Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Shadow World?

A few weeks ago The Observer, via the UK Guardian, published an article with some rather staggering implications, especially for those of us who have long been fascinated by the "Ultraterrestrial" theories of researchers such as John Keel and Jacques Vallee. I have put key passages in bold in the following excerpts taken from said article (which can be read in full here):
"Across the world's great deserts, a mysterious sheen has been found on boulders and rock faces. These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising colour and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces.
"How desert varnish forms has yet to be resolved, despite intense research by geologists. Most theories suggest it is produced by chemical reactions that act over thousands of years or by ecological processes yet to be determined.
"Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world. Cleland, a philosopher based at the university's astrobiology centre, calls this ethereal dimension the shadow biosphere. 'The idea is straightforward,' she says. 'On Earth we may be co-inhabiting with microbial lifeforms that have a completely different biochemistry from the one shared by life as we currently know it.' 
"It is a striking idea: We share our planet with another domain of life that exists 'like the realm of fairies and elves just beyond the hedgerow', as David Toomey puts it in his newly published Weird Life: The Search for Life that is Very, Very Different from Our Own. But an alternative biosphere to our own would be more than a mere scientific curiosity: it is of crucial importance, for its existence would greatly boost expectations of finding life elsewhere in the cosmos. As Paul Davies, of Arizona State University, has put it: 'If life started more than once on Earth, we could be virtually certain that the universe is teeming with it.' 
"However, by the same token, if it turns out we have failed to realise that we have been sharing a planet with these shadowy lifeforms for eons, despite all the scientific advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, then we may need to think again about the way we hunt for life on other worlds. Robot spacecraft – such as the Mars rover Curiosity – are certainly sophisticated. But what chance do they have of detecting alien entities if the massed laboratories of modern science have not yet spotted them on our own planet? This point is stressed by the US biologist Craig Venter. As he has remarked: 'We're looking for life on Mars and we don't even know what's on Earth!'... 
"These researchers believe life may exist in more than one form on Earth: standard life – like ours – and 'weird life', as they term the conjectured inhabitants of the shadow biosphere. 'All the micro-organisms we have detected on Earth to date have had a biology like our own: proteins made up of a maximum of 20 amino acids and a DNA genetic code made out of only four chemical bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine,' says Cleland. 'Yet there are up to 100 amino acids in nature and at least a dozen bases. These could easily have combined in the remote past to create lifeforms with a very different biochemistry to our own. More to the point, some may still exist in corners of the planet...'
"Ways need to be found to determine whether or not the shadow biosphere exists, says Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. 'If you want a clue you can count up the amount of carbon that is emitted by living things – cows, sheep, grass, plants, forests and all the planet's bacteria. When you do, you find there is a discrepancy of around 5% when you compare the amount given off from Earth's standard biosphere and the amount you find in the atmosphere.' 
"In other words, there is slightly too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be explained by the emissions of standard lifeforms on Earth. There could be an error in these calculations, of course. Alternatively, the shadow biosphere could be responsible for this excess, says Sasselov. 'There is plenty of room for a shadow biosphere. That is clear. Certainly, it is not true, as some allege, that we have strong evidence to show that it does not exist. In fact, the opposite is true: we do not have good enough evidence to dismiss it....' 
"Other scientists suggest a different approach – by looking at Earth's most inhospitable ecological niches: hot vents on the seafloor, mountaintops, highly saline lakes, Antarctic ice sheets and deserts. Standard lifeforms, mainly bacteria, have been found in these places but only a few. Some niches, researchers speculate, may prove to be just too inhospitable for standard life but may just be tolerable enough to support weird life. Microscopic studies would reveal their existence while standard culture tests would show they had a different biochemistry from standard lifeforms."

No doubt some of you will be struck by the similarities of this so-called "weird life" with Renaissance-era accounts of elemental beings. For the uninitiated, let us consider the following description of these entities by thirty-third degree Freemason Manly P. Hall:
"Just as visible Nature is populated by an infinite number of living creatures, so, according to Paracelsus, the invisible, spiritual counterpart of visible Nature (composed of the tenuous principles of the visible elements) is inhabited by a host of peculiar beings, to whom he has given the name elementals, and which have later been termed the Nature spirits. Paracelsus divided these people of the elements into four distinct groups, which he called gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. He taught that they were really living entities, many resembling human beings in shape, and inhabiting worlds of their own, unknown to man because his undeveloped senses were incapable of functioning beyond the limitations of the grosser elements.
"The civilization of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, and India believed implicitly in satyrs, sprites, and goblins. They peopled the sea with mermaids, the rivers and fountains with nymphs, the air with fairies, the fire with Lares and Penates, and the earth with fauns, dryards, and hamadryads. These Nature spirits were held in the highest esteem, and propitiatory offerings were made to them. Occasionally, as the result of atmospheric conditions or the peculiar sensitivities of the devotee, they became visible. Many authors wrote concerning them in terms which signify that they had actually beheld these inhabitants of Nature's finer realms. A number of authorities are of the opinion that many of the gods worshiped by the pagans were elementals, for some of these invisibles were believed to be of commanding stature and magnificent deportment.
"The Greeks gave the name daemon to some of these elementals, especially those of the higher orders, and worshiped them. Probably the most famous of these daemons is the mysterious spirit which instructed Socrates, and of whom the great philosopher spoke in the highest terms...
"Paracelsus, when describing the substances which constitute the bodies of the elementals, divided flesh into two kinds, the first being that which we have all inherited through Adam. This is the visible, corporeal flesh. The second was that flesh which had not descended from Adam and, being more attenuated, was not subject to the limitations of the former. The bodies of the elementals were composed of this transubstantial flesh. Paracelsus stated that there is as much difference between the bodies of men and the bodies of the Nature spirits as there is between matter and spirit.
"'Yet,' he adds, 'the Elementals are not spirits, because they have flesh, blood and bones; they live and propagate offspring; they eat and talk, act and sleep, etc., and consequently they cannot be properly called "spirits." They are beings occupying a place between men and spirits, resembling men and spirits, resembling men and women in their organization and form, and resembling spirits in the rapidity of their locomotion...' Later the same author calls these creatures composita, inasmuch as the substance out of which they are composed seems to be a composite of spirit and matter. He uses color to explain the idea. Thus, the mixture of blue and red gives purple, a new color, resembling neither of the others yet composed of both. Such is the case with the Nature spirits; they resemble neither spiritual creatures nor material beings, yet are composed of the substance which we may call spiritual matter, or ether.
"Paracelsus further adds that whereas man is composed of several natures (spirit, soul, mind, and body) combined in one unit, the elemental has but one principle, the ether out of which it is composed and in which it lives. The reader must remember that by ether is meant the spiritual essence of one of the four elements. There are as many ethers as there are elements and as many distinct families of Nature spirits as there are ethers. These families are completely isolated in their own ether and have no intercourse with the denizens of the other ethers; but, as man has within his own nature centers of consciousness sensitive to the impulses of all the four ethers, it is possible for any of the elemental kingdoms to communicate with him under proper conditions.
"The Nature spirits cannot be destroyed by the grosser elements, such as material fire, earth, air, or water, for they function in a rate of vibration higher than that of earthy substances. Being composed of only one element or principal (the ether in which they function), they have no immortal spirit and at death merely disintegrate back into the element from which they were originally individualized. No individual consciousness is preserved after death, for there is no superior vehicle present to contain it. Being made of but one substance, there is no friction between vehicles: thus there is little wear and tear incurred by their bodily functions, and they therefore live to great age. Those composed of earth are the shortest lived; those composed of air ether, the longest. The average length of life is between three hundred and a thousand years. Paracelsus maintained that they live in conditions similar to our earth environments, and are somewhat subject to disease. These creatures are thought to be incapable of spiritual development, but most of them are of a high moral character.
"Concerning the elemental ethers in which the Nature spirits exist, Paracelsus wrote: 'They live in the four elements: the Nymhae in the element of water, the Sylphes in that of the air, the Pigmies in the earth, and the salamanders in fire. They are also called Undinae, Sylvestres, Gnomi, Vulcani, etc. Each species moves only in the element to which it belongs, and neither of them can go out of its appropriate element, which is to them as the air is to us, or the water to fishes; and none of them can live in the element belonging to another class. To each elemental being the element in which it lives is transparent, invisible and respirable, as the atmosphere is to ourselves...'"
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, pgs. 329-332)

What's more, these creatures have generally been believed to be most active in isolated regions of the earth featuring extreme climates or bodies of water. Ancient shrines were frequently located in out-of-the-way places atop mountains, near holy bodies of water, in sacred groves deep in the heart of vast forests and in the furthest corners of the harshest deserts. Myths of fabulous kingdoms located at the bottom of the deepest oceans, inside the earth itself or in a world parallel to ours appear in numerous cultures the world over. Consider, for instance, fairy myths. Fairies and other like beings such as elves and gnomes have long been likened to elemental beings.
"According to medieval occultists, all invisible beings can be divided into four classes: the angels, the gods of the ancients; the devils or demons, the fallen angels; the souls of the dead; and the elemental spirits, which correspond to Kirk's Secret Commonwealth. In the fourth group are the gnomes, who inhabit the earth and correspond to mine-haunting fairies, goblins, pixies, korrigans, leprechauns, and the domovoys of Russian legends, and the sylphs, who inhabit the air."
(Dimensions, Jacques Vallee, pg. 90)

Fairies and their ilk have frequently been described as inhabiting the far corners of the earth or an invisible sphere just beyond the perception of human beings.
"The fairies were sometimes said to live underground and sometimes in the air; sometimes under the sea, sometimes on islands out to the West. These places also accommodated the glorious dead. Among the ancient Greeks, the land of the dead was imagined as Hades -- underground but vast, and filled with air and light. Their Elysian fields were both an earthly paradise, assessable by sea, and a subterranean heaven, adjoining Hades. In the early centuries AD, the Pythagoreans and the Stoics transferred the site of Hades to the air...
"Hades was demonized by Christianity into hell, while heaven was promoted farther away from the living into some remote celestial sphere. For Christians, there was to be no other world anywhere near this one, unless it be some infernal region, and certainly not to the north or west where tribal cultures -- the native Americans, for instance --often situated their afterlife paradises. In Norse mythology, Hel and Valhalla --the abodes of the undistinguished dead and the deceased heroes respectively -- existed alongside other realms, whether of the gods (Asgard), of the daimons (Alfheim and Iotunheim for elves and giants respectively), or of humans (Midgard). Here, as in all traditional cultures, the afterlife was conceived less as a place of reward or punishment than as continuous with this life. Indeed, the other world could be entered while in this life, a belief which continued well into the Christian era. Dante, for instance, was pointed out on the streets of Florence, not as the man who had written The Divine Comedy, but as the man who had visited Hell."
(Daimonic Reality, Patrick Harpur, pgs. 170-171) 

The association the above mentioned Guardian article makes between "weird life" and UFOs is also interesting. In recent years some of the more fringe, but nonetheless most compelling, theories surrounding the UFO phenomenon have linked these encounters to medieval and Renaissance descriptions of visitations with fairies, elves, and like beings.
"To be sure, the UFO phenomenon itself is not new. Strange lights in the sky have bedeviled humanity for centuries, if not millennia, and so have the strange creatures who either pilot the craft or are just along for the ride.
"French scientist Jacques Vallee has seriously studied this phenomenon for many years, and discusses his findings in a series of books, most notably among them Messengers of Deception and Passport to Magnolia. He admits that it is foolish to discount the thousands of UFO reports as nothing more than mistaken sightings of the planet Venus, or swamp gas, or the other frankly unbelievable 'scientific' explanations of the events. Researcher John Keel, whose book The Mothman Prophecies was eventually made into a film starring Richard Gere, is even more forward when he claims that our planet is 'haunted.' He sees --as does Vallee and many others -- the UFO experience as analogous (if not identical) to the experience of demons, fairies, and other monsters from other times. The fact that we now describe these events in terms that make it sound as if the 'visitors' are space travelers may be more a reflection of how our culture is oriented in the aftershock of nuclear explosions and lunar missions than of any kind of 'objective' reality. It may be the same experience as seeing demons, or fairies, only filtered through a modern consciousness and more 'scientific' sensitivity."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pgs. 263-264)
Elves and fairies were thought to pilot giant air ships as recently as the nineteenth century

I myself also believe that the UFO phenomenon has a more earthly explanation than mainstream UFOlogists have been willing to consider. The fact that the movement has been littered with elements of the US intelligence community since the beginning of the modern era of UFO phenomenon (as I documented before here, here, here, and here) is itself a dead giveaway, but beyond that many UFO experiences are frequently to strange and surreal to be rationally explained as visitations by an extraterrestrial species from another planet. Frequently they more closely resemble medieval encounters with fairies or even experiences described by users of entheogens (which is itself a most curious topic, as I've noted before here). Whether these recent theories concerning "weird life" (which is an oh-so-delightfully Lovecraftian labeling if I do say so) will have any influence on the thinking of the extraterrestrial-hypothesis crowd (highly unlikely) remains as yet unknown but it does make for a compelling topic for us heretics to follow.

Just as I was finishing up this blog I stumbled upon a curious article from MSNBC detailing what can best be described as the skeleton of a gnome-like human with a head resembling common depictions of 'grey' aliens. The article states:
"A teensy skeleton with a squashed alienlike head may have earthly origins — but the remains, found in Chile's Atacama Desert a decade ago, do make for quite a medical mystery.
"Apparently when the mummified specimen was discovered, some speculated that it was an alien that had somehow landed on Earth, though the researchers involved never suggested this otherworldly origin.
"Now, DNA and other tests suggest that the individual was a human and may have been 6 to 8 years of age when he or she died. Even so, the remains were just 6 inches (15 centimeters) long....
"Nolan and his colleagues analyzed the specimen in the fall of 2012 with high-resolution photography, X-rays and computed tomography scans, as well as DNA sequencing. The researchers wanted to find out whether some rare disorder could explain the anomalous skeleton — for instance, it had just 10 ribs as opposed to 12 in a healthy human. They hoped to determine the age at which the organism died, as its size suggested a preterm fetus, a stillborn or a deformed child. They also thought the DNA would confirm whether it was human or perhaps a South American nonhuman primate.
"The remains showed skull deformities and mild underdevelopment of the mid-face and jaw, the researchers found. The skull also showed signs of turricephaly, or high-head syndrome, a birth defect in which the top of the skull is cone-shaped
"The genome sequencing suggested that the creature was human, though 9 percent of the genes didn't match up with the reference human genome; the mismatches may be due to various factors, including degradation, artifacts from lab preparation of the specimen or insufficient data
 "The team also looked at mitochondrial DNA, or the DNA inside the cells' energy-making structures that gets passed down from mothers to offspring. The allele frequency of the mitochondrial DNA suggested that the individual came from the Atacama, specifically from the B2 haplotype group. A haplotype is a long segment of ancestral DNA that stays the same over several generations and can pinpoint individuals who share a common ancestor way back in time. In this case,  the B2 haplotype is found on the west coast of South America.
"The data from the mitochondrial DNA alleles point toward 'the mother being an indigenous woman from the Chilean area of South America,' Nolan wrote in an email.
"The jury is still out on the mutations that caused the deformities, and the researchers aren't certain how old the bones are, though they estimate that the individual died at least a few decades ago. They didn't find any of the mutations commonly associated with primordial dwarfism or other forms of dwarfism. If there is a genetic basis for the deformities, it is  'not apparent at this level of resolution and at this stage of the analysis,'  Nolan wrote in a summary of his work." 
the actual skeleton

It's especially interesting to note that the area where this skeleton was found --Chile's Atacama Desert region --is one of the locations referenced in the above-mentioned Guardian article as being home to so-called 'desert varnishes' that may be evidence of weird life.

a modern sculpture found in the Atacama Desert

I can't help but be reminded of stories of sexual contact between fairies and mortals when considering that this creature appears to be human and descended from an indigenous female and yet has so many "alien" features (possibly including DNA).
"William Grant Stewart, in The Popular Superstitions and Festive Amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland, devotes the second part of his discussion to the same problem. In a chapter entitled "Of the Passions and Propensities of the Fairies," he has this to say on sexual intercourse with them: 
The fairies are remarkable for the amorousness of their dispositions, and are not very backward in forming attachments and connections with the people that cannot with propriety be called their own species...
"Reverend Kirk stated the case more clearly when he said: 'In our Scotland there are numerous and beautiful creatures of that aerial order, who frequently assigned meetings to lascivious young men as succubi, or as joyous mistresses and prostitutes, who are called Leannain Sith or familiar spirits.' I hardly need to remind the reader of the importance of such 'familiar spirits' in medieval occultism, particularly in Rosicrucian theories. Nor do I need to mention the number of accused witches who were condemned to death on the evidence that they had such familiar spirits. Like the modern abductees examined by Bud Hopkins, the women accused of witchcraft usually had a strange mark or scar somewhere on their body."
(Dimensions, Jacques Vallee, pgs. 142-143)

While the extraterrestrial hypothesis will no doubt be considered when theorizing the origins of this skeleton I somehow doubt accounts of incubi and succubi or fairy changelings will be given much play. So it goes when discussing the wonders of this earth which, in the minds of millions, can only produce the extraordinary when working in conjunction with extraterrestrials, divine intelligence, or some other outside source. Increasingly it is becoming a rare thing for us to accept wonderful world.


  1. Great post. The short story The Willows by Algernon Blackwood nails all this.

  2. Tristan-

    Thanks for the tip. I haven't read any Blackwood --I'm only familiar with him via the praise Lovecraft heaped upon him and his ties to the Golden Dawn. The outline of "The Willows" on Wiki sounded incredibly intriguing though.

    Recently I've been thinking that Tolkien's Middle Earth history is far more accurate a depiction of the very ancient world than earlier eras could have conceived.