Alright alright, my dear Coppertops. Stop screaming at your monitor and settle down already!
As the Oracle told Neo, everything that has a beginning has to have an end. The same that was true for the Matrix is also true for everything in this Universe… including this weekly column.
If you want to know the why behind this mutual decision between myself and Mysterious Universe, the only thing I can do is to point out what you already know: This wonderful digital frontier of the world wide web continues to change and evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, and that pace forces you to continuously adapt to those changes, or face the consequences of your stagnation --GeoCities, anyone?
Mysterious Universe has determined not to be left behind, to continue evolving and growing for the benefit of you, the members of this expanding community. As a result of this, MU sought to enroll more writers to its staff of contributors, who have been doing a wonderful job covering a wide array of topics, including current news events that are in some way associated to the Fortean world, and what is still inadequately regarded as 'the paranormal.' Consequently, maintaining a column by the end of the week, which often ends revisiting many of the same stories already covered in previous articles (as well as the news section of the podcasts) seems a bit like overkill --even if it's filled with wonderful pearls of wisdom by yours truly.
The Wachowski trilogy only gives a vague hint about the many iterations the Matrix has gone through before Neo took the red pill. As for me, the closing of every cycle in my life has been inevitably imbued with a sense of sadness, especially when you fully commit to a task you feel so passionate about for so long --110 articles delivered (almost) non stop since we started this mission aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, in April of 2012 --that's a shit-ton of red pills, y'all.
But fear not! For I'm not going anywhere. Before I became an MU writer, I was an MU fan just like all of you; I still remember the shock and thrill I felt when Ben asked me to join their staff of contributors --which may or may not have been the result of me horsing around with sigil magick, as I discussed with Greg Bishop in an interview I had on Radio Misterioso early this year-- so I could become even more involved in the expansion of this awesome corner of the web. I also remember how cool it felt when I was commenting in another unrelated online forum, and someone unsolicitedly wrote me "Hey, are you THE Red Pill Junkie that writes for Mysterious Universe?"
I never want to lose that feeling.
So from now on my next contributions to this site will be centered on a single theme, instead of a top-10 or top-5 list of current news stories, which will endow me the freedom to explore subjects which are not necessarily trending topics, but will still be interesting for me to write about --and hopefully entertaining for you to read.
I also have to be honest: Even though I always enjoyed writing the Red Pills of the Week, and I always appreciated the response I received from my faithful Coppertops --you know who you are, guys-- having the pressure of a regular deadline was beginning to take its toll on me, both physically and emotionally; now even though my essays and articles may end up being a bit less frequent, with more free time comes more time to read --I have a pile of untouched books just gathering dust next to my bed!-- and, more importantly, more time to THINK; I'm sure this will greatly increase the value of what I can add to the online discussions regarding the mysteries we're all so fascinated with. I will no longer write to comment on some news story because I feel I have to, but because I want to.
In the end, the whole purpose of the column was not to function as just another news aggregate for Mysterious Universe. A news story was considered a red pill not because it was getting a lot of buzz on the web, but because it had the potential to help the reader accomplish the one precept encompassing all of Morpheus's teachings: To free your Mind.
In the spirit of this, as a proper way to say farewell to this column, I feel that a fitting parting gift for my fellow Coppertops would be a final batch of 10 Red Pills; but instead of being comprised of relevant news stories, these Pills are more like tips or recommendations I myself have managed to learn during my 7+ years as an active member of the Fortean blogosphere, and my decades-long personal pilgrimage in search of the answers to the questions burning deep inside of me, and quite possibly you as well:
This sentence was coined by the late John Keel, one of the 'great ones' in the field, and as short as it is the words still convey a wise lesson. When you have an active interest in things like UFOs or Cryptozoology, it's very easy to embrace an unsubstantiated belief system. What's more, the moment you say "I believe x" or "I believe y" you're forever destined to defend that belief against any sort of criticism, and you will close yourself to new information that might disprove or refute it.
A better alternative, is to discard ALL belief systems in your life; as radical as this proposition may sound, one way to carry it out is by embracing Robert Anton Wilson's Maybe Logic--"UFOs are advanced non-human craft under intelligent control... maybe" or "Bigfoot is an undiscovered large primate living in the North Pacific forests... maybe"-- and to accept Whitley Strieber's challenge to live your life at a high level of uncertainty.
It would seem as if the sign of the modern culture wars is an increase in intransigence and polarization. The most vociferous among the modern atheists are continuously mocking all those fool enough to have some sort of religious belief, whereas the New Age movement are always eager to adopt a very anti-science posture while seeing academics as stubborn and myopic. In the alt-communities formed around a common interest on a particular unsolved mystery, the default posture is an "Us vs. Them" attitude against anyone who dares to criticize their pet theories --and it's not uncommon that those critics are then suspicious of being disinformation agents; and with the skeptic movement, many see themselves as the sole defenders of Rationality against fanatics threatening to blow the candle of Enlightenment, and leave this demon-haunted world forever engulfed by darkness.
There must be a better way.
Think of the most annoying debunker or tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist out there. As much as you may disagree with that person, chances are there must be SOME area in which you'd be able to see eye to eye with each other --a common taste in music or food perhaps. Also, encountering a bit of resistance with someone who is not a total douchebag is a great learning experience which could help you put your OWN BS (belief system) to the test, and maybe accomplish Pill #10 more quickly.
Besides, think how boring life would be if everybody agreed with each other!
In this journey, EVERYBODY starts not knowing anything, and many have a long stretch of the road traveled by the time you take off from the start line. Don't be afraid to reach out and contact someone in this field that you admire, you might be surprised by the result; a sign that distinguishes the 'real deal' from the fakers, is how approachable they are.
I remember how when I was just starting my career as a Red Pill Junkie that I used to hang around a lot at Cryptomundo, back when Loren Coleman was still involved with that website. At first my attempts to contact Loren via e-mail were very timid, but much to my delight he always replied back; I would then offer my assistance with some task, like tracking some info on the web or helping translating a text from Spanish to English, and next thing I knew Loren became a true mentor for me, and one of my closest friends in this field. A similar thing happened with Micah Hanks, who is now my Cosmic Compadre and my confidant.
One of the things I'm most proud of the Red Pills of the Week, is that each time I saw someone writing a comment I would always try to reply back, at the very least to show my appreciation to someone who took time from their busy schedule to take a look at my ramblings. I intend to always maintain that policy, and many of my dear Coppertops know I also can be reached through the Contact section at The Daily Grail, and also through Twitter --Mind you, this is not an invitation to stalk me online! It just means that if you want to shoot me an e-mail or contact me through a comment or if we coincide in some online chat room, don't be shy, and do so.
Sci-Fi writer Arthur C. Clarke used his prolific talent to envision trips to the farthest reaches of the universe, permanent colonies spread throughout the solar system, intelligent super computers and space elevators which would make chemical rockets look as obsolete as a horse-pulled cart. But despite his incredible imagination, he wasn't able to foresee how information would be widespread and available to anyone with an internet connection --in his stories data searches could only be afforded to those with enough resources to pay for them. We may not yet have colonies on the Moon, but (despite its many flaws) Wikipedia has turned every smartphone on the planet into a pocket-sized alien monolith.
We live in one of the most exciting times in human history, when a great part of the knowledge compendium amassed by our species in the last 5000 years is available with just the click of a button. To waste such a privilege only on cat videos and trivial entertainment is nothing short of a SIN --Besides, there are only so many cat videos one can watch in a day.
A true Fortean has a responsibility to learn as much as it can about all the disciplines directly or peripherally involved with its favorite mystery. I always considered UFOlogy as the greatest hobby in the world, because my passion for flying saucers encouraged me to learn about Physics, Astronomy, Biology, Geography, Geology, Meteorology, History, Anthropology, Mythology, Theology, Psychology, and many other -ologies I can't even recall at the moment. If done correctly, the Fortean mysteries can be an excellent excuse to expand your horizons to unimaginable heights --at the very least, you'll always have ample conversation material during office parties; but just remember that there ARE better pick-up lines than the Voynich manuscript...
Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik revolves around the idea of 'God in the Gutter': Finding hidden messages of great importance in the most unlikely places, like trash cans or rubble on the street.
As bizarre as this idea may seem to the rationally-minded, I can personally attest this is the case. You never know where you'll find a missing clue, and often when you least expect it; it might be in some random comment left on some anonymous blog post, or on some podcast interview that briefly departs from the main topic. What's important is to always start sharp and on the lookout for elements you can add to your 'mental files', that enlarging 'gray basket' where you keep all the unconfirmed stuff that might point out to a larger picture in the mystery.
A Fortean also needs to be ready when the Impossible starts to irrupt into one's personal life, be that in the form of synchronicities or other sort of incredible events. How right are those who say that when you stare long enough into the Abyss, sooner or later the Abyss stares you back!
The thing that makes it so scary when the Abyss comes knocking at your door --and believe me, it always does-- is that you realize all this stuff is not just entertainment. This shit's REAL, son!
That's why one needs to have other interests besides the Fortean mysteries, otherwise you risk up going to the deep end. I keep a policy that for every book on UFOs I read, I read another that is COMPLETELY unrelated to the field --although in the end this is never 100% the case, due to Pill #6.
Even more important than this, one should have strong family and social ties, in order to keep you grounded. Save that abduction documentary on TiVo for later, and go fishing with the kids instead; the Reptilian Illuminati ain't going anywhere.
Remember: This is a long-distance marathon, not a short sprint.
Evey Hammond: "Is everything a joke to you, Gordon?"
Gordon Deitrich: "Only the things that matter"
~From the movie V for Vendetta
I really can't describe the reason why one day I decided to use the nickname of Red Pill Junkie as my online nom de plume --or rather, nom de mouse-- but it's turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. The moniker is a constant reminder that I should never, EVER take myself too seriously, which is a practice I wish it was observed more often in the Fortean blogosphere...
In my experience I've learned that one of the best tools by far in order to maintain a modicum of balance, is having the capacity to see the funny side of it all; which is not to say you should turn into an insufferable cynic! But often your critics will try to belittle your arguments by mocking them, and if you're able to join in the laugh you will not only manage to disarm them, but you will prevent the formation of a nasty ulcer --red pills aren't antacids, you know...
Furthermore, one of the things a Fortean eventually has to deal with, is the trickster-like quality of these phenomena. If flying saucers and Bigfoot keep making fun of ourselves by continually denying their own existence, why shouldn't we pay them in kind? Humor will also come very handy when you get involved with the darker side of these phenomena. The only way to beat Slenderman, is by invoking his friendlier alter ego Splendorman.
The ultimate price of taking the red pill, is that you can no longer go back to your old life. Once you're unplugged and face the desert of the Real, there's no return to the complacent slumber of denial --and don't let the Cyphers of the world tell you differently!
Forteans often suffer of the Cassandra complex: They're so eager to alert the rest of the dormant masses that Reality is not what they think it is, or what CNN or Fox keeps drilling into their heads every night; but the fact of the matter is that people can only be awaken when they are ready, and trying to rush the process will only turn you into a social pariah --believe me, I had to learn this the HARD way.
Another common enemy of the Fortean is one so insidious you often never see it coming, and when you do it's already choking your neck: Depression. It's all too easy to fall into despair when you read about conspiracies, and how powerful organizations seem to be withholding the truth from the public; then there's also environmental collapse, climate change, pandemic threats, rogue asteroids and comets with more power than all of our nuclear arsenal combined, and solar superstorms capable of taking us all back to the Stone Age --and THAT is only the tip of the (melting) iceberg!
The fact that the Fortean path is foolproof road to economic struggle, doesn't particularly help to keep the black dog from biting at your ankles either.
When one is at the threshold of disaster, one needs to keep hoping that things will turn out OK in the end no matter what, even if there's no real reason to believe so. In the philosophy of Carlos Castañeda, this is known as a "controlled folly," and instead of an act of self-delusion it should be looked as a mental discipline to ensure that you remain a part of the solution, instead of becoming part of the problem.
As cheesy and cliche as it sounds, it really is darker before the Dawn.
Remember Pill #8? Well believe it or not, one day YOU will be the graybeard of the tribe; when that day comes, be generous with the things you've learned, lest that knowledge be lost when you're gone.
If people like Loren Coleman have turned out to be so friendly and approachable with rookies still wet behind their ears like yours truly and many others, is because THEY themselves started the same way, and experienced the same kind of generosity and camaraderie from veterans like Ivan T. Sanderson & Bernard Heuvelmans. It is the duty of each generation of Forteans to follow that example with the newcomers. No matter what you think, YOU have something important to contribute to the discussion.
I remember how back in the early 90s, after that impressive UFO sighting over Mexico city which signaled the start of an incredibly active wave, that myself and many others were fully convinced Jaime Maussan was right, and that we were witnessing what was undoubtedly the beginning of open contact between our civilization, and whatever intelligence may be behind the phenomenon. Now I can't help myself to chuckle at how naive I was.
I am 40 years old, and Klaatu hasn't yet landed on the White House lawn. I have no choice but to seriously consider how the most likely thing is that I will go to my grave, without ever finding out the truth behind the UFO phenomenon, seeing Bigfoot being added as another branch in the human family tree, or watching a clear-sharp video of the loch Ness monster on National Geographic, narrated by David Attenborough.
And that's OK.
In Pill#7 I wrote that UFOlogy was the best hobby ever, but in my life it became much more than that. My once private interest in Forteana has allowed me to expand my horizons intellectually, yes; but it also opened to me a whole new dimension of relationships with people who share my passions, and many of those relationships have translated into some of the most cherished friendships I hold in my life. I can honestly say without trying to pat myself in the back too hard, that I'm a better person now that before I became a Red Pill Junkie
Thus UFOlogy became my personal Alchemy, and the search for the elusive Philosopher's Stone (UFOs) ultimately helped me to transform myself, the same way The Great Work was supposed to transform the Alchemist's mundane nature into something resemblant of our lost divine state --turning lead into gold would be a neat way to get out of debt, though. I'll have to get back to you on that.
The best reward the red pill can offer, is the realization that what your gut kept telling you was right all along. That beneath the false veneer of ordinariness, this world is full of wonder and magic. The true Fortean knows that despite all it has learned during the journey, it pales in comparison with what remains to explore in the great uncharted portions of our maps. And no matter what Ray Kurzweil and his acolytes tell you, each and everyone of us must one day face alone the greatest mystery of them all.
I just hope that when my time comes and Death stares me in the eye that I shall manage to stare right back at her, with more curiosity than fear. I trust it'll be the same with you too, my dearest Coppertops.
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Remember: Taking the red pill is just the beginning of the adventure. So stop fucking around with spoons! Go out and change the world.