The Shaver Mystery: The Most Sensational True Story Ever Told!
July 6, 2017 10:23 PM   Subscribe

In 1932, Richard Sharpe Shaver was employed as a welder in a car factory. One day, his welding-gun began talking to him, telepathically delivering tales of the Deros, their penchant for human meat, and their underground cities. In 1940, Shaver sent a manuscript titled "A Warning to Future Man" to Ray Palmer, the editor of Amazing Stories at that time. Palmer published a number of stories under the header The Shaver Mystery.

As summarized by in the review of War Over Lemuria (Goodreads; Amazon) and The Man from Mars (Goodreads; Amazon) by Gregory L. Reece for L.A. Review of Books
It seems pretty clear that Richard Shaver suffered from some form of paranoid schizophrenia. He really did believe that his life was being controlled by unseen forces from deep underground caverns. He heard voices — some nefarious, others kind — that he believed originated in an underground world populated by the evil dero and the righteous tero, all descendants of an ancient race that once lived on the surface of the Earth but long ago fled to the stars.
Reece also points out that Shaver is far from the first person to imagine and write of nefarious subterranean species, citing John Cleve Symmes’s hollow-earth novel Symzonia (1820), Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871), and Willis George Emerson’s The Smokey God (1908) as "examples of fictional tales of underground civilizations that have been treated as true accounts and the source for religious belief by some members of the Theosophical and occult communities."

Still, Shaver holds a special place for his contributions to the subterranean species genre. His creation of (or communication with) the Deros included in the SubGenius mythos ("Advanced Supersonic Aluminum Nazi Hell Creatures from Beneath the Hollow Earth, called Nazi Hell Creatures or Deros for short"), inspired the Dungeons & Dragons Derro species, and Ray Palmer claimed that the siting of UFOs in 1947 validated the Shaver Mystery, tying the siting to Shaver's tales of the Deros' spaceships.

While UFOs claimed the (inter)national imagination from nefarious underground beings, Richard Shaver's stories of Dero(s) were picked up and adapted/corrected by the artist Jermaine Rogers, who is mostly known for band posters. Speaking of rock art, Richard Shaver later focused on what he called rock books.
By the late 1950s, the fan clubs had disbanded and Richard S. Shaver was largely forgotten. Living in rural Wisconsin before settling finally in Summit, Arkansas, his continuing search for physical artifacts of the antediluvian civilizations led to his discovery of rock books. He postulated that the ancients had developed equipment to embed multi-dimensional imagery in stone; they also produced “penetrative light” viewing devices that would project these rock pictures into three-dimensional scenes, somewhat akin to a modern hologram. The pictorial content that Shaver identified in these rocks is dense and complex. Different images reveal themselves at every angle of view and every level of magnification; pictures mingle with ancient graphic symbols and typography in what he called “the most fascinating exhibition of virtuosity in art existent on earth.”
Richard Shaver didn't receive any attention for his rock books during his life. He has only gained any notoriety as an outsider artist after his death in 1975.
posted by filthy light thief (16 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Huh. I did not know that the superhero The Atom was named Ray Palmer the editor. Great post as usual.
posted by benzenedream at 11:35 PM on July 6, 2017

An odd bit of trivia concerning one of the other works mentioned (Bulwer-Lytton's "Vril: The Power of the Coming Race") is that probably the most lasting influence it has had was being responsible for the name of the UK's bouillon-like product Bovril.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:38 AM on July 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

In 1932, Richard Sharpe Shaver was employed as a welder in a car factory. One day, his welding-gun began talking to him
It seems pretty clear that Richard Shaver suffered from some form of paranoid schizophrenia. He really did believe that his life was being controlled by unseen forces from deep underground caverns. He heard voices ...

Paranoid schizophrenia?

Welders are notoriously exposed to high levels of manganese fumes, and manganese is associated with a form of dementia, Lewy body dementia, which is misdiagnosed as psychosis as much as half the time.

But what really strikes me as strange is that, if manganese exposure was causing his delusions, then in fact, his life truly "was being controlled by unseen forces from deep underground caverns", since that's where metal ores come from.

Which means that his delusions can be construed as a factually correct message from his unconscious (couched in typically metaphorical terms) that he was being poisoned by metal fumes on the job.
posted by jamjam at 12:41 AM on July 7, 2017 [98 favorites]

"was being controlled by unseen forces from deep underground caverns", since that's where metal ores come from.

posted by sebastienbailard at 2:38 AM on July 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

jamjam: That's a totally S-Town explanation, and feels intuitively true.
posted by hippybear at 3:51 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Shaver Mystery has been my jam of late. If you have any interest in fringe/saucerian literature of the 60s, then it's worth doing a dive into the Shaver Mystery. This stuff is sort of an ur-text when it comes to the fringe and you can see how aspects of it wormed their way into "modern" conspiracy theory (chemtrails, Hollow Earth, ancient aliens, etc).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:59 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

My browser is telling me I've already clicked that Wikipedia link yet I have no recollection of doing so or who Mr. Shaver was.

Now I'm a little worried.
posted by tommasz at 5:31 AM on July 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'd heard of the Dero because Jack Womack wrote (a mention of) them into Elvissey.
posted by Catblack at 5:49 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I first came to Shaver while in university when I read about someone trying to sell Shaver's writing shack and some of his original rock books. I'd never heard of him but as soon as I began to dip my toe into that world I was hooked.

Related but a bit different, noted occultist Carroll "Poke" Runyon made an occult sci-fi film called Beyond Lemuria based very loosely on the Shaver mystery (along with everything else in the junk drawer of the occult). Recommended for fans of outré cinema.

The "trailer" and the full movie.

While it is true that Ray Palmer pushed the connection between Shaver and UFOs it is noted fortean journalist John Keel (previously) who helped champion that connection, particularly in his article "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers".
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:59 AM on July 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Sometimes you bump into something and it totally rearranges something else you thought you understood. Forgive the enormous derail...

Welders are notoriously exposed to high levels of manganese fumes

The Condition of Post-Modernity is one of my favorite texts because of my affinity for the topic and my appreciation of Harvey as a lucid writer. He concludes one of his chapters this way:

Deleuze and Guattari, applauded by Foucault, likewise recommend that we accommodate to the fact that 'everywhere capitalism sets in motion schizo-flows that animate "our" arts and "our" sciences, just as they congeal into the production of "our own" sick, the schizophrenics.' Revolutionaries, they advise, 'should carry out their undertakings along the lines of the schizo process,' because the schizophrenic 'has become caught up in a flux of desire that threatens the social order.' If this is indeed the case, then I am left contemplating the following account from the Associated Press, 27 December 1987, as a possible epitaph on 'our' civilization:

"Mr. Dobben had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic...On Thanksgiving Day, the police say, Mr. Dobben took his two sons, Bartley Joel, 2 years old, and Peter David, 15 months old, to the Cannon-Muskegon Corporation foundry where he worked and put them inside a giant ladle used to carry molten metal. He then heated it to 1,300 degrees while his wife, unknowing, waited outside in the car. Now Bartley James Dobben, 26, sits under suicide surveillance."

In case this be thought a too extreme vision, I quote also Kenny Scharf (an East Village 'Day-Glo' painter) whose sequence of paintings of Estelle escaping time-space compression with a one-way ticket to outer space has her, in the final picture, 'just kind of having fun by herself, floating and watching the world blow up' (Taylor, 1987, 123). And if that is judged too imaginary, then I quote Alan Sugar, Chairman of the Amstrad Corporation: 'If there was a market in mass-produced portable nuclear weapons then we'd market them too.'

Now. Were manganese fumes at play in Mr. Dobben's condition? Hard to say, but possibly. Given Harvey's studiousness, is there a chance he was aware of these types of effects, but still used the story for its engrossing details? Possibly, but unlikely. In the grand scheme of things does this little factoid really provide any dent in Harvey's larger critique of modern capitalist culture? Of course not.

But I'm human, my brain is inherently narrative driven and meaning seeking and when I synthesized Harvey's abstractions in all their complexity and grandeur, I took away a peace. Because I felt like I understood Harvey, and he understood what he was talking about, and had done his homework, and this bit of reality, well, it was all sewn up and taken care of. For me. For now. It's one of the virtues of writing and language is that it creates this Maginot Line of safety from the complexity of The World Out There. Until it doesn't.

And now because of this random link on mefi, this map of reality of mine has a blot on it. It's been gaslit (however unintentionally, which is always most effective) and now I'm starting to wonder about other references and uses of economic statistics, etc.

I guess what I'm saying is, thanks for nothing filthy light thief.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:15 AM on July 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

MetaFilter: thanks for nothing

Yeah, I'm passing the buck/ spreading the blame. Because of the July Best Post contest, specifically frimble's quest for weirdness, I went to see if anyone had posted about Stanislav Szukalski, and yes, they had. But in searching for Szukalski material, and before I checked for prior posts, I found this review of an art exhibit that paired Szukaliski with Shaver, so I went looking for more information on Shaver, and here we are.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:08 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

This stuff is sort of an ur-text when it comes to the fringe and you can see how aspects of it wormed their way into "modern" conspiracy theory

I've long wondered how much Scientology owes to Shaver. A lot, I suspect, tho I've never read of any direct influence.

(Of course, many modern conspiracy fantasies owe a lot to Theosophy and Gnosticism. So much of it is just warmed over Gnosticism.)
posted by octobersurprise at 10:33 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: So much of it is just warmed over Gnosticism
posted by hippybear at 11:27 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

It occurs to me that Jack Kirby's Deviants, and maybe even the Eternals, are influenced in part by Shaver's stories; I'd previously thought that Kirby was just riffing off of Chariots of the Gods?. Shaver's stories would have started publication not long after Kirby had started his own career in comics.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on July 7, 2017

I've never heard of any definitive evidence of a connection between the Shaver Mystery and Kirby. It certainly has been suggested that he was aware of them and he definitely seems to have channeled some of the same ideas. The Eternals is the obvious comic with the connection but you could make an argument for the Mole Man and some of his more wilder 70's ideas that pop up in his run of Machine Man and other oddball titles.
posted by Ashwagandha at 2:52 PM on July 7, 2017

After some digging I found this article on Richard Shaver's writing shack. The article mentions the attempts at selling the damaged shack on ebay.
posted by Ashwagandha at 3:06 PM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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