News Briefs 26-01-2017

Stop pinching your arm!

Quote of the Day:

“The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”

~ C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

News Briefs 25-01-2017

Everything we know is wrong...

Thanks @djp1974.

Quote of the Day:

We don’t live in the age of post-truth. We live in the age of internet-enabled bullshit.

Massimo Pigliucci

The Palace Built Over a Hellmouth

Panel from Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights

The essay below is taken from the new anthology Spirits of Place, which features the likes of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Iain Sinclair and many others taking us on a tour of places where they themselves have encountered, or even consulted with, 'spirits of place' - " the echoes of people, of events, of ideas which have become imprinted upon a location, for better or for worse."

More information, and links for ordering Kindle, paperback and hardcover editions, can be found at the Spirits of Place website.


The Palace Built Over a Hellmouth

by Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

Only a king or a queen has the power to move the capital of their kingdom to their preferred location. For King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), this place was at the very centre of the Iberian Peninsula, not far from the city of Madrid, in an area called El Escorial on the southern slopes of Mount Abantos. Here he vowed to build his life’s plan: a royal residence that would also be a pantheon, a monastery, a library, a museum and a centre of studies. To bring it to life, he hired a group of architects, experienced masons and theologists, who evaluated the terrain positively but, given the monarch’s interest in esotericism and alchemy, probably warned him of an ancient legend: that the Devil himself had lived in a cave at the foot of the mountain, after he was expelled from Heaven and before he opened up seven doors to enter his new abode in the Underworld. The location of one of these doors was El Escorial.

The locals whispered stories of monsters, visions and curses, of frequent electrical storms with lightning constantly hitting the area. Nevertheless, on the 30th of November 1561, the king’s experts travelled to El Escorial to make a final decision. Their official chronicler, Father Sigüenza, describes how the group was stricken by a gale that “didn’t allow them to reach their destination”, which the friar interpreted as the Devil trying to dissuade them from erecting a religious complex over what was rumoured to be a Hellmouth. But the king dismissed the ominous signs in a letter to his men, noting that there had also been a tempest in Madrid. And so the works started a year later, after the court was moved to Madrid, and lasted for over two decades. The complex remains the best-known symbol of Spanish royalty, with its rows of kings and queens resting in the Pantheon. But, in spite of Philip II’s Catholic fervour, it seems as though the chthonic currents managed to seep through the soil and leak into the rich marble and gold, into the silver crosses, statues of saints and reliquaries, playing with the senses of the palace’s inhabitants, driving them to madness and perdition.

To me, the centre of the Peninsula has always felt suffocating. I grew up on the south coast, in a luminous, heavily-built Mediterranean city where my dad was also born. My mum came from a small village in the north, all high mountains, coalmines and fog. They met in Madrid, almost exactly halfway, when Franco was still alive, and moved to the south after they got married. In the summers, my dad would drive us to the north in his rumbling Renault 14. It was a long journey, and it helped to think of it in two halves: before and after Madrid. In those days there was no seat belt to be worn, so I wriggled in the back seat, kneeling and twisting to catch the best sights on the way. One of the most intriguing was an enormous cross on the horizon, silhouetted and looming over its surroundings: the so-called “Valley of the Fallen”. Once I said I’d like to see it up close, and my dad frowned: “That’s where Franco and his pals are buried. We’re not going there.” I didn’t know much about the Civil War then, but I knew enough to find the sight disturbing, like a monstrous shadow of the past creeping over us, triumphant. Perhaps on the same trip, or on a different one, I was also told about the most powerful king Spain ever had, who built a huge palace-monastery, not far from that cross, many centuries before the bones of the Fallen had been buried in that soil.

I never liked that central part of the journey – the flat, monotonous roads, the merciless heat, the strange absence of the sea on the horizon, still too far from the fresh green meadows of my mum’s homeland. Travelling to the centre of the Peninsula in the summer was like slowly descending into a pit of burning coal, a journey to the centre of the Earth, from which one could only exit either side.

For many centuries, the Spanish court was itinerant and the capital city changed depending on where the monarch was established. Before Philip II’s decision, the honour fell on Toledo, a centre of tolerance and cooperation between Christians, Jews and Muslims until the establishment of the Inquisition brought turmoil. By the 16th century, the city was the focus of civil revolts against Philip’s father, King Charles I, but it also had one of the most important archdioceses in the Catholic world, second only to Rome. In contrast, Madrid was only a relatively important city, with no ports nearby and no navigable rivers. There was nothing there that could overshadow the king: barely any local aristocrats; no significant religious power. Perhaps he saw this relative isolation as an advantage, as a clean start in the exact centre of the Peninsula, an area with good terrain and benevolent climate.

Philip lived in the shadow of his father, Charles I, powerful warlord, cosmopolitan adventurer, silver-tongued speaker. It must have been a heavy burden to bear, especially because their talents were so different. Philip, the sole male heir, wanted to build a suitable place to bury ... Read More »

News Briefs 24-01-2017

Facts, or alternate facts? You be the judge...

Quote of the Day:

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.

Terry Pratchett

Hallucinogenic Honey Hunters of Nepal

If you've read Paul Devereux's wonderful book The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia, you'll know how prevalent the use of shamanic plants was throughout the ancient world. But what about the use of hallucinogenic honey?

Nepal’s Gurung people live mostly in small villages in the vast Annapurna mountain ranges. In this remote region, they practice an ancient tradition of honey hunting where they descend towering cliffs on handmade ladders, to harvest honey nestled under jagged overhangs.

In spring, the Gurung’s honey contains a rare substance called grayanotoxin from rhododendron flowers that’s known for its intoxicating effects. While some accounts say it’s a deadly poison, others refer to it as an aphrodisiac, powerful medicine, and a hallucinogenic drug.

VICE travelled deep into the Annapurna mountains to join a Gurung village on their spring hunt and understand Mad Honey's effects.

The use of 'mad honey' wasn't just restricted to Nepal though; people in Turkey, Japan, Brazil, North America, and various parts of Europe have over the years been intoxicated by hallucinogenic honey.

News Briefs 23-01-2017

Useful idiot...

Quote of the Day:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Douglas Adams

Evidence Of Equine Empathy At A Human's Funeral


Death is a part of life, as everyone was repeatedly reminded in 2016. And with death comes grief, one of the worst emotions experienced by anyone.

More tragic is how people observe grieving among animals, but many will discount accounts of mourning as anthropomorphism. Elephants have been seen tearing up when faced with death. When wild herds stumble upon the remains of other elephants, they'll pick up the bones and caress them, as if wondering if this was someone they knew in life. Crows also hold funerals for their fallen comrades. Chimps arrange wakes for their fallen friends. Finally man's best friend also mourn their canine and human friends, often holding vigil beside their bodies.

Recently a cow herder by the name of Wagner Figueiredo de Lima was killed in a motorcycle accident in Brazil, leaving behind his family and beloved stallion Sereno. Sereno was brought to the funeral and many in attendance could tell the horse was truly grieving for his best friend. Wagner's brother Wando noted, "This horse was everything to him, it was as if the horse knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye" after watching Sereno pound his hooves, whimper, sniff the casket, and lower his head against it. Japanese photographer Kiyoshi Abreu was also in the audience, remarking, "The horse knew what was happening, he knew his best friend had gone" in addition to capturing the following heartwrenching images.

Horses are known to grieve for other horses, best illustrated by Dr. Ella Bittel's anecdote about an Appaloosa named Shilo.

Shilo, a 35-year-old Appaloosa mare, had never been too friendly with the two geldings she had lived with for many years. Yet when the day arrived for her planned euthanasia, Jimmy and Colonel became upset as the mare was led away from the pasture they had inhabited as a trio for so long.

A gravesite had been prepared on the large property and after Shilo quietly took in the view of the sunshine-filled valley one more time, the euthanasia was performed out of sight of the geldings.

All the while, both geldings were running up and down the fence line, calling out loudly. Jimmy slowed down after a little while, but Colonel continued, his distraught whinnying shattering the silence of the surrounding hills.

Usually it's humans who mourn the loss of their equine friends but to the best of my knowledge, and several minutes of googling, this is the only instance where a horse mourned their human. While there is no scientific consensus on the internal, subjective lives of horses or other animals, to declare humans are the only living beings who have profound emotions is the pinnacle of arrogance.

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News Briefs 20-01-2017

“Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.”

Quote of the Day:

“Mysteries abound where most we seek for answers.”

Ray Bradbury

Know Your Cryptids Wall Chart

Know Your Cryptids Wall Chart

Got a weird supernatural beastie lurking in the shadows beyond your porch? Keen for your kids to pursue cryptozoology as a career? Looking to land a fortune by hauling in the first evidence of Bigfoot? These are all good reasons to purchase this limited edition 'Know Your Cryptids' wall chart!

This handy screen-printed 18 X 24 poster will help all aspiring cryptozoologists to properly identify a wide range of mysterious entities and animals. It depicts 30 cryptids, from The Enfield Horror to the Loveland Frogman, and many more. Printed on 100 pound high quality paper. Includes an 8.5 X 11 identification sheet printed on standard 80 pound printer paper. Ships in a solid, heavy-duty tube.

The limited edition print run is restricted to just 40 posters though, so get in quick!

Link: Know Your Cryptids! Identification Chart