Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM114: Envisioning AIDS

In a warm and dark room in the winter of 1987, people lay on the ground with their eyes closed.  A facilitator from the Shanti Project guides those assembled on an intimate visualization through the process of dying from AIDS.  

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Content Note:

- Imagining Death
- Language

This took place at the Interfaith Conference on AIDS and ARC for Clergy and Caregivers in San Francisco.  The conference hoped to give religious organizations tools to help their dying congregants. The conference featured speakers representing Catholicism, Judaism, many Protestant denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religions.  

AIDS was a major issue at the time, with no cure in sight, and many many deaths per year.  And anti-queer rhetoric (see Jerry Fallwell), laws (see Bowers v Hardwick) and attitudes (see Pew poll on political values 1987) were all common.

News Clips from the 80’s and 90’s regarding HIV and AIDS, which were also known as “HTLV-3” and “ARC” at the time.

Around the same time as this conference, the FDA approved a drug called AZT for the treatment of HIV.  It was highly anticipated, but ultimately considered a failure.  More years would pass and many more people would die before the approval of effective anti-retroviral drugs.  And even more years before the first (and possibly second) cases of HIV would be cured.  

But back in that darkened room in 1987, people laid on the ground with their eyes closed for an hour, while they tried to imagine what it would feel like to be covered in lesions...to sit in a doctor’s office when the receptionist refuses to make eye contact...to watch from above as people try to resuscitate their dead bodies...and to observe their own funerals...all in effort to better understand better the questions people with AIDS were likely asking of themselves and their loved ones—a practice that AIDS scholar Lynne Gerber says was common at this time in the new age circles of the Bay Area.

On this episode, Lynne explains some of the context around queerness and medicine and religion and AIDS.  She’s writing a book about these topics, and also making an upcoming podcast series with audio producer Ariana Nedelman.  Ariana provided us with the audio from the visualization practice via the UCSF Archives.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Episode art via The RCSB Protein Data Bank / David S. Goodsell and the NIH / Wikimedia Commons.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

HBM107: Carlo Surrenders

Carlo Nakar spent more than twenty years in the United States before he was called by God to return to the the Philippines. It happened during one of his first classes of grad school at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.  He looked into the rafters and asked, “Lord, what would be the hardest thing that you could ever ask me to do?” He received a verbal answer: “You should work with sexually trafficked girls in the Philippines.”

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Content Note:

- Human Trafficking
- Sexual Abuse
- Language

At that time, Carlo was in grad school to find himself after a long stint working at a facility for abused and neglected kids.  But he had stayed there too long and effectively burnt out from the secondary trauma of working with children who were sexually aggressive.  He felt unfit to become a therapist.

So it came as a surprise when God called him to work with sexually trafficked girls in the Philippines: “But I was called to do this. I have to show up.”

Since receiving the call from God, Carlo accepted an internship at Samaritana in Quezon City, near his hometown of Manila, where human trafficking is prevalent. There he works with women who have been trafficked or worked as prostitutes. In this episode, Carlo tells the story of the first time he did street outreach in Quezon City on behalf of the organization.


Since recording his audio diaries, Carlo traveled to India to attend a conference hosted by the International Christian Alliance on Prostitution. He attended a presentation on OSEC (online sexual exploitation of children) and for a second time he felt called by God. He said he felt a sense of certainty that this is the work that he is uniquely prepared to do. After graduation, he intends to work as a therapist for children who have been sexually exploited online.

Carlo’s been on HBM before, in one of our very first episodes. Listen to HBM008: Chuck Gets Circumcised.

Bethany Denton produced this episode, and Jeff Emtman helped edited it.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

Carlo Nakar and his contact juggling ball. Photo by Carlo Nakar.

Carlo Nakar and his contact juggling ball. Photo by Carlo Nakar.

HBM103: Fate's Notebook

Somewhere in Maritza Gulin’s basement, there’s a typewritten notebook that belonged to her father, Reynaldo. The notebook contains essential advice and warnings to Reynaldo, his wife Flora, and their five children.

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Content Note:

- Suicide
- Mental Illness
- Animal Sacrifice
- Language

In his younger life, Reynaldo’s atheism was strong and biting. But chronic migraines would often flatten him for days at a time. A stranger approached Reynaldo one day on the subway to tell him that he’d always suffer until he got right with God.

Reynaldo subsequently became an adherent to two related Afro-Cuban* religions: Palo Mayombe and Santeria. Palo focusses on veneration of spirits of the dead and of the earth. Santeria focusses on a pantheon of demigods called “Orishas”, who are usually represented by equivalent Catholic saints.

The notebook in Maritza’s basement is notable for its specificity. When she recently rediscovered it, she found warnings for her father against eating beans, sleeping with all the lights off, a requirement for white pajamas, a prohibition on horseback riding. Reynaldo followed these rules. He believed in fate, and was pretty accurate at predicting the time of his ultimate death from old age.

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Michelle Santana is a childhood friend of Maritza’s. She’s a psychic medium who’s not been formally initiated into Santeria, but she often consults the Orishas and the dead while working with her clients.  She’s done a number of readings with Maritza. Michelle, too, believes in fate, saying that, cruel as it seems, some people are just destined live bad lives, die young, and nothing can be done to change that.

Maritza’s youngest sister, Vanessa, was born when Maritza was already an adult, so Maritza helped take care of her youngest sister. Vanessa experienced severe depression, especially after the birth of her first child. She committed suicide.

After her Vanessa’s death, Maritza and her mother Flora lost their faith. They asked: if the future’s written, why weren’t they warned? Why weren’t they told either in the notebook or during their regular psychic readings. Flora says she’s mad at God. Maritza says she no longer believes in destiny.

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Despite this, Maritza still treads lightly around some of her father’s belongings. Some of this is due to respect for her father’s desires, and some of it is based on an abundance of caution. She recently deconsecrated a black metal cauldron that her father used in ceremonies. Michelle told her to bury it in her backyard or throw it in a river. Marita did the former. Inside, she found a toy revolver, a pair of ram’s horns, railroad spikes, and other small items.

Santeria’s practice of live animal sacrifice wound up in the US Supreme Court in the early 90’s as Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, in which a city in Florida passed an ordinance banning the practice of killing animals “in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption”. The court ruled unanimously that this ordinance was unconstitutional, citing its attempt to restrict religious practice.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton.

Music: Circling Lights | | | The Black Spot | | | Serocell

*Today, Santeria and Palo are practiced across much of the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Other areas of Caribbean diaspora like Florida, New York and New Jersey also have significant populations of believers. However, solid numbers of followers are hard to estimate due to the religion’s decentralization, which also contributes to the varying beliefs across adherents of different origins. If you practice or used to practice Santeria/Palo/Ifa, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Tweet at us @HBMpodcast.

If you are feeling suicidal, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help in the USA (phone: 1-800-273-8255). Outside the USA, consult Suicide.org’s list of hotlines. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, Postpartum Support International has links to local organizations that can help you.

HBM087: Trifle Not with Sacred Things

It hasn’t been easy for Ashley Fryer to let go of her faith. For thirty years, she dedicated her life to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She grew up attending church multiple times a week, and dutifully studied her scriptures. Over the years, she found inconsistencies in church doctrine, and would pile these up on what she calls ‘the shelf’.  She’d pile it higher and higher, thinking, “well, I’ll deal with it later.”

For Ashley, her shelf broke on November 5, 2015. On that day, a new LDS church policy leaked. This policy said, among other things, that children of gay parents could not be baptized unless they were eighteen years old, living on their own, and had renounced same sex marriage. It was a controversial policy that members of the church came out for and against. This ran counter to Ashley’s personal beliefs, and she didn’t believe the leadership of the church spoke for God. So she put down her beloved scriptures, unsure what to do with relics of a religion she no longer believed in.

Hermod before Hela , by John Charles Dollman in 1909

Hermod before Hela, by John Charles Dollman in 1909

Since then, Ashley has been on a journey of spiritual discovery. She started exploring Wiccan practices, paganism, and her Norse heritage. She found that Hel, the Norse goddess of the underworld, resonated with her. Half beautiful maiden, half rotting corpse, Hel is the keeper of dead things. To Ashley, Hel represents a spirit of radical self acceptance, and new beginnings rising from the ashes. Ashley realized that she knew what to do with her LDS scriptures.

This episode was produced and edited by Ashley’s little sister, Bethany Denton. Additional editing help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White.

Music:  The Black Spot

HBM085: Ascended Fiction

There’s an office in every church of Scientology dedicated to the founder.  It’s a full reconstruction: desks, chairs, books and memorabilia.  The church says these offices are traditional, a way of honoring the memory of L. Ron Hubbard, who died back in 1986.  

L. Ron Hubbard’s office in Copenhagen, Denmark sits on a busy street.  There’s a big window that allows passersby to speculate on its utility.  

Elisabeth Pedersen heard a rumor that the office was more than traditional.  She heard that it might be needed by the author upon his alleged reincarnation and return to earth.  

Sussing out the veracity of this claim is difficult, because Hubbard and his successor David Miscavige choose to keep much of Scientology’s scripture out of the public’s reach.  And therefore, many of the Church of Scientology’s core beliefs must be sifted either through church officials, court documents, or the religion's detractors.

One of those detractors is Tony Ortega, who’s been writing on Scientology since the 1990’s. He thinks Elisabeth’s rumor is a garbled understanding of a belief that might be held in an secretive wing of Scientology known as the Church of Spiritual Technology.  The CST is the group that holds and protects the copyrights to Hubbard’s body of work.  Tony says a defector from the CST told him about preparations being made for the return of L. Ron Hubbard.  His source later denied this.  

When a religion has scriptural gatekeepers, how can you know if a rumor’s been debunked?  A friendly person at the church’s info center pointed out that the internet is full of misinformation about scientology and suggested that listeners of this podcast consult Scientologists Taking Action Against Discrimination for factual information about the religion and its beliefs.  They also suggested Freedom Magazine.  Scientology’s press officers were contacted several times in the months before release, but never responded.  

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton.  This episode’s title was inspired by TV Trope’s article on Ascended Fanfic.

Music: Serocell | | | The Black Spot


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