The Power Of Place: Atmospheres, Fields And Areas Of The Supernatural

“Great revelations of nature, of course, never fail to impress in one way or another, and I was no stranger to moods of the kind. Mountains overawe and oceans terrify, while the mystery of great forests exercises a spell peculiarly its own. But all these, at one point or another, somewhere link on intimately with human life and human experience. They stir comprehensible, even if alarming, emotions. They tend on the whole to exalt.”
― Algernon Blackwood, The Willows

2015-06-14

Foreign countries, landscapes and places can change us: ‘Nobody wanders under palm trees with impunity,’ wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his Elective Affinities. At first sight it seems that entering a territory which is different or unknown to us must have some sort of impact because it confronts our ways of thinking. We travel far away to get away from our daily routines.

There is more. The strong aura of some places can make you feeling dizzy or drunk.

Some places even seriously messes with your mind. We remember stories of people who ended up in madness on long journeys into exotic countries as in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart Of Darkness”.

Places can work on a much deeper level in the human soul and trigger inner developments we don’t expect.

If this is the case it raises fundamental questions not only about the human condition but about the distinct “reality” of different places, countries, landscapes.

We know that the same laws of nature apply around the planet and in the universe we know (most of the time).

Apart from that our world and the landscapes on Earth are an incredible place with an endless variety of shapes, climates, vegetations, cultures of different nations. One way this variety is expressed is in the many different languages and dialects we hear when we travel around. It’s an interesting question where dialects come from. It seems sometimes that every place on earth, every valley in the mountains any island or even every city has its own air and keeps an influence on every living being. When I was in St. Ives some years ago I saw the unique and bold behavior of seagulls, which is different like they behave elsewhere and which inspired originally Daphe Du Maurier’s The Birds”.

Sometimes we say we feel a certain air. “There are good/bad vibes here”. We could also say there is an aura or an atmosphere. Atomsphere has a second meaning here aside from the mix of gas which surrounds our planet. It’s something which can be felt, we can also describe a certain air or atmosphere but it’s nearly impossible to understand what it is. There is something mysterious about the certain air of a place.

In the first place we have many “normal” conditions which can make a difference; any area has its own climate and weather patterns. Weather is also a good metaphor. Temperature, humidity, pressure, wind let us feel in a certain way about the location where we are. Recently BBC future wrote about “The mysterious ways the weather changes the body and mind” and revealed stunning research. Falling air pressure is a pain in the head is one example. It’s still very difficult to find proof but subtle changes in the atmosphere can have deep impacts.

Certainly thunderstorms have a direct influence on the body through electromagnetic impulses, and there is also a relation between weather and the crime rate.

Weather and climate is useful also as a metaphor because we can feel a drop in air-pressure but we don’t see it. It’s the same with many other influences: in any place there is a certain atmosphere and we can feel it but there are many things which also can’t be measured or seen. Particularly haunted places or haunted forests work in a specific way. Sensible people sense an uncanny atmosphere more like a smell, something which is there for some moments and then vanishes.

There are people which are convinced that there are also thought atmospheres at certain places. Dion Fortune describes some impressive experiences: a friend of her – usually an experienced teacher and not afraid of stage fright – became nervous when she had to speak at the same place where before her some girls had to to perform and exhibited terrible stage-fright. Fortune herself remembers herself of having felt an atmosphere of depression in a hostel room where a drunkyard had lived before.

These cases suggest that there is something like “fields”, something like electromagnetic charged fields. Rupert Sheldrake developed the theory of “morphogenetic fields”, which offers interesting explanations but is difficult to prove.

It’s interesting if these mental atmospheres exist on a much larger scale. Sometimes its surprising how a village or even a city breathes a certain air. There are cities where people seem to be under constant pressure and appear shy or afraid and there are cities where you feel free and welcomed. It’s not explained why that doesn’t change with people coming and going and between different generations. It’s like any place has its own soul. It influences our behaviour and what we think. The “genius loci” exists.

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Dion Fortune’s examples suggest that there are man-made-mental-atmospheres. Later Fortune also says that tragic events can create an uncanny atmosphere or a tangible tension which is really there. Apparitions and ghosts are sometimes described like video-recordings, like a memory which is stored up at a certain place. Many stories reveal an old story responsible for the haunting.

But there is more about atmospheres and places. The “certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces”, which Lovecraft describes seems to be created by powerful cosmic energies. There are places where he have incredible reports how people seemed to be under some sort of spell and changed profoundly.

And we have places which have a reputation for being connected with the supernatural as the famous Bermuda-triangle or Area51.

There are twilight zones on this planet, which haven’t neither be explored or explained. We don’t know why there are haunted forests or even streets which have a reputation for people vanishing. In the original sense a twilight zone is “an area of ambiguity between two distinct states or conditions”. Perhaps these zones are places are still rooted somehow in the otherworld.

But what can happen to us when we cross such a place or even live there for a longer time? Under certain conditions we tend to make different decisions and our attitude changes. We might do things which we would be normally afraid of. Me might do bad things but also better things. Leaving certain places can be a big improvement.

“‘Nobody wanders under palm trees with impunity” – we get close to that quote from Goethe now. Can visiting a place put you on a mission or even decide your destiny? My movie project deals with these experiences.

Visiting a location or a place can definitely be inspiring. Sometimes we can’t describe exactly our experience at a certain place but we can put it in a story revealing the deeper truth which is deep in the mountain, the forest or the impenetrable darkness of a lake we once had been visited.

Nevertheless another very interesting question remains: if we got changed by visiting a place can we also change the equilibrium of the same place? Maybe something wouldn’t have happened if we never arrived there.

We might also end up in a trap, because we are already under the spell of a place we cannot stop to become part of a larger game.

There are enough stories where the hero somehow couldn’t any longer leave the place or the city even it would be wise to leave immediately. The reason usually is that it’s not physically impossible to leave but the hero doesn’t want any longer to leave. He has become part of the special atmosphere like Jack Torrance who understood it was his job to look after the Overlook hotel.



 

 

Cosmic Indifference Or Ambiguous Relationship?

In Lovecraft’s cosmicism perhaps the most disturbing idea is that “human beings are often subject to powerful beings and other cosmic forces, but these forces are not so much malevolent as they are indifferent toward humanity (Price, “Lovecraft’s ‘Artificial Mythology’)“.

This is quite the opposite of what most Western and Eastern mythology tell us. We know endless stories about the close relationship between gods, angels or mythical beings with men. The idea that the spiritual realm relates to humankind lies at the core of most religions.

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However the „cosmic indifference“ isn’t necessarily the most important quality of the mythological entities described in H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. As he already said in „Supernatural horror“(„that most terrible conception of the human brain–a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature“) he later repeats: „The “punch” of a truly weird tale is simply some violation or transcending of fixed cosmic law—an imaginative escape from palling reality—hence phenomena rather than persons are the logical “heroes.” Horrors, I believe, should be original—-The use of common myths and legends being a weakening influence“.

Maybe this was again something HPL said about writing techniques but if we think about it for a moment we could say, rather than mere „indifferent mythical beings“ the greatest imaginable horror lies in something, which is entirely non-human and has supernatural capabilities beyond our imagination.

We may ask if it’s always necessarily to make a distinction between either something, which relates to humans or some abstract force, which is indifferent.

Humans have a strong tendency to „humanize“ everything. Even if we imagine hostile alien-invaders in the movies there is always something very human about them: The invaders appear usually like some sort of well-organized army even they should have an insectoid appearance. Most of our monsters in stories and movies are like mirror images and have a strong psychological implication. Often they represent some sort of the „hero’s shadow“.

We „humanize“ things even more in real life – in former times weather phenomena were often described like living entities in folk tales. Obviously this made life for our ancestors more comfortable.

These romantic views seemed not any longer appropriate in the age of science. There was no longer a place for idealism. Obviously Lovecraft was deeply impressed by the materialism of his time. However his „phenomenas“ are still living beings. It’s only a complete different form of life. It might be indifferent but we could ask if this must be necessarily the case. Maybe our mythological traditions are not entirely wrong.

Indeed there is reason to believe that there is not only a strong relationship between man and the inhabitants of the Otherworld, there is a somehow a deep connection. The endless accounts of visionary encounters as UFO-sightings or the interaction with the fairy realm suggest that there are strong ties between mankind and spiritual beings for a very long time.

Materialism failed to proof the non-existence of a living universe. Our history suggests the opposite. The question is if we draw the right conclusions. Any higher intelligence might communicate in a complete different way – maybe the use of images is an important factor. Furthermore it seems that we meet and we communicate with otherworldly entities not in our realm but in ways, which haven’t yet understood. Many reports suggest that the human brain works as a transmitter or a radio able to receive messages from other realms. What we need to understand is that we also get often deceived in many ways. Anyone who in our understanding belongs to a supernatural or extraterrestial realm might be able to deceive us in the most complex ways. In our computer age WE have learned to develop complex virtual realities – why shouldn’t otherworldly agencies use these techniques already for a long time? We do not know what or if we mean something to them, but it seems we are not alone.

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Nevertheless this is not really a satisfying answer if there are cosmic forces, which are indifferent to human beings or if these forces relate somehow to us. Maybe there is some sort of ambiguity here. In Algernoon Blackwood’s “The Willows”, one of the most intense supernatural stories, which Lovecraft admired, this seems to be the case. Two tourists on a trip on the Danube enter into some wasteland and twilight zone where supernatural entities reside. Indeed these forces seem indifferent during the first encounter but later they endanger the lives of the two travelers. In the next morning one of them sees a floating body and says that “they” must have found another victim. If we enter the realm of the otherworld we might not get away easily. It seems there is an ambiguous relationship between us and the otherworldly forces.  In that case the two travelers obviously came into contact with the “genius loci”, the spirit of place.  The concept of the “genius loci” is perhaps a good model to illustrate an ambiguous relationship. Originally in the roman sense a protecting spirit the term developed different meanings later and can be seen as some kind of influence at a certain place.  Cosmic forces are here. They can be indifferent to humankind but not necessarily. They don’t rule our lives in the way we usually think but they are shaping and manipulating history and personal lives in a hidden way.

In my movie project I deal both with the spirit of place as a powerful cosmic force and the experiences of hidden influences on our everyday lives which can’t be measured easily but exist as a constant radiation.

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