Thursday, September 27, 2018

Benkei - Art

This is how a total badass dies.

If you ever go to Japan you will see this guy everywhere. The image of a defiant warrior, killed by many impaling arrows, staring defiantly. It is called "The Standing Death of Benkei." Let me explain.

Saito Musashibo Benkei was a man that lived in feudal era of Japan. He was born in 1155 AD. The son of a noble samurai and a blacksmith, Benkei was 6' 7" and had incredible strength. So he became a warrior.

Benkei was ill tempered, unruly and somewhat savage, so no feudal lord would take him. After getting kicked out of a Buddhist monastery for fighting, Benkei decided to guard a bridge and force every samurai trying to pass to fight him, go the long way or give up their sword. He ended up with 999 by the time he met his match.

By the way, Benkei also had a badass mustache.

One day an epic hero by the name of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a young samurai and feudal lord who was a champion of the common people and enemy of the current reigning evil government, dueled Benkei for the bridge. Yoshitsune, trained by tengu (Luke Skywalker is based on him), beat Benkei by knocking him unconscious with a metal fan.

Impressed and humbled, Benkei offered to serve the young lord until death. From then on the two were inseparable, and there are many kabuki and noh theater plays based on their adventures.

Although loved by the common folk as a champion of good and justice, Yoshitsune, like most benevolent Japanese epic heroes of legend, was doomed. While inside a castle planning his attack on the reigning evil government, he was betrayed by his allies, who switched allegiance and sent a massive army to capture Yoshitsune.

Knowing that defeat was inevitable, the young lord's friends, family, allies and army deserted him. Since retreat was dishonorably and capture was even more disgraceful (and would also lead to hours of gruesome torture) all Yoshitsune could do was commit honorable suicide. He was betrayed and all alone. There was nobody left to defend him.

Except Benkei.

While his lord went through the appropriate rituals for a proper suicide, the last friend and warrior he had went out to perform one final mission: delay the enemy until the end. The reason was simple. Back then being captured by the enemy didn't just mean defeat, failure and dishonor. It also meant torture. Days and days of serious torture. Worse than being chained to a toilet, eating shit pudding and watching episodes of "Hee Haw." 

This is what a non sequitur looks like. 

A single bridge led to the castle where Yoshitsune was, and Benkei placed himself on the bridge in the center. The army sent to capture his lord arrived and prepared for a siege. Surely, they thought to themselves, this must be a trick. Where was the rest of the army?

Benkei challenged the other army to single combat. From the perspective of Bushido, this was extremely bad for the enemy army. All alone, he had just performed something so full of honor and badass that it would mean a tremendous loss of face to just attack. They had to respond appropriately to the challenge. So they did.

One by one, and then two by two and three by three's, the enemy army sent samurai warriors out to fight Benkei on the bridge and he killed them all. This was no surprise. Benkei was a monster, since the average Japanese man at the time was about 5' tall.


Another relevant factor was that in Japanese martial arts, a quick, strong downward strike to the enemy's forehead, resulting in a mortal frontal lobotomy, was how a sword fight usually ended (aside from a tsuki to the throat). Since Benkei was using a 6'+ long weapon, and the average samurai katana was 3' long, you can guess exactly what the fuck happened to Benkei' brave, but doomed, opposition. They didn't have a chance because they didn't have the reach.

This went on for quite some time until the enemy army paused, staring at this awesome, fearless warrior that could not be killed. Realizing his own general was about to be dishonored by being defeated by one single man, an officer in the army dishonorably ordered all of the archers to shoot Benkei to death. So they did.

In Japanese kenjitsu there is a stance known as the "Fuck you, you can't hurt me" stance. You basically spread your arms, weapon in one hand, and stare. That's what Benkei did. Hundreds of arrows impaled his body and killed him instantly.

For a long time, the enemy army stood in formation, afraid. This was because the arrows that killed Benkei also propped him up, making him look like he was still alive. His corpse stood there, glaring, swaying in the wind, saturated with gore and surrounded by many, many dead warriors. Who would want to approach that?

"No offence to your exquisite archery skills, but FUCK YOUR ARROWS." 

Eventually they did and the general and the army found Yoshitsune, quite dead. Their mission was successful. They had followed orders. But the damaged was done.

From the perspective of Bushido and the code of honor at the time, what the enemy army had done was incredibly bad. The officer who ordered the arrows was ordered to commit suicide for his disgrace. The general was also dishonored, was stripped of his title, and retired to a monastery. The entire army was mocked until their death. Some even committed suicide at Benkei's grave, or on the bridge where they had once opposed him. A single man had defeated them all. Why?

Even more Benkei for your buck.

Because Benkei won. From the perspective of Bushido, he had indeed carried out his last mission: to delay the enemy so his lord could die with honor. Dying to achieve this only made him look more badass. Yoshitsune's enemies all looked like cowards.

Hundreds of years later, Benkei is honored in throughout Japan. There are paintings of him, illustrations of him, tattoos and even statues and shrines. Even to this day, a person who has dedicated themselves body and soul to a cause, whether this is becoming a doctor, an actor, founding a company or achieving a black belt in the martial arts, will bow and burn incense to a Benkei in order to show their true dedication and humble spirit.

As for the general who led the army that killed Benkei, and the officer that ordered the arrows? They are dishonored. Forgotten. Nobody remembers their names.

In Japanese culture, literature, history and art this means,

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Monster in Stranger Things, Part VII - The Weird

This is Part VII of an exploration into the nature of Demogorgon (or The Monster, as I prefer to call it) in the Netflix sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Stranger Things. You can read Part I herePart II herePart III herePart IV herePart V here and Part VI over here. Spoiler alerts will follow.


You've seen the ad for season two of Stranger Things. I really love how there is a shot of Eleven's mother getting electroshock therapy. That gives us a source for her power. Her mother took some experimental drug, eats a dose of human-made lightning and ta da! We have Eleven. 

What's incredible about the explanation for The Monster, aka Demogorgon, is that we don't need to understand where it came from, or how it works, to enjoy the series. Stephen King's "The Mist" and the works of H.P. Lovecraft operate in a similar capacity. The Unknown doesn't give a damn if you don't understand it. You aren't important enough to the vast darkness of the universe to get an explanation. As I've mentioned before, there is no point where anyone in the series explains the origin of The Monster, and that is OK. 


It's important to remember that what The Duffer Brothers did was create a monster out of concepts that have always existed in modern horror, occult literature, Stephen King's books, Dungeons & Dragons and conspiracy theories found on the Internet. Eleven didn't go into The Vale of Shadows when she encountered her own personal demon. She went into her own mind, a black space referred to by her as The Upside-Down. 

Eleven, just like the USS Eldridge in The Philadelphia Experiment, released an electromagnetic pules that sent her into another dimension. She switched places with The Monster, which escaped from the lab. Nowhere in the series does The Monster seem to show any ability to use telekinesis. When Will is hiding in the shed with a rifle, it is Eleven that opens the door to the shed. She's following light sources, which use electricity and can therefore be seen in The Vale of Shadows. That's why she knows what the boy looks like and feels guilt. When The Monster released an electromagnetic pulse to catch the boy and drag him into the next dimension. Eleven ended up in our world.

Later, when Eleven made The Monster vanish, she basically released an electromagnetic pulse that put it back into the black space that was her inner mind (sounds like the title to a Death Metal album) while she ended up in The Vale of Shadows. The ad for the second season clearly shows Eleven in that place, using a hole The Monster created to go into the real world (which we've seen before with the portal in the tree in the forest), so I'm probably correct.


Another thing I've noticed is how nowhere in Stranger Things does a person talk about the occult. Will's mother doesn't even talk about ghosts. No demons, no witchcraft. Instead you have teams of scientists working for some evil, deep state section of the government, and that makes the horror all the more realistic. Even The Exorcist had parts where modern science took a stab at what was messing with the girl's mind. When Carol Anne vanishes into the television in Poltergeist, maybe she went to The Vale of Shadows.


Spoiler alerts! I've sure by now you've learned about It and have maybe even see the movie. Although I can't tell you how the second movie will end, I can tell you that after reading the book, it is pretty clear that It is actually a tulpa. Case in point, "The Ritual of Chud", which the children use to banish the monster. This is an obvious reference to Tibetan occult mysticism. As I've mentioned before, Alexandra David-Neel, in her book “Magic and Mystery in Tibet,” discussed how she was taught by practitioners of magik during her 14 years in Tibet how to create a tulpa using another ritual, “The Dubthab Rite.”

In order to teach their students that all reality is an illusion (an observation shared by modern science, the theory of relativity, quantum physics, string theory and probability) Tibetan holy lamas would train practitioners to summon a “real” illusion with “The Dubthab Rite.” David-Neel did so, and according to her created a man dressed like a Medieval friar, believe it or not.

After a while David-Neel claims that the friar became “sly and malignant,” forcing her to banish it with “The Dance of Chod.” She basically sat in a circle, concentrated on the monk, summoned demons from her own mind, and commanded them to destroy the monk. Scary, real or not, according to David-Neel the evil friar was banished and stopped bothering anybody.

It seems to be a tulpa of the violent, horrifying, sexually abusive world that the kids in the book inhabit. Pennywise the Clown is really just a name for an elemental force from another dimension (the book gets really weird by the end) that shows up to kill a lot of innocent people in a regular cycle in order to terrify the survivors enough to feed off their fear. The children banish It with The Ritual of Chud, just like David-Neel banished her own personal demon.


Eleven was repeatedly abused and ordered to kill the Russian spy with her mind. Similar to the children mentioned in conspiracy theories such as Project MKULTRA, MKOFTEN and Project Monarch, she basically created a tulpa, a splintered personality based on her negative experiences, which killed the spy. The scientists ordered her to make contact with it, so she went into her own mind. After confronting her personal demon, she screamed, creating an electromagnetic pulse that placed the monster in the real world but put her in the Vale of Shadows. 

At the end of Stranger Things, Eleven does the opposite, confronting her personal demon again but this time putting it back in her mind (the black space she calls The Upside-Down) while she ended up in The Vale of Shadows. In the latest ad for season 2, she is seen going through a hole in the wall, probably the same one The Monster/Demogorgon made to enter the real world in the final episode. It all makes sense.


If The Duffer Brothers wanted to create a visual representation of a character's personal demon, what would it look like? There are numerous clues that can be seen as to why the Monster appears the way it does.  When Eleven contacts it for the first time, she does so in a flesh colored outfit that looks a lot like The Monster when it stands upright. It crouches like the lion doll in her cell. It's head spreads open like a tulip (tulpa/tulip) from the plant that is also in her cell. Compared to the boy fighting it, The Monster seems like a naked adult towering over a child. The flesh colored baseball bat is another Freudian clue. The Monster's head also resembles something else Freudian, from a female perspective.


The concept that abused children have psychic powers can be found both on the Internet, the works of Stephen King, and The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. The concept is that an abused kid ends up with a fragmented personality, with each shard, or splinter, having a distinct personality. According to many sources online, Project Monarch was designed to do this. 

"Firestarter" features a child that can control fire because of government experiments that have been done to herself and her family. The little boy in "The Shining" has psychic powers, just like many children with the shining throughout King's books, including It (a careful reader will notice that the children in It have not only all been abused, they also all have psychic powers). The girl in "Carrie" certainly has telekinesis, and she was certainly abused as a child, too.

Eleven may as well have stepped out of these sources. In Stanley Kubrick's version of King's book, Danny not only shines, he does so because his father has been sexually abusing him. Clues leading up to this horrible truth can be found throughout the film, and the subject has been discussed and explored by many film analysis types who know what they are doing. 

Why does Eleven have powers? Because of the drugs her mother took ("Firestarter," Project MKULTRA, "The Girl with the Silver Eyes"), and because she has been abused (The Shining, Project MKULTRA, "It", "Carrie"). What is Demogorgon/The Monster? An alter created to kill people with her mind because Eleven wouldn't do it herself (Project Monarch, Project MKULTRA, MKOFTEN, The Bourne Identity). This monster is an incarnation made flesh, a tulpa ("It", "The Dark Half",  Project Montauk, Tibetan occultism, The X-Files).

The Duffer Brothers didn't make up a monster out of nowhere, they gave us something we have seen before, crafted from horror films, books and conspiracy theories on the Internet. Don't believe me? Google “tulpa” and you'll see more of the evidence I've described. 


There is a part in the series where Eleven opens the door to a market, walks inside, gets Eggo waffles, leaves with them and then closes the door behind her. Just like The Monster. That scene was there for a reason, to show you the parallel. Remember, as I've mentioned before, Eleven even said that she was The Monster. It certainly seems to follow her around, as if it has to be in orbit around her body even though it is in a parallel dimension.

What does The Monster eat? Electricity. It used to get it inside Eleven's mind. Outside of that, it must still getting what it needs to eat to live. That's why it is attracted to lights, blood, people, etc. It doesn't tear people swallows them whole to get to the electricity inside. After the biological matter gives up the energy, The Monster spits it up as some sort of egg...a twisted mockery of the human birth cycle (Alien). 

Later, we also see people being glued to walls (like Alien and Aliens) with tubes coming out of their mouths. After they die slugs crawl out of their mouths, which seem to generate an electromagnetic field to get back into The Vale of Shadows, just like The Monster. Touching a light socket can't work. It needs a body to generate the electricity, which Eleven used to do when it was inside her. Aside from the strange way it eats energy, The Monster can only detect what it eats. It doesn't seem to see, hear or smell. Otherwise, it is all very, very Id, and that is the dark side of our psychology, our own personal demon. 


The Duffer Brothers could have just used a vampire, werewolf, zombie or otherwise to be the monster in their series. What I've tried to show in this long, drawn out, hopefully not too boring exegesis is to prove that they chose a creature that did indeed exist, drawn from the various sources I've already mentioned. If The Monster turns out to be just another creature living in The Vale of Shadows, so be it. If there is another theory that is completely different yet equally plausible, I'd love to see it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Captain Cannabis - Art

The Captain Cannabis online comic ( is a series of 13 webisodes presenting the adventures of Halburt Lighter, a.k.a. Captain Cannabis. Equal parts cynical comedy, life-affirming realism and superheroic fantasy, this mind-altering animated comic book feature delivers an enlightening jolt of THC-infused social commentary.

Verne Andru is the creator and writer of Captain Cannabis. His previous experience includes working on the legendary cult classic Rock & Rule, one of the many heavy metal-infused animated films that were so prevalent during the 70’s and early 80’s. Since then he’s worked with heavyweights such as Hannah-Barbara, Disney and Industrial Lights and Magic.
Andru was able to step away from his magnum opus long enough to share a few words with Culture Magazine about life, the universe, and Captain Cannabis.

How would you describe Captain Cannabis to some of our readers who might not have heard of your art?

This is the story of a down and out roadie named Halburt Lighter. Through a series of misadventures, he and his girlfriend end up in Vancouver, where a spacecraft shows up to help Earth. Okee, the alien on the spacecraft, has a magical plant he calls “herb.” When Hal smokes it, he is able to manifest what he thinks about in real life. I’m eventually going to combine all of the webisodes into a feature film I’m going to call 420.

He reminds me of DC’s “The Green Lantern,” with an emphasis on the green, only he can control reality. Isn’t the alien also a main character?

I wanted Captain Cannabis to look very professional, so I had to split the project into pieces to keep down costs. The next part of the series will deal with Okee’s backstory.

Captain Cannabis has some deep, occult roots. I’ve noticed a lot of references to Buddhism, Hindu religious beliefs, Gnostic philosophy and Tibetan mysticism.

Yes, the point is that we are a spiritual consciousness stuck in a physical body. Right now many people just want things for themselves and don’t care about anyone else. When you get into the higher realms of spiritualism there is a point where you have to ask, “What is the real  truth?” Okee and Hal ask this question.

Okee is meant to illustrate the struggle our consciousness has to rise above the material world. He represents the inherit weakness of man and keeps falling into matter. That’s our struggle.

Halburt Lighter, aka Captain Cannabis, is going through the illumination phase of becoming enlightened. In the first comic he’s just a basic guy who doesn’t think beyond his next joint or beer. He goes through a spiritual awakening by smoking pot.

How does Captain Cannabis reflect your personal beliefs about the subject of medical marijuana and the legalization movement? Why is something so useful still illegal?

One thing people don’t understand is that hemp, the parent plant of marijuana, is the reason that Western culture exits in North America. The first industry in the colonies was building ships, which needed hemp for rope. Because it expanded and became financially viable, this allowed Europeans to come over and invest in America. Back then hemp and marijuana grew everywhere. It actually required a lot of work to eradicate.

Why is it illegal? Money. You can grow cannabis anywhere. Because of that you have a product that is uncontrollable. Well, why do we have laws? To control us. The question is; what jurisdiction does the DEA have? It’s under the control of the IRS, not the FDA. It has nothing to do with food…it’s about money.

That’s a disturbing thought.