“THE PEE-WEE KILLER” and 5 More Disturbing or Bizarre Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Swamplands and marshes are dangerous places, with venomous snakes, crocodiles with razor sharp teeth, and the uncertain bottom, not knowing how deep the water is. But there is another reason to avoid the marshes and swamps… as they contain evil spirits and demons. (Swamp Demons) *** Those who venture down one particulary eerie New Jersey roadway report restless spirits, a haunted lake, and glowing orbs of light. (Shades of Death Road) *** Did an extraterrestrial invasion take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky? One woman insists it did. (Aliens in Kentucky) *** They arise from the ocean like a small army, and they can kill with a single look into your eyes. Beware the spirit ranks… the night marchers. (Deadly Stare of the Night Marchers) *** If the dream world feels just as real as the waking one – at least while we are in it – how can we know for sure that we’re not currently living in a dream, a dream from which we may one day wake up? (Is Life a Dream?) *** Always mocked for his size, Don Gaskins was intent on getting the last laugh… and hitchhikers were his preferred victims. (The Pee-Wee Killer)
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Pee-Wee Killer” by Shannon Raphael: http://bit.ly/2lyPV1D
“Shades of Death Road” by Jamie Bogert: http://bit.ly/2lUc2zv
“Deadly Stare of the Night Marchers” by Ellen Lloyd: http://bit.ly/2lSUt2P
“Swamp Demons” by A. Sutherland: http://bit.ly/2m13qY7
“Aliens In Kentucky” by Caroline Eggers: http://bit.ly/2m0267P
“Is Life a Dream” by Sharon Hewitt Rawlette, PhD: http://bit.ly/2m15ijB
(I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing that for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I’ll rectify it in the show notes as quickly as possible.)
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. Background music, varying by episode, provided by Alibi Music, EpidemicSound and/or AudioBlocks with paid license. Music from Shadows Symphony (https://tinyurl.com/yyrv987t), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ), Kevin MacLeod (https://tinyurl.com/y2v7fgbu), Tony Longworth (https://tinyurl.com/y2nhnbt7), and/or Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (https://tinyurl.com/lnqpfs8) is used with permission.
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People like Donald Henry Gaskins are the reason why we are urged to never accept a ride from a stranger. Gaskins, also known as “Pee Wee”, was a prolific serial killer based in South Carolina who was convicted of killing eight people from the 1950s to the 1970s, though the actual number of his victims is unknown. Known also as the “Hitchhiker Killer”, the “Meanest Man in America”, and the “Redneck Charles Manson,” Gaskins was a truly terrifying individual, although those who knew him believed that he was deeply disturbed, but harmless. Nobody could ever have imagined the extent of the atrocities he committed.
…I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
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Coming up in this episode of Weird Darkness…
Swamplands and marshes are dangerous places, with venomous snakes, crocodiles with razor sharp teeth, and the uncertain bottom, not knowing how deep the water is. But there is another reason to avoid the marshes and swamps… as they contain evil spirits and demons.
Those who venture down one particularly eerie New Jersey roadway report restless spirits, a haunted lake, and glowing orbs of light.
Did an extraterrestrial invasion take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky? One woman insists it did.
They arise from the ocean like a small army, and they can kill with a single look into your eyes. Beware the spirit ranks… the night marchers.
If the dream world feels just as real as the waking one – at least while we are in it – how can we know for sure that we’re not currently living in a dream, a dream from which we may one day wake up?
But first… always mocked for his size, Don Gaskins was intent on getting the last laugh… and hitchhikers were his preferred victims. We begin with that story.
This month marks five years of Weird Darkness, and I’m celebrating by raising funds and awareness about depression which I’ll tell you about later in the podcast, but I’d like to invite you to visit DarknessChallenge.com now to learn more about it – that’s DarknessChallenge.com. Plus on Halloween evening I’ll have my annual Halloween Live Scream where I not only do the podcast LIVE, but I do it on video – this year on both YouTube and Facebook at the same time if all goes according to plan, so be listening in the days ahead for details on exactly what time on October 31st that will be taking place! And also be sure to like the Weird Darkness Facebook page or subscribe to my YouTube channel so you’ll be ready once the day comes – you’ll find links to both at WeirdDarkness.com!
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: PEE WEE KILLER==========
In 1933, Donald Henry Gaskins was born in the backwoods of South Carolina. Information on his background is muddled, but it is known that his mother, Eulea Parrott, had a string of bad romances and a number of illegitimate children. “Pee Wee” was the youngest–and the smallest. Eventually, Gaskin’s mother married. Her husband abused Gaskins and Eulea’s four other children.
Gaskins was consistently small for his age and would only ever reach five feet, four inches in height. He was picked on by kids at school, and he did not hesitate to fight back. He dropped out of school at the age of 11–his crime spree would begin shortly thereafter.
Gaskins began working in a car garage, where he apparently showed a great deal of mechanical promise. Unfortunately, this promise would soon be cast aside in favor of a life of crime with two other boys that worked with Gaskins.
Gaskins and his two new friends, Marsh and Danny, referred to themselves as “The Troubled Trio”. Despite their young age, the three began picking up sex workers, robbing homes, and raping young boys. The Troubled Trio avoided being caught by threatening their young victims with death if they told anyone about being raped.
The trio disbanded after the police caught them raping Marsh’s younger sister. During their first court appearance, Gaskins apparently learned his legal name, Donald, for the first time, having always been called Pee Wee to this point. Marsh and Danny left town soon after their trial, but losing his law-breaking companions didn’t stop Gaskins.
He continued burglarizing homes and menacing others. During one of Gaskins’s burglaries, a 13-year-old girl who lived at the targeted home interrupted him, yielding an ax to get him out. He was able to tear the ax from her hands, and he soon turned it on her. The girl survived her injuries, and her account of what transpired led to a conviction of assault with a deadly weapon for Gaskins.
Because Gaskins was still a minor when he committed the deadly weapon assault, he was sent to a reform school. He was sexually assaulted throughout his time there by older boys. At one point, Gaskins escaped the school, got married to a fellow teen, then voluntarily returned to finish his sentence at the school. Released for good at 18, Gaskins, undeterred, continued his lawless lifestyle.
Gaskins started working at a tobacco plantation and soon became involved in a ploy to burn barns to help owners commit insurance fraud. When his boss’s daughter confronted Gaskins, he split the girl’s skull with a hammer and was arrested for attempted murder.
While in prison, Gaskins was sexually abused like he had been at reform school. This time, Gaskins was willing to commit murder to escape abuse. His first known murder victim was Hazel Brazell, one of the most feared men in the prison. After Brazell’s death, the other prisoners feared Gaskins–he reportedly became an “owner” of other prisoners, rather than one of the owned.
Gaskins was released and began working as a driver for a traveling minister. For a while, this managed to keep him out of jail. Then, Gaskins married a 17-year-old. Not long after they were married, she reported him to the police for rape. He was sent back to prison once more and paroled after six years. After this release, Gaskins developed what would become known as his signature crime.
He picked up a young female hitchhiker in North Carolina, who he propositioned for sex. When she told him no, Gaskins decided he would take what he wanted. He beat her until she lost consciousness, then raped and sodomized her. He tied weights to her unconscious body and dropped her in a swamp to die.
According to Gaskins himself, this first murder of a civilian temporarily satisfied the violent urges he had been feeling his entire life. He would torture his chosen victims, sometimes for days, and mutilate their bodies. In some instances, Gaskins cannibalized those he tortured while they were still alive. He would even make these victims eat parts of their own flesh before he killed them.
Gaskins generally chose his victims by driving along the highway, asking if solo travelers needed rides somewhere. He preferred female victims, but would kidnap males if he had to. But his murders were not restricted to solely strangers.
In 1970, he murdered his 15-year-old niece, Janice Kirby, and her friend after telling them he would drive them home from a bar. Instead, he drove them to a vacant house, where he raped, beat, and drowned them. Soon after, it is believed that he killed 20-year-old Martha Dicks, who had a crush on Gaskins and often hung out with him while he worked at a car repair shop. The young woman was last seen at a nightclub with a man who may have been Gaskins–her body was never found.
Gaskins bought a hearse in 1973, telling people that he needed it to move dead bodies around. Although his neighbors regarded him as mentally unstable, everyone assumed the strange man was simply trying out a macabre joke.
The victim of one of Gaskins’s most gruesome murders was someone he had seemed to count as a friend. Doreen Dempsey was 23 years old in 1973 when she asked Gaskins for a ride to the bus station–she wanted to get out of town. Doreen had a two-year-old daughter and was eight months pregnant with her second child. Instead of driving her to the bus, Gaskins took Dempsey and her daughter out to the woods, where he raped and killed them both.
By 1975, Gaskins’s crimes were starting to catch up with him, and his days of freedom were becoming numbered. The fact that he didn’t have any accomplices had helped him elude the police for years. So when Gaskins asked another ex-con, Walter Neely, to help him repaint a victim’s car, he thought he was simply finding another way to make a living from his dastardly ways–instead, he was setting himself on a path towards justice.
Self-assured in his ability to evade the law, Gaskins had even started to contract out his killing services. Gaskins was hired to kill a farmer later in 1975. The farmer’s ex-girlfriend wanted him dead, and two middlemen facilitated the deal. More and more people were learning of Gaskins’s murderous ways.
The ex and her new boyfriend, after finding out just who had killed the farmer, tried to blackmail Gaskins for $5,000. Gaskins killed them both during a meeting set up to pay the bribe. Shortly thereafter, he killed a 13-year-old girl, Kim Ghelkins, who had rejected his sexual advances.
When Gaskins’s body shop was robbed, he killed the two men responsible and, once again, enlisted the help of Walter Neely to dispose of the bodies. While at the burial location, Gaskins showed Neeley the spots of the other graves of his victims.
Meanwhile, the police had independently linked Gaskins to the murder of Ghelkins. They eventually found some of the young girl’s clothes in Gaskins’s home. He was arrested, and Walter Neely cracked under pressure from the police during an interrogation. He told them where all of Gaskins’s victims were buried. The Redneck Charles Manson was finally caught.
After the police found eight bodies in Gaskins’s makeshift gravesite, he was charged with murder. He was found guilty of the murder of one of his blackmail victims, Dennis Bellamy, and he subsequently admitted to killing seven others. He was sentenced to death.
It is widely believed that Gaskins killed far more than eight people; he at one point bragged about the number being over 100, which would have made him South Carolina’s most prolific serial killer.
After death penalty sentencing was changed by a Supreme Court case, Gaskins’s death sentence was mitigated to life imprisonment. However, two years later, South Carolina legalized the death penalty once again. If Gaskins had committed no further crimes, he would have simply remained in jail until his natural final day.
However, in 1982, Gaskins killed another prisoner, Rudolph Tyner, by blowing him up. Tyner was in prison for killing two people. A son of one of the victims, frustrated that Tyner would remain on death row possibly for years, paid Gaskins to expedite Tyner’s death sentence. Gaskins constructed a bomb and snuck it through Tyner’s cell. After Gaskins was convicted, he was sentenced to death for the second and final time.
Gaskins spent his final months telling writer Wilton Earle stories about his life, which were eventually turned into a memoir, Final Truth. In the memoir, he alleges that he killed dozens more, but none of the claims could be substantiated.
Before he was electrocuted, Gaskins cut his wrists with razor blades that he had previously swallowed. Some believed that it was an attempt to derail the day of his execution, while others thought that he was trying to end his life on his own terms.
We may never know the true extent of Douglas Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins, the “Hitchhiker Killer”, but his gruesome murders mark him as one history’s most dangerous serial killers.
STORY: SWAMP DEMONS==========
In our ancestors’ consciousness, shaped by legends and myths, marshes and other wetlands were considered to be elusive and unpredictable places of evil and dark forces.
People believed that the depths of marshes – enveloped in mist and brightened only by moonlight – were places inhabited by evil spirits waiting for hunters and travelers to lure them into a marsh, causing cause troubles and even death.
One of such spirit is master of marshes, Bolotnik, usually depicted as a man or as an elder man who is covered with dirt, algae and fish scales. In some legends he is said to have long arms and a tail.
He would appear to people as a bellied, naked man with frog’s arms, bug eyed, large mouth and long beard. Sometimes he pretends to be an old man; he can also alter his appearance to be a stepping stone in a marsh or shallow water that helps to cross the dangerous area. If you steps on such stone (Bolotnik), he slips away under your feet and you fall into the thick waters of the marshes up to his neck. You are doomed.
Bolotnik likes to attract people to their death and he makes it easy because marshes are very deceptive; in one moment, they appear as safe and suddenly they become deadly traps. It is Bolotnik – master of marshes – that creates these traps for all living creatures.
The marshes are most deadly in the evening and at night, and it is said that spirits of the marshes are most active in this time of day. Bolotnik does not like any loud sounds, so it is wise to be very quiet when passing through marshes.
Bolotnik’s companion is his wife, Bolotnitsa, who changes her appearance depending on circumstance. As a beautiful water maiden, she has the ability to attract people passing by, to go into the marshes. Pretending to be lost, she uses her beauty and her trickery; by crying she asks to be let out of the forest, she lures a person into the marsh. She is considered to be the most beautiful maiden of all Slavic mythology, and it is almost impossible to distinguish Bolotnitsa from a real beautiful maiden.
The only perceptible difference is that Bolotnitsa always sits with legs and feet hidden beneath her, trying to hide her frog like feet.
Among other evil spirits that rule the realm of marshes, is Dziwozona (or Mamuna) is a female swamp demon in Slavic mythology. This creature – believed to be malevolent and dangerous – used to take the form of an ugly, old woman with a hairy body; on her head she wore a red hat with a fern twig attached to it.
Dziwozona was said to kidnap human babies just after they were born and replace them with her own children – changelings – with disproportionate body with certain disabilities (large or very small heads, a huge abdomen, a hairy body and long claws). Ancient Slavs believed that in order to protect a child against being kidnapped by the demonic Dziwozona, a mother had to tie a red ribbon around its hand (this custom is still preserved in some regions of Poland, for example) or put a red hat on its head and shield its face from the light of the moon.
In case, Dziwozona managed to kidnap a baby away, the mother who lost her child, had to take the changeling to a midden, whip it with a birch twig and pour over it water from an eggshell, shouting “Take yours, give mine back!”, at which point Dziwozona normally felt sorry for her offspring and took it away, returning the one she stole.
Those who venture down one particular eerie New Jersey roadway report restless spirits, a haunted lake, and glowing orbs of light.
Did an extraterrestrial invasion take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky?
They arise from the ocean like a small army, and they can kill with a single look into your eyes. Beware the night marchers.
These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns!
STORY: SHADES OF DEATH ROAD==========
New Jersey’s Shades of Death Road attracts thrill seekers and restless youths, their backpacks stocked with cameras, spray paint, and beer. At night, they swear they see ghostly figures gliding through the forest, spooking each other on yet another Saturday night in suburbia.
Many residents, however, are weary of these legend trippers and ghost hunters. After one too many visitors attempted to rip down the Shades of Death Road sign as a souvenir, locals responded by greasing the pole to make it harder to steal.
Regardless of whose side you’re on, there’s no denying the allure of the haunted history attached to this seven mile stretch that begins at County Route 611 in Liberty Township and winds through low-lying flatlands to its northern point at Long Bridge Road.
The exact origin of Shades of Death Road remains a mystery, and whether the ominous moniker inspired its ghostly legends or vice versa is a source of debate. Some believe the stretch was originally called Shade Road. The southern point adjoins a forest and the lush trees provide bountiful shade on hot summer days.
Unfortunately, this was an inviting location for the highwaymen of the past. Rumor has it they lurked in the shadows of the trees, then leapt out and cut the throats of unsuspecting travelers, stealing the clothes and valuables right off their victims’ backs.
Not all of the outlaws got away with their crimes. Townspeople would hunt down these men and lynch them from the boughs of the trees beneath which they once hid. The bodies served a grisly warning for any other would-be thieves.
During the 1920s and 1930s, three brutal murders supposedly took place along the road. The first involved a heated argument or robbery over gold coins; the culprits crushed the victim’s skull with a tire jack and took the valuables. The second slaying involved a wife who beheaded her husband, and then curiously buried the head and body on separate sides of the road. Finally, there’s the case of Bill Cummins, a local who was reportedly shot and buried not far from the road, his murder never solved.
Such tales haunt the area’s landmarks as well. Nestled in the state forest surrounding Shades of Death Road is Ghost Lake. It was the handiwork of William Crouse Jr. and Leon G. Hull, two businessmen from the 20th century who dammed a nearby creek to create an attractive body of water between their newly built homes.
While the damming worked, their satisfaction soon turned into fear once the pair noticed eerie fog formations gliding across the surface on cool mornings (hence the lake’s name). Visitors today report ghost sightings along its shore, an abandoned cabin in the woods, and a sky that appears in perpetual twilight, regardless of the hour of the day.
Adding to this eerie setting is a small cave known as the Fairy Hole, located just to the right of Ghost Lake. Lenape Indians used the hollow many years ago, and an archeological survey from 1918 unearthed pottery shards and arrow heads. Archeologists believe the Lenape used the cave as a resting spot, yet its proximity to known burials makes it a sacred site.
Due north of Ghost Lake and just off Shades of Death Road is Lenape Lane, a dead end dirt track with a ghostly reputation. Travelers who venture down this lane report heavy fog, unusually chilly air, and an abandoned wooden structure that looks like an old stable. Those who approach say an orb of bright white light appears to chase them back to Shades of Death Road. If the orb turns red, those who make eye contact are doomed to die.
Clearly, Shades of Death Road is full of otherworldly destinations. Just be careful not to overstep bounds — you may upset the locals more than the alleged apparitions.
STORY: ALIENS IN KENTUCKY==========
The story goes like this: On a hot summer night in August 1955, a farming family in the Christian County town of Kelly experienced an “invasion” from gray “little men.”
A shootout ensued, as well as a brief investigation by a couple dozen police officers, soldiers and reporters. But they found no fur, no blood, no guts and no bodies. Just ammunition shells and holes in the woodwork.
That’s the short version. On Tuesday (July 23) at the Warren County Public Library’s Bob Kirby Branch, Geraldine Sutton Stith, the daughter of one of the event’s supposed witnesses, narrated the longer story as if she was opening the inciting incident of a science-fiction novel.
“Our hound dog, flying by, tail tucked, ears tucked, (came) running under the porch,” said Stith, who spoke with a rural Kentucky accent and appeared in bell bottoms and a black choker with a green alien pendant.
Then young family members saw “a silver object” with a rainbow floating behind it. Before long, little gray men started appearing at the house, and a couple family members began firing rifles.
“These were country boys. They could shoot a squirrel running through the tree,” Stith said.
At one point, Stith’s grandmother questioned whether the little men were actually dangerous.
“My grandmother was a very kindhearted person. She probably would have invited Bigfoot in if he needed help,” Stith said.
Then there was quiet, and the family fled in their trucks to the Hopkinsville Police Department.
Soon after, “a caravan of vehicles drove to little bitsy Kelly. There were soldiers, officers and reporters,” Stith said.
And subsequently, people flooded Kelly and started camping in the family’s yard. The family moved within two weeks of the incident to escape the circus. But they never found peace of mind about the situation.
“Everyone was making fun of the situation,” Stith said. “They chalked it up to uneducated hillbillies. They’re going to hide that stuff. That’s just how it is.
“I was 8 years old when I was told the story and it scared the bejesus out of me. Until the day my dad died, I think that fear stayed in his mind.”
Over the years, folks told Stith they wished the events happened to them. Stith rejects the notion: “No you wouldn’t, you’d pee your pants and run away. Or you would get your shotgun out.”
Throughout the presentation, Stith reiterated numerous times that “it’s an amazing story.”
That’s why she helped launch the annual Kelly Little Green Men Days Festival, and provided insight for a fictional film based on the event, called the “Invasion of Kelly.”
“We don’t know everything out here. … We need to have some fun out here,” she said.
After the discussion, some people gathered outside the library to discuss weird tales they had heard or experienced.
Craig Kemp of Bowling Green attended with his grandparents, who live in Hopkinsville.
“It’s wild to believe,” Kemp said, expressing that he was of mixed mind about the story’s credibility.
Bob Deane, a self-described fan of “The X-Files” television show and resident of Bowling Green, thought the presentation was decent.
“I think stuff like that can happen. I think it would be presumptuous for us to assume there aren’t any beings on other planets,” he said.
Majorie Miller of Scottsville had never heard of the Kelly incident, but she regularly attends events at the library.
“I thought it was a very interesting. I was surprised I’d never heard about it,” Miller said. “It’s believable.”
Joseph Perkins of Bowling Green was also unaware of the tale. But he was a little more skeptical.
“They’ve never found a Bigfoot,” Perkins said.
But he bought the film, and might even visit the farm in Kelly.
STORY: NIGHT MARCHERS==========
When darkness falls, they rise from their burial places and the ocean. They start to march in large groups, and they move until just before sunrise. If you have the misfortune of encountering them, never look into their eyes because they can kill any mortal with only one glance.
They are known as Night Marchers (Huaka‘i-po) or “Spirit ranks” (Oi‘o) in ancient Hawaiian legends and their stories have been passed down for generations. The Night Marchers are believed to be deadly ghosts of Hawaiian warriors.
There are many interesting aspects about the Night Marchers who on some occasion can also appear during the day. This happens when they are coming to escort a dying relative to the spirit world. In most cases, however, they enter the realm of our existence when it’s dark.
Being ghosts, they leave no visible physical evidence of their visit. They move, often suspended through the air and their feet don’t the ground or water. They simply float through the air.
Stories of ghosts and spirits are often encountered in Hawaiian mythology. A ghost (lapu) can be human or non-human, but their existence testifies to peoples’ beliefs in life after death.
“The Hawaiians said: “The lapu ghosts were not supposed to watch over the welfare of the persons they met. They never went into the heavens to become black clouds, bringing rain for the benefit of their households.
They did not go out after winds to blow with destructive force against their enemies. This was the earnest work of the ancestor-ghosts, and was not done by the lapu.”
Another name for ghosts was wai-lua, which referred especially to the spirit leaving the body and supposed to have been seen by some one. This wai-lua spirit could be driven back into the body by other ghosts, or persuaded to come back through offerings or incantations given by living friends, so that a dead person could become alive again.
It was firmly believed that a person could endure many deaths, and that if any one lost consciousness he was dead, and that when life even to this day the lapu come at night. Their ghost drums and sacred chants can be heard and their misty forms seen as they hover about the ruins of the old heiaus (temples).” 1
“All Hawaiians believe in the power of spirits to return to the scenes they knew on earth in the form in which they appeared while they were alive. Especially is this true of the processions of gods and spirits who come on certain sacred nights to visit the sacred places, or to welcome a dying relative and conduct him to the aumakua world. “
Many people say they have seen or heard the chanting voices of the Night Marchers who are always dressed as ancient chiefs or gods. It’s possible to witness the march of these deadly ghost warriors on sacred nights of Ku, Lono, Kane, or Kanaloa. Some of these horrible and frightening beings are deceased Koa warriors. It also happens that Hawaiian gods are present in some marches.
“If the procession is one of gods, the marchers move five abreast with five torches burning red between the ranks, and without music save that of the voice raised in chant. Processions of chiefs are accompanied by aumakua and march in silence, or to the accompaniment of drum, noseflute, and chanting.” 2
Legends tell encountering the Night Marchers can have deadly consequences, but it’s possible to survive the anger of these fierce ancient warriors. If a mortal catches a glimpse of one of the Night Marchers, he or she should hide indoors at as quickly as possible. By removing all clothing and lying motionless on the floor with the face down, a person shows proper respect, fear and deference to the Night Marchers. This behavior will spare the life of the mortal because in In Hawaiian traditions one may never look at a King’s or Chief’s face.
Building defenses against Night Marchers is a waste of time because they can pass though any barrier. The only thing that Night Marchers stay away from are Hawaiian ti plants.
When Weird Darkness returns…
If the dream world feels just as real as the waking one – at least while we are in it – how can we know for sure that we’re not currently living in a dream, a dream from which we may one day wake up?
STORY: IS LIFE A DREAM?==========
One of the strange things about dreams is that, most of the time, we aren’t aware we’re dreaming. Typically, our memory and our reflective ability are substantially limited within dreams (Fosse et al. 2003; Hobson et al. 1998), causing us not to notice incongruencies within the dream and to take for granted that what we experience is real. It simply doesn’t occur to us to consider whether it might not be.
Perhaps even more strangely, even when we do on occasion become aware that we’re dreaming—and according to various surveys carried out around the world, anywhere from 26% to 92% of people have had at least one lucid dream (Stepansky et al. 1998; Erlacher et al. 2008; Palmer 1979; Yu 2008)—the “sensory” experiences of the dream can remain just as convincingly real. I remember in one of my own dreams realizing that it was a dream and then marveling at how solid and real the cell phone in my hand still felt.
The ability of the dream world to appear real has led many thinkers—philosopher René Descartes (1641) being the most prominent Western example—to wonder whether the world we experience while awake might itself be a dream. If the dream world feels just as real as the waking one (at least while we are in it), how can we know for sure that we’re not currently living in a dream—a dream from which we may one day wake up?
One way that philosophers have tried to dispel such worries is by appealing to differences between the dream world and the waking one. For instance, our waking world has a coherence that the dream world often lacks. (For an example of a coherence-based argument against the skeptical hypothesis, see Norman Malcolm (1959).) You may recall that, in the feature film Inception, the characters learn to recognize that they’re dreaming by asking themselves how they came to be in a certain situation, then realizing that they can’t remember, because the dream just dropped them there.
But does the coherence of our waking world guarantee that it’s real?
I believe the coherence of our waking world does give us evidence that it is not merely a figment of our imagination. Specifically, it gives us evidence that, when we are awake, something is causing our experience that is independent of the experience itself. For instance, the relative permanence of the objects and environments we experience in waking life would appear to be best explained by there being something real and enduring that our experiences are reflecting.
However, the relative permanence of the objects and environments we encounter in the waking world is no guarantee that the waking world is as real as it gets. After all, a high degree of permanence is also found in the worlds of video games, in which the “environments” and “objects” one interacts with are merely the creations of computer code. So, while perceived permanence does seem to point to there being something objective/enduring out there, the true nature of whatever is “out there” might resemble our experience of it as little as computer code resembles the images we see when we play a video game.
In fact, physics teaches us that the objects we experience as being solid are actually made up almost entirely of empty space. And the results of quantum mechanical experiments indicate that, under certain conditions, the building blocks of matter do not behave as discrete particles at all, but rather as waves of probability. If we nevertheless experience the world as full of enduring, solid objects, this is due to the usual way that our senses interact with it and to the way these interactions are represented in consciousness.
This means that there is, in fact, an important sense in which all of us do live constantly within a dream—that is, within a world created by our own minds. It’s just that, when we’re awake, our minds conform our dreaming to a reliable set of patterns, which we assume to be determined by a reality that exists independently of our experience of it, though we have no way of knowing that reality except through the complex ways in which it affects our “dream.”
But might there be an even deeper sense in which our waking life is a dream?
Just as we often wake from sleep to realize that what we were experiencing in the sleep state was not nearly as coherent and “real” as what we experience when awake, could there possibly come a day when we will emerge from the dream of waking reality to experience a world that is even more coherent and vividly real, a state in which we experience levels of knowledge, memory, and other cognitive function that vastly surpass those we experience in our current lives?
In fact, a rather startling number of people report having already had experiences like this. That is, they report having had experiences that appear to them as even more real than those they have in their normal, waking state of mind. For example, “realer than real” is a description often used by those who have had near-death experiences (Moody 1975; Thonnard et al. 2013; Palmieri et al. 2014), those who have used psychedelic drugs such as DMT (Strassman 2001), and those who, by various other means, have experienced non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Many near-death experiencers also report enhanced cognitive function and a sudden increase in knowledge (Owens et al. 1990; Greyson 2003). This perception of enhanced cognitive function and increased knowledge is often dismissed as an illusion by those who are unfamiliar with the scientific literature on near-death experiences, but careful investigation has shown that concrete, verifiable information has been obtained in these states that was not available to the experiencer by way of their five senses (Rivas et al. 2016).
The experience of those who have tasted non-ordinary states of consciousness raises the possibility that the age-old question of whether “life is but a dream” is more than the idle worry of a few philosophers comfortably ensconced in their armchairs by the fire. The answer to this question could very well have major empirical consequences, including startling implications for the types of experiences that are available to the human mind. We have every reason to stay alert to this possibility as we continue to investigate the true nature of the world that we take ourselves to be living in.
SHOW CLOSE, CREDITS, A LITTLE LIGHT, AND A FINAL THOUGHT==========
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Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” on the website and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“The Pee-Wee Killer” by Shannon Raphael
“Shades of Death Road” by Jamie Bogert
“Deadly Stare of the Night Marchers” by Ellen Lloyd
“Swamp Demons” by A. Sutherland
“Aliens In Kentucky” by Caroline Eggers
“Is Life a Dream” by Sharon Hewitt Rawlette, PhD
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20
And a final thought… “Having good days is a decision that we make every day before we even walk out the door.” – Sumit Gautam
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.