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Post A Conference on Religion and Occultism: Colima, 1974
Created by John Eipper on 09/01/16 8:24 AM

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A Conference on Religion and Occultism: Colima, 1974 (Richard Hancock, USA, 09/01/16 8:24 am)

We had many memorable programs at Hacienda El Cóbano, Mexico, but the most fascinating program that we held was on Religion and Occultism. It was the year that Carlos Castaneda published his book, The Teachings of Don Juan, in which Castaneda described his apprenticeship to a Mexican healer or sorcerer. This book became so popular that Castaneda appeared on the cover of Time in March of 1973. The manner of Mexican occultism seemed a natural subject for a conference at the Hacienda.

I was aware that this conference could be a touchy subject that might generate complaints to the University, so I wanted to put it in a religious context. With this thought in mind, I contacted Father Dave Penticuff at St. John's Episcopal Church in Norman, Oklahoma. His reaction was positive and enthusiastic. Father Dave had attended seminary with the Episcopal Bishop of Western Mexico. He picked up the telephone and called Bishop Juan in Guadalalara, determined that he would be free for a week in February and the conference was scheduled.

Angel Lara, the director of the Hacienda, and I had visualized this as a sort of "pop" course in Mexican occultism. Angel had been raised in a rural village and had a good fund of stories about magic and supernatural happenings. We felt confident that the Bishop of Western Mexico was a pretty big gun for this conference.

My first inkling of a problem came when we received several letters and audio tapes which warned us that we were endangering our immortal souls by dabbling in the occult. I took these letters and tapes to Fr. Dave, who reassured me, stating that this kind of protest could be expected from his more fundamentalist colleagues. He felt that the presence of an Episcopal Bishop would be an effective shield against this type of criticism.

Our enrollment had surpassed the minimum necessary for the program to be an economic success, and Fr. Dave, Angel, and I were looking forward to the conference with pleasure. That was when my level of anxiety was raised another notch because three priests enrolled in our program: a Catholic from Guatemala, a Jesuit from Mexico City and an Episcopal priest from Guadalajara. I called Fr. Dave, saying that I feared that the "students" might be more knowledgeable than the "professors." Although he reiterated his belief that Bishop Juan in Guadalajara would be a powerful presence at the conference, I could sense that he too was worried.

This was Wednesday and the conference was scheduled to begin on the following Monday. I decided that I needed to plan this conference with Bishop Juan in Guadalajara and called him to arrange to meet with him over the weekend. His wife Catherine answered the telephone, telling me that he was in the state of Sonora and would be back on Saturday. I told her that I was coming to Guadalajara and would call the Bishop on Saturday morning, which I did. The Bishop told me that he was in the midst of an important clergy conference and would see me on Sunday night at the Hacienda.

We had previously discussed the possibility of his getting a curandero, a healer, to attend our conference. The Bishop said that he had been unable to get a healer because "they are too shy." He said that Don Amado, the Director of Indian Affairs for the state of Jalisco, was going to attend. I was not impressed; I took it that the director was most likely a professor of social studies and I wanted a real "Don Juan" if possible. I asked the Bishop if he objected to my attempting to obtain the services of a healer, saying that I knew Don Luis in the La Libertad market, whom I deemed to be an impressive personality. The Bishop agreed with this plan.

I went immediately to the healers' section of this mammoth market. The healers' section is about the same size as a large grocery store in the US. There I found Don Luis with his intelligent eyes and his drooping grey mustache. I had become acquainted with Don Luis several years earlier when I had bought a small clay dog, an artifact of an ancient Indian tomb, which he said was a fetish for the protection of my home against burglary. He said that the dog formed a magic circle around your home and that a thief trying to break in would hear the fierce barking and growling of a large dog. I later bought a clay image of a genuine Aztec "jaguar general," a seated figure with his face appearing through the mouth of a snarling jaguar. "This is an authority fetish for a man who lives in the city," said Don Luis.

I can say that, to this date, my house has not been robbed. I am sure that Don Luis would claim that this is owed to the power of his little clay dog. I cannot cite much evidence of the authority fetish. Perhaps it was intended for a higher sphere of influence, for a Dean, perhaps, or even for a Provost. In any event, I had found Don Luis to be an interesting and intelligent man, a person worthy of being a poor man's psychiatrist.

I recall a program conducted by the OU Medical College in the Hacienda where the Oklahoma medics visited medical installations in Colima. A psychiatric nurse asked our guide, a Colima doctor, "How many psychiatric patients do you refer per month?" He said, "We have one about every three months." Then she asked, "If that is the case, how come we have so many Mexicans interning in psychiatry in the US?" The doctor replied, "Oh, we're getting ready for the future." The truth of the matter is that many Mexicans seek psychiatric advice from healers.

I tried to recruit to Don Luis to participate in our conference. He replied, "I am just a simple man who sells the products of Mexico that we all know." I said, "That's just the point, we gringos don't know these products and we would be most interested in learning about them." He finally agreed to attend the conference and I said that I would pick him up at the market at 2:00 PM on Monday.

When I arrived at his booth, there were several customers waiting to see him. When I caught his eye, he said, "I'm sorry, amigo, I can't go to your conference. As you can see, I am too busy." He must have seen the disappointment in my face. He handed me what appeared to be a school child's notebook I opened it and saw and that it was filled with crude drawings which appeared as symbols of some sort. He said, "I had a vision of your conference on Saturday night. I saw all of you standing in a square patio surrounded by the heavy adobe walls of an old building." (I was struck by the coincidence of this description with that of Hacienda el Cóbano.) "There was a priest standing in your midst and I want you to give him this message," he said, pointing to the crude little notebook.

Somewhat downcast by Don Luis's rejection of my invitation, I went to the airport to pick up our "students." Soon, all 19 of us were loaded on the bus headed south to Colima. I became acquainted with Fr. Andres Lionnet, the Jesuit from Mexico City. I learned that he was a Frenchman who had spent 10 years with the Tarahumara Indians of Chihuahua. I thought to myself, "And we are supposed to teach him about native magic!"

When we arrived at the Hacienda, the Bishop was already there and introduced me to Don Amado. My professor of social studies turned out to be a full-blooded Huichol Indian from the mountains of northern Jalisco. I said to the Bishop, "It is urgent that we have some time to plan this conference. " He replied, "Send the people down to get acquainted with Colima tomorrow morning and you and I will stay home and organize this conference." "By the way," I added, laughing, "Don Luis from the Guadalajara market sent you this message," and I handed him the small notebook.

When I met the Bishop for breakfast the next morning, he said, "That was some message you laid on me last night." "Do you understand it?"I asked. He replied,"No, but Don Amado does. He says that these symbols are magic and that he has never seen them written down before." "Can Don Amado interpret the message?" I asked. The Bishop replied, "I am sure that he can." I said, "Then we have our conference. Don Amado can interpret the message from Don Luis!"

We copied the message on a flip chart, and that afternoon our sessions with Don Amado began. "That scary old man," as Angel called him, was a perfect stand-in for Castaneda's Don Juan. He told us of white and black magic, of the ability of sorcerers to project their image in two places at the same time. A skilled sorcerer could assume the shape of an owl to guard his field of ripening corn, while at the same time he was conducting his affairs in human form in downtown Colima. It chanced that I took a walk that evening just at sundown and chanced upon an owl sitting on a stump. I walked almost in touching distance of him before he flew. George Sutton, a professor of Ornithology, was in residence at the hacienda, painting Mexican birds at that time. I told Dr. Sutton about this encounter and he said, "That is very unusual."

Don Amado seemed steeped in the wisdom of both Christianity and Indian lore, and saw no conflict between them. When one of our four priests asked a question, he answered with simplicity and confidence. For three days, he held us in the palm of his hand, quoting freely both from the Bible and from his large storehouse of native tradition. Space will not permit a discussion of Don Luis's message. Suffice it to say that it conveyed a whole different philosophy of life and, as the days passed, the absent Don Luis became an almost palpable presence among us.

Angel had arranged for a spiritualist from the Pacific coast to give us a lecture. I had the responsibility of translating his words into English. This speaker was a man of immense eloquence, well-informed on his subject. I was almost immediately overwhelmed by his rush of unfamiliar names, terms and almost poetic style. I stopped him and asked him to speak in short phrases interspersed with frequent pauses to give me an opportunity to translate. After that, we got along quite well and I was able to do an effective job of translating. Afterwards, during dinner, I couldn't help commenting on how well the translation had gone. He replied, "Oh, yes, the spirits will frequently assist one in translating."

The spiritualist was very well informed; he mentioned books by several spiritualists in Argentina and also those of Edward Cayce, the famous American spiritualist. He said that almost all people are senders of psychic messages, but that only a gifted few are receivers. These few have no control over their psychic powers. They cannot turn them off and on at will. Those that claim to do this are charlatans. All our priest were unanimous in praising this man's lecture.

The final event of the conference was a visit to a healer's residence high up on the slopes of the Colima volcano. When we arrived, we noted that a group of the healer's adherents were present. We moved into a sort of chapel which served as a locale for the healer to hold his ceremonies in. He worked with a medium, who presumably was able to communicate with God.

The healer went into a sort of chant, telling us that a large black bird was circling around our humble temple and that his wings were shutting out the sunlight. As he spoke, the room darkened perceptibly; did a cloud pass across the sun? The medium, a person who appeared to be a rural housewife, groaned, stood up and walked unsteadily to seat herself in a raised chair in front of us. Apparently in a coma, she began to speak in a husky voice in phrases reminiscent of the Old Testament.

Angel and I were seated near the front of the room and were rather enjoying the spectacle, thinking what a good show this was for our audience. Suddenly, a man arose from the audience and asked me if I would like to ask a question of God. My mind went blank. I looked at Angel, whom I knew was equal to almost any occasion, "a cool dude," as the young people would say. He was staring fixedly at the floor and I knew that he was feeling the same panic that I was.

Then I had an inspiration; I asked if I might translate what was transpiring to our group. On receiving the healer's assent, I explained to my colleagues in a serious, matter-of-fact manner that God was speaking through the woman on the raised dais, and that now we had an opportunity to speak with God. No one answered and there was a long, heavy silence. Finally, I said, "Come on, folks, we need to participate in this ceremony."

At last, a man from Lawton, Oklahoma, said, "I will ask God something. I have a little dog of whom I am very fond. He was sick when I left and I am worried that he will die. I wish to ask God to heal him." I thought, "Out of twenty people in our group, including several priests, the only thing that we can think of is to ask God about a dog?" With great misgivings, I translated this question for the medium. She replied in her heavy voice, "Peace be with you; your little dog is healed." Our informal master of ceremonies said, "It is appropriate that we seek God's assistance for animals, for we are descended from them and even from the stones in the fields."

It was a privilege to be able to talk with Father Andrés about the 10 years that he had spent with the Tarahumaras in Chihuahua. He had gone directly to Chihuahua from France and had learned of the Tarahumara view of religion before he went to Mexico City to teach math in the Jesuit University there. He said that the Tarahumaras prayed to God, Christ and Mary for things pertaining to the hereafter, but to Indian gods for assistance with matters of this life. He stated that in this they differ little from modern Mexicans, who pray to that holy trinity for things not of this world but to the saints in regard to the here and now. When I asked him about the matter of the unbaptized not being able to enter heaven, he said that there is a holy force in every person that attracts them to God and that, while the ceremony of baptism was important, no precise formula exists for determining whether or not a person has access to heaven.

He also related a supernatural experience that happened to a group of mestizo teamsters traveling through the Sierra Madre. As they traveled, one of the group began making fun of a superstition expressed by another member. Despite the warning of an elder Tarahumara that the spot where they were making camp for the night was haunted, they went ahead and made their camp.

In the dark midnight hours, they were awakened by a scream and they saw the man who scoffed at superstition struggling with a dark bulk. By the time they had lit torches, they found their comrade in a dead faint. When they were able to rouse him, they found that he had been struck dumb and could not speak. When he regained his speech, he remembered nothing of his encounter with the supernatural.

Father Andrés had talked personally with the men who had experienced this incident and he was convinced of their truthfulness and reliability as witnesses. He did not attempt to affirm or deny their story, but he did say that man's psychic perceptions are deadened if not destroyed by modern civilization.

The years have passed and the Hacienda no longer exists for the University of Oklahoma. It was sold to the University of Colima in 1990. It was a unique place. Because of the innate attractiveness of climate, terrain and culture, one visitor likened it to "the summer home of the Wizard of Oz." If one sentence could sum up my experience at Hacienda el Cóbano, it would be the expression of the French Jesuit Fr. Andrés who said, at the end of our memorable conference on religion and occultism, "Mexico is a treasure house of spiritual riches."

JE comments:  Richard, this is fascinating.  You bring the events of (egads!) 42 years ago to life.

This post is already on my list of WAIS Required Readings for September.  I hope WAISers will send their comments, and while we're at it, how about this question:  "What would you ask God"?  My query sounds pompous, but here goes:  Why do You allow us to kill and oppress each other in Your name?

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  • Carlos Castaneda and Education (Henry Levin, USA 09/02/16 3:33 AM)

    Richard Hancock's post of September 1st was absolutely fascinating. I still use The Teachings of Don Juan in my class on Resource Allocation in Education after more than 40 years. I use three authors: Alex Inkeles, John Dewey, and Carlos Castaneda to contrast radically different approaches to what makes an education person.

    This is a prelude to the research on what approaches are most effective in education and the cost-effectiveness and benefit-cost analyses, all interpreted within the three paradigms. It is thrilling to read Richard's recollections of the 1974 conference. Of course, Castaneda is a subject that can be dealt with at many levels. There are many anthropologists who believe that he never met Don Juan and made it all up. Even my students wonder how Carlos could be so culturally insensitive when he compares the Yaqui ways of knowledge with the conventional Western approach. I tell them the juxtaposition is what makes the differences stand out and that Castaneda probably exaggerated and stultified the Western view for contrast.

    JE comments:   That settles it:  I must read The Teachings of Don Juan.  Here are two Castaneda quotes cribbed from the Web:

    "A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting."

    "All paths are the same, leading nowhere.  Therefore, pick a path with heart!"

    Hank:  is it true that UCLA revoked Castaneda's doctorate, because they discovered that Don Juan was a fake?  That makes me curious how he could have defended his dissertation in the first place.  Sloppy committee oversight.


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    • Was Carlos Castaneda a Fake? (Henry Levin, USA 09/03/16 5:41 AM)
      My thanks for John E's feedback and the url on Castaneda (2 September). I have always tried to be honest about the questions around Castaneda with my students and have read many articles, even those that find him dishonest and odious such as the one in Salon that you can find in a Google search.

      But I have never heard that his PhD degree was withdrawn or rescinded by UCLA. I resumed my search today, including Wikipedia, which would usually have corrections on an issue of this magnitude. There is nothing in the Wikipedia article or any other that I could find that makes that assertion. I enclose the Los Angeles Times article on his death from 1998, which also fails to "mention" this important dimension. I don't think it is true, and though the url that John provided does correctly point out that there have have been challenges to the veracity of the conversations with Don Juan, the withdrawal of the degree has not been found by me nor has it even been suggested in biographies and other articles that I read.


      Perhaps this raises questions about whether the author of the url that John cited simply made it up to undermine completely the CC stories. It also raises questions of how much veracity we should accord to the Internet. It would be helpful if a WAISer with better search skills than I could verify the url.

      JE comments:  The rescinded doctorate story must be a fake...too?  This is getting confusing.  It would seem that if you're going to expose an academic fraud, you should be especially careful not to commit another fraud.

      Which brings us back to Castaneda.  Carmen Negrín's brother Juan lived among the Huicholes for many years.  Carmen's post is next in the queue.

      And Hank:  is this the Salon piece you cite above?


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      • Castaneda Again (Henry Levin, USA 09/05/16 5:54 AM)

        Yes, John E cited the correct Salon piece on Carlos Castaneda, which I assigned my students in the past.


        It would be useful to generate a new discussion on the uses and abuses of the Internet. I am almost certain that the url John provided has falsified the claim that Castaneda's degree was rescinded. This would have been big news and would have gravely hurt the market for his books by academics and certainly served as a famous object lesson that would have been repeated many times in the academy.

        The following is the url for the extensive obituary in the New York Times some 18 years ago. There is not a hint of the cancellation of his PhD. The article you provides seems factual and authoritative, but it is a flagrant "pants on fire."


        JE comments: WAISer Leo Goldberger made a simple recommendation that I shall follow: drop Dean Chavers (the author of the article I originally cited) a line and ask about his source for the rescinded PhD.

        Here, once again, is the Chavers piece:


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        • Carlos Castaneda's Doctorate: Neirotti to the Rescue! (John Eipper, USA 09/11/16 6:50 AM)

          WAISer Rodolfo Neirotti contacted Dean Chavers, the author of the article cited several days ago on the Forum, which made the claim that UCLA had rescinded Carlos Castaneda's PhD because of fraudulent research.

          Rodolfo forwarded Mr Chavers's brief response, which said that according to UCLA Anthro Chair Nancy Levine, the university did not rescind Castaneda's degree.

          Confusion resolved.  My thanks to Rodolfo and to Mr Chavers for clearing this up.

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          • Dean Chavers-Carlos Castaneda Controversy (Henry Levin, USA 09/11/16 6:47 PM)
            Our experience with the Dean Chavers article, which erroneously claimed Carlos Castaneda's PhD was rescinded by UCLA, is an object lesson for WAIS. Doesn't it deserve discussion?

            Even detailed historical accounts that look formal and use citations may be fully or partially contrived to support the bias or ideology of an otherwise reliable writer.

            JE comments:  I just checked, and Mr Chavers's article has not added a correction or disclaimer.  The question remains:  was Chavers working from another source, or was the "rescinded PhD" story a full-blown contrivance?

            As a sidebar to this story, how do you go about rescinding someone's degree?  This has to be a complex process at any university, and the ultimate verdict must be reached at the highest level--with the president or a Board of Trustees.

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    • Carlos Castaneda and the Huicholes (Carmen Negrin, -France 09/03/16 6:00 AM)
      According to my brother Juan who lived with the Huicholes, actually called Wixárita, for over 40 years, Castañeda was a fake indeed; even the words he used as being Huichol are not their own but were taken from some Peruvian people.

      JE comments: Thanks, Carmen! I'd like to know more about Juan's time with the Wixárita.

      Gary Moore has written off-Forum that he also has insight into Castaneda's deceptive scholarship.  Gary promised a comment in the coming days.

      All this gets me thinking:  if the "Godfather of the New Age" was a fraud, what does this say about the so-called New Age?

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      • Synchronicity, Carlos Castaneda, and a (Philip) True Story; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 09/05/16 7:26 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        As I had hoped, our WAIS discussion of synchronicity, the flow of bizarre coincidences,
        is actually producing the phenomenon as we go along, right here in WAIS--and on multiple levels.

        The surface level is rational and descriptive. The discussion has broached the issue of fakery
        and credulousness, always a problem in a niche of human experience that can't even be adequately
        named. Is synchronicity "paranormal" (outside the norm)? Or is it "supernatural" (above natural law)?
        Humans so desperately seek omens and signs that a belief in synchronicity might be viewed as one
        more superstition, a matter of seeing correspondences that are only wished for.

        But the WAIS discussion has also gone on to a next level--as we live the phenomenon in the moment,
        via successive Web posts--so that we can analyze it through direct experience, as in Descartes's cogito
        ergo sum. We can personally note the clues and glimpses (or lack thereof?) in a realm that formal
        investigation can't enter.

        I'm going to show here what I think is evidence that a cascade or neuro-kindling process has begun,
        forming a definable wave after August 30. It was Bert Westbrook's post that began the wave, in a
        whimsical way. On August 30 he was replying humorously to Marga Jann's August 29 post about an
        unfathomable compulsion, in the person of ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, he of the sex-texting scandals.
        Bert chuckled that here, even in front-page news, was salacious synchronicity--embodied in a surname.
        The coincidence between Weiner's comically apt surname and his salacious fame was just too neat:
        How could the sex fiend be living out his name? The observation awakened something in my memory,
        at first dimly. I recalled that, yes, synchronicity's inexplicable pairing can appear not just in private experience
        but in banner headlines, verified by millions, when seemingly impossible name-pairs make the news.
        I knew I had once met a spectacular example of this. Somewhere. But what was it?

        It came back to me slowly, first in fragments, then in a flood--at the same time that another mystery
        was unfolding. As mental hints of my spectacular example were emerging in my memory, very pointed
        other hints of it were also flashing from another direction, in other people's WAIS posts, before I had
        ever mentioned the subject publicly. Something was converging--something beyond my understanding.
        The current of posts seemed to be eerily reading my thoughts in advance, as if we were all accessing the
        same pool--or as if thoughts, memories and dreams all live somewhere in a collective castle. My spectacular
        example, which began coming back into my conscious memory on August 30 with Bert's post on Weiner,
        centers on the Huichol Indians--the isolated native seers of Mexico. Not until now, on September 5, am I
        revealing this theme or any overt intimation of it to WAIS members--and yet those same Huichols began
        floating into discussion on September 1 and 3. They were central to Richard Hancock's deft epic of September 1,
        about his mysticism seminar with its Huichol enigmas, and then came Carmen Negrin's striking rejoinder on
        September 3, about her brother living forty years with the Huichols/Wixárita (I'd like to hear more about that).
        Both these streams linked not just glancingly, but multifariously, compellingly, to my own focus, as if we all were
        spiraling toward a place of convergence, though I had never mentioned my own connection aloud, as I mentally
        prepared for the comment you're reading now.

        The September 1 and 3 posts also brought up the fakery issue, specifically the embarrassing scandals surrounding
        Carlos Castaneda, the 1970s hippie/nagual celebrity mystic. Was Castaneda one more of the charlatans and fakes
        who swarm the mystery dimension? Apparently he was. But, like the pun on the embarrassed Weiner, Castaneda's
        perfidy doesn't entirely dispel his mystery. Desperately seeking impostors, and compulsions, somehow factor into
        the emotional engines behind the compulsion-like pairing in synchronicity. Meanwhile other WAIS posts--by Tim Ashby
        on Sept. 2 and by Pat Mears Aug. 31--along with judicious mots from our bat-circled moderator--struck me from other
        angles as also forming synchronous correspondences with my own emerging thoughts, though these correspondences
        were not as letter-perfect as the Huichol theme. These others could be interpreted as mere coincidences--or as symptoms
        of my now becoming hyper-attuned to looking for such correspondences. The mind's use of metaphor (which involves pairing)
        is not just moon-June-spoon poetizing but strikes deep into reality construction, especially noticeable in pre-modern or
        a-literate cultures, as with Richard Hancock's dark circling bird of the Huichols.

        But coming back to earth, here is the example: In 1998 a friend said look in the paper. The news item there immediately
        showed why. Even in the preliminaries it was like looking at my own ghost. A reporter enthralled by hard-way routes into
        the backcountry of Mexico. A reporter going on foot, hiking into places that smarter scribes trekked by phone. That was
        my CV, all right. But this news item was not about me--and it ended badly. On December 4, 1998, the Mexico City
        correspondent of the San Antonio, Texas, Express-News did what I was always told I had better stop doing. And that
        reporter met the fate oft predicted for me. It's on purpose that I'm not yet giving his name. And even when I give it,
        the eerie name is not the ultimate punchline here, but only the first pass in the dark bird's spiral.

        The reporter in question went 300 miles west of Mexico City and then backpacked into what is arguably the most isolated
        and little-known mystery land in a mystery-laced country, the great canyon preserves in Jalisco/Nayarit, home of the secretive
        Huichols. And in that vastness, cut off from modernity, in a place bristling with insular prohibitions and narco-dangers, the hiker

        He was a veteran crisis handler and spoke fluent Spanish. He knew native culture. His pack contained brightly colored feathers,
        shed by his pet parrot in Mexico City, which would perch smartly on his shoulder even as he fried up Joy of Cooking masterpieces
        in his Chapultepec kitchen, with his bemused wife joining in. The feathers in the backpack were to be a gift for a Huichol shaman
        he knew in the sierra. The Huichols, with their peyote visions and psychedelically rainbowed weavings, are said to prize feathers
        as a link to a hidden world--symbolized by birds. The gift was never delivered. On December 16 they found his body.

        So now the name--though remember this is only the first step into the canyon. The reporter in question,
        so dedicated to seeking truth that he braved wars and wilds, was named Philip True. Look him up; he's a fixture
        now in the annals of Mexico reporting, not just because of his death in 1998, but for the seemingly endless
        Pandora's box opened by his death in years following. Much later still, on August 30, 2016, WAIS comments
        were floating before my eyes in the coffee steam as I dimly recalled that synchronicity can creep into the news.
        As I probed for that buried memory, I realized that I was thinking about Philip True--but not just because of the
        eerie surname. It was because (how to say this coherently?) his unfathomable nexus had produced...
        two Philip Trues.

        After he failed to check in from a sierra village with a radio-telephone, the hiker's frantic wife alerted searchers.
        The signs from the beginning said this was not some sprained ankle. The disappeared reporter's newspaper raised
        the roof, broadcasting a reward offer. The sierra began swarming with army search teams. Then on December 15--
        a day before the grim climax--news came crackling out of a Huichol village named Guadalupe de Ocatan--good news.
        The wife could relax, the army reported triumphantly, for the errant hiker had been found, safe and sound. Then came
        the spiral. The next news clouded suddenly with the quizzical, the inexplicable, the unfathomable--for in that vast outback,
        where customarily few if any outsiders could be found, and a sprinkling of Huichols were spread through hundreds of
        square miles of broken country, the army, at a point only 14 miles from where Philip True had disappeared, had located
        another Philip True.

        They verified the passport. It was legit (Well, there were some troubling blurs--but surely this was due to excitement,
        they must have thought). Colleagues of the reporter, swooping in joyfully by helicopter, found themselves aghast.
        True, this was "Philip True"--and yet it wasn't him! The army searchers had unearthed a scientist studying Huichol culture.
        Newsweek marveled: "Amazingly, his name was Philip Truempler." Outside magazine stated the ridiculous sequence:
        "In a bizarre coincidence, the man the troops had turned up was a Swiss anthropologist named Philip Truempler."
        The media in general were forced to shrug off the eeriness of this rapidly complicating Pandora's box. "Five extra letters,"
        mused True's San Antonio editor: "A good novelist would never employ such a trick." The pun was too ripe--this untrue True.
        But in this case, the hack novelist employing the dreamy pun was reality itself, turning trickster.

        At about the time of the false positive involving Philip Truempler, a Huichol named Margarito Díaz spied some vultures
        circling over a canyon. Then he saw the body. It took Díaz some time to reach the searchers, including True's editor in
        a helicopter. And when the searchers then reached the spot...the body was gone. But again there were signs. Farther down
        in the canyon were more vultures--and, the editor noticed, what might be construed as a dim trail of feathers--not vulture feathers
        but perhaps bits of goose down from a violently ripped sleeping bag. They found the grave. Someone had tried to hide the body.
        Many factors put Díaz, the guide, in the clear, not a suspect in any way. But this was a murder. From it would come revelations
        of cultural chaos so panoramic that it began to look like Octavio Paz's "Mexican Masks." A single killing began rippling outward to
        reveal something large in Mexico--including a pervasive atmosphere of emotionally driven illusion. Two Huichol men in their twenties
        were arrested, Juan Chivarra and Miguel Hernández. Media in Mexico began to fill with grumblings--or outright accusations--saying
        that a drunken gringo had merely stumbled to his death in a canyon, and then Big Government--in both Mexico and the United States--
        had allegedly rushed to crucify helpless scapegoats.

        The two prisoners confessed to the killing--but wasn't this Mexico? Hadn't they been routinely tortured? Weren't the confessions
        themselves one more proof of how evil the big guys were, and how pure the helpless scapegoats? A wealthy American heir living
        in Guadalajara became a knight errant, riding to the rescue by magnanimously contributing a reported $30,000 in defense money--
        which soon found a backwoods magistrate setting the two men free--without even notifying the prosecutors on the case. On the
        same night, August 3, 2001, the judge had a jubilant dinner with the two newly released celebrities and their (well-paid) defense team,
        while the glowing expat financier joined in. The defense team included a major politician and power broker. The expat financial angel's
        "philanthropy" foundation (cited soberly by a present-day Wikipedia entry), really consisted of a single legal-system coyote/fixer,
        an attractive woman. The benefactor seemed not to consider that no one was accusing the entire Huichol people of the murder. Indeed
        the Huichols are well known for being peace-loving. But the dominant member of the pair arrested had his problems, including local stories
        of thefts, feuds and marijuana-growing, reminding that the mysteries of psychopathology can crop up anywhere.

        Without going into detail, there were signs of sadistic toying--before and after death--which Juan Chivarra, the main player, may have
        rationalized as violent defense of home ground, against an unauthorized (and vulnerable) outsider. Philip True's backpack, binoculars and
        some other possessions were found in Chivarra's home. There were mountains of evidence against him, not just his controversial confession.
        Yet a tidal wave of public opinion reshaped the case, turning the victim, Philip True, into the villain--in the drunken gringo intruder story--ignoring the fact that True, a hippie-style hiker, wasn't much of a drinker, and especially not on a hike like this.

        This circling of the story into criminal and political issues may seem far afield from its opening in the airy world of synchronicity--
        but perhaps that world is not so airy or fanciful, once the impostors are cleared away. And if it's real, however unclassified, it naturally
        rubs elbows with the hard knocks of the real world. For me this story struck a chord not only because of my own outback hiking in the forbidden
        sierra, but because its resurfacing in WAIS fills in yet another puzzle. My posts in early August, just before the synchronicity discussion,
        showed me straining to reach into distant venues, notably France, in efforts to understand what's being called the terrorism crisis--though
        I began to see it in more panoramic terms, as something that's always been there, and perhaps could be called a world Marginalization Crisis,
        marked by a special form of self-dramatizing violence, amid resentful feelings of being marginalized, irrelevant, left behind. Think of the movie
        Deliverance, with its left-behind hillbillies vengefully mobbing some strayed city slickers, complete with sadistic toying and displaced rage.
        Then think of something larger: slices of left-behind turf spanning major portions of the globe, where vengeful stories--along the lines of the
        drunken-gringo-hiker--might take differing forms, with differing effects, to reach the scale of the solemn anniversary now nearly upon us:
        the Twin Towers.

        Whether called Marginalization Protest, mob drama, or terrorism (with or without demented Lone Wolves), its public image is typically
        complicated by the dynamic that closed over Philip True: a matter of two forms of blindness. First there is reactionary blindness, which
        may seek to pin a limited crime on all Mexicans, or all Huichols (or all Muslims). But second there is its opposite, sentimentalizing blindness,
        which may idealize a chosen rescuee--a marginalized group symbol--and in order to do this, it blindly demonizes others who symbolize authority,
        though they may be the real victims of dangerous aggression.

        The Philip True story, with its smiling, cloying benefactor (an ex-alcoholic with a trust fund) reminds that sentiment isn't always the answer
        in a crisis, any more than hatred or bigotry is. Empathy is crucial in dealing with conflict, but there is a real point where sentiment can become
        blind. This was astonishingly proven by the case of Philip True, where neither politics nor the mass media were set up to convey the nuanced

        In 2003, after victorious press conferences and celebrity status for the two freed prisoners, the case blew apart. The two suspects said
        straight to the astonished benefactor's face that yes, they had murdered Philip True--which should have been obvious anyway, as much
        as their stories had kept changing. On November 25, 2003, the benefactor, moral to the end, held a highly embarrassing press
        conference, announcing to the world that even he was now certain that the two were guilty as sin. He formally withdrew his support
        from the case--and announced that the influential politician whom his inherited wealth had hired as defense attorney was also washing
        his hands. By now the Mexican legal system has made a correction, saying the two men were guilty after all, but sentencing them to only thirteen
        years in prison--and in absentia. By the time the correction was made, they had had plenty of time to disappear. Nobody seems now to know
        where they went.

        So how does all this fit together--this mire of the mystical and the macabre?
        Maybe we need these circling shadows and winks of God, as hard it seems to be to stumble toward what is true.

        JE comments:  Or what is True.  This tale from Gary Moore is as mind-blowing as a peyote trip.  What could possibly be the chance of the Philips True and Truempler wandering into the same remote location?

        This is Deliverance indeed--and that classic film is a useful template to measure all civilizational clashes.  Hearing these stories kind of makes you want to avoid exotic travel entirely.

        This reminds me:  I still owe WAISdom Chapter 3 of the JE Bolivia Travelogue.

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        • "Deliverance" and the Chattooga River (David A. Westbrook, USA 09/06/16 4:30 AM)

          Wow. I can't resist.

          Deliverance (see Gary Moore, 5 September) was filmed on the Chattooga River. One of the sources of the Chattooga is on my parents' "farm"--well, we had some Christmas trees--in Highlands, North Carolina.  I grew up hiking and swimming and occasionally rafting on the Chattooga, the first wild and scenic river in the East, and a gem.

          I haven't been to the place in about five years, but I was there . . . yesterday.

          If we want to push the rational/irrational divide a bit further, the house sits on the Eastern Continental Divide, i.e., divides the Atlantic watershed (the Chattooga flows into the Tugaloo, and then into the Savannah, thence to the Atlantic at the town of the same name) from the Gulf of Mexico (the pond in the back flows into the Cullasaja, the Little Tennessee, the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and thence to the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans).

          JE comments:  Dueling banjos, and dueling watersheds.  Just watched this clip again for the first time in...two decades?


          Happy travels, Bert!  Remember that when road tripping, you traverse space and time.

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        • Synchronicity and Statistical Probability (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/09/16 3:22 AM)
          While there seems to be an infinitely large collection of events that we have been calling "synchronicities," the probabilities of each happening in the real world varies widely. Thus, those of us seeking the Truth must be careful assigning the labels of paranormal (outside the norm) or supernatural (above natural law). There is nothing supernatural in the Universe, just phenomena that humans are too dumb or ignorant to explain. Personally I have benefited from miracles (extremely low probability of occurring, and when it happened I cannot explain how it is possible.

          For example, one can get very excited about finding several people in a small group having the same birthday. Really mind blowing is the fact that after the Big Bang created the known Universe, a galaxy with 200 billion stars was formed and no scientist really knows how. Within that galaxy one simple star became our solar system with a planet just perfectly far away enough, and with a moon just perfectly large enough and far away enough to enable life in our planet. Once life took hold, all the ingredients necessary for evolution produced biological organisms capable of solving problems, intelligent enough (many times I wonder) to move from dark caves to the large cities of today, to land on their moon a few times and now make plans to explore other planets in the solar system, among other things.

          How is that for incredible synchronicity?

          JE comments: The magic number for the "birthday paradox" is 23, meaning that if 23 people are in a room the chances are more than 1/2 that two people will have the same birthday. By 25 or more, the chance rises significantly. Since I tend to have introductory classes of 25 or 26, I play that game with my students.  It blows their minds, too, and gives us a good excuse to practice days and dates in Spanish.


          The "life on Earth" paradox takes more than a link to explain.

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        • Synchronicity...and the Simply Spooky; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 09/09/16 3:47 AM)
          Gary Moore writes:

          My thanks to WAIS for bearing with me as I've tried to illuminate (Sept. 5) the waves of synchronicity (or "spooky coincidence," in Nigel Jones's tart phrase) that are unfolding for our personal examination in WAIS, most obviously in how Richard Hancock's and Carmen Negrín's posts on the Huichol Indians had foreshadowed my own, which dredged from my memory the 1998 story of ill-fated journalist/hiker Philip True, and his untrue/True doppelganger in the Huichol sierra, surrounded by many secondary coincidences and mystical glimpses.

          Trying to find a way to put all these elements together turned out to be a tremendously energizing process for me--as if recovering to me a whole palette of lost pieces from my past. Integral to this energy was the knowledge that the subject matter was a living thing that was unfolding and evolving in the intended forum as I wrote, making it a joint examination effort rather than a declamation. Like the impostor and fakery veins in "spooky" synchronicity, the suggestibility vein can be overstated to the point of hiding less definable truths, but I think that the process of talking about and envisioning the phenomenon can play a role in suggesting it into new manifestations--which, as "spookily" as the rest, are not imagined but present themselves, defiantly, as hard-nosed facts (as in David Pike's triple-Stanford-stranger and Bert Westbrook's Chatooga/Deliverance echo, Sept. 6, and the other interesting cases posted).

          Being able to take this journey of joint verification has been a great gift for me--one more unlocked doorway into a dimension I can't even name. The only way to explore it seems to be through verifiable examples, case studies, any one of which may catch only one small flashing facet of an underlying whole--so the more verifying observers and voices adding differing perspectives, the more the likelihood that new insights might arise--as I think has happened as I had the privilege of going back over the tragedy of Philip True.

          I don't think that synchronicity is "just neurology" (like déjà vu in epilepsy) any more than it's completely objective, but that it represents an uncomprehended place where (to summon one of many possible catch-phrases that fall short) the subjective and the objective converge--where in one way it's "all in your head," but somehow it's also right there in the material world as well, like a living dream.

          Few glimpses can say this better than a look at, first, Richard Hancock's post of Sept. 1, and then mine of Sept. 5, with the knowledge that Richard had no idea that I was already planning a post that was not only remarkably convergent, but whose underlying theme of mystical non sequiturs was, in a sense, mapped out by his exploration. In both, the large bird is circling. We just don't know what it is.

          JE comments:  Gary puts in deeply, that only these anecdotal examples can give us a glimpse into a larger phenomenon.  One of the many obstacles with theorizing synchronicity is that it cannot be replicated or re-created via the scientific method.  Or am I wrong here, Tor Guimaraes?

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