Zine Transmission #5

I finally got a 5th edition of the printed zine put together for the summer. For those who don't realize I started Secret Transmissions as a print only project that then expanded into a blog. Being as time consuming as it is to make a zine and produce blog content, the zines have taken a bit of a back seat in the last year. This is something I may need to reconsider because making the zines is a lotos fun and somewhat unique compared to a standard blog. 

Anyway, this issue features two essays previously written for the blog, the first being Choosing the Odd Way: Fantasy Against the Machine followed up by An Omnidirectional Approach to Anti-Authoritarianism. Both pieces really sum up a lot of the thoughts and emotions I have been going through as I internally struggle with the nature of our soulless corporate working conditions and the truly vial and evil political reality that we live under. Trying to find ways to combat these oppressive influences has rarely left my mind this year and only seem to intensify as I do more occult work to develop and discover my own personal truth and purpose. 

I counterweight all that serious stuff with some fun collages inspired by Bigfoot, The mysterious disappearance of Bruno Borges, The Yippies, The Order of the Solar Temple, a new Max & Casey comic strip about college debt and a weird Jim Morrison meets Twin Peaks spread. 

There's a good amount of Robert Anton Wilson sprinkled in this issue in the form of some of his best quotes and a few cool images of the man who provides me with solace even in the darkest and most confusing times. 

Angel Millar's Holistic Rituals and Development Practices for Atomized Times

I was first introduced to Angel Millar through the great Occult of Personality podcast. I was immediately impressed by his personal experiences with philosophies of the East and West as well as his uncommon perspectives and critiques of the shallow aspects of our modern Western culture. 

Angel is a driven man working in several fields of personal development and expression. An active Freemason and martial artist, Millar has also started two websites and written three books with much more in the works. While not a Freemason myself, I continue to find deep meaning and inspiration from Millar's words both written and spoken on a host of topics ranging from the esoteric to the creative. 

I have come away reading his essays on Phalanx with a sense of purpose and inspiration. While there is much that is confusing and misleading happening all the time around us, Millar is always brining attention back to the positive and helping to invigorate others to live fuller and more authentic lives. Millar has much to offer in terms of practical direction for anyone feeling lost or dissatisfied with their relationship with themselves and with contemporary society at large. In this conversation we learn more about his background and his own sources of occult, creative and philosophical inspiration.

Angel Millar

When did you first become interested in esotericism?
I was 15 years old when I first read a book on the esoteric. It was about astral projection and the elements, and may have been by Dion Fortune, but I’m not sure. A year later I bought a book of neo-Pagan rituals, and then a year after that, when I was around 17, I came across an occult and New Age spiritual bookstore a few miles from where I lived. I began visiting it regularly and reading widely on the subject, from Mircea Eliade to Aleister Crowley. Probably, much of what I read was rubbish, but it opened up my imagination and my interest in other cultures.
What thinkers, practitioners and writers have most profoundly shaped your life and offered you better ways of understanding the world and how to maximize your personal practices?
As mentioned, I found Mircea Eliade’s writing interesting when I was young, and still do. Again, I found Crowley interesting. I also read some of Israel Regardie’s work. I don’t consider myself to be devotees of either Regardie or Crowley, but I think that Crowley’s ability to write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and translations, to experiment in fine art painting, to practice boxing, to be a practicing mountain climber, and his traveling the world, makes him an extraordinary example of what a life can be. I don’t think you can imitate Crowley, or adopt his teachings wholesale, but as with, say, Picasso in the art world, I think you can be inspired by his energy and drive.
Fundamentally, I’m interested in those individuals who are able to practice the hard and soft arts, physical and spiritual disciplines, or that can draw on influences that are regarded as outside of their discipline. Besides Crowley, another example that I often cite is Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous Samurai, known not only for his skills as a warrior but also for his painting and calligraphy. He is best-known in the West for his Book of Five Rings, which is a profound work on the martial arts, and practicing a discipline of any sort.

I was very interested in the work of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima when I was in my twenties. And, again, Mishima was one of those multi-dimensional characters -- Japan’s most famous literary writer at the time, he also acted, conducted an orchestra, practiced bodybuilding, and formed his own private army. 

When you observe the current occult landscape through personal interactions, new books being written and the range of media that is being produced; what do you see? Is the scene at a new high point of potentialities or has it grown stagnate or regressing?
It's both at a new high and a new low. Western esotericism can retreat into a kind of musicological mindset of wanting to preserve, rather than to live and give energy to the traditions. On the other end of the scale, in occultism, you find a kind of 'anything goes' attitude, where things are mixed together for the sake of creating something new, to avoid having to study anything too deeply. But what is created is rarely lasting or important. There are exceptions to this. 
Some small publishers, such as Theion Press, are publishing works of high quality, of deep thought, radical yet scholarly.
How did you get involved with the martial arts?
I had been wanting to practice Kung fu for some time, but when I was around 22, I met a student of a Nam Pai Chuan Shaolin Kung fu temple in London, and joined the class. I had never really considered myself to be a “sporty” person, partly because of my artistic nature and partly because I had hated soccer (or at least the egotism that it seemed to bring out of those playing it) when I was at school -- though I quite liked Rugby and I liked Athletics. However, after I started Kung fu, I found, very quickly, that I really liked pushing my limits, physically.
In what ways has martial arts developed you spiritually or philosophically?
After I moved to New York I stopped practicing, except for a couple of very brief periods training in Tai Chi and Kung fu. I took up the latter again, as a regular practice, about six years ago. The school takes fighting and self-defense very seriously. We do not wear protection, and we do sometimes get injured. Although we try to minimize injuries, of course, I think it is important that we push ourselves, and that we face those things and situations that we find difficult and even intimidating. 
Kung fu has helped me develop by making me face my fears, and by pushing me to do things that seemed impossible to me before I joined. I’m quite a calm person, but you find out how calm you really are when you stand in front of someone that is far superior to you in the martial arts and that you know can, and probably will, hurt you. 
But, overall, it is essential to me to have a physical practice, as well as spiritual and mental disciplines. Although people tend to focus on only one or two of these, I do not believe we can truly develop ourselves if we neglect our body and our karma in regard to it. 
What sorts of connections do you see between the martial arts and more explicitly spiritual practices like meditation, occultism and magic?
The school that I practice Kung fu with also emphasizes meditation and internal energy for health and wellbeing. We also practice cultivating internal energy (Chi) -- and I would say that, in my experience, internal energy is stronger when the body is stronger, and perhaps vice versa. The body is a kind of talisman and it is radiating the consciousness through such things as facial expression, body posture, the apparent health of the body, and so on. The mind affects the body, and the body affects the mind. I think that understanding is fundamental to to spiritual development.

Can you describe your own personal alchemical transformation you’ve experienced through your engagement with martial arts and occultism? What are the biggest aspects of yourself that have transmuted in ways that tie directly back to those practices?
“Alchemical transformation” is a good phrase. People sometimes think of it as drinking some kind of elixir of life. Yet, such people often neglect the basics. True alchemical transformation can be affected by a natural (and, I would suggest, plant-based) diet, physical training, and meditation (particularly on the Chakras). I try to follow that closely. 
In regard to which aspects of myself have been in some way transmuted, I would say I have gained physical strength, an ability to push myself, and a greater -- if certainly an imperfect -- ability to remain calm in stressful encounters. More concretely, I remember the first time I broke a slab of concrete with my hand. I was actually shocked that it broke, and that I wasn’t injured. I’ve experienced similar things since then.
How do you understand magic and how does it work within your chosen path of personal rituals or practices?
I probably wouldn’t use the term “magic,” but others might. As mentioned, I practice chakra meditation -- and this has evolved over the decades, and I also practice Chi Gong, and, of course, other types of meditation, such as reflecting on my mortality. One might draw some comparison to Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, or Tantra.

I try to practice these daily… Again, I’d have to say what is important to me is the development of mind, body, and spirit. I think that is the true Way. 
And I would add that we can find magic in the mundane. Take conversations, for example, it has been shown that when two people converse, and are enjoying the conversation, their brain waves sync up. There are things going on within and between us that we are not aware of. In a sense, that is magic. The material world is infused with meaning and spirit, and we are constantly interacting with it and reshaping it.
What place does myth play in your outlook and philosophical perspective?
Hmm… In essence, I would say that I look to myth, ancient culture, and practitioners within ancient cultures as a model for a Way of life, or, at least, as an example of how to overcome obstacles both internal and external. Again, this may, in part, be because I see in mythic figures archetypes of those who are able to practice different arts or to live a more three-dimensional life.
The god of writing and poetry is a god of war. The mythic blacksmith is a shaman, a rebel who rises up against tyranny, and so on.  
When you started to conceive the Phalanx project, what were your guiding principles that served as motivation?
I was interested in writing a book on male spirituality, especially as related to Freemasonry, the martial arts, Zen and the Samurai, and so on, and I wanted to begin exploring the subject publically. Phalanx developed and changed quite quickly, and has grown in different ways since then. I especially try to give readers ways they can develop themselves, mentally, physically, and spiritually, and ways they can improve aspects of their lives -- regardless of the reader’s gender.
What made you decide to focus on issues related to contemporary masculinity and the notions of maleness? What specific attention are you drawing to this aspect of humanity that you consider lacking in our modern culture or in the media?
I’m not really interested in male issues per se. I don’t know anything about the “men’s rights” movement, and it doesn’t actually interest me. I think the major obstacle facing men today,  though, is that we do not have great examples of manhood to look to in contemporary society. For young men, especially, fathers are often absent from the home, either because of divorce or long working hours. And, when they are present, they are emotionally absent, or have little wisdom to offer.  
This has not led to a society of men who are strong but respectful of women, active and dynamic yet peaceful in themselves. Instead, we see a playing out of discredited manhood -- drink, drugs, gangs, boasting -- though these things are a part of contemporary society more broadly, of course.
So, there’s a point at which masculinity turns dark, loses a foundation or balance and expresses itself in very unflattering ways that undermine more classical approaches to self-development and admirable strength? How can men be more mindful not to fall into those ego traps?
I think men have to seek out better examples and cut off those influences that are negative. Good examples can be found in many martial arts schools and some Lodges, for example, where self-development and spirituality are important to its members.
You have written three books on Freemasonry. Will you continue to write books dedicated to that topic or will your next book go along a new line?
I am planning to do both. I am working, slowly, on collecting some writings together for a short book on Freemasonry, but I’m also exploring areas of self-development and, unsurprisingly perhaps, mythology, symbolism, and ritual related to traditionally male cults, societies, brotherhoods, and so on – the Samurai, Mithraism, and so on.

You’ve also studied Islam. What were you most fascinated by?
Probably the connections between Western and Islamic thinkers, adventurers, and radicals, and between certain Freemasons and so-called “fringe Masons” and Islamic spirituality during especially the late 19th century. I believe I am the first person to make an in depth study of this subject.
What do most westerners fail to grasp about Islam and does this shortsightedness create more danger in the world as a whole?
Most educated Westerners are very inward looking. They imagine that every culture is exactly like the most progressive elements of the West. It’s as if they imagine the non-West as being exactly like them, but with spicy food and ethnic holidays that we can enjoy.  
Or to put it another way, the West wants to refuse to believe that Islam has any real content, and prefers to think of it as a kind of ethnic identity. 
However, cultures and religions have their own logic, and they don’t conform to Western views or ideas about what is important in life or in society. In regard to alcohol, gender, family, clothing -- to name a few areas -- Islam’s position is much more traditional, conservative, and generally contrary to progressivism. You might think this is good or you might think it is bad -- and I’m not taking a position -- but there’s no point in pretending that Islam, or any other religion, somehow agrees with whatever it is we believe in the West this month. So, yes, it can create danger because it creates a disconnect.

So, modern westerners have warped Eastern traditions, leaving out the parts that make them uncomfortable in order to turn them into products for western commodification?
Effectively, yes. Although Christianity is often attacked as intolerant or for the Crusades that were conducted 700 years ago (and I’m not a Christian, by the way), other religions are often defended from exactly this sort of criticism on the basis that “no religion teaches violence.” It’s really schizophrenic. Westerners cherry pick the one or two things they like from each religion, ignore ninety-nine percent of each, and claim that they somehow understand the essence of the religion, to the point that they feel free to contradict the religion’s practitioners or even their sacred texts. 

Cherry picking is the way to ignorance. You’re better off studying a religion and sticking with it through the difficult and uncomfortable stuff, and figuring out how apparently violent passages can be interpreted peacefully or mystically, and not literally. But most Westerners won’t allow themselves that struggle so they remain stuck in the superficial. 
You’re sympathetic to non-Western religion and pre-modern culture. What lost aspects of the past are most detrimentally affecting how we think and act in the world?
I think, at its best, the pre-modern world was one characterized by a holistic approach to society and a belief in the sacred. That sacred is not necessarily something that belongs to an institution, but something that was seen in the world, in nature, and even in men and women themselves. Nature (of which we are a part) and society was an embodiment of the Supernatural.  
In regard to society, there was not an atomization, and a search for meaning in politics and materialism. The individual was part of his family, and part of his trade guild or professional brotherhood, his church or temple, and so on.
If human history is a undulating movement between peaks, valleys and low-points; where do you place our present culture in terms of values, art or spiritual depth?
The West seems to be running out of ideas, and seems merely to be going through the motions. The focus on morality in popular culture obscures deeper problems. 
Education that teaches what to think but not how to think -- and definitely not how to question authority -- massive student debt, massive health care costs, computerization of the workforce, a sense of existential boredom -- of not knowing why we exist or what we should do in life. These are only a few of the challenges that we are facing, but largely trying to avoid. 

There is often the complaint that we do not produce any more, and that factories and industries have moved from the US to China. But, perhaps more worrying -- since it indicates the health of the soul of the nation -- is that ordinary people themselves no longer create. A century or so ago, it was normal for a man to make things out of wood -- to carve or to make furniture or something -- and for women to sew, knit, or quilt. Ordinary people were creative. But, since the invention of the television, at least, people have become consumers. Most people would be embarrassed to sleep under a quilt or sit at a table they made. 

I don’t think we have to stick to the strict gender roles or men doing woodwork and women sewing, etc. Far from it. But, I think we have to get back to the idea of creating for ourselves. In a strange way, this very old-fashioned idea carried on in youth culture -- in Punk, Goth, and with Rockabilly, for example, where people made their own clothes, painted on their leather jackets, and so on. But, now we can by anything there is no need to do this, and something significant has been lost as a result.  
Goth DIY fashion
And do you see this is Masonry? Has it lost its way or become watered down from what it was originally designed to accomplish? If so, what do you think has caused that?
If you look at 19th century America, you see extraordinary energy in relation to Freemasonry -- women sewing quilts with Masonic symbols in it; women running textiles businesses, making regalia for Lodges; men engraving walking canes or furniture with Masonic symbols. That aspect is less significant.  
But Freemasonry changes, and the younger generation of Freemasons are much more interested in esotericism and spirituality than the older ones. They are also more dynamic, and are doing things for themselves: holding conferences, and getting speakers, and getting Masonic vendors -- selling art, jewellery, and so on. So, there’s something of a revival, I believe.
So creativity and art are crucial to our lives… How, then, do you incorporate it into your own life as a tool for understanding and growth?
Besides martial arts and esotericism, I’ve studied fine art painting,  fashion, and poetry -- and probably other arts for a short time. I still design, and I write every day, so these are part of my life. I think things are more interesting when you cross over from one medium to another -- from writing to visual art, or vice versa, etc. 
Although I’m primarily known for writing, I have painted some Masonic tracing boards (paintings of Masonic symbols), which have been shown on both the East and West Coast, for example. I used a detail of one of these for the cover of my Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition and some other details were reproduced in the book The Secret Power of Masonic Symbols by Robert Lomas.
First and second degree tracing boards by Angel Millar
In regard to influences on me, I was especially influenced by the early work of Japanese designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Kohji Tatsuno, and Rei Kawakubo (who headed Comme des Garcons), especially Miyake, who looked back to traditional Japanese aesthetics, and used traditional Japanese materials in new ways -- using oiled paper and bamboo in clothing, during the 1980s. Although that work might look a bit dated now, I think you can learn from that spirit: Take what has become neglected, but that is meaningful and beautiful, and do something unexpected with it. With Comme des Garcons, as well, they published a journal of artwork and images called Six. It looked like a fanzine, and I think that was deliberate choice. 
As a tool for growth, of course it allows for exploring ideas in different ways, but what is important in practicing an art, is to think about the details. In regard to writing, for example, I’m as interested in the construction of my sentences, and the arrangement of words -- about how I want to say something -- as much as about what I want to say.
How has initiation impacted your life? What is the fallout when a society strips initiatory rites of passage away for men and women?
First of all, if you experience authentic initiation it gives you not only a marker of a change in your own life -- including inner life -- it enables you to feel a connection to those of probably every other culture, especially of the pre-modern era, that have gone through initiation. Most people don’t have that today, so when they hear about Shamanism, for example, they immediately want to think of it in terms of 21st century politics. 
The fallout, then, is that we have millions of people who think they can change the world, but are incapable of, or unwilling to, fix their own problems. And I think we all know what such people are like when they get power. 
How can we go against the grain, rebel in a meaningful ways and challenge the falsehoods of our current generation? 
We have to realize that no matter what society is presenting to us as the unquestionable truth, it is basically a fashion, and that it will change, possibly very dramatically, over the next decade -- and so on, and so on. What we believe today, we did not believe a decade ago, and will not believe ten years from now. What is moral today will be immoral tomorrow. We can see this very clearly in the way that feminists such as Germaine Greer -- once cutting edge and progressive -- are denounced as transphobic and, as such, behind the times and oppressive. Those espousing the most cutting edge views about gender today may well suffer the same fate in a couple of decades. 
To meaningfully rebel we have to be anchored against the rolling tides of politics. As such, we have to acknowledge the impermanence of today’s Western political convictions. And we have to have an understanding of other cultures, past and present, and to look to those for signposts about what is generally admired and respected. 
Then we can begin to embody those positive values and qualities that every healthy culture has respected. We shouldn’t be judging others. If we decide, for example, that becoming physically strong is a quality that we want to develop, we shouldn’t look down on those who are not strong, and who may reject physical strength. That is their choice. 
We merely have to set examples of alternative ways of thinking, living, and being. We have to offer choices, in other words. You can choose weakness, and we won’t judge you. Or you can choose strength, and you can know what it means both in terms of personal development and in terms of being a part of a positive community that helps you achieve, and we will respect you for struggling with us. We should do this for everything. You can choose a professor who’ll reward you for checking the right boxes and mouthing the correct soundbites, or you can take a risk and think outside the box. You can choose to eat junk food, or you can choose to learn about nutrition, learn how to buy food, and learn how to cook, and eat better. 

The main thing is that a meaningful rebellion has to be positive and uplifting. It has to be about improving our minds, bodies, and spirits. A person should be able to see someone on the street, who’s part of this meaningful rebellion, and say, I want to be like that. We want to improve the quality of our being and of our lives in all areas.   
Such a rebellion has to be a choice, and, as such, self-selecting. If you are struggling to improve your mind, body, and spirit, we are happy to struggle with you, and to help you where we can, so that you can help someone else one day.
What do you suggest to people who are looking to improve their lives through physical, spiritual and philosophical means?  
In regard to the philosophical aspect, I think you have to read the classic texts -- from the Poetic Edda to the Hagakure -- but also modern works, such as those of Mitch Horowitz, Camille Paglia, Seth Godin, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Grit by Angela Duckworth, and so on. It’s important to be able to live in this world and to make something of it. We can’t remain in the past.
In regard to the physical, I’d advise taking up a martial art, preferably one that could be used in a self-defense situation, and preferably one that helps you to develop your character as well as your physical body.

And, in regard to the spiritual, I’d recommend having some daily practice. Partly, this should be thinking about how to improve your life -- your health, diet, and so on -- and how to help others improve themselves if they want to. And, partly, this should be setting time aside for some sort of ritual or meditation, such as on developing internal energy or meditating on the Chakras. 

Find out more about Angel at his personal site
and be sure to follow the works released through Phalanx and People of Shambhala

New Zine Progress and Writing Update

Instead of writing new articles lately, I have been putting together new collage spreads for a new zine edition of Secret Transmissions. It has been about six months since I last made one and feel it is overdue. The amount of time it takes in addition to posting articles and interview pieces prevents me from making more. It will feature a couple of recent essays that have appeared here on the blog supported by collage designs highlighting Bigfoot, the Yippies, The Order of the Solar Temple, the Bruno Borges disappearance and much more.

I love making zines and people's reactions to them. Perhaps a rethink of my efforts is in order. A recent Facebook post of my zine progress generated more comments than many of the articles I have put up. The fucked up nature of Facebook's audience reach restrictions inhibit my ability to get a very accurate understanding of what content I produce resonates deepest. However, I am getting the sense that the immediacy of the collage images I share has a potency or uniqueness that distinguishes them from essays or interviews that take more time to engage with.

Cover design concept
I may be better served to obsess less with writing a certain amount of articles a month and get back to doing zines more frequently. Writing smaller essays to keep the blog fresh has also slowed my progress on writing short stories which was originally a crucial centerpiece for each zine issue. Work on a new fantasy short, currently titled – The Divinusolis Working has been coming along in fits and starts for longer than I would care to admit. I'm excited about the story but it has many more moving pieces to it than previous efforts and is taking time to properly work out. 

Weird fiction and zine making were at the heart of starting this blog in the first place but both of those efforts have been lowered on my priorities in service of making regular blog posts but I think that needs to change. I think in the end I'd rather be producing more fiction, art and design pieces than trying to reach a monthly quota of blog entries. When I have something interesting to write about that constitutes an article I will definitely do so but not merely in service of hitting a number. 

Taking on additional study in a magical order has me spread in new directions as well and it is all becoming a lot to keep up with. I'd like to say more about that but of course - I can't! I hope to have the new zine assembled before summer's end. Stay tuned. 

Cover design concept


Paranormal Puzzle Pieces w/ Timothy Renner

A sea of competition exists for the attention of those interested in the strange, paranormal and unexplained. There's podcasts, radio shows, blogs and websites galore. I myself am reaching max capacity to follow much more than I try to at this point. One new show I am incredibly satisfied with taken a chance on is called Strange Familiars. It popped up a few months back and I got hooked from the very first episode. 

This podcast, created by author and artist Timothy Renner, does everything right. Not only are the story lines intriguing and not overplayed, but the attention to production detail is phenomenal. A longtime musician, Renner brings his recording and mixing skills to bare in a big way. With original folk music, on-site recordings and retro-style news reports from paranormal news past, every show has a killer presentation. 

Drawing largely from the deep well of Pennsylvania folklore (vintage and modern), Renner digs deep into his research to present stories as good as any mega-mystery program. And he's pulling it off nearly on his own solitary efforts. 

After being introduced to not only his podcast but his band Stone Breath, his personal artwork and paranormal books, I come away massively impressed. He has really found a way to turn his interest in high strangeness into an immersive, self-contained multimedia world. I can't say enough positive things about his work as a whole so just follow through with the links in this interview and discover it for yourself. I can only hope that his intense efforts will soon get the recognition they deserves. 


Why is folklore and urban legend vital and important for our culture? What first instilled your feelings about them?
In the past, folklore went hand and hand with mythology - and I think we’ve lost a kind of earth-based mythology. Our new myths might be science fiction - our new heroes may be the super powered characters in the latest Hollywood blockbuster - but we are losing touch with nature and with places of power and history. Many people don’t feel the impact of the seasons or of the landscape that surrounds them unless it’s some kind of major weather event or disaster. I think these folktales and legends connect us to the landscape - which is something we are forgetting in so many other ways. 
By the way, I don’t have a problem with science fiction or superheroes - there is plenty of room for that stuff too. 
 I didn’t know it as folklore, but I loved it all my life. They were just ghost stories, local legends, and the like when I was a kid, but I was fairly obsessed with them. I wanted to visit every haunted house and go to every creepy abandoned place. 
As I got older I realized traditional folk songs are very much the same - they tell these wonderful stories passed down from generation to generation and often change to fit the places they are sung. I see folk tales and folk song as very closely related.
Timothy Renner

From listening to the show, it sounds like Bigfoot is your true love. When did your passion for the legend begin?
“True love” made me laugh. That’s great. My kids often joke that bigfoot is my religion.

From the moment I saw the Patterson-Gimlin film on “In Search Of…” in the 1970s, I was hooked. Something about bigfoot has deeply interested me from that point. 
I read every book I could find (which wasn’t many back then) and then… I guess I thought I grew out of it? I didn’t really follow it much from the time I was in high school until, really, somewhat recently. I would look at information on the web here and there, but it wasn’t a regular part of my life. When I was writing Beyond the Seventh Gate and I turned up so many local bigfoot sightings that I started to get a lot more interested in the phenomenon. That’s when I really jumped in with both feet. 
Can you describe any personal sightings or experiences with the paranormal that you’ve had?
I have realized when I start to describe this stuff, I sound crazy. That being said, I think CRAZY is somehow part of the equation. I am not romanticizing mental illness. My thoughts on this are probably too long for an interview and more suited to a long article or a book - but I think there are multiple reasons for this and I’ll try to be brief. 
For one, we often talk about liminal states opening folks to strange experiences. Some of my experiences have been during or on the heels of the use of psychedelics - these substances alter the mind - I think old school psychologists would say those who use them are inducing a state of psychosis. So “crazy” is a kind of liminal place.
Witches, shamans, holy men - they were often “touched” as they said. “Crazy.” But perhaps even more than this is THE OTHER - whatever the agencies are that seem to be behind paranormal activity - really benefits from witnesses being seen as “crazy”. It really keeps the water muddied. It keeps witnesses on the fringe.   
So, all of that being said back to the question and knowing this sounds crazy: I have seen UFOs. I have had “alien abduction” type experiences. I use that term as a shorthand - I neither believe the entities are space aliens nor do I believe I ever left my bed. I have seen ghosts. I have seen SOMETHING very large, very fast, and very quiet in the woods which I could not identify. I have run into some odd things in the woods - if they were left by humans, they are very strange people. 
 By the way, I don’t think I am special. I think people have strange experiences all the time and don’t see it or realize it for whatever reason. I think if people put themselves in places known for strange activity on a regular basis - or draw the strangeness to themselves through various means - and start to note little things: synchronicity is the first thing I would recommended taking notice of, then any other little things no matter how small they may seem - I think almost anyone will start to experience strange things. 
Of course, if you take a hard skeptic like my wife - she literally had an encounter with a known paranormal entity that many other people have talked about - and she just dismissed it as nothing but a hypnopompic illusion. I’ll never convince her it was anything more. To me, there are no coincidences, only synchronicities. To my wife, there are no synchronicities, only coincidences. This is why most skeptics will never experience anything paranormal. The new age types will say they are not “open to it” - but it is really that they refuse to see it. I don’t think THE OTHER cares if you are “open” to it or not. 
When and why did you decide to launch the Strange Familiars podcast?
I simply wanted to do an audio documentary version of my book, Beyond the Seventh Gate. I even approached a few other podcasts about doing it on one their shows, but they either never responded or blew me off. Seriah finally encouraged me to just do it myself. He said he would host it and help me along the way.  
So, I thought: well, I might as well do an ongoing podcast then. Which was a little naive in retrospect. It’s a LOT more work than I thought it would be!
Your show really goes above and beyond a couple people pushing record and blabbing into a microphone around a table. Can you talk about how your vision for a program has been influenced perhaps by classic radio plays and other high-quality audio dramas?
I said from the beginning: I don’t want to do the “two guys talking” format. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with that - I just think other people do it better than I could. I don’t think I could bring much new to that format. That said, some of our episodes come down to two guys talking - there’s no avoiding that - but I try to pepper it with on-site recordings, music, old articles, and the like. The starting point for me was the first season of the Serial podcast. I thought it was really compelling storytelling and I thought I would like to try to do a paranormal Serial. After that it came down to how do I do this and what do I have at hand? I had a long history of music in the can (umpteen albums solo and with my band), I had recording equipment, and I know how to mix and master things so then it was a matter of just figuring out how to put it all together. 
Things like the radio tuning and static for the old articles - I just wanted to set them apart sonically and make them “feel” old to the listener. I try not to do a ton of the radio play type stuff because what we are talking about, generally, is real stuff - so you need a balance. 
For instance, I might have eerie music fade into a witness interview, but I don’t play scary music in the background while they are talking - not counting the very beginning of the show where I often use samples of the interviews in some kind of opening clip. 
In general, I try to make something I would want to listen to - something with a variety of voices and sonic textures - and something which covers topics I find interesting.
You are a reoccurring guest on another podcast, Where Did the Road Go? How did you get involved with them?
I discovered podcasts when I was going through a particularly bad time in my personal life and I could not sleep. Where Did the Road Go? quickly became my favorite as Seriah is an excellent interviewer and seemed to just get great guests show after show. 
When Beyond the Seventh Gate was published I did a lot of podcasts and radio shows. Seriah was one of the few hosts who actually read the book before interviewing me - which was really refreshing. After our interview we stayed in touch because he wanted me to do some art for WDTRG? and his other radio show, Last Exit for the Lost. 
As we would talk about this sometimes I would tell Seriah about some weird experience I had or another and he eventually brought me back on just to talk about some of my experiences. From there I weaseled my way into becoming a regular guest. His panel of regulars runs deep with knowledge and I’m a bit out of my league sometimes, but I’m in great company. 
That show delves a lot into firsthand accounts of occult and magic practice. Is that something that is a part of your life as well?
Do you have a personal metaphysics that explains the world to you, specifically one that accounts for all the paranormal shit that fills our universe?
I have a personal mythology. I think all my life I’ve been working on this - and it grows and changes with time. It’s not science, it’s belief, so I’m not sure how well it explains the paranormal. 
 There is an album Stone Breath did called Children of Hum. In the liner notes, describing how we came to name the album that, I tell this story: There is but one person who has shared most - if not all - of my personal spiritual beliefs and that is my long-time band mate and best friend, Prydwyn. When asked by his wife how we could marry such disparate elements as animism and Marian Catholicism, Prydwyn answered, off the cuff, “Some things hum. Some things do not hum. I follow those things which hum.” This perfectly sums up my path. 
 As to the paranormal. It’s an odd thing to dwell on. There is a very real state of depression many people who are deeply interested in the paranormal go through when they realize they will never “solve” this problem. Answers are not forthcoming. I think people either accept this and deal with it - or they just say everything paranormal is a “demon”, pretend they have solved the problem, and put their blinders back on. 
We don’t get to “solve” it. We can participate in the puzzle - and a lucky few people may get to lay in a new piece of the puzzle - but we will never solve it. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle of an ever-changing fractal image in five dimensions while blindfolded. Good luck.
What is your general position on the nature of cryptid creatures – are they flesh and blood, inter-dimensional or something else?
Flesh and blood AND something else - possibly inter-dimensional, but that kind of speculation is really just science fiction until we know for sure. 
 Taking bigfoot creatures as an example: Something very real is leaving hair, scat, and footprints behind. It is eating food, hitting the sides of peoples’ houses, killing their pets, screaming in the night, and making weird tree structures in the woods. These creatures can bleed - though there are several reports of them being shot and nothing happening, there are also reports of them bleeding from gunshots or other injuries. So, yes, they are flesh and blood. They leave a very real impact on the earth. 

But are they the same as bears or mountain gorillas or any other wholly natural animal? I don’t think so. I just don’t believe an 8-foot tall ape-man with a breeding population is able to perfectly hide in the North American wilderness despite all of our searching. Natural animals don’t avoid trail cams. They don’t usually give people PTSD after encountering them. They don’t leave a trail of footprints that just stop in the middle of a field. The list of weirdness goes on and on. 
“Inter-dimensional” is a handy explanation, and it MAY be correct, but who can say? Until we know for sure, “inter-dimensional” really isn’t a better answer than “demon”. I can only say these things are not like us and they are not like other natural animals. 
Artwork by Timothy Renner

Are Bigfoots ever seen in a pack or as a family? All the stories I hear are usually loner sightings. Is there any discussion about female or child Bigfoots?
The subject of the Patterson-Gimlin film seems to be female. 
 Many people claim to have seen packs or tribes of the creatures. Others have claimed to see little ones, potentially adolescents or children. I don’t know. I think we are projecting a lot of “human” onto them sometimes, but I can not say for sure. 
I do believe they rarely travel alone. If you see one, there are more you are not seeing. I base this, as I base all of my bigfoot knowledge, on witness accounts. They are the best source of information we have.
Besides the research being about supposedly different entities, how else does cryptozoology differ from ufology? How are they interrelated?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that fully - but from where I stand it seems like there are hardcore camps in both fields who want nothing to do with the other. “I study UFOs but those bigfoot people are CRAZY” - and vice versa. 
There are, however, so many commonalities between the fields and the experiences, I think anyone who is not at least open to a holistic approach to the paranormal is potentially missing a piece of the puzzle.  
I love how the show uses archival newspaper paranormal reports of sightings and encounters. How hard is it to dig out all those old media artifacts?
It’s not easy and it’s very time consuming, but I REALLY like doing research. If I didn’t love doing it, it would be a nightmare. I like digging through old stuff like that though.
Your book Beyond the Seventh Gate preceded the podcast and actually served as the theme for our initial run of episodes. Can you give the readers a short synopsis on the legends surrounding Toad Road, Hex Hollow and the rest?
There is a local legend (in York County, PA - where I live) about the supposed Seven Gates of Hell. When I first moved here this legend was associated with Rehmeyer’s Hollow (aka Hex Hollow) and a cemetery in York City. In both cases these were not supposed to be physical gates but sort of symbolic gates that you passed through by walking or driving a specific route in the hollow or the cemetery.  
Sometime during the internet age, a crazy story popped up about the Seven Gates being located on Toad Road - another place of local legend - and this outrageous story about a burning insane asylum and/or a mad doctor who kept mental patients in his home started being told. This story is a myth of the internet age, but the books, Weird USA and Weird Pennsylvania published it and so it became THE story of Toad Road and the Seven Gates of Hell in many peoples’ minds.

Is the black gouge down this tree in Hex Hollow a lightning strike? 
It is complete invention. There was never an insane asylum on Toad Road or anywhere else in York County for that matter - and there is but one gate on Toad Road - and it doesn’t lead to Hell. Plenty of weird stuff happens on Toad Road but it has nothing to do with insane asylums or gates to Hell.
Hex Hollow is a place where a real murder happened which was tied to a local practice known as powwow - which some people believe is witchcraft. I have tracked down stories of strange things happening there long before the murder, however, so I don’t believe that murder is the cause of all the weirdness reported in Hex Hollow. It’s just another symptom.
Instead of bolstering all of the urban legends about that story, you actually dispel what you consider to be false myths. Youre obviously not trying to sensationalize or milk the story for shock. Can you share what you helped to clear up?
I wrote the Hex Hollow story in the Weird USA/PA books. They also asked me to take photos for that story AND the Toad Road story. Knowing there was a lot of nonsense about insane asylums and the like, I begged them to let me read the Toad Road story before it was published. They did not. Instead they published the nonsense insane asylum story with my photographs. I made up my mind at that point that I would someday find the real story and write SOMETHING to clear it all up. I didn’t know it would turn into a book.  
 deer skull impaled on a tree along Toad Road.
In the midst of all of this “insane asylum” nonsense a real person, a local doctor who happened to live near Toad Road - started to be named as the “mad doctor” in some other local ghost story books - which I thought was just horrible. The man was a veteran of both world wars and did charity work for the poor and aged around York. His second wife was still alive at the time I wrote Beyond the Seventh Gate. I hope she never heard a word about all of this - but if I did one good thing in writing that book, I hope I cleared his name. 
The oldest bit of legend I could find about the place was just a tidbit my wife remembered from when she went to day camp near Toad Road - and that was a simple but eerie saying: Don’t look behind you on Toad Road. That ended up being incredibly important though because it tied Toad Road in with a much older Pennsylvania legend and confirmed with what a lot of other witnesses report in the area.
You recently released a book, Bigfoot in Pennsylvania. Can you comment on your research process and how you decided to structure all the content you amassed?
As I was writing my first book I found several bigfoot accounts in old newspapers. Of course, they didn’t call them bigfoot but when people are describing giant ape-men that behave exactly like modern witnesses report bigfoot creatures behaving, it doesn’t matter what name you give them. I loved reading these old accounts so I thought I would collect a bunch in a book. I figured I would have one book for the entire country. Shortly after I started I realized I would have enough to fill a book just on PA. Since I live here, I started with PA - but I plan on doing other areas. I don’t think I’ll have enough to fill a book for every state, but there are A LOT of these old reports. I’ll be doing these books for a long time. 

The research process is really all about figuring out what people called these things before bigfoot. “Wild men” is most popular, but you get tons of other regional names and variants. After that, it’s just about putting in the time - finding various newspaper archives and digging in.
What is it about Pennsylvania that accounts for so much paranormal activity?
I used to say it would be the same in any other state, you just have to look for the weird… and I still think that is at least partially true - but we do seem to have a LOT of strange activity in PA. We have a lot of creeks and rivers - for whatever reason these seem to be important to paranormal activity. Some people speculate iron and/or quartz might play a role in the paranormal - we also have plenty of those minerals. People tend to think of PA as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - but there is a WHOLE LOT of wilderness in between and even around those cities, so if cryptid creatures want/need isolation or large tracts of land in which to hide/live/etc, we have plenty here. 
 If you go back to the First Nations people that were here before the Europeans - they talked about all of the same things we talk about now. They just used different names.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I don’t really know.
The amazing music of your band Stone Breath plays a key role in shaping the vibe of the show. Can you comment a bit about your musical background and how it ties into the themes of the podcast?
When I realized that traditional folk music was talking about many similar themes and stories as folk tales, I think that was it for me. I was all in. I taught myself how to play guitar and then found a local man who showed me how to play clawhammer banjo. I learned how to write songs by listening to traditional songs. 
 There was a 1970s band called Stone Angel from the UK - and, besides traditional songs, they wrote original songs about local legends. I thought this was a wonderful way to create original music but still link it to folk tradition. I’ve done this with Stone Breath from the beginning - it’s not all we’ve done, but it’s always been a part of it. 
Even up to the last album, CRYPTIDS, which is all songs based on legends and cryptid creatures. Our forthcoming album, Witch Tree Prophets, takes its theme from a legend from my childhood home - The Witch Tree - which haunted my entire childhood in the most wonderful of ways. 
And yes, the name Stone Breath is a partial nod/tribute to Stone Angel - but it was mostly about animism. I also liked the light/heavy imagery a lot of bands from the 60s and 70s used: Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, etc. 
 When I started Strange Familiars, like I said, I just looked around and thought ‘what do I have on hand.’ Using music I had already recorded was a no-brainer - but it also helps with things like YouTube creator rights and the like. If I use my own songs I don’t have to fuss with them and prove that I have rights to the music. 
You also draw some killer artwork of cryptid and paranormal content. Have you drawn since you were a kid?
Oh yeah. I grew up on a farm in rural Maryland. There were no kids my age anywhere around me. Whenever I would get bored and complain my mother would say “why don’t you draw something." So, thanks Mom!
Artwork by Timothy Renner

Of all the work you do from art to music to books and podcasts – is there a particular one that you hope becomes most successful or do you just want to keep doing it all?
These things are all creatively satisfying in different ways. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me to make a living off of a single creative outlet anymore. I did ok with music for quite a few years - but as the music business changed I took hit after hit to the income I was making from music. It’s just the way things are - so I try to roll with the punches. Music isn’t doing it, so I try to take on more illustration jobs. Illustration jobs aren’t coming in as fast as I would like, so I start writing books. Music business throws another wrench in the gears, so I start a podcast. I don’t think any one of these things are going to pay my bills on their own, unfortunately - but all together I have been able to make it, so far. I barely make it some months, but poor and happy is better than slightly less poor and miserable. 
 The podcast is the most labor-intensive, except maybe the research for the books - and the audience build has been very very slow with my podcast. I knew going in it would be an uphill struggle, and I knew the model for podcasts is basically to give something away and hope people will reward you for it. I told myself I would give it a year and then re-evaluate. If I can triple my current patrons by 2018 it will be worth continuing the show on a bi-weekly basis. If I don’t, I will have to seriously look at things and make a call. I won’t stop, but I might scale it back to one show a month or something - which will in turn cause me to lose more patrons, I’m sure. So, I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ll see. 
Basically, if you listen to the credits on a show like Serial or anything where there’s a lot of production going into it, you will hear a whole bunch of names credited with various elements of the show. That doesn’t even include interns and behind the scenes people that manage various non-creative aspects of those shows. With Strange Familiars it’s just me. I have a few friends that will read the news articles for me, but everything else is me.   
 If any one thing took off to the point where it was paying my bills alone, I would have to concentrate more on that than the other things. At this point, the books, music, and illustration are all paying more bills than the podcast so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to devote so much time to making Strange Familiars unless things improve. Hopefully, things will pick up though and the show will continue its biweekly schedule in 2018. If things go especially well, I would even make it a weekly show. 
Timothy performing in Stone Breath

What was it like to get the call for Coast to Coast AM? Was it a fun experience to be a guest?
I had been listening to the show for something like 25 years so it was just surreal. I really enjoyed it. I think that was the third radio show I had done, including podcasts, so I really didn’t know what to expect. If I ever get to do it again I think I’ll be a better guest.
With just 10 episodes of Strange Familiars in the can, surely you have a ton of future thoughts for the show. Anything to tease the audience with at the moment?
At some point I want to do a “Return to Toad Road” show with new witnesses I’ve turned up since episodes 1-3 - if they will agree to come on the show. My biggest problem seems to be getting witnesses to agree to come on the show. I don’t push too hard because some of these folks have experienced real trauma. 
At least one of the upcoming shows on iron and the supernatural will include some Stone Breath songs we are recording specifically for the show, so that’s different. 
Suddenly we’ve gone from being the paranormal Serial to the paranormal Prairie Home Companion! Not really - the songs are traditional and very relevant to the topic at hand.Other than that - expect more of the same. I’ll go out on location when I can. I’ll keep digging up old stories and I’ll try to make the show as sonically interesting as I can.

Check out all produced episodes of STRANGE FAMILIARS 
Listen and purchase the music of STONE BREATH

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