Really I have an obsession, even something akin to a hankering, after anything and everything perhaps best described as ‘beyond the pale’. Here is something from phrases.org about the origin and meaning of this phrase:
The paling fence is significant as the term pale became to mean the area enclosed by such a fence and later just the figurative meaning of ‘the area that is enclosed and safe’. So, to be ‘beyond the pale’ was to be outside the area accepted as ‘home’.
Catherine the Great created a ‘Pale of Settlement’ in Russia in 1791. This was a western border region of the country in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, beyond the pale.
Pales were enforced in various other European countries for similar political reasons, notably in Ireland (the Pale of Dublin) and France (the Pale of Calais, which was formed as early as 1360).
The phrase itself comes later than that. The first printed reference comes from 1657 in John Harington’s lyric poem The History of Polindor and Flostella.
In that work, the character Ortheris withdraws with his beloved to a country lodge for ‘quiet, calm and ease’, but later venture further – ‘Both Dove-like roved forth beyond the pale to planted Myrtle-walk’. Such recklessness rarely meets with a good end in 17th century verse and before long they are attacked by armed men with ‘many a dire killing thrust’. The message is clearly, ‘if there is a pale, you should stay inside it’, which conveys exactly the meaning of the phrase as it is used today.
I think this goes a long way to defining this obsession. But it may be a little too wide of the mark. Forbidden or forgotten knowledge, ancient knowledge, future science, alien technology, UFO’s, the paranormal, supernatural, miraculous, ancient wisdom, the occult, science fiction, fantasy, symbolism… well I am not going to continue this list. It can go on and on.
There are so many words and phrases to cover this area of ‘knowledge’ and initially trying to pick a phrase that would cover everything and a little bit more was difficult. So I settled on ‘beyond the pale’. Of course the average person, especially so those scientifically minded, would probably think most if not all of these categories are empty, or at the very least empty of anything worthwhile.
I do have, within this ill-defined realm, some particular obsessions. Flying saucers, the paranormal, supernatural, or miraculous, and forgotten or forbidden knowledge, as well as ‘cryptids’, and Fortean phenomena in general.
Where does this obsession come from? My first answer to this, and it is just an initial response, would have to do with a vision I had over 40 years ago now. Now I rarely discuss this with anyone. I can’t remember if I ever told my wife, I don’t think I have, but even if I did I know it’s not a subject we have ever talked about in detail. I have mentioned it to few people and the few I have mentioned it to have not been very interested in details.
Now that is curious to me, because I am a very curious fellow, and if someone had talked to me about a vision they once had, well I probably would have all sorts of questions. One thing I have learned over the years however is people, generally, are not very curious. Of course that is a curiosity in itself. Still, for our species on the whole, curiosity is a driving force. Otherwise it probably would not have killed the cat!
This vision as I remember it did not last much longer than maybe a minute or two and the easiest way for me to describe it is that it was like someone had flipped a switch and turned a light bulb on inside my head and that light illuminated a scene. At first the scene seemed like a painting but it had 3 dimensional qualities that no ordinary painting has yet it still had boundaries of some kind and what has stayed with me after all these years is a memory of a three dimensional ‘painting’.
The painting had a surreal quality. In the foreground was a crater, perhaps a volcano, but I have always thought of it more as a sort of ‘caldera’, and ‘floating’ above this crater were hands and each hand held a lightning bolt. The hands held them in such a way that the bolts crossed each other above the crater with their tips pointing downward into it. The figure that held the bolts was obscured and could not be made out in the background. The hands looked very real, having an unusual dimensional quality that made them stand out, the lightning bolts having that same quality. Hanging above the crater, part of the background as well, were clouds mounting up to the heavens, in rainbow colors. The entire scene was enlivened with color.
Slowly, as if the light bulb was going out, the scene faded away until the last vestige was gone. I was dumbfounded. I wanted to tell somebody but there was no one I could tell that would care. I made a few half-hearted attempts to talk about this experience but soon gave up.
My parents were no longer together, we were living with our Mom and her family, but at that time in my life, really most of my life, my connection with them hasn’t been close. Probably it crossed my mind to mention it to someone in my family, but crossed my thoughts very quickly, as soon leaving them as beginning.
Now visions are not so weird. They are not an uncommon experience though many people have never had one. Still beyond the experience itself I had a different kind of knowledge; that yes, there are things beyond what we might refer to as ‘ordinary’ experience. Things do happen that not everyone would believe but are still true.
Now that indeed was no small piece of knowledge and without a doubt prepared some groundwork for my obsession. Everything isn’t just as it seems… Still I don’t think this is the root of my obsession. Yet it was preparation of sorts, indoctrination into the no man’s land covered by these subjects.
One last comment about this vision. When I had it, some time in high school, there was no reason I can think of I would have connected the primary components of this vision together- the lightning, crater or volcano, and colored clouds- strange to say but lightning in the vicinity of volcanoes is far from unusual and is actually part of what goes on in eruptions etc., and the colored clouds strangely are related to volcanic phenomena too- Krakatoa is a good example, and what happened after its eruption.
There were unusual sunsets, and sunrises, across the world in the wake of that event, strangely colored. Now this is an interesting ‘coda’ to this vision… but leaves me still bewildered at its real meaning. As a matter of fact I have not the slightest idea what it means, and have, ever since the vision, wondered if or when I might in reality see some version of it, in a painting or photograph etc.
The vision struck me immediately as laden with significance, and a symbolism that seemed just beyond my powers of ‘decoding’… I have since of course tried to uncover what meaning was meant for me in this vision but have never considered myself completely successful in the attempt.
Of course the lightning bolts remind me of Zeus, the word ‘crater’ in Greek has some significance, I remember a painting by William Blake that seems a very distant relation, and actually the content of the image has always seemed to almost bring to mind a painting I might have seen at one time, but never have seen since.
I did at the time this happened make an attempt at drawing the image- I am not much of a draughtsman and the hands turned into claws and the clouds were not much to look at. The experience itself however left an indelible mark!