Wednesday, May 25, 2011

DARK CHANNEL: The Story Behind the Book

I live in far northern California near Mt. Shasta. In the shadow of the mountain is a quaint little town that looks like it belongs on a postcard. The colorful mythology surrounding Mt. Shasta has made the mountain a New Age mecca, which has benefited the town.

According to the folklore of local Native American tribes, Chief Skell descended long ago from the heavens to the mountain’s summit and his spirit resides there to this day. Mt. Shasta is also central to the creation myth of northern California tribes. According to legend, the Great Spirit cut a hole in the sky through which he pushed snow and ice to create the mountain, and then he used it as a kind of step ladder to descend to the earth.

In 1904, legend has it that a man named J.C. Brown, while prospecting for gold for the Lord Cowdray Mining Company of London, England, discovered a cave that sloped downward for 11 miles, leading him to a subterranean village filled with gold, ancient armor and shields, and the mummified remains of long-dead residents, some of whom stood up to ten feet tall. 30 years later, Brown told his story to John C. Root, who assembled an exploration team of 80 people. But on the day their expedition was to begin, Brown and Root disappeared and were never seen or heard from again. Some believe that those mummies were the remains of survivors of the lost continent of Lemuria and that the village allegedly found by Brown was part of their vast city under the mountain. Some even claim many Lemurians still live in that underground city. If you happen to see one of them, the Lemurians, it is said, will wipe your memory clean of the encounter — which leads one to wonder how anyone could possibly know that and be able to remember it.

The story of the Lemurians originated in a fantasy novel called A Dweller On Two Planets, written in the 1880s by 17-year-old Frederick Spencer Oliver. The novel gives an account of the Lemurians moving to Mt. Shasta after their continent sank into the ocean. According to the book, the Lemurians live under the mountain to this day. Frederick’s parents were astonished by this accomplishment; they believed their son to be a big slacker who was simply not very bright, so they figured there had to be some other explanation for his novel. They decided the book must have been channeled through Frederick by otherworldly forces. It was marketed as such and remains in print to this day. Now if someone tells you that refugees from the sunken continent of Lemuria built a city underneath Mt. Shasta and if that person presents this information as historical fact, as many do, you can smile and say it was all made up by an imaginative teenager.

While visiting Mt. Shasta in 1930, mining engineer Guy Ballard encountered a man who introduced himself as Comte de Saint-Germain, one of the so called “ascended masters” (which has always sounded to me like a degree in mountain climbing, as in, “Of course I’m qualified to climb that mountain, I have an ascended masters in mountain climbing!”) and ended up founding the religious movement known as the “I Am” Activity.

Some people think the mountain is a refueling spot for alien spacecraft, although I suspect the aliens have found other planets on which to gas up since prices have gone through the roof here. The spacecraft descend to the mountain under the cover of large saucer-shaped clouds that conceal them from onlookers. (For those who enjoy facts, these, of course, are lenticular clouds, which occur naturally at high altitudes.)

The rich mixture of beliefs about the mountain are reflected in the town of Mt. Shasta. At first glance, it looks like a pretty typical little mountain town. But on closer examination, you’ll find stores selling magical crystals and geodes, books on meditation and crystal power, ascended masters, how-to guides on being a shaman and other similar subjects, kitsch and chotchkies representing fairies, Hindu gods, space aliens, Jesus Christ, pagan deities and Native American folklore, and other evidence of the mystical phenomenon known as commercial exploitation.

In 1987, New Age guru Jose Arguelles came up with what would be the first worldwide synchronized meditation, which was correlated with an unusual astrological alignment signifying, to people who think astrological alignments signify things, a shift in the planet’s energy from one of war to peace. This global meditation was called the Harmonic Convergence, and the plan was to gather people at various “power centers” around the world. Arguelles believed that if 144,000 people were to meditate in each of these “power centers” at a scheduled time, this new age of peace and enlightenment would be launched. (In the years since 1987, we have discovered that simply wasn't the case.) One of those “power centers” was Mt. Shasta, less than an hour’s drive from me. Well, there was no way I was going to miss out on a day of people-watching like that. (Writer Mahesh Grossman does a short, funny one-man musical show on his experience at the Harmonic Convergence.)

Mt. Shasta was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it that day. People came from all over the world to ... to ... well, to do whatever the hell it was they planned to do meditate, vibrate, massage each other’s chakras, whatever. A lot of these people were dressed like they’d just flown in from New Delhi. Other were dressed like they’d just flown in from 1970. The town’s main street was lined with vendors selling crystals, jewelry, mystical drums, all kinds of New Age literature about everything from meditation to past life regression to communicating with the inhabitants of other planets.

A guy who bore a strong resemblance to Tommy Chong was selling what looked like some kind of tribal drums. I didn’t know how they fit into the Harmonic Convergence milieu, so I asked. This was a mistake. Chong launched into an explanation of how one could draw energy from the universe down to the earth using his drums. He explained to me the healing power of drum circles. He demonstrated some of the drums. He did everything but write a ransom note, which would have been appropriate because I felt I was being held captive. He was such a nice guy that I didn’t want to cut him off abruptly and move on (back then, I was much more patient with nonsense than I am now), so I listened. But ultimately, I had to disappoint him by not buying any drums.

There were a lot of crystals for sale. One booth in particular, run by an attractive auburn-haired woman, had an especially beautiful selection of crystals and stones on display and I stopped to look them over. The woman greeted me and asked what I was looking for. I said I was just looking.

“What properties are you interested in?” she asked.

“Properties? I don’t understand.” Was she selling real estate, too?

“Well, different crystals and stones have different properties, different energies. Some heal, some bring abundance and prosperty, fidelity in love, clarity of mind and — “

A laugh slipped out before I could stop it. I shrugged and said, “I’m just interested in what they do best — look pretty. I really don't believe in that other stuff."

Her face changed. She reminded me of Donald Sutherland at the very end of Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I was afraid she was going to alert the others that there was someone walking among them who did not belong. So I quickly moved on.

There were a lot of demonstrations planned that day, and I was eager to see one in particular. In fact, it was the main reason I had driven to Mt. Shasta for the Harmonic Convergence. It was a “channel” — a woman who claimed that an ancient entity spoke through her to impart the wisdom of the ages.

Channeling had become quite popular at that time, mostly due to a woman named JZ Knight, who originally used the word “channeling” to describe the process by which a 35,000-year-old entity named Ramtha spoke through her. Guess where Ramtha is from. Go on, take a guess. Lemuria! It's a small universe, isn't it? That’s right, while all the other Lemurians were taking up residence under Mt. Shasta, Ramtha set up shop inside the head of a Tacoma, Washington housewife and mother named Judy Hampton in 1977. Judy became JZ Knight — and she also became very rich with the help of her imaginary friend. She was everywhere in the 1980s, popping up on The Merv Griffin Show, Oprah, Larry King Live and a host of other shows. She got a lot of attention from celebrities like Linda Evans, who was famous for her catfights with Joan Collins on the wildly popular primetime soap Dynasty, and Shirley MacLaine, who, in addition to being an Academy Award-winning screen legend, is known for her views on ”star beings” and UFOs and reincarnation.

Ramtha (speaking through Knight, of course) claims to have been a Lemurian warrior who battled the Atlanteans more than 35,000 years ago with an army made up of 2.5 million soldiers. That would make Ramtha’s army more than twice the size of the estimated population of the entire planet at the time. This lends some credence to the theory that JZ Knight is full of shit. But shit sells, and this puppetless ventriloquist act certainly worked for Knight. A lot of people have bought into Knight’s message that each of us is a god and capable of creating our own reality. Have you ever been to a dinner party where each person inhabits his or her own reality? Trust me, the conversation sucks. Whenever I find myself in a situation like that, I quickly create a reality in which no one else is able to create their own reality, and it clears things right up.

I had seen Knight on TV several times, doing her shtick. Ramtha sounded like James Mason trying to do an impression of Yul Brynner, and while doing Ramtha, Knight became very animated, often pacing the stage, squatting and swaying and gesticulating with her arms and hands. Now 65, Knight is still around. She's been tucked, pulled, peeled and Botoxed to within an inch of her life — today her lips are twice the size they were in 1985, suggesting that Knight has enlisted a team of cosmetic surgeons to help create her reality. She doesn't seem to move around as much as she used to anymore and Ramtha’s accent is much less pronounced. He sounds a lot more like Knight now, perhaps after a couple too many cocktails and not enough sleep.

After seeing Knight on TV so often, I couldn’t resist the chance to see a channel perform in person at the Harmonic Convergence. She appeared in a rickety old theater in the town of Weed (yes, that’s right — Weed!) just up the road from Mt. Shasta. I don’t remember her name, and I never heard of her again after that weekend. There’s a good reason for that: She was terrible. Her message was similar to Knight’s — “Fuck reality!” — but in spite of the fact that her husband was on stage with her the whole time, seemingly coaching her, this woman’s performance was amateurish and completely unconvincing. Like Ramtha, the entity she channeled claimed to be an ancient, benevolent entity who was generously passing on his ancient wisdom and experience to the people of the modern age.

As I watched her dubious performance, I entertained myself by wondering what would happen if she really were channeling some being ... that wasn’t telling the truth. Just because a 30-thousand-year-old entity says he has our best interests at heart and wants to impart all kinds of cosmic wisdom to us doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true, does it? I mean, call me crazy, but is it really a good idea to believe everything we're told by every 35,000-year-old entity that comes along? What if he were lying? What if he had a hidden agenda? Sure, crackpots like JZ Knight want only one thing — money. Well, two if you include fame, but I think money is the driving force behind convincing people that some invisible, long-dead guy is talking through you. But what if the crackpot weren't a crackpot and the being speaking through her had other plans? What if it was just using the attractive, charismatic channel as a way of getting attention and amassing followers? And what if his plans for those followers were ... unpleasant?

The seed of Dark Channel was planted that day. Nearly a decade later, I dusted off the idea. By then, the novelty of the New Age movement of the 1980s had worn off, but it had been thoroughly absorbed by our culture. That day spent converging harmonically in Mt. Shasta gave birth to Hester Thorne, the charismatic founder and leader of the Mt. Shasta-based Universal Enlightened Alliance and the channel for a millennia-old entity named Orrin. Some people say that Thorne is an accomplished fraud. But they are wrong. Others — people who are troubled, damaged and dealing with serious problems in their lives — find hope in Orrin’s message of peace and unity. The only problem is ... Orrin is lying.

My New Age horror novel Dark Channel is available in paperback, and for Kindle at Amazon, Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an audiobook from Audible.  To keep up with new releases, interviews, appearances, and other information, visit my website at RayGartonOnline