Movie Review: Found-Footage “Documentary” Holes in the Sky: The Sean Miller Story

Posted in Horror, Media, Paranormal on December 3, 2021 by Occult Detective

First of all, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: Ash Hamilton is a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for twenty years. We co-managed a Books-A-Million, we kicked around various comic projects, we’ve broken bread, I’ve been a guest on a couple of different podcasts he’s hosted, and we generally share a common love for horror, fantasy, comic books, and, well, all manner of pop cultural and conspiratorial phenomena.

That said, if this movie sucked, I would tell you, and I would bust on him gleefully until he started to whimper.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case.

Holes in the Sky: The Sean Miller Story, written and directed by my pal, has raked in a Brinks Truck worth of awards and accolades… and I’m happy to report after finally viewing the thing, it’s worth every bit of praise.

Ever since The Blair Witch Project dropped many moons ago we’ve been waiting to see the found footage documentary genre taken to the next level. Hellier, that magnificent paranormal entertainment series from Greg and Dana Newkirk, Karl Pfeiffer, and Connor Randall, tapped into this in their two season opus and legitimized the hunger for this type of storytelling. Holes in the Sky, while not quite elevated to Hellier standards, is in that same vein and a compelling and nail biting love letter to all those things that gave me thrills as a child growing up in the rural Midwest.

Holes in the Sky explores “a documentary film crew’s efforts to make a movie detailing the 2013 alien abduction of Illinois resident Sean Miller. A five-day shoot turns into a life-changing experience for everyone involved as events spiral out of control.”

The strength of the film lies in the superb performances by all those involved. This story feels real. All the people on camera are believable. Everyone seems natural. And the creepiest moments are beautifully shot. Ash does a great job of building tension and delivering legitimate chills.

Look, I grew up on UFO and Bigfoot sightings, ghost stories, and abduction narratives. Ash’s love for these same things really comes through on camera, and by firmly grounding it in the “Midwestern Gothic” atmosphere, it delivers a believable and ultimately terrifying tale.

This is a movie you’re going to want to watch late at night with the lights off.

On a scale of 1-5, this movie gets a solid 6 from me.

Addendum: I mentioned Ash and I kicked around some comic ideas back in the day. Here’s a little sample of something we were working on some 15 or so years ago. We should really get around to finishing it…

Yuletide Spirits: Dreams of Winter (2/4)

Posted in Horror, Occult Detectives, Yuletide on December 3, 2021 by Occult Detective

Dreams of Winter
(originally published in Vampires Don’t Sparkle)

II

Let’s get a few things straight. First, vampires don’t sparkle, despite what Megan Gamble’s late night reading might suggest. That’s right, of the eighteen varieties of bloodsucking fiends my family has cataloged over the years, not a one of them shimmer by sunlight. Granted, a couple of them do burst into flame when exposed to the sun’s attention, but that’s a far cry from all that sexy glimmering.

            I guess that leads into my second point, as in why I know these things to be true. My name is Landon Connors — Dr. Landon Connors, actually — and I hunt monsters (among other things). I came by this ‘profession‘ honestly enough. I guess you might say it’s the family business, though family is a looser term now seeing as I’m the only one left and I’m not exactly the marrying kind. My official title is ‘occult detective’ and yes, I wear a trenchcoat and fedora. Some cliches are just too good to mess with.

            Back at Caer Caliburn, the aged Victorian that my family has called home since the late 1800s, I diligently peruse the tattered Liber Monstrorum, a grimoire and bestiary of sorts that my forefathers have passed down through the years. Reading an entry by my great-grandfather, Gabriel Connors, regarding the cruor geminus, I find confirmation of my suspicions regarding Megan Gamble’s killer. Of course, she is not the only victim. There have been two others in as many months. All with the same telltale throat wounds. All with the same proclivity for reading material. Each a wannabe Bella. Each an eager vessel drained dry by a foul creature wearing an Edward mask.

            The cruor geminus is a nasty little beast with the ability to assume the appearance of someone their intended victim knows and trusts. And I’m pretty sure I’ve tracked this particular one before. The Cullen thing certainly fits his modus operandi. In the nineties, it trawled for victims wearing the face of Brad Pitt’s Louis. It’s a game for this damnable creature, wearing the cinematic face of the vampire, enticing its victims by playing to their erotic fantasies.

            But the game’s almost over. Though the three most recent victims had no physical connection to one another, I uncovered a cyber one. Each belonged to an online community, a messageboard upon which they poured out their longings for a romantic tryst with their undead paramour. All I needed was someone to use as bait for the cruor geminus, a lovely young girl to which the beast could not resist. Unfortunately for it, I have just the girl in mind for the job.

Yuletude Spirits: Dreams of Winter (1/4)

Posted in Occult Detectives, Writing, Yuletide on December 2, 2021 by Occult Detective

Dreams of Winter
(originally published in Vampires Don’t Sparkle)

I

A line from Longfellow comes to me as I stare at the pale, lifeless child at my feet. ‘The leaves of memory seemed to make a mournful rustling in the dark.’ The Dark, capital ‘D’, if you don’t mind, has been of particularly nagging interest to me of late. As for mournful rustlings, well I’ve been knee-deep in those too. And it’s starting to piss me off.

            Surrounded by the girl’s belongings, it’s not hard to fathom how Megan Gamble’s mind worked. There’s a poster of a shirtless Alexander Skarsgard on the back of her door. Bookshelves overflow with Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and Charlaine Harris urban fantasies, a well-read copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight rests on the nightstand. Evanescence, Pretty Reckless, and Nightwish CDs are scattered on the floor beside an old school jam-box. The clothes in her closet? All black and lots of lace and frills, plunging necklines and short skirts.

            I crack a window, light a cigarette, and watch the snow fall. Dreams of winter, I muse. No more dreams for her. I’ve got the itch for a drink, but I let the nicotine placate my self-destructive tendencies for now. I do my best to ignore the sounds of the cops behind me, grumbling about their business and their distaste for my presence. The feeling’s mutual. Grim thoughts give way to grim tidings and I’m on the verge of giving myself over to them, but there’s work to get to. Dark work.

            I flick the spent cowboy killer into the night air and ask the crime scene unit to give me a few minutes alone with the corpse. They look to the homicide detective at the door, my old pal Ellis DeTripp, and grouse at his nod of approval. They file past the hulk of a man — DeTripp stands an easy  six feet-four inches and tips the scales at more than twenty-two stone — and he closes the door behind them.

            “You too, Ellis,” I say, removing my coat and hat and laying them on the girl’s bed.

            “In your dreams, Connors. No freaking way I’m leaving you in here unsupervised.”

            “What’s the matter, Detective,” I scowl, “afraid I’ll lift something?”

            “Nah.” He kneels down awkwardly beside the girl’s body. “We already searched the room for drugs.”

            “She’s got the latest Dresden Files.”

            “Cute, but I know you don’t read that shit.” DeTripp casually traces the outline of the girl’s jawline with his fat forefinger, lingering near the gaping but bloodless wound at her throat. “You live it.”

            “What? You never climb inside a Michael Connelly novel?” I join him on the floor, just as awkwardly, my ruined knee groaning in protest. Without the support of my cane, an heirloom from late father’s collection, I’d be all but worthless in situations like these. Dead bodies require an up close and personal touch.

            “That’s different. Harry Bosch is the real deal.”

            I brush the big man’s hand away from the girl and examine the throat wound more closely. “And Harry Dresden isn’t?” I frown at the lack of blood, on the body or anywhere in the  room for that matter.

            “You know I don’t cater to all that magic mumbo-jumbo crap.”

            “And yet,” I say as I allow my hand to hover above the victim’s head, the telltale glow of magical energy sparking between my fingertips, “here I am.”

            “Again — different.”

            “Do tell?”

            “Meh,” he barks, groaning as he rises up from the floor, “just give me your goddamn theory so I can catch whoever did this before my ass is in a sling.”

            “Well, she was definitely killed here.”

            “Bull shit. No blood.”

            “Of course not.” I struggle to my feet, leaning heavily on father’s cane. “The killer took it with him.”

            “Landon Connors, I swear on my mother’s grave…”

            “Your mother’s alive. I had dinner with her last week.”

            “Just don’t freaking say what I know damn good and well you’re going to say.”

            “Fine.”

            We stare at each other uncomfortably long — he with a scowl, me with bemused acceptance. I know what’s coming next. I light a cigarette and wait for him to break.

            “Alright,” he barks, “…alright. Go ahead and say it.”

            “If you insist.” I exhale slowly. “Detective DeTripp, your killer is, without a doubt, a bloodsucking creature of the night.”

            “God damn it, I knew you were going to pull that shit on me.”

            The detective turns toward the door and throws it open in a huff, storming into the hall and past the awaiting crime scene investigators.

            “Would you have preferred that I used the word vampire?” I yell after him.

            He is not amused.

Some quick thoughts on Welsh Witchcraft by Mhara Starling (2/22), now available for preorder

Posted in Book Review, Magick on December 1, 2021 by Occult Detective

The history of magic and witchcraft in Wales will inspire any modern-day witch. Written by a Welsh practitioner, this book shares the magical traditions of the land of the red dragon, exploring deities, fairies, folklore, charms, plants, and magic with dozens of exercises for hands-on practice.

Explore the history and terminology of Welsh magic and methods for honoring the land. Learn to connect with Cerridwen, Rhiannon, and other deities as well as fairies and mystical creatures. Discover how you can incorporate traditional Welsh folk magic into your modern witchcraft practice, with exercises for honoring those who came before, connecting with the spirit of your home, protecting against adversity and malignant spirits, changing the weather, and much more.

I get the feeling this is a book that a lot of readers new to witchcraft will find appealing. It’s got a scholarly air to it, especially to fresh faces, seemingly steeped in lore that feels ancient, while written in a very modern voice by a very modern author.

The book is packed with information and is dense at times, like the author is desperate to get all these little bits of knowledge out there. It’s a tad breathless, but its heart is genuine. The exercises and meditations are solid and personal. Which is true of the book as a whole. This is Mhara Starling’s personal journey and she has invited the reader along, offering her experiences as guideposts along the way.

This is both a strength and a weakness.

I like the cover. Evocative and simple. And I like the book, overall. It’s like a DJ Conway book on steroids. You remember those. Well, you do if you’re of a certain age.

Look, I wanted a book on Welsh Witchcraft. This is not that. Not really. It’s Wicca wearing a Welsh Hallowe’en costume, but you know what, the older I get, the more I’m okay with that. There is a place for these types of occult books. They are ideal for young people finding their way. I know I sure read a lot of them in the 80s. Right?

So, do I recommend Mhara Starling’s Welsh Witchcraft? Certainly. It is not for the seasoned student, nor for someone longing for a deep rooted connection to an ancient lore system. But it’s fun, informative, and there’s bits and pieces that you’ll find quite useful.

These sort of primers in cultural dress are a part of the scene. They sell. They’re safe.

Welsh Witchcraft: A Guide to the Spirits, Lore, and Magic of Wales by Mhara Starling will be available in February, wherever books are sold. It’s available for preorder right now, for less than 20 bones.

Lloniannau!

#Norsevember: My Thoughts on The Runic Tarot

Posted in Norsevember, Runes, Tarot on November 30, 2021 by Occult Detective

And so Norsevember comes to a close. What better way to end the month long celebration than with a review of the Runic Tarot Kit from Llewellyn Books/Lo Scarabeo?

Norse mythology meets tarot; this is the deck that the Pagan community has been eagerly awaiting. Based on the gods and mythology of the Norse, the Runic Tarot is the ultimate divination deck for connecting with Valhalla, the realm of the gods. The powerful art is imbued with a fierce, ancient aura as it weaves together the wisdom of the runes, the poetry of the Skalds, the valor of the Einherjars, and the evergreen bounty of life and nature. This reading deck pays tribute to the divine spark within humanity, calling out to everyone who feels the pull of the ancient Norse ways.

Boxed kit (5½ x 8¼) includes a 78-card deck and guidebook

What a description! Yes, that is the deck I have been waiting for. Let’s see if it delivers…

At first glance, my goodness, what an impressive product. The publisher really goes all out, with the magnetic box containing a beautifully rendered deck and tarot booklet. I mean, this is a really sharp design, just beautifully put together.

The art is spectacular, and from that standpoint alone, I find it well worth the price… but, I do have issues. From a divination standpoint, obviously, any heathen would turn to the runes over this deck. As a lifelong tarot enthusiast, however, I longed for a tarot style heathen deck. Does this fulfill that desire? Unfortunately, it falls short.

There are just some odd choices. The most dramatic for me, that leapt out as soon as I flipped through the cards, was not having Odin represented on The Hanged Man. A central tenet of his character, to not find him there is…curious.

This lead me to being more mindful of the imagery and runic connections, and in this, I found other curious omissions and misrepresentations.

The Runic Tarot is filled with missed opportunities.

While it’s obvious the publisher spared no expense — they produced a beautiful and artful product — the creators, talented, without question, failed to do their proper homework. Someone well versed in heathenry should have been involved with this.

I am torn. I really want to recommend this deck. There are some many things to love about it, but it is misleading and just not representative of the faith I call my own.

I’m afraid we’re still waiting on a proper heathen tarot.

Perhaps I’ll try my hand at it in the coming months.

Maybe you’d like to try the deck out yourself? Here’s the amazon link. Maybe I’m too close to the heart of it?

Three for Thursday: #Norsevember #Survival

Posted in Bushcraft, Norsevember, Wyrd on November 18, 2021 by Occult Detective

I’ve always been fascinated by bushcraft, living (not just surviving but thriving) off the land. I love to build lean-tos, traditional woodland shelters, and, when I was a younger man, I did a lot of winter camping. I was never keen on lugging a tent about, preferring to utilize my natural surroundings.

So, with Norsevember upon us, I was thinking about what items would be most essential for a man (or woman) who was headed out into the bush. So whether you’re talking 1000 years ago or tomorrow, what do I view as essential gear, if I can only snatch three items?

THREE
FIRE

Fire is essential so you absolutely HAVE to have some means of building one, be it through a lighter, matches, or, a ferro rod, or, better yet, all of the above. I carry a fire source with me AT ALL TIMES. Just in case.

TWO
HATCHET

A good hatchet is a versatile tool and just generally an all around handy thing to have in the wild. From building a shelter to chopping and splitting wood to hacking up game or brush, this is something I lean on heavily. I am always shocked when I don’t see this on an essential gear list.

ONE
KNIFE

So, I carry on my person AT ALL TIMES, not one, but two knives: an Old Timer three blade pocket knife and a 9 inch Old Timer Cave Bear lock blade. I don’t know about you, but I use a knife nearly every single day in some way or another.

#Norsevember You Give a Little, You Get a Little

Posted in Norsevember, Wyrd on November 17, 2021 by Occult Detective

The following is repurposed, but perhaps more timely:

“You know why things happen? Because gods make them happen. You wanna know how to make good things happen? Be good to your god. You give a little, you get a little. The simplicity of that bargain has always been appealing.” — Mr. Wednesday, American Gods

[On July 1, 2017], I posted a quote from Janet Farrar, excerpted from an interview she and Gavin Bone gave to Pagan Pages a small handful of years back. It read, simply, “…the most important teachers are yourself and the Gods.

I believe there is a balance there, between ourselves and the gods we honour. Far too often, we sway too heavily toward one or the other, and in many cases, the gods we learn from are inappropriate to our advancement as both human and spiritual beings.

I’m thinking now of these new constructs, the gods of media, commerce, conservatism, and liberalism, and what have you.

But it’s possible to be misaligned to the old gods as well, be they pagan, heathen, one of the Abrahamic faiths, or some other flavor.

How we approach the gods is important, and our minds, bodies, and spirits must be aligned.

Obviously, the majority are led to their faith by their parents, who in turn were led by their parents, and so on, but the past century has seen a change in this. More and more, people are opening up their hearts and minds to more possibilities.

I attended a Presbyterian church as a child, not by choice, but by parental edict. The God of Abraham never spoke to me, even when I was an impressionable youth. My heart always leaned toward the gods of my more ancient ancestors.

Making a connection to the gods is important to our spiritual growth, but it one that must be taken with great care. Trust your instincts and be open to change. More importantly, be honest with yourself.

There is a vast multiverse that stretches out across the heavens, brimming with incalculable realms of divine and infernal beings. Somewhere, out there, amongst their number is a voice calling to you.

All you have to do is listen… and answer.

You’ve Been Warned

Posted in Yuletide on November 12, 2021 by Occult Detective

#Norsevember: Loki & Sigyn by Lea Svendsen (Available for Pre-Order)

Posted in Book Review, Norsevember on November 10, 2021 by Occult Detective

This captivating book takes you deep into the infamous legacy of Loki and his wife Sigyn. As a controversial and misunderstood figure in Heathenry, Loki is often approached with trepidation. But this book introduces you to his true self: a trickster, but a devoted husband and creative problem-solver, too. You’ll also learn about Sigyn, the often forgotten goddess of loyalty and compassion.

Join Heathen author Lea Svendsen on a rich exploration of these two Norse deities, together and separate. Discover their adventures in parenthood, their complicated relationships with other gods, and the entertaining exploits that only a trickster can accomplish. Learn how to set up an altar to each of them, what offerings they like, and how to perform rituals. You’ll also find insights on Loki and Sigyn from Pagan and Heathen leaders.

In February, 2022, Llewellyn will release Lea Svendsen’s Loki and Sigyn: Lessons on Chaos, Laughter & Loyalty from the Norse Gods. I received an Uncorrected Proof from the publisher a few weeks back, and I am happy to, finally, be able to release my thoughts on it. I’ve had some definite ups and downs of late, battling various infections from a cocktail of anti-and probiotics, and while still not over the proverbial hump, I didn’t want to put this off any longer.

The short of it is, this is a book you’ll want to digest, particularly if you are a heathen leaning pagan, although there is plenty in this book for anyone with a perchance for magick. I was, admittedly, unfamiliar with the author so cannot verify the authenticity of her biography, but it is certainly colorful.

The fact is, any book that deals with heathenry is fraught with peril. So very little of the culture has survived to modern times, and much of what is available to us has been tainted by Christian hands. Loki in particular.

The author does an admirable job of navigating these tumultuous waters. Where scholarship fails us, she intuits Loki and Sigyn’s roles. Svendsen’s relationship with the gods, and with Loki and Sigyn in particular, is front and center. She does not shy away from her attempts to connect and understand beyond what little academia has been able to bring to the table.

Her writing style is comfortable and relaxed. She writes with confidence, but in a very folksy way that comes across less of a teacher/student interaction, but more like a helpful neighbor. This, I think, is a strength in this particular work, where so little is known and in need of reconstruction with but the barest of bones to work with.

The book is short, but covers a wide breadth, from Lore to an exploration of American Heathenry and how conversion baggage lingers. You’ll also find chapters on clergy, rituals, and the like, all thoughtful (and largely speculative), but with a passionate air that defines the uncharted territory that we have been forced into due to the desecration of our ancestral faith.

I am waning. The medicines are taking their toll on me, so let me, in summation, acknowledge that I found Lea Svendsen’s work a valuable asset. And while I do not agree with her, whole-cloth, in terms of her interpretation of Loki, and to a lesser degree, Sigyn, I do appreciate her devotion and forthrightness.

Loki is a complex character, as tricksters tend to be. For a culture built on storytelling, how could he be anything less than everything to the skald’s who spin their yarns with him at the story’s core.

Loki and Sigyn: Lessons on Chaos, Laughter & Loyalty from the Norse Gods by Lea Svendsen is available for preorder for only $16.99, well worth the price of admission. It includes are Foreword by Mortellus, author of Do I Have to Wear Black?: Rituals, Customs & Funerary Etiquette for Modern Pagans which is an added bonus.

While I felt the book had its faults, I was honored to read it… and I think you will too.

#Norsevember: A Heathen is as a Heathen does

Posted in Norsevember on November 9, 2021 by Occult Detective

I grew up on the banks of Turkey Creek surrounded by towering Ash trees. If you were to drive there today, you would find them all dead, the land overgrown and untended. True also of my favorite stomping grounds, the haunted Mississinewa forest, now a sea of dead ash. A lot of those ash were planted to replace the elms that died one hundred years previous. Both trees succumbed to diseases spread, inadvertently, from Asia. As went the ash and elm, symbols of our Northern Folk, it is not lost on me how too our heritage struggles to maintain balance in these modern times.

I think it is important to embrace one’s culture, one’s roots. But as the ash borer laid low the ash, it seems that to speak of one’s cultural heritage, to try and revive that which was lost due the systematic dissection of our cultural folkways by invading crusaders, is saddled with labels such as white supremacy, racism, and such.

I judge no one by the color of their skin, by their sexual preference, or how they identify. Life is bloody short — too short to waste on bigotry, hate, or malice. As an animist I believe we are all equal parts of the whole of creation. but I also acknowledge that there are cultural differences. And that’s not a bad thing. We should all be as accepting of our differences as we are of our similarities. We are all in this dance together. We should lift one another up, not tear one another down.

The problem is these organizations that try to rope as many people under their umbrella as they can, establishing rules and membership fees and the like. A kindred should be a small gathering of family and friends, exclusive and binding. As soon as that reaches out beyond a tight social circle, agendas and politics mar the faith. We do not need to grow under a corporate church, with people placed on high above others. Gather your people close. Worship under the stars, and let their ambitions be damned.

If you’re filing for protected status, for tax purposes, with government entities, you’ve already lost faith in my eyes.

We are the Folk. We do not need such to worship freely. Each kindred should be a family — loving and accepting of those who are bound not necessarily by blood but by love for one another. No color. No gender. No orientation. Just a genuine affection for one another, bound in a circle about a fire, lifting up their voices in unison to proclaim an adoration for the gods and wights and ancestors of old.

It’s only complicated if you make it so. A Heathen is as a Heathen does. Defend what’s yours…

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