Black-eyed kids aren’t real! Bare logic says you’re probably right. An entirely material reading of reality says you probably must be. But are you so sure your reading of reality is right? Is there even a ‘right’ for you to be?
As noted in the Black-Eyed Kids podcasts from Astonishing Legends, there are accounts of comparable phenomena stretching back into history. Perhaps not entirely similar in the form and behaviour of the suspicious beings, but certainly with a similar air of ‘wrongness’, or threat, or even malice — and, evidently, with the common feature of the pure black eyes.
This is a motif that has also long been used to convey evil: black eyes are a well-used symbol of the cold, the inhuman, even the demonic. It would be quite possible to argue that Brian Bethel — the journalist credited with bringing the Black-Eyed Kids to prominence with his account back in the late 1990s — simply made his story up by assembling various already well-used elements, and many do claim precisely this. He either made the whole thing up out of whole cloth, they say, or at the very least he exaggerated and embellished a simple encounter with two kids whom maybe he thought seemed a bit creepy.
Of course there’s no way to disprove this, and no way for Mr Bethel to prove his account, and that’s enough for many sceptics to write it off out of hand. Only reason can help preserve some of the story’s credibility — and then only if you assume that it’s in a journalist’s interest to maintain a career reputation for honesty and integrity. In the late 2010s, with the existence of enthusiastically disreputable sources like Breitbart, the Daily Mail/Express, RT and InfoWars, it’s difficult to imagine how a journalist today might think of abandoning their integrity as a career-ending failure. It might limit your work in the field of real news, but you’ll always be able to make a living peddling bullshit to the credulous.
Which is pretty much word for word what debunkers will claim has happened in the case of Brian Bethel.
Except that it apparently didn’t. Mr Bethel makes no bones (ahar) about having had an interest in matters supernatural from a young age, but his journalistic career on the whole doesn’t seem to have any such focus. He’s still writing for the Abilene Reporter-News, where in recent days he’s posted articles on the local crime and policing beat, including this example on 21 May 2018 (that’s yesterday, as I write), and this piece on zoning policy on 11 May. In other words, aside from his Internet fame — or notoriety, depending on your point of view — Mr Bethel has remained in areas of journalism in which still benefit from accurate reporting. In other words, he remains on a career path for which a reputation for objective reliability is a positive thing, and a reputation for being a bit of a kook probably wouldn’t offer much advantage.
So it’s reasonable to suppose that Mr Bethel went out on a bit of a limb reporting his Black-Eyed Kids experience as he did — and he’s remained on that limb by sticking to the story ever since. He hasn’t used that encounter to springboard himself into the admittedly lucrative world of crankology as so many others have; but at the same time he hasn’t stepped back from the account he gave. He hasn’t tried to distance himself from it or retract it or otherwise make it go away. He stands with it as his sincere report of his experience.
Does this mean Mr Bethel actually saw what he claims to have seen? Personally, I’d say it probably does. Does this mean Mr Bethel accurately perceived what was there that night in Abilene? Well, now, that’s an entirely different question, and itself depends on us being able to agree on a meaning of ‘accurately perceived’; as well as the meaning of ‘there’.
There’s a concept in ‘Eastern’ philosophy — which the guys at Astonishing Legends have mentioned a few times — called ‘tulpa’. I have to be careful here, because there’s something of a tradition of British people coming along and co-opting ideas and concepts from other cultures without necessarily really understanding their original form or function. I don’t really know whether I’m doing that in describing tulpa here, or whether I’ve properly understood other people who’ve already done it, or whether none of us have done it for once, and collectively we’ve all actually properly understood the idea all along. I couldn’t really tell you. So I’m going to say, don’t take my word for it that this is what a tulpa actually is — just that it’s what I understand it to be. Although, in a way, maybe that makes a tulpa what I believe it to be because…
Look, I’m getting ahead of myself. To explain: a tulpa as I, and many other westerners, understand it is a mystically created ‘thought form’. It’s an entity — a being or structure — which has been given solid reality due to the concentration of thought that’s been focused on it. In other words, it’s something that exists because someone believed it enough.
Already there may be part of you that wants to dismiss this idea entirely. Which is reasonable: we (most of us, anyway) live in a scientifically orientated society, where something is either real or it’s not. And the idea of a tulpa offends against that kind of ordered reality. Nevertheless, ours is but one of many worlds, and in many of those worlds, ‘order’ and ‘reality’ aren’t the absolutely binary concepts we might like to think they are. Even here, in many ways, the world shapes itself according to our expectations. Not our individual expectations: this isn’t The Secret, where all you have to do is think rich thoughts and you’ll get rich. That’s bullshit. At least, that’s bullshit here. In some worlds (presumably worlds with far shakier economies) maybe that does work. But not here. This realm of ours isn’t that reactive. Clearly it isn’t: a terrifyingly large number of people seem to believe that Earth is flat, and it very obviously, very demonstrably isn’t. (And then we need to consider how many of those people actually do believe in a Flat Earth. I think it’s likely that very few do sincerely hold that belief, but rather profess it as a means to express a generally anti-establishment or even conspiratorial political viewpoint, and to establish solidarity with others who hold similar views.) However reactive our cosmos may be to the force of our expectation or belief, it clearly isn’t reactive enough for the Flat Earth model to outweigh the Oblate Spheroid Earth that our established global travel and commerce systems have always depended on.
Yet, somewhere along the line, esoteric practitioners in various traditions have recorded the belief that, given sufficiently intense belief or concentration, a thought-form can be created which can then take on some degree of independent existence, intent, even consciousness. And the idea’s been popular in fiction, as well as, perhaps predictably, on 4chan, where ‘practitioners’ attempted to generate tulpas to have sex with them. I’m not aware that that ever worked and quite frankly I’m not overly keen to find out, because ew.
Still, the concept of the tulpa does give rise to some interesting interpretations of recent modern mythology. Since Brian Bethel’s encounter with the Black-Eyed Kids in Abilene, there have been numerous accounts of similar occurrences from all around the world — if not so many directly comparable ones before it. And the easiest explanation would be, well, these are all copycat cases: bullshitters mimicking an earlier bullshitter. But similar patterns can be observed across the whole panoply of the paranormal. UFOs and alien encounters have taken on various forms in distinct phases over recorded history, from chariots in the sky in ancient times, to sailing ships and apparently human sailors in the late medieval and early modern period, to airships at the turn of the twentieth century, to flying discs and little green men in the 1940s to the 1960s, to mysterious black triangles and ‘greys’ from the 1990s onwards. Once a phase begins, all encounters — or certainly most — tend to conform. Again, the most obvious and easiest sceptical explanation is that it’s all nonsense. But looking past that, and accepting the more complex and challenging premise that at least some of these people are truly sincere in reporting their experience of something, we seem to be faced with a phenomenon that does appear different based on who experiences it, where, when, and under what circumstances.
Allowing for the possibility that at least some of these people, of the many who report these experiences and encounters, are not charlatans, frauds and scammers, and given a flexible model of what constitutes objective ‘reality’ — even raising the question of whether such a thing exists at all — the idea of the tulpa, of focused thoughts and will taking an independent shape of their own, and influenced, but perhaps not always controlled by their ‘creator’, does fit quite neatly against the occasional shifts in the appearance of various paranormal phenomena. The notion that our world might be more psychoreactive than we think might be no surprise to someone who’s watched the evolution of UFO or alien experiences, cryptid sightings and hauntings, and noticed how the form they take can change radically, yet oddly consistently, with the experiencer’s expectations and the cultural reference frame they experience it from.