The World Mourns the Loss of One of Its Icons, Dr. Hans Holzer

This article originally appeared on Ghostvillage a few years back, after Dr. Holzer’s death, and was picked up by a few media outlets at the time.

In any field it is hard to remain relevant generationally. Influence is passed from age to age in stories, like a father telling his son about a man who once was great. Very rarely do they look at the same person and say he defined each of their times, and when it happens, the figure takes on a timeless quality. If it is hard to catch the spotlight, it is harder to remain there for decades, with each person learning a fresh lesson from a new lesson taught. Dr. Hans Holzer was beyond influential. He remained relevant.

 
After sixty years at the forefront of the paranormal, Dr. Hans Holzer passed away this Sunday, April 26, 2009, at the age of 89. He was born in Austria in 1920, but moved to New York in 1938, shortly before the darkest days of World War II. While so much of his early life was influenced by his time in Europe, he became a New Yorker at heart and stayed there until his death, often using the city as a base of operations for his investigations. His education might have seemed like a mixed bag to someone looking in from the outside, but it helped him carve out the name he would carry with him into a profession many people with his degree of education frowned upon.

 
Over the next half century he worked on some of the most recognizable cases in the paranormal world, including the case in Amityville. Authoring more than 130 books on the supernatural, he was prolific and also delved into plays, screenplays, and works of fiction. “He was so comfortable with the audience, speaking to them as if they were all old friends,” remembers fellow paranormal writer and research Brad Steiger, “He exuded a natural charm. He seemed genuinely happy in his work, and he maintained a high-level of enthusiasm for investigating the unknown throughout his life.”

 
Holzer was the transition from the old giants of the paranormal community to the new, but in many ways his work never went out of style, even with the advent of technology he sometimes frowned upon. His work was about documentation and observation and getting your hands dirty, but he believed spirituality and the human’s ability to communicate were as essential a tool as a piece of equipment. With these ideas he laid the foundation many investigators build on today, and to know about ghosts usually means having read at least one of his books.

 
Dr. Holzer had the unique ability to have one foot planted in the past, reaching back to the giants like Harry Price, and still be able to communicate with the newer generation. Over the past sixty years, there have been few who have managed the public face of the paranormal better. He was not only a mentor to those in the field, be became the funnel through which the general public learned about the work of paranormal investigators.
Part of Holzer’s appeal lay in his approach to the paranormal. His career spans shifting ideas, often conflicting with one another, on ghost hunting. From parlor room chic to outside the lines to the scientific movement of today, his methods remained rooted in a genuine place and transcend trend. A mix of research, investigation, and psychic evaluation his techniques have proven to be almost a necessity for modern investigators. Even if his ideas were in conflict with a person’s belief, and those ideas were strong and specific enough to cause conflict, the ghost hunter still referenced his words.

 
In an interview with Jeff Belanger of Ghostvillage, Dr. Holzer once said, “Fear is the absence of information. Fear is created by not understanding something. You bring on the fear.” His passing marks a transition for all who knew him and all who found comfort or influence in his words. We understand more having been touched by him and his work, and even in his passing he has taken a bit of the fear away.

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Holy Ghost-amole!!: EC Comics and the Art of Horror — ComicsVerse

At the height of the Golden Age of comics (typically defined as the late 1930s to mid-1950s) it was easy to find comics of every genre. Out of all of these books, it was EC Comics’ horror comics that terrified and pushed the boundaries of what comics can do when they were published to now.

via Holy Ghost-amole!!: EC Comics and the Art of Horror — ComicsVerse

The Devil is in the Details

I was conducting one of many long interviews with Alan Alves while writing Dark Woods.  Thicase2s one was at his house as he worked on a project outside, and as he railed against the evils of Satan and the occult, I noticed his granddaughter’s backpack leaning against the side of the house…covered in occult symbols.  I brought this up to him, and he laughed it off and continued to tell me about the dark path the youth of the country was so tempted to go down, seemingly unconcerned that his little one might be one of them.

That’s the way the occult works in our society.  As I wrote in a recent article for Spooky Southcoast, “What if familiarity doesn’t breed contempt?  What if instead it fosters a slow, subtle acceptance?”  As I read through George Case’s “Here’s to My Sweet Satan” leading up to his interview on the show, I was struck by the patterns of indoctrination he explored and was left wondering who or what might be behind it all.  While the book avoids asking some questions, I was left seeing design in some of the patterns Case explored in the book.

What is the draw to Satan.  One thing Case’s book clearly shows is our appetite for the idea of the Devil and our obsessive need to be drawn in and repelled by the occult.  It tracks the rebirth of Tolkien and the rise of heavy metal music while examining the occult undertones and symbols of mass murderers and serial killers at the time.  It might be easy to pass off these trends as just giving the public what it wants, and moving beyond what he covers in the book, to look at the 80s through today as the reaction to those movements he covers.  That would be dismissive.  Whether obvious or subliminal, we live in a time that can be seen as the shadow of the Devil, and if it is impossible to say who the source of the conditioning is, we should at least be able to see the signs around us.

It might be a case of the left hand being unaware, or at least trying to make US unaware, of what the right is doing.  While the devil tries to convince us that he is not real, occult and satanic imagery and ideas filter into our daily lives.  There might just be groundwork being laid for our acceptance and embrace of these ideas.  As people who work in the paranormal, the occult does not mean evil, not does it imply a path to the dark side, and that’s a dangerous message I don’t want to send.  Witchcraft and the Hobbit are not gateway ideas to hell or hell on earth.  For many, however, those lines are blurred and those might be the people the storm is looking to sweep up.

I first noticed a trend while working with juvenile criminal offenders, many of whom were having paranormal experiences in some of the state facilities across Massachusetts.  A student was not allowed to wear a baseball hat for the Pittsburgh Pirates because it was their way to represent their gang.  Assignments handed it had to be devoid of stars and crosses and their hair couldn’t be parted certain ways.  As one member of the Vice Lords sat explaining his gang symbols to me, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to markings at the Assonet Ledge.

Then I published an article about Freetown for the magazine Haunted Times and a reader corrected me about a picture I posted of a Blue Oyster Cult symbol on the Ledge.  He explained he and his friends marked up walls all the time as kids with their favorite bands.  What he failed to see was that BOC may have been part of getting these designs into our consciousness.  He also ignored the fact it was upside down and contained other markings connected to cults.  This is an example of the shadowy way the uncommon hides itself within the common.

For years gang culture in this country has borrowed heavily, mainly unknowingly, from Satanic imagery.  The most well known biker gang in the country is the Hell’s Angels.  Modern urban gangs rely heavily on five pointed stars and upside down crosses, and new members are trained to tag things from right to left, mirroring the technique used by practitioners of dark magick.  Joseph Stalin talked about being able to control and train the youth through their music and literature so in several generations an idea becomes bible truth.  It may be oversimplifying it, but gang life gave rise to rap and hip hop which has found its way into the suburbs and every aspect of pop culture.  Who is doing the feeding and who is doing the eating?  Hand gestures and greetings used in gangs are the same as those used by secret societies though to run this country.

There are other connections to be made, some of which became more obvious while reading “Here’s to My Sweet Satan.”  There is a general rise in nonfiction publications about the occult once a successful movie comes out about the topic.  While this is not unusual, the fact that this has been happening with this particular topic over decades means the general public blurs the lines between what is real and what is fiction.  Middle school students I talk to think Paranormal Activity and Slenderman are real.

In Case’s book, he talks about how the climate gave rise to horror writer Stephen King, who has only gotten more popular in the four decades since he was first published.  His works, especially the 1977 novella Rage have been sighted by several of the modern school shooters as offering inspiration, to the point King has come out and said he wish he had never published it.  Add to this that the location of some of the most covered shootings occur near famous occult centers.  For example, Columbine and the Dark Knight shootings happened in the shadow of Denver International Airport, well known for containing occult symbols.  To further connect things, in King’s seminal work The Stand, the survivors of its apoclypse gather in that state to rebuild.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, movies and books explored the proposed fictional link between numbers and the coming of the antichrist.  From the top of rooftops people claimed everything from Nostradamus to the Book of Revelations to coded messages from World War I saw the Devil as gaining power as the calendar turned.  It’s difficult for me to agree with this.  Every generation has their hope or fear that they are living in the end of days, and modern times seems to have an armageddon set for every few months.  There does seem to be a form of training going on that goes beyond just our desire to be scared or explore what happens when we die.

I lived in the wake of the era “Here’s to My Sweet Satan” explores.  I remember seeing the Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and the Omen on Channel 38, unedited, as a child.  Amityville was based on a true story and there was no story made up while drinking glasses of wine.  My grandparents and mother took me with them to see A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 9, two years younger than my son is now, which was also around the time Gremlins and Trolls was being marketed to me.  I’m from a generation who absorbed this fictional battles between good and evil as near fact, understanding I was watching a movie, but thinking they were based on real stories or at least real ideas.  I watched GI Joe and every other episode involved Cobra using the occult to try to gain control of the world, the same thing those Nazis did in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I was that kid who spend their time doodling the symbols of my favorite bands on desks and on paper book covers; designs Case and others claim are so simple that their occult meaning is lost and their lines easy to duplicate.  By the time I was in my teens, the urban legends surrounding Led Zeppelin’s submergence into Satanic subculture was solid fact and KISS really did mean Knights in Satan’s Service, even if they were taking their makeup off.  I did not have the filter of an adult, so they became part of what I knew to be true.  As Tim Weisberg is so fond of saying, “When the legend is bigger than the truth, print the legend.”  

But to what end?  

Most parents would never agree to introduce their children to evil, but might not think twice about letting them watch Teen Titans Go, and show where one of the main characters is the daughter of a demon.  On the first day of school I noticed the same symbols associated with acts like King Diamond and Iron Maiden hidden in designs by Hollister and Justice.  The connections gets tighter when you get into the more obscure, at least for me, fashions of the urban youth.  

They have been trained to see these symbols as holding no power, and it that ignorance might be giving power.  When I was handed a copy of the Necronomicon, I was told to not read it out loud for fear I would raise a demon without meaning to.  However silly that might seem, there was a power in those words.  That same power might lie in the markings of the occult.  There might be something to a cultural incantation brought on by making the paranormal normal, a sort of negative spiritual awakening sparked by tracing these designs and accepting the occult into our minds without protection or wonder.  Think of the myths surrounding certain patterns of music being able to draw out Satan, the same keys and chords used heavily in heavy metal and borrowed by many of the modern bands we listen to.  Who is to say all of this media doesn’t have the same end impact on our culture.  We are more willing to let it in and might be actually be actively calling it out.  

All of the liberal, free speech fibers of my being wants to believe this sounds like the rantings of fundamentalists who see the devil in power drinks, but I think indoctrination might have a more human cause.   Either way, the occult is no longer in the hands of the officially initiated, and the effect of that is unknown.  

When I was a kid I was talking to a friend about a book I was reading on serial killers.  He was into the conversation and then something changed in him.  This kid, who would go on to commit some horrific acts in the future, looked at me with dead eyes and said, “We should stop talking about this.  It makes me want to do bad things.”  The normalization of the Devil as explored by George Case might not reach that kind of dramatic conclusion.  It should be clear, he is not saying reading Harry Potter will make people want to hurt their friends or listening to the Beatles will make people want to kill.  But then again, Mark David Chapman did kill a Beatle…outside the Dakota…where they filmed Rosemary’s Baby…which urban legend says Anton LaVey was involved in…who once…

Satan and SSC: George Case makes his first guest appearance on the Spooky Southcoast

case1Sweet Satan Arrives at SSC

In the world of the paranormal, when the word Satan is thrown around it usually refers to a frightened family, a possessed child, or a house drawn into a darker force than the average ghost or spirit.  It’s the realm of demonologists and fighters of evil.  Even among those who investigate ghosts, demons are beyond the scope of mundane.  They pass the cases along or call experts in to help or even strive to become experts themselves.

There may be, however, another battle being fought against the Devil that does not manifest itself in possession and torture, but in exposure.  The battlefield is not the dark corners of your house, but rather the music coming from your kitchen, the words from the book on your nightstand, and the soft glow of your television tuned to some old movie.  If the shock and awe of famous demonic cases is the front lines, there may be spies in the corn sending mixed signals, using words and images to convince, and entering our thoughts in ways we can’t imagine until what should inspire terror becomes as familiar as the cereal we eat or the tunes we hum along with our kids.   

What if familiarity doesn’t breed contempt?  What if instead it fosters a slow, subtle acceptance?

This week, Spooky Southcoast welcomes in author George Case to discuss his book Here’s to My Sweet Satan.  For those who aren’t familiar with backwards messages or the Satanic legacy of Led Zeppelin, the title is a reference to the words people say are hidden in Stairway to Heaven when you play the classic backwards.  It also is a flag buried deep into a generation of music and media which seemed obsessed with Satan and introduced the occult to millions of people who never saw it coming.  Case begins our culture’s odyssey in the mid-Sixties and takes it through to the early Eighties, just at the time when the seeds of the Devil started to flower for the generation who grew up in the shadows of the Baby Boomers.  The book works as a map to what might be the greatest conspiracy of the 20th and 21st century or a spiritual first attack signalling a larger war.   

The book itself does not directly confront the underlying causes of our embracing of the Devil but instead offers a picture of how these things came to be in front of us.  Case leaves the question of why and the question of the real who to the reader.  Touching upon every single movement of the occult in that time period, he examines the surface causes and connections as to why the artists began to lean so heavily on Satan and witchcraft and their work and shows how the general public ate up what they were getting.  For example, he follows the connection between Aleister Crowley and the rise of blues driven hard rock and heavy metal through bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and the Beatles.  We had previously touched on some of these connections with guests like R. Gary Patterson and Joe Niezgoda, but the book also delves into the public’s reaction to the music and the symbols they pushed forward.

Here’s to My Sweet Satan shows the correlation between those musical indoctrinations and what we were consuming in theaters and television and what we were seeing on the news.  The world of Sgt. Pepper and Blue Oyster Cult is also the world of the Exorcist and Amityville and Manson and Franken Berry cereal.  A rise in Tolkien gives birth to Stephen King and Scooby Do.  The connections can be overwhelming at times, but Case does an excellent job of laying out each media form in its own chapter, giving background and context for the rise of each before commenting on how the other forms were influenced and influenced the other. 

In reading the book, one trend starts to be seen.  Driven by fiction and fantasy, the public almost demands and then dines on reality.  After a fictional work like the Exorcist explodes on the scene, dozens of nonfiction titles follow in its wake.  While this doesn’t seem unusual in any market (50 Shades of Grey allowed writers to explore the real world of bondage and the popularity of Jaws inspired real examination of the world of sharks), the pure volume of the cause and effect he reveals points at something larger and darker working in the world.  It could be our own desire to understand and even live in the darkness or even our absolute terror of it, but the crossing of generational gaps and the mediums and creators of the art point at something bigger.

 Is the devil among us?  Are his agents setting the stage for something or even looking to invoke Him in a tangible way?  Is there an organization or power in our society using Satan to distract us.

George Case doesn’t tackle this in the book.  He also does not offer a picture of the world we now live in built on the foundation of those three decades he covers, implying there may be another book in the work covering more modern times.  Signaled in many way by the death of John Lennon, the floodgates seemed to open in the early Eighties to the world of the occult and Satan.  Child abuse cases sprung up across the country with occult undertones.  Domestic terrorists, white supremacists, and inner city gangs began to adopt Satanic and occult imagery, either knowingly or unknowingly.  Evangelists exploded and offered ammunition against the evil creeping into our homes.  Paranormal movies became funny and campy and inspired people who would go on to create the genre of television known as paranormal reality television.  

Instead Here’s to My Sweet Satan asks the reader to get lost in that time.  In many ways it’s a reference book to the sheer amount of occult media produced in those years, but there is definitely something more in its pages.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George Case is the author of several books, as well as numerous articles which have appeared in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and online.  His titles include Silence Descends:  The End of the Information Age, 2000-2500 (1997), Jimmy Page:  Magus, Musician, Man (2007), Arcadia Borealis:  Childhood and Youth In Northern Ontario (2008), Out of Our Heads:  Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off (2010), Led Zeppelin FAQ (2011), Dumbing Down Dissent:  Fads and Fallacies in Political Discourse (2011), Calling Dr. Strangelove:  The Anatomy and Influence of the Kubrick Masterpiece (2014), and Here’s To My Sweet Satan:  How the Occult Haunted Music, Movies and Pop Culture, 1966-1980 (2016).

You can more about Case and his work at:

https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/

https://quilldriverbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Heres-to-My-Sweet-Satan-Media-Kit.pdf

http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/161739

That Other Case from That Other Warren Book

harvest

One of the most bizarre cases of demonic possession on record occurred in Massachusetts in the mid-eighties.  The case involved a farmer living in Warren, Ma and was witnessed by reliable sources, including a police officer, and was ultimately resolved by the Ed and Lorraine Warren, New England’s most infamous paranormal investigators.  The entire case is documented in the book Satan’s Harvest by Michael Lasalandra and Mark Merenda with Maurice and Nancy Theriault and Ed and Lorraine Warren published by Dell Publishing (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.) in 1990.

Like most cases of demonic possession, this case begins with a person who unwittingly invited forces into his life.  As a child Maurice “Frenchy” Theriault lived a hard New England life, suffering long hours working on his family farm and dealing with his father’s abusive attitude.  His father alternated between neglect and anger, becoming more and more violent towards his son as Frenchy became older and expecting more from him than can be expected of a young child.  Frenchy began to ask for help at this time, calling upon anyone who would help him and then unknowingly asking Satan to help him through his situation.  It was also during this time that he witnessed something horrific in the farm’s barn that is never explained fully but which is only hinted at as involving sex of some kind.  Frenchy was forced to watch and participate in acts although with who or what we do not know.

Frenchy began to notice differences in himself.  He was able to lift things that no teenager, or full grown adult, should be able to lift and had knowledge of things he had not formally learned.  He eventually was forced to quit school and work full time on the farm.  He tried to join the army when he came of age but was foiled by his father.  He eventually left the house and floated around New England for years doing different jobs and suffering through several relationships.  He settled down in Warren.

In the spring of 1985 the town noticed the first signs of something unusual going on with Frenchy, things that had already began to dominate he and his wife’s lives for years.  He turned his guns in to the sheriff and asked him to not give them back.  At the farm they suffered unexplained terrors.  Blood would randomly appear in the house and on Frenchy.  His unusual strength continued.  The family would hear voices where there was no one around and things would move throughout the house and farm.  Frenchy would often drift away and lose chunks of the day.  Fires broke out on the property, bringing the family to the attention of the local police.

The most disturbing activity involved the appearance of the other Frenchy.  He would be in one room and then appear to his wife outside or in another room.  When she would try to follow her husband he would be gone and she would find him in the room he was in originally, unmoved and unaware of leaving the room.  This sometimes happened in view of other people or when the witnesses could see both men within seconds.

After physical examination and psychological test failed to bring any solution to the situation, the Warrens were called in.  The Warrens were gaining popularity as investigators of the paranormal and had already worked on several famous cases, the most known being the Amityville Horror case in New York that was made into a book and several movies.   Ed Warren had already been classified as the only lay demonologist in the country.  They brought their team in and witnessed dozens of examples of the evil presence and the longer they stayed the more intense the experiences began, often following members back to their houses.  The activity ranged from low level poltergeist activity to physical attacks.  All of the team members, even some stout nonbelievers found themselves involved in activity and uncharacteristic mood changes that could not be traced to normal roots.  Frenchy’s attempts to turn to God for help resulted in more physical attacks.  One night while trying to recite the Hail Mary to make the possession stop he became so violent he tried to choke his wife.

The Warrens made the decision that this was not a normal haunting but a case of possession and called in Bishop Robert McKenna who agreed to perform the exorcism although it had not been official sanctioned by the Church.  After examining Frenchy, Bishop McKenna began the ritual.  During the battle of wills, the demon identified itself by name as “I am what I am” and “You say I am proud” and also invoked the name of Kingdom, often referred to by demons as the legions of evil forces that try to corrupt human.

The exorcism was successful, although Ed Warren almost lost his life and several smaller haunting still occurred on the farm.  There are still questions about what happened on the farm in Central Massachusetts and Frenchy later reputation and activity has cast a shadow on what might have occurred there.   Frenchy was later arrested for sexual abuse of a minor and had much to gain from the insurance on his failed farm that he received from the damage the demon had done.  There was also the money from the sale of the book and notoriety he gained from it.  Those on the inside of the case consider all those involved as being trustworthy and honest in their accounts of the events.