Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Maiden & The Barker

Had i come across the following page during my youth...

"Doom For A Dime" from the series Balbo The Boy Magician (Master Comics 41, 1943)

...I wouldnt have given it a second glance. But having since become aquainted with classic high strangeness, UFO-related cases, I instead thought: "hmm...what year is this actually from?" The answer is 1943, and in case you are still wondering what exactly to look for, compare it with the images below:

Yes, the infamous Flatwoods Monster and Mothman. Besides being some of the most instantly recognizable creatures of high strangeness lore, both are intimately connected with the state of West Virginia - one with the small town of Flatwoods, and the other with the slightly more populated Point Pleasant. While not mentioned by name in the story, or appearing in any context that could be considered extraordinary, I'm still wondering what the odds are for them being alluded to in this manner. And as I began reading closer, more connections appeared. 

And just in case you are wondering if the shadowy "creature" in the above story really is a moth, it is confirmed on the subsequent page:

Neither The Flatwoods Monster nor Mothman are easily pigeonholed. Nevertheless, the former is primarily related to a core incident that took place in September of 1952, while the latter has appeared in many seperate encounters over the years (some would argue, still to this day) and changed accordingly. I'm going to push the Mothman conundrum aside for now and instead focus on The Flatwoods Monster. To get a short but sufficient summary of the main incident, check this excellent video:

Now to get back to the Balbo comic: it never occured to me that The Flatwoods Monster could have been "inspired" by the torture instrument known as The Spanish Maiden/Iron Maiden. I had heard people compare it to the queen from Alice In Wonderland (not sure why though) and recently to Mandean Uthras, but never to a famous torture device. But now I see the comparison very clearly:

Spanish Maiden variants. The "Ace of spades" shaped head was a consistent detail mentioned by eyewitnesses to the original Flatwoods case.

Another encounter, which took place around the same time as the initial Flatwoods incident, very close to the original site, involved a tall, reptilian creature. This creature was said to be hovering by help of some mechanical extension, which covered it from the waist down. Frank Feschino Jr. investigated the case for his book Shoot Them Down and it also became the main focus of the 2010 Monsterquest episode, "Lizard Monster". Feschino speculates that the lizard creature could in fact be the same as the one in the original Flatwoods encounter, but this time without the top part of its "suit". This is a bit too nuts n' boltsy for my taste, but the description of the monster wearing a suit or being inside a type of flying container, resonates somewhat with the function of the Spanish Maiden (although perhaps a bit more comfortable). 

The "Lizard Monster" as it was portrayed on Monsterquest

Some time after the main Flatwoods incident, another, related case was discovered, involving a woman and her son. This actually took place a week before, and apparently involved a creature of more or less the same description as the "fully clad" maiden. But there appears to be yet another curious precursor on record, which Nick Redfern mentions in his book Monster Files. In a publication by the RAND Corporation titled The Exploitation of Superstititions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare, which assesses the use of various supernatural rumors during wartime, he found a reference to stage magician and intelligence asset Jasper Maskelyne's book, Magic: Top Secret

In the book Maskelyne claims to have helped the British army develop a mechanized "...gigantic scarecrow, about 12 feet high, and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs.", which had been used for spreading terror in small secluded areas of Italy during WW2. Nick speculates that The Flatwoods Monster could have been part of a later psy-op, inspired by Maskelyne's device. A place such as Flatwoods would have been ideal in that case, as it is a very secluded and scarcely populated town, even today. Nick furthermore mentions a more widespread tendency within military intelligence circles, of using Ace of Spades imagery. 

The cover of said RAND publication, which can be downloaded it its entirety here

The Jasper Maskelyne angle is even more interesting, when viewed in relation to the comic book story that inspired this post. As mentioned earlier, the "Doom For A Dime" story was published in 1943 as part of the contemporary series, Balbo The Boy Magician. The Balbo stories were very popular, and often centered around a seemingly supernatural event, which the young magician would eventually reveal as being pure illusion. Balbo was a true debunker of his time, it seems.

A big surprise came when I read the final page of "Doom For A Dime", and saw the reference to a "Barker". 

Anyone familiar with the Flatwoods and Mothman cases will know that both are very often mentioned in connection with notorious UFO trickster Gray Barker. In fact, the Flatwoods incident was Barker's point of entry into ufology - the first case he ever investigated. Furthermore, he was the first ufologist on the scene at Flatwoods, due to the fact that he was a native of Braxton County (which Flatwoods is part of). Barker also wrote the very first book about the Mothman sightings in Point Pleasant, The Silver Bridge

I had no idea until I began writing this post, but apparently "Barker" is a term given to the people standing in front of circuses, sideshows and the likes, trying to attract spectators. Ironically, many people would consider this to be pretty much the role that Gray Barker played in ufology, during most of his career. 

Some bonus info that fits right into all of this: According to wikipedia, one of the most famous fictional barkers on screen was Tinman (played by Nipsey Russell) from the 1978 movie, The Wiz:

In "Doom For A Dime" there is also a tin man type creature, operated by the exhibition barker, who looks very similar:'s probably not even the end of it, but it will have to do for now.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ingemann's Guardian Angel - A Robber's Tale?

While not directly a Christmas story, this post will resonate somewhat with the holiday season, for a very good reason. 

Bernhard Severin ("B.S.") Ingemann was one of the great Danish literary figures of the 19th Century. He was a close friend and confidant of H.C. Andersen, who he corresponded with for decades, until his own death in 1862. Ingemann wrote many different kinds of prose, including several historical novels, but the average Dane will readily associate him with his popular hymns - especially those connected with Christmas. You'd actually be pretty hard pressed to find a Danish family walking around the tree on the 24th, who won't be humming along to at least one of his tunes. But there is another explanation altogether for my sudden interest in B.S. Ingemann, and it doesn't involve Christmas. Last year, I came across an article in an old issue of the Danish spiritualist publication, Spiritistisk Tidende, about Ingemann and a guardian angel that once saved his life. The article was written in 1936 and goes on to relate the following (my translation):

One night, a hundred years ago, while Ingemann was a teacher at Sorø Academy (an elite boarding school in the western part of Zealand), he was invited to a small celebration by some friends. The festivities went on for a long time, and it was past midnight before the guests started leaving. This suited most of them fine, since they lived very close by, but for Ingemann who had a long way home - most of it through a forest where many robberies had taken place at the time - it was a different situation. Everyone tried to talk him out of walking home, and spend the night at the house instead, but he insisted that he could make it. "I know that God is on my side, so I have nothing to fear. I know that my heavenly father will put up a guard of angels and guide me home safely", he said.
Ingemann then went on his way. The wind was blowing fiercely by now - it was a real cold and scary night in the fall, but Ingemann didn't take notice of this nor the darkness. He went steadfastly forward, and soon found himself deep inside the forest. Suddenly he got a feeling that someone was following him. He turned around, and in the darkness he thought he could see the outline of a character hiding behind the trees, some distance away. Ingemann then remembered all those robberies that had taken place in the woods, and it struck him that it might be one of the culprits behind these, who was now following him. Not a very comforting thought. Ingemann stood still for a moment, folded his hands, bowed his head and began praying to God for protection, asking him to send down one of his glorious angels of light, to protect him from everything dark and evil. Afterwards, it was as if a wonderful sense of peace and security came upon him. Happy and carefree he went on, and after half an hour he had reached his home safely.

Sorø Academy with Ingemann's House in the centre. B.S. Ingemann lived here from 1822-62.

A few years went by. Then one day, Ingemann was sent for by a man living at a cabin at the other end of the forest. The man was very ill and knew that he would die soon, but had something important to confess before leaving this earth. When Ingemann entered the cabin, the man called him over and said to him in a weak voice:
"I suppose you are wondering why I have asked you to come. You do not know me, but one night a few years back, I followed you on your way home through the forest. My intention was to rob you. For about 10 minutes I had been trailing you, and I was ready to close in for an attack. I was armed with a long and sharp dagger, but just when i was about to strike, I saw that you began praying. Then, just behind you, I saw the most wonderous sight in all of my life. It was a large and glorious figure, who stretched out its arms in a protective manner around you. I was horrified and almost didnt' believe my own eyes. I immediately gave up my pursuit, and ever since that day, the vision has been as clear to me as the night it happened, and I have had no peace in my soul. I felt that I could not die before telling you all of this, and receiving your forgiveness".
When Ingemann heard this, he understood that it was God who had listened to his prayers that night in the forest, and had sent one of his angels down for protection. It was this angel that had become visible to the robber, and in a peculiar way saved Ingemann's life.

Fascinating stuff for sure, but what to make of it? It is certainly true that Ingemann was attached to Sorø Academy one hundred years earlier, during the 1830's, but I had a very difficult time verifying the story. According to the Spiritistisk Tidende article, it was related by an organist at the (now defunkt) spiritualist Church, Daniel-Kirken, in Copenhagen, by the name of Orla Knudsen. The article also mentions that Mr. Knudsen had included the story in a recently published children's book. But where did he get the story from in the first place? I simply could not find any information about an Orla Knudsen or his book, nor could i find any other mention of the story, even in detailed books about B.S. Ingemann.

As a more direct attempt of finding an original source, I contacted the staff at Dansk Folkemindesamling (the part of the Royal Library of Copenhagen which houses Danish folklore material). They had never heard the story before, but recommended that I looked at Ingemann's collection of letters to and from H.C. Andersen, which had been published in three large volumes during the late 1990's. I proceeded to go through all of these, but still no lucky.

At some point during my search I discovered the Danish B.S. Ingemann Society, who puts out the tri-annual magazine, Tankebreve ("Thought Letters"). I contacted the magazine's editor, Kristian Nielsen, who turned out to be very familiar with the story indeed. He could also tell me that Ingemann had vivid spiritual and "supernatural" experiences throughout his whole life, and that these became more intense and visionary in the years leading up to his death. This shines through in many of his final writings as well. 

This confirmed my suspicion that there was more to Ingemann than most people know, something I had gathered from reading several of his letters to H.C. Andersen - especially those from the 1850's. In these letters, Ingemann openly shows a fascination with "the otherworld", and even displays some very cosmic-spiritual thoughts about inhabited planets elsewhere in the solar system. Ingemann's worldview was perhaps closest to that of spiritualism, a movement in its infancy at the time, but which he must have been aware of.

An issue of Tankebreve, the official magazine of the B.S. Ingemann Society. The publication deals with all things Ingemann, but focuses a lot on the spiritual aspects of his work.

But back to the story itself. If indeed it did take place, it must have happened while Ingemann was still fit enough to walk around. But we cannot really narrow it down further than that. Kristian Nielsen is unsure about the date too, but he did turn my attention to a series of articles about the story, that had appeared in Tankebreve over the years. From these articles I learned that more than one version of the story actually exists, which really got me interested. 

It appears that the earliest known printed account is found in the 1886 book Fra Det Virkelige Liv (which translates to "From Real Life (Events)), by H.D. Lind, a Vicar from Sorø. As the title suggests, it's a collection of unusual real-life anecdotes from all over Denmark, and the source of the Ingemann story is attributed to a Countess M. Moltke. This may very well have been the source for Orla Knudsen's "version" in Spiritistisk Tidende, but as we shall see there are some notable differences between the two. The following is my translation of the Moltke account:

The poet B.S. Ingemann had been visiting some dear friends near Sorø one night, and the hour had become late before he decided to go home. Some of the young people in the house offered to follow Ingemann back to his home in Sorø, since it was not a very comfortable journey, alone through the woods. But Ingemann insisted that he preferred walking alone, as he was very fond of the peace and loneliness of the great forest. So it was that he bid farewell to his friends and walked home in good spirit. But after he had covered a good deal of distance through the forest, a sense of dread suddenly came over him. He kneeled and asked god to relieve him of the feeling, and after praying for a while he felt normal again, and continued calmly home. 
Many years later, a well known criminal from the Sorø area was arrested, and during his interrogation he made the following confession: 
"Yes, once I even went after old Ingemann. I knew he had been visiting some friends on the other side of the forest, alone, so I waited for him to return home". 
"Then why did you let him go? Asked the lead interrogator. 
"Because someone was following him - He was not walking alone!" 
This confession was later presented to Ingemann, and he clearly remembered that night in the woods when he had been struck by that indescribable and unexplaniable feeling of dread. But now an answer had been found, both for the horrible sensation and for the following calm and peace that came upon him: God had sent an angel to follow him safely home.

This version contains all of the same elements as Orla Knudsen's, but many details are missing as well. Furthermore, Knudsen's account is presented in a very emotional way, with a narrative style more akin to a fairy tale. Ingemann is almost portrayed as a hero figure in it, which would make sense if it really was made for a childrens book, as the Spiritistisk Tidende article states. Still, it is presented as a real event in both cases, which is the hallmark of folklore rather than fairy tales. We could perhaps say, then, that it is more like an urban legend, or "Friend Of A Friend Tale". Funnily enough, an old but still popular Danish term for such a tale is røverhistorie ("robber's tale"), which is literaly what the Ingemann story is! 

I do not mean to diminish the potential reality of the story by pointing this out, since there is no reason that Ingemann couldn't have had a true experience, which perhaps he just never wrote down. Over the years, as the story circulated around from person to person, it lost and gained details until noone remembered the original anymore. It might have begun with a very simple format, such as Moltke's account, and spread onward from there.

Yet another version...and another...

In later issues of Tankebreve, Kristian Nielsen presents us with two further variations of the robber's story, and even refers to a similar tale that he was told by singer Ingolf Olsen, but didnt write down at the time.

The first of these accounts was sent personally to Nielsen in 2009, by a woman named Birthe Vang. She had heard it from her mother while growing up, who in turn had heard it from her father, a prominent figure in the Sorø lumbering industry in the 19th century. Here we get some more details about the "friends" Ingemann was visiting that night. According to Vang it was "the family at Frederikskilde". There is indeed a link between Ingemann and the Frederikskilde estate, which is located in the nothern area of Tystrup Lake, as a family living here once called upon him to write poetry for their dying daughter. This of course does not prove anything, but it does point towards a more concrete lead than in the other stories, which perhaps could be investigated further. 

Vang's version also deviates from the previous, in that the robber contacts Ingemann already the next day. He excuses his actions on the basis that his family was starving. With Christmas approaching rapidly, he had simply acted out of desperation, and decided to follow Ingemann on his way home that night and rob him. But just as he was getting ready to attack, he saw a small "angel of light" on each of Ingemann's shoulders. This horrified him so much, that he pulled back and laid on the ground for a long time afterwards. In this version, Ingemann forgives the robber too, but on top of that he makes sure that he gets a job, and that his family receives financial support to make it through Christmas. So we got a little Christmas twist out of this post after all. :)

The final variant of the story surfaced in early 2014, as an old newspaper clipping from Sorø Folketidende (year and date unknown). This particular retelling of the story originates from a local Sorø Bishop, and was told, perhaps in 1930, to a group of confirmands. Many of the main details are present again. Even the headline reads "he was not walking alone", which we know from the Countess Moltke account. The main difference here is that Ingemann was not actually at a party that night, but instead visiting "The priest of Slaglille" - probably referring to Pastor Wilhelm Theodor Lindegaard, who served there from 1832-59. Again, Ingemann is called upon to meet his would-be robber some time after the event, but this time around he is summoned to Sorø Confinement, where the robber is being kept for other reasons. Again, he receives the pardon of Ingemann.

Sorø Folketidende article, relating a version of the Ingemann story.

I don't think there is much doubt that all of these stories refer to the same event. But which version is the most correct? Can we even truly say that it happened, or could it have been a fabrication right from the start, based on the type of person Ingemann was known to be? Perhaps there was some real event behind, which was then absorbed into a neater and more fitting folk tale narrative, which then became "viral"?

I don't have the answers, but whether or not it can ever be definitively traced back to Ingemann, it still appears to have been such a good story, that it survived in a fairly consistent way, perhaps for over a century. And this takes us into an area of study which I will focus a lot more on in 2015: the spreading and embellishment of Danish folklore and urban legends, from the perspective of modern theories of social contagion.

So tune in again when we reach 2015. Until then...

Merry X-Mas and a Happy New Year

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Illuminati, Before They Were Famous - Part 2

MacGyver like you never saw him before

Through The Eyes Of A Killer is a TV-thriller from 1992, based on a short story by British author Christopher Fowler. It's not very high budget, but has an interesting and talented cast. Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) is here in the only bad-guy role I've ever seen him in, and I must admit he plays it pretty convincingly. Marg Helgenberger plays Laurie, a well educated, independent and sexually frustrated, woman, who hires Anderson's character, Ray Bellano, to refurbish a trashy old apartment. Shortly thereafter, she gets physical with him and feels like she's on cloud nine for about 20 minutes of the movie. Then they have a fallout, which ultimately sparks the premise of the movie. Tippi Hedren has a minor role as the landlady, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is some kind of hommage to an older movie there somewhere, that I haven't picked up on yet.

What makes TTEOAK so special, is that it is the only "old" movie I know of that incorporates the all-seeing eye in a directly malevolent context. It is also the only movie I've seen, period, where the eye becomes more than just a fleeting symbol to be seen here and there. In TTEOAK it is even beyond being just a plot device: it is a completely independent entity, that interacts subtly with the involved characters and affect their actions - and ultimately the outcome of the story.

The Eye continually appears with a shiny, glowing effect throughout the movie. The Eye of Providence, surrounded by sunbeams, can be found in many freemasonic lodges, as a reminder of "The Great Master Builder of All Worlds"
After watching Through The Eyes Of A Killer, I learned that it was based on a short story called The Master Builder by Christopher Fowler. This of course describes Richard Dean Anderson's character is in the movie: a superb craftsman who takes the expression from trash to treasure, to a whole new level. But it is clearly also a freemasonic reference, viewed in conjunction with the symbolism that is such a central part of the plot. I was therefore surprised, when I read Fowler's original story, to learn that the evil eye mosaic is not a part of it at all. It's not even hinted at. So whatever this nod at freemasonry and/or The Illuminati is supposed to mean, it probably came solely from the filmmakers. But let's take a closer look and speculate some more along the way (Warning: There will be spoilers).

In the first clip, Tippy hedren shows Laurie the window with the eye, and a sense of dread comes across her. The sun shining through the eye creates a mysterious light.

In the next clip, Ray sees the eye, and it is as if an exchange is taking place. This clearly isn't your everyday window decoration.

One thing noticed about the Ray Bellano character from this point onwards, was how much he looks like Adolfo Costanzo, the "Godfather of Matamoros", whose Palo Mayombe-inspired cult created mayhem across the southern US states and Mexico during the late 1980's. Costanzo's activities ended in 1989, when he commited suicide just prior to getting apprehended by the Mexican police. His followers were either arrested or died with him.

Below I have put up a screenshot from Through The Eyes Of A Killer against a picture of Costanzo, in order to demonstrate the similarities. It might well be a coincidence, since that type of dodgy haircut was all too popular in those days. But it is in no way improbable, since the Matamoros case was very well known at the time.

One night, shortly after the work on the apartment has commenced, Laurie is attacked by Ray Bellano. A rape ensues, but she decides to go in on it. When she wakes up in the morning, the eye shines briefly but knowingly at her. Laurie and Ray begin a short affair, until he seduces her best friend. Ray gives her a sinister promise, that he wont give up on her, but finishes off the apartment without any further complaints or interactions. Later, when its all set to move in, the following scene occurs:

Ray has left a "gift" for Laurie - a pyramid with an all seeing eye - a hint that she is being watched? But how? The guy at the end of the above clip is a colleague of Laurie, who tries to win her via the friendship way. But i'm not sure exactly how to interpret the scene with the knife, as there is yet no reason for him to be cautious. Maybe the eye is influencing him too? In the next scene, Laurie is beginning to sense that there is something older and more sinister about the apartment, and suspects that the eye plays a part in it.

The gift is transformed into a weapon, as Laurie bashes Ray with it. Afterwards she discovers how he could have remained hidden in the apartment - there is a hollow area within the thick walls that Ray has made into an advanced system of halls and entrances from which he could get into the apartment. Someone else than the Eye has been watching her!

In the following scene, Ray talks about how the place itself gave him power, like the inner "force" that you often hear serial killers talk about. It is therefore the place itself, expressed via The Eye, that affects the people who comes into contact with it.

Finally, Rays dies, and the most eerie scene of the whole movie plays out. It seems that The Eye decides to turn on its own device, hypnotizing him so laurie can finally get the drop on him.

So...what to conclude about this eye business? Why is it used in such a sinister context? Is there anything in the director's past works that could hint at a reason? Looking on IMDB, Peter Markles' resumé almost explicitly includes TV movies and episodes for various TV-series, most of them with a crime theme. At first glance there isn't really anything on the list that stands out, except maybe Flight 93 (2006) about the missing plane on 9-11, but even that was very non-challenging in its narrative, as far as i remember. Markles also directed a few episodes for the X files and Millenium, but these were written by someone else. Then it struck me that maybe the writer on Through The Eyes Of A Killer was the real culprit. He is listed on IMDB as Solomon Isaacs, a name that sounds like it could have been made up for the occasion. Indeed, there is no other listed works attributed to him, nor could I find any other info about him anywhere. I even tried writing Christopher Fowler about it, but he never answered. So I'm afraid the trail ran cold there.

Finally, there is one question left asking: Is the film worth watching? Well, you got some major spoilers from reading all this, but why not, it isn't half bad. Just remember to check your apartment thoroughly before going to sleep.

Part 1 here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Flying Saucers In Time

Finding depictions of "flying saucers" from before late June, 1947 is an ongoing process, that has been slowly accumulating, as researchers have backtracked through the various possible areas of influence prior to Kenneth Arnold's sighting. It's not that there weren't lots of spaceships all over popular culture during the 1930's and 40's, but it was mostly craft of rocket-shaped design that appeared in the early sci-fi pulps, comics and serials. Nevertheless there are quite a few examples of saucers to be found, even prior to those outlets - just take a look at the gallery over at UFOPOP. Stories about saucer-shaped time machines, on the other hand, are a bit more rare - but recently I found precisely such a tale in an Canadian comic from 1945.

Terry Kane Battles The Thief Of Time in Three Aces, Vol.2 issue 4 (1945)
The above mentioned story was featured in Three Aces Comics from March 1945, and is about a time travelling thief who may actually have been the inspiration for (Lee &) Kirby's Marvel character, Kang. There are many similarities, even in attitude, only this guy is far less exotic. The "Thief" uses a saucer-like craft, which he refers to as his "Time Car", to travel back in time and steal treasures from different periods in earth's history - until he meets Terry Kane, the hero who of course puts an end to all of that. But first we are presented with many a great panel of drawings in a style that, in my opinion, was even further ahead of it's time than the subject matter. I had to double check the date and year to be sure, but it's printed right there on the last page of the story: March 1945.

In some of the drawings the Time Car looks more like an actual car, but when the interior is shown it becomes clear that it is at least oval-shaped. A few other panels show it to be even more saucer-esque.

The idea of saucers as time machines made me think of the 1980 BBC TV play The Flipside of Dominick Hide, about a man who becomes addicted to time travelling in his flying saucer and ends up changing history (although possessing more benevolent motives than our Thief of Time). I don't think there was any inspiration from the Terry Kane story in there, though, but of course you never know.

Monday, October 13, 2014

1673: The Original Frankenstein?

Recently I was thumbing through early issues of Denmark's first true newspaper, Extraordinaires Maanedlige Relationer, when I stumbled upon the following report from February, 1673 (my translation):

In Frankenstein (Silesia), an ungodly body by the name Henrik Krahlen, along with his wife Eva and daughter Anna, has done a hideous and shameful thing. For 8 years they have unearthed dead people and removed their hearts and lungs in order to make a powder. This powder was mixed with poison and cumin and sold to unknowing victims, of which 5 are now known to have died. Furthermore, Henrik Krahlen has spread this powdered mixture on the streets throughout town and put it in fresh drinking wells. People were supposed to have been poisoned by this too, but god intervened, and it therefore had little effect.
Krahlen also went into a church where he held a secret feast of boiled and (prepared?) human hearts, together with his followers, who also drank from human skulls. In another church he stole from the money box and committed other injustices. With the bodies of women, he has performed in such ways that it is best kept secret, especially among Christians. Finally last year, right after the Pentecost, he and his wife and daughter were caught and thrown in jail. On the 23d of January this year [1673] he receieved his rightful punishment, when he was put on a wagon and pinched with red-hot pliers in all four corners of town. Afterwards he was taken out of town, where he witnessed the decapitation and burial of his wife and daughter. Then all of his limbs were crushed with a wheel and he was burnt alive at the stake.

The account is fairly outrageous, and sounds more like the plot of a modern horror movie. You probably couldn't sell it as a script prior to the Eli Roth generation of filmmakers, and would have to settle for an independent production similar to Nekromantik. Even with all the crazy stories in the media today, it still stands out. I have no idea if it's even partially true, though, but I think we can assume that at least something happened there. And even if it is a complete fabrication, the story is interesting from a whole other perspective.

Excerpt of the Krahlen account (in Danish)
Of course, my attention was immediately drawn to the name Frankenstein. I actually assumed that this was the story that Mary Shelley based her famous novel on, but when I tried to look it up online I could find no such reference (in fact, I can't find any info about Krahlen, period). It has often been said, however, that Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein was inspired by the life of Johann Konrad Dippel, who was born at Castle Frankenstein in 1673. The Frankenstein of the Krahlen affair was a Prussian-German town back in 1673 (today it is part of Poland and is known as Zabkowice). By contrast, Dippel's castle lies in the Odenwald mountains of Hesse, Bavaria. But even if the locations differ, there are enough shared elements to suggest that the stories about Dippel could have been inspired by the Krahlen spectacle.

Modern-day Frankenstein/Ząbkowice, maybe a nice place for a (nec)romantic holiday.

Castle Frankenstein, Bavaria
Mary Shelley drew on a lot of different sources when she wrote Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, such as the story of, well, Prometheus, but also that of the Golem of Jewish folklore. In more recent times it has been proposed that her central influence was the tales of Johann Konrad Dippel, who she (supposedly) heard of in 1814, while traveling along the Rhine river. The more controversial stories about Dippel paint him as a something of a real-life Herbert West - a well-educated philosopher, theologian, and alchemist, whose studies into the secrets of life and death would become gradually more extreme, and eventually cause even his most ardent supporters (Emmanuel Swedenborg was one of them) to abandon him. Some have claimed that he went so far as to dig up bodies at cemetaries and perform horrible experiments on them, although scholars consider this an unfounded rumor.

Johann Konrad Dippel (1673-1734)
On the other hand, Dippel is very well known for his experiments with dead animals. His most memorable creation was a product known as Dippel's Tieröl, an oil made from animal bones and a mix of chemicals. It is now banned by treaty, but was still being produced during World War Two, where it was used, interestingly enough, to poison wells across Northern Africa. 

Even if Dippel and Krahlen did go to certain extremes, one has to take the mindset and customs of the time into consideration. In the late 17th/early 18th Century, It was illegal to perform medical experiments on human corpses, so most professionals had to stick with animals. The only other options, for those convinced that they needed human subjects to advance their research, were trading with grave robbers or literally picking up a shovel themselves. I am only mentioning this to put things into perspective, since we don't know what actually happened in either case. There needn't be a sinister motive behind it, but surely rumors about such activities could easily blow out of proportions and result in being hunted down by an angry mob of villagers with pitchforks. 

The torch-wielding mob from Frankenstein (1931)
So, was Dippel actually a reincarnated Henrik Krahlen, born the very same year in which the latter died so violently? Or were the rumors about Dippel simply based upon those of Krahlen? Did I actually stumble upon the true inspiration for the story of Frankenstein, completely by chance? These are interesting theories, and the location names, dates and other details would seem to support some kind of connection - whatever one chooses to believe. The real answers could be out there - but perhaps buried a little deeper than most people wish to look.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

1600: Aarslev And Beyond

The 400+ year old Aarslev incident, often described as "Denmark's oldest UFO case", has been featured in many Danish books and publications over the years. At the same time, there has been a lack of information about the case available in English. My intention is to make up for that with this post, but beyond simply re-hashing and translating the existing Danish material, I will offer some new perspectives as well.

Even if one takes a sceptical approach to the Aarslev incident, there is enough evidence to suggest that something spectacular happened - something which touched many of the witnesses deeply and affected the broader community at the time. It truly is one of the most fascinating, and best documented, Danish Fortean cases.

A Strange Encounter In A Field Near Randers

Aarslev Enge is an area of field about 10 kilometers south-east of Randers - Denmark's 6th largest city, located on the eastern part of the country's mainland. Today, a stroll through the Aarslev area probably wouldn't spark anything beyond the most pedestrian thoughts, but one Wednesday more than 400 years ago something extraordinary happened here that shook the locals to the core. 

Before midday on the the 30th of April, 1600, a group of townsmen were gathered for the annual event of cleaning a local stream, Alling Å. While waiting for the local Alderman to assess the situation, the workers decided to take a rest by the stream. After reaching the conclusion that nothing further could be accomplished that day, due to an unforeseen buildup of water in the stream, the Alderman announced that the work was to be postponed and that everyone were free to leave. 

Then, as people were preparing to go, the Alderman suddenly spotted something “like a big wagon” rising from the fields in the distance, together with a group of strange figures moving inside and around it. When he first drew attention to it, the townsmen thought he was joking, but they soon realized that this was not the case. At first, many of the witnesses tried to explain the sight as a flock of cattle running berserk and whipping up dust, but eventually they all began to see what the Alderman was seeing.

The figures became more discernible too, as the "wagon" moved closer (though some later described it as if it "dissolved" along the way). To the witnesses they were clearly humanoid, but a lot taller, fatter and more broadshouldered than normal people. Most of them seemed to be dressed in black, except for two who wore "bloody red" garments, and one who wore a white, long piece of clothing with a black band across. 
The ones dressed in red were a bit slimmer than the rest, but still very much taller than the average person at the time. They all appeared to be engaged in some "playful battle", using something akin to spears or swords with which they lifted each other up into the air. Occasionally, the red figures were surrounded some kind of smoke.

Workers depicted lying down before the arrival of the “wagon”. Unfortunately, no known images of the entitites exist to my knowledge.
By now, a local farmer and some women had also joined the large group of onlookers, and one can only imagine the amount of disbelief and anxiety among those present. At some point the Alderman cried out that everyone should fall to their and knees pray to God for it to disappear again. 

Shortly after that, another character joined the "battle". This guy wore a large white “thing, like a hat" on top of his head, and attacked and eventually scared away the figure with the white clothes. The "wagon" and the rest of the apparitions now started to retract towards a wooded area in the background, with many of the townspeople chasing after them (to no avail). Eventually, it disappeared completely, seemingly into the woods. The whole thing had lasted around 30 minutes.

Aftermath - Investigation And Implications

The Aarslev incident, as related above, was originally investigated and documented by a local nobleman, Holger Rosenkrantz, who lived at the nearby manor Rosenholm. His
 long-term plan was probably to spread the story even further via pamphlets, as stories of signs and revelations were usually printed in that format at the time (no newspapers yet existed). But apparently it never happened - at least, none such has ever been discovered. Rosenkrantz' original report is believed to have been destroyed in a fire in 1826, but a copy from 1760 still exists in the Danish Royal Library. 

In 1909 the report was more widely published, together with an introduction and postscript by cand. mag. Søren Hansen, in Randers Historical Society's yearbook. Here the incident was explained away as a misidentified waterspout which, together with a superstitious and authoritarian mindset, produced an advanced collective hallucination. While I won't dismiss that possibility completely, I think it sounds a little too convenient. In any case, this isn't the angle that I am interested in here.

The connection with flying saucers actually wasn't made until a few decades ago, when Danish folklorists started looking at the case in light of more recent developments within the UFO field. Since then, Fortean researchers such as Lars Thomas have written about the case, and it has even begun to feature prominently in popular history books. All the good work highlighting and analyzing the incident from a modern perspective aside, we can almost solely thank Holger Rosenkrantz for the survival of this rich account. Had it not been for his enthusiastic investigation and documentation of the story, it probably wouldn't be around today, except as hearsay or watered down folkore. 

Holger Rosenkrantz “The Learned One” (1574-1642)

Rumors of the incident spread quickly, and it was mentioned during sermons in several churches throughout the greater Randers area the following days. This is how Holger Rosenkrantz encountered the story and became interested in knowing more. On the 12th of May, Rosenkrantz visited Aarslev Church in order to get testimony from the local priest and seven witnesses to the events. Afterwards, he talked to them all individually and made them swear on the bible. He then met with a few additional witnesses, including some of the women that had joined the group towards the end. Later that day, four people joined Rosenkrantz on his trip back to Rosenholm, where they told their story at a larger congregation.

During Rosenkrantz' investigations, he learned that Aarslev priest Hans Pedersen Brun had heard a very loud, thundering noise that same day, accompanied by a terrifying voice which called out to him in a moaning fashing "Væ! Væ! Væ!". This happened while he was walking through the nearby woods, where he also met some local boys who had heard the noise, but not the voice. Rosenkrantz later deduced that priest Brun's experience with the latter took place exactly at the time when the "wagon" was disappearing, and that it happened in the exact same stretch of woods.

Aarslev Church in recent times.

The Broader Perspective

Rosenkrantz' passsion for the case shines through in his writings, and it did not appear out of nowhere. In the years leading up to the event, he had undergone some sort of religious identity crisis, which had caused him to become - using modern terminology - a born-again Christian. Looking at Rosenkrantz' report it indeed becomes clear that he believed this event to be a sign of warning from God to non-believers.

Spiritual (re)awakening was of course not an uncommon phenomenon during those days, in part due to the Reformation and the catholic church's harsh reaction to it. In this case we can also add the factor of the century shift, which is always a period of heightened awareness. These sentiments were further fueled by the many wars, natural catastropes, rampant hedonism and the plague spreading through Europe at the time. 

It may also be significant that the 30th of April is the day of Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night in English, Valborgsaften in Danish), named after the German saint Walpurga. It would be natural to speculate that this played some part in enforcing Rosenkrantz's beliefs, but actually he doesn't mention it anywhere. Walpurgisnacht is of course also notorious for being the date of the Great Witches' Sabbath, and the early 1600's was a period of intense witch hunts, even in Denmark. 

It appears, however, that even though Walpurgisnacht was celebrated in Denmark at the time of the Aarslev incident, the day did not become associated with witches and their flight to Brocken until the mid-1600's. Furthermore, this association is not mentioned anywhere in the Danish records until 1708. In fact, we may have to look at it the other way around: perhaps events such as the Aarslev case helped fuel the superstition about the diabolical nature of this date over the years.

Walpurgisnacht is not celebrated in Denmark anymore. Instead we celebrate Skt. Hans Aften (Saint Johns Eve), on the 23d of June, where we still burn witches in effigy (see picture). Overall, it is this date that is connected with witches in Denmark these days.

Originally I started digging deeper into the Aarslev case some years ago, after having read the (then) recently published Wonders In The Sky by Chris Aubeck and Jacques Vallée. I couldn't find any mention of the Aarslev incident in the book, and I discovered to my surprise that it wasn't that well known outside of Denmark. At the same time, I was struck by how many other of the cases in it featured the same kind of details. Take for example no. 138, from the year 1395:

"In the land of Languedoc [France], a big star and five small ones were seen in the sky. These, as it seemed, attacked and sought to fight the big one, which they followed for half an hour. Also a voice was heard in the sky, shouting. Then a man was seen, who seemed to be made of copper, holding a spear in his hand, and throwing fire. He grabbed the big star and hit it; after which, nothing more was seen."

Moving further into the future, the following excerpt (from case no. 170 in WITS) is from 1523, originally found in the Chinese book Stories In A Summerhouse Of Flowers:

"One day when it was raining without stopping the teacher observed two ships sailing over the woolly clouds above the ruins, in front of his house. On these two ships that measured more than ten fathoms [over sixty feet], two tall men were busying themselves, each one twelve feet tall and wearing a red hat and multicoloured clothes. They held a pole in their hands...".

There is also an incident (case no. 227) that took place 20 years after Aarslev, in Geneva, Switzerland, where:

"Two suns were seen, one red and the other one yellow, hitting against each other... Shortly afterwards there appeared a longish cloud, the size of an arm, coming from the direction of the sun, which stopped near the sun, and from that cloud came a large number of people dressed in black, armed like men of war. Then arrived other clouds, yellow as saffron, from which emerged some 'reverberations '(?) resembling tall, wide hats, and the earth was seen all yellow and bloody. The sun became double and it all ended with a raift of blood.”

Furthermore, all of these cases have parallels to the legend of The Wild Hunt (associated with Odin/Woten in Northern Europe and King Valdemar IV in Denmark, specifically), as well as the Danish tales of “Knarkevognen” (vogn means wagon or vehicle). Both are usually accompanied by loud noises and figures in the sky. 

Peter Nicolai Arbo's Asgårdsreiein (1872), one of the most famous Norse representations of The Wild Hunt

Regarding the entities seen around the Aarslev "wagon", it should also be mentioned that there is something of a Danish folkloric tradition regarding “long spirits", sometimes wearing tall hats and colored garments. Often these are connected with loud voices too (an example of this is found during the Køge Huskors affair, which i covered in the June 2014 issue of Phenomena Magazine). There are many other examples of tall entities throughout Evald Tang Kristensens folklore compilations, more specifically in "Danske Sagn..." volume five, section 8. It is quite possible that the Aarslev incident was an inspiration for such tales, which then mutated and spread to all over the country.

Aarslev, Haarslev And Beyond

This final section is to be considered optional for the understanding of the Aarslev case. But for those interested in synchronicities and other "paranormal" events, I have found some interesting correlations and additional material that relates to the incident. 

In a compilation of Danish folklore tales, Sagnenes Danmark by Gorm Benzon, I found an account that is evidently more than just a local legend. It was originally documented in the journals of Bishop Jacob Madsen, during his visits to different parishes around Denmark during the years 1587-1606. In 1601, a priest in the town of Haarslev on Fyn (Funen) handed Bishop Madsen an account of an angelic visitation from the previous year:

Between the 16th and 17th of April, 1600, a woman had heard a voice similar to that of a crying child repeat a strange sentence 3 times in old Danish: "O Wæ Och Voch, O Wæ Och Voch, O Wæ Och Woch Offuer All Wærdenn!". Then on the 30th of April, she was adressed by a loud voice claiming to be an angel of god, while praying. The angel told her to be strong in her faith, and to not be afraid. God would be on her side, and it was her duty to spread His true word to everyone around her. If people would still not change their ways following that, He would come down on them and their "kræ" (usually this refers to animals) in a very bloody way.

Shortly afterwards, the woman had gone to the local priest and told him about the experience and the message she had received. The priest then had a long series of discussions with other religious authorities in the region, before finally taking a stance on the matter. They suspected that it could be a trick played on them by the catholic church, in an attempt to challenge the town's blossoming protestant agenda. Specifically it is mentioned that clergymen in the area were in the process of removing old catholic relics from the churches when all this happened, which made them all the more suspicious of it being a hoax. They finally ignored the story. 

In 1601, a few months after Bishop Madsen heard about the story, Denmark was struck by a plague which lasted 3 years. One of it's symptoms was that it attacked the lungs, making people cough up large amounts of blood - thus fitting neatly into the prophecy of the "angel". It is unclear what exactly the Bishop made of all this, but Benzon mentions that to this day, it is possible to find more remnants of catholicism in the churches on Fyn than in the rest of Denmark.

A page from Bishop Jacob Madsen's journal.

There are some details in the account above, that I find particularly interesting, and which the attentive reader might already have picked up on. The fact that the visitation experience took place on Walpurgis Night, the same year as the Aarslev sighting, is remarkable. Secondly, there is the matter of the crying voice that was heard in both accounts. Looking closer at them, it becomes clear that they are very similar phonetically. This is also the case of the names Haarslev and Aarslev, although I do have to mention that while looking through Bishop Madsen's visitation journals, I discovered that there is actually also a town called Aarslev on Fyn, which makes me think that it was probably a somewhat popular geographical name. Still, it is an interesting coincidence.

Rosenholm Castle, from an old postcard (Date and year unknown)
As a final element, I have included a few Rosenkrantz-related legends that I also found in Gorm Benzon's book series. 

A few years before his death in 1642, Holger Rosenkrantz was teaching a group of students at Rosenholm, which by now was a well known centre of religious studies. Discovering that he had forgotten an important book at the library, he sent one of his students to fetch it. When the student reached the library, he was very surprised to see Holger sitting in a chair and reading the very book that he had been sent to retrieve. Although he found this odd, he decided that for some reason old Holger was playing a trick on him; He had apparently taken a shortcut to the library and was now testing him. 

The student went back to class, but when he arrived empty-handed he was asked why. The student then told what he had seen, and Rosenkrantz and the rest of the class walked together to the library, where indeed they found the doppelgänger sitting and reading. When finally Rosenkrantz asked "are you or am I the real Rosenkrantz"? Rosenkrantz saw this as a sign that his death was near, which in fact it was. He died a few years later.

According to Benzon, a supposed psychic lady was sleeping at Rosenholm many years after Holger Rosenkrantz' death, when she had a vision of him and his wife Sophie Brahe (niece of Tycho Brahe). She described the details of the clothes they were buried in down the smallest details, something which would have been difficult for her to know. Curiously enough, the coffins of Holger and his wife were actually resting in a room adjacent to the one she was sleeping in at the time, due to renovations in the crypt. 

Maybe old Holger hadn't yet given up on his mission, one that began so many years earlier in a little village known as Aarslev.


  • Askholm, Ib: Livets varsler: Om Fødsel, Tilværelse Og Skæbne. Askholm (1999)
  • Benzon, Gorm: Sagnenes Danmark (1985)
  • Holbek, Bengt & Piø, Iørn: Fabeldyr og Sagnfolk. Politikens Forlag, 2. Ed. (1979)
  • Kristensen. Evald Tang: Danske Sagn Som De Har Lydt I Folkemunde (Vol. 2 & 5)
  • Kæseler, Arnold: Heksetro og Hekse på Mors. Fortiden (1998)
  • Madsen, Jacob: Biskop Jacob Madsens visitatsbog 1588-1604. Udgiverselskabet for Historisk Samfund for Fyns Stift (1995)
  • Michaelsen, Jørgen: Synet i Årslev Enge in Lokalhistorisk Forening for Sønderhald Kommune (2000)
  • Rosenkrantz, Holger: Et mærkeligt Syn i Aarslev Enge den 30te April 1600 in Historisk Årbog Fra Randers Amt (1909)
  • Rosenkrantz, Palle (ed.): Rosenholm og Rosenkrantzerne: En Monografi. Koppel (1924)
  • Rosenkrantz, Palle: Rosenholm I Skiftende Tider. Jyllands-Posten, August 17th (1941)
  • Thomas, Lars: Det Mystiske Danmark. Aschehoug (2005)
  • Vallée, Jacques & Aubeck, Chris: Wonders In The Sky. Tarcher (2010)

- Extra special thanks to Chris Aubeck and Yannis Deliyannis, and other members of the Magonia Exchange group for their valuable input, and for expanding my knowledge of these kinds of cases over the last couple of years.