fetuses that will grow up to look like their past self?

Ms. Laird, who goes by the stage name, Sherrie Lea, is a singer whose production of No Ordinary Love hit the top of the charts in Canada and Europe. It is interesting to note that in her film Bus Stop, Marilyn’s role was of a singer named Cherie.

So Marilyn Monroe is reborn, and she names herself – not Marilyn, not Norma, but to…a name that’s kind of similar to one of her characters.

Sherrie Lea Laird experienced vivid memories of her life as Marilyn Monroe, but more importantly, she looks just like her:

sherrie

MY GOD, THE RESEMBLANCE IS UNCANNY! Continue reading

Oddity of the Day: The Beatles Never Broke Up

BeatlesIn the immortal words of Jerry O’Connell, imagine if you could travel to parallel worlds. The same year, the same Earth, but everything else is different. Imagine a world where the Soviets rule America, or where ketchup is purple and the Beatles still exist.

Such a story was told by a man calling himself James Richards, who launched a website in 2009 detailing his journey into a parallel world – and he brought back evidence of his bizarre trip. Continue reading