23.11.14

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Greg Taylor (Editor). Dark Lore VIII. Daily Grail Publishing, 2014.

This is the latest in the annual series of compilations of essays on a wide range of paranormal, fortean and anomalistic topic.

Mike Jay's article, 'Dreaming While Awake' discusses a topic that is at the heart of many Fortean and 'Magonian' phenomena - hallucination. Although simply meaning perceptions that have no external stimuli, the word has become so overladen with negative meanings that researchers are reluctant to use it as an explanation for the kinds of phenomena under discussion. Jay discusses how the word was first used as an attempt to secularise visionary phenomena, particularly in connection with Charles Bonnet syndrome, but it increasingly became a way of pathologising such visions, aquiring an almost totally negative connotation. By the twentieth century hallucinations were seen almost entirely in the context of mental disorder to some degree, but Jay argues that the visionary experience is a normal part of the working of the human brain, producing a 'virtual reality'.

Martin Shough's article on ball-lighting will be familiar to Magonia readers, as it is based on his article, A Social History of Ball Lightning, published in Magonia 81, May 2003. He describes the way in which a controversial phenomenon with many analogies to the UFO phenomenon has received scientific respectability, despite displaying most of the characteristics that have meant that UFOs have lurked permanently on the edges of science.

We have recently reviewed the revival of interest in the complex character Richard Shaver, with the recent anthology and biographical study by Richard Toronto, and a study of Ray Palmer's involvement in the 'Shaver Mystery' by Fred Nadis. Blair Mackenzie Blake here gives a sympathetic review of Shaver's life and works and his ambiguous relationship with Palmer. He asks if Shaver's nightmare descriptions of the subterranean world of the dero and their mind-scrambling technology might be a unconscious analogue of his experiences in the Ionia Asylum for the Criminally Insane, where he may have undergone electro-convulsive therapy. With the republication of two books of Shaver's 'rock pictures' we seem to be in the middle of a major re-evaluation of Shaver's contributions to science fiction, conspiracy theory and Fortean thought. I think we will hear much more of him.

The porous boundary between fiction and belief is also touched on in 'Believing in Fiction', by Ian 'Cat' Wilson Vincent [see comment, below]. He looks at how religious and philosophical belief systems have entered into the real world from popular cultural sources. He cautiously avoids L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics, Jack Parsons and the OTO, noting that they did not derive their systems from one particular work. Instead he dates the start of 'hyper-real beliefs' from the Church of All Worlds, derived from Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land. He follows the theme through Kenneth Grant's occult Tryphonian Trilogy, which influenced many occult practitioners, particularly through 'chaos magic'. Perhaps the most widely know 'hyper-real' religion is Jedi, from the Star Wars universe, which seems to be on the verge of becoming boringly mainstream. Later films like Matrix and Avatar also seem to be developing cultist followers; and finally to Slenderman, which is perhaps transforming from a internet meme to a dark sacrificial cult.

Joanne Conman's demolition of the accepted story of Egyptioan astrology and Robert Schoch's cosmological analysis of the cult of Mithras and the Gobleki Tepe remains are beyond my competence to judge, and I will leave it to others. Other archaeological topics covered include discussion of a remarkable structure in Indonesia, which may be a natural feature, an artificial structure or some sort of combination of the two. Martin Clemens description of the 'Mountain of Light' draws links to Churchward's Mu, and almost inevitably, Gobleki Tepe. It also provides an interesting example of the politicisation of archaeology.

Closer to home, in 'Walking in the Shadow of Death' Lucy Ryder looks at the 'corpse roads' which cross the English countryside (indeed one passes the front door of Magonia Towers!) Also on the theme of pathways to the grave, Dark Lore editor Greg Taylor presents an enlightening review of strange light phenomena witnessed at the moment of an individual's death, and considers if they may have an objective source.

Life beyond death is looked at in 'Life, Death and Raymond' by Robert Schoch, examining the death of Raymond Lodge, son of physicist and SPR grandee Sir Oliver Lodge, and the evidence it was said to present in favour of survival. Other chapters look at the Tibetan Book of the Dead; and in 'Portals of Strangeness' Raymond Grasse asks what Fortean phenomena, whatever their origins, actually mean in the modern world.

Like all the other titles in this series, it is unlikely that any one reader will find every article is of equal interest, but they will certainly find enough of interest to them to make this a very worthwhile addition to their Fortean library. -- John Rimmer


21.11.14

CREEPY TALES

Joshua P Warren and Andrea Saarkoppel. It Was a Dark and Creepy Night: Real Life Encounters With the Strange, Mysterious and Downright Terrifying. New Page, 2014

This collection of about 150 brief “told as true” stories, shows how folklore in the US (and I assume elsewhere) is increasingly mingling traditional themes such as crisis apparitions, haunted houses, premonitions etc., with themes derived from popular media, examples of the latter including shadow beings, reptoids and I think I detect a hint of Slenderman in some stories.

The lack of any attempt at verification means these stories will have little value for the psychical researcher. There are also issues for the folklorist, in that the role of the authors (note not editors) clearly goes far beyond a simple tidying of language, grammar and spelling, to “slight embellishment could be provided to flesh out descriptive details”, so that we don’t know if the drama in some of the more dramatic stories comes from the original narrator or from the authors/editors.

That being said, this collection really is for entertainment only and lies in the honourable tradition of the folk storyteller and there is no doubt that many of these tales are appropriately creepy! - Peter Rogerson


18.11.14

BELIEF AND BELIEVING IN ET

David A. Weintraub. Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It? Springer, 2014

Although the title suggests that this book is solely concerned with religious attitudes to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, it also gives a detailed survey of the methods used by astronomers to attempt to discover extrasolar planets and to identify any that might be capable of supporting life.

Weintraub begins by giving an account of the history of thinking about the possibilty of other worlds, which began, in the west, "with the birth of rational science in the form of metaphysics and philosophy", in the sixth century BCE, when Aristotle summed up the results of several centuries of Greek philosophy and concluded that we are alone in the universe. This conclusion was based on the belief that Earth was composed of four elements -- earth, water, air and fire. Beyond Earth's atmosphere the universe was made entirely of a fifth element, aether. According to Aristotle aether is perfect, eternal, unchangeable and immutable, thus making it impossible for life to develop.
 
Not everyone agreed with him of course, but his belief that Earth was the centre of the universe and the only abode of life remained highly influential until the work of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) supporting, with astronomical observations and mathematical calculations, the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun. His calculations enabled astronomers to predict future celestial events, and enabled Jesuit astronomers to reform the Julian calendar, this being adopted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, thus becoming known as the Gregorian calendar, which is still in use today.

As scientific observations, theory and speculation gradually started to replace theological arguments in thinking about extraterrestrial life, it was eventually realised that it was extremely unlikely that intelligent beings could exist elsewhere in the solar sytem. The next stage in the search for alien life was thus based on the search for extrasolar planets, which gradually became more practicable with the development of the necessary technology.

We are given an interesting account of the discovery of these planets, beginning with the first, inevitably unsuccessful, attempts. In 1963 astronomer Peter van de Kamp claimed to have discovered a planet 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter orbiting one of the nearest stars, known as Barnard's Star. Other astronomers failed to cofirm this. However, in 1995, astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, announced that they had found a Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the star 51 Pegasi. This time their discovery was confirmed by other astronomers, and about 50 exoplanets had been discovered by 2000. In December 2013 the number had reached 1,056 exoplanets in 802 planetary systems.

These results and other work, such as studies of the composition of meteorites, suggest that there must be many planets where life as we know it here on Earth would be possible.

Part II of this book is devoted to discussion of religious beliefs about extraterrestrial life, by which is usually meant intelligent life. It will probably become obvious to most readers that this subject, in most religions, is of concern mainly to a minority of theologians, and that most of them obviously cannot think of anything interesting to say about it.

Weintraub starts with Judaism. There is very little in Jewish scripture that might be interpreted to refer to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. He notes, however, that Rabbi Hasdai Crescas (1340-1410), in his philosophical work Light of the Lord, writes that space is infinite, and thus contains a potentially infinite number of worlds, and there is nothing in physics, nor in scriptural or Talmudic writings that can deny the existence of extraterrestrial life. The general consensus of Jewish thinkers is that the God of Judaism is universal, but Judaism is only for humans on Earth.

The discusion on Christianity is mainly concerned with Roman Catholicism, before going on to describe the thinking of other Christian sects. Most of the arguments about the possibility of intelligent life on other worlds are concerned with the question of whether Jesus died only to redeem Earth people from the guilt of original sin. This posed the problems of trying to imagine alternative means by which intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe could attain salvation. Of course, an easy way out would be to assume that no such beings exist. Weintraub remarks: "A few modern thinkers have tried to address this issue, though most of them have devoted very little thought to solving the theological problems".

Protestant Christians generally accept the possibility of extraterrestrials, but think it unlikely that they would have a similar religion. The more fundamentalist varieties of Christianity base their ideas of interpreting the Bible on it being literally true and unfailingly accurate. They thus believe that there is no extraterrestrial life.

Islamic scholars have noted that the Qu'ran states that the Earth is not the only world that God has created. For example, verse 42:29 states: "And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered among them: and He has power to gather them together when He wills". So Islam generally accepts the idea of extraterrestrial life but, like most other religions, cannot agree on what forms religions might take on other worlds.

Hinduism and Buddhism deal with ideas and beliefs very different from those of most westerners. For example, in Hinduism the amount of good or bad karma generated during one's life can determine how one will be reborn. Thus one need not necessarily be reborn on Earth.

Probably most people who read this book will believe that the question of extraterrestrial life is a scientific one rather than a subject for theological speculation. However, Weintraub concludes that most religions would not be adversely affected by contact with alien intelligent beings, and suggests that we can learn a lesson by thinking how we would interact with them and "learn to live more more peaceably with 'terrestrial intelligences' with which we are well acquainted and whose religious beliefs and practices differ from our own". -- John Harney


14.11.14

PRACTICAL ALCHEMY

Cathy Cobb, Monty L Fetterolf and Harold Goldwhite. The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon’s Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged. Prometheus Books, 2014.

Most students of alchemy, even those that read the mineral texts, will ultimately pursue the path of spiritual or ‘soul’ alchemy through meditation and breathing and suchlike. Some brave alchemists will seek to help the spiritual process by taking alchemical draughts and will buy distillation equipment and venture into spagyrics or plant alchemy (for example HERE) to prepare tinctures and plant ‘stones’ from herbs with a planetary or medicinal reputation. Only the very few (maybe only a couple of thousand worldwide) will make the step into mineral alchemy.

And that is what this book is about: not philosophy, nor metaphysics, nor even plant extracts. It asks us to look, in a very practical way, at the physical chemistry of the alchemists through the ages.

The authors of this book candidly tell us they are not experts on alchemy nor historians and they have relied heavily on already published material, and that their choice of (some Arabic but mostly European) alchemists to fit within their fairly random chronology was influenced a lot by the exoticness of their lives and stories. 

But the authors also announce that they are, instead, all chemists and - while telling the story of alchemy through its main characters - that the main purpose of the book lies in the twenty Demonstrations or experiments, interspersed throughout the book, based on work actually done by these alchemists. For this book, they say, may be aimed at people who have learned a bit of chemistry at school and might be feeling the urge to dust off the Erlenmeyer flasks and retorts and repeat some of the easier experiments in the alchemical repertoire.

And, on that well-meaning note, the authors launch into their first chapter: a hearty chapter about safety in the laboratory. Their intention is clear, as is their style. There is a chipper, sleeves-rolled-up breeziness about the writing that reminds one of the annual televised Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, full of whizz-bang experimentation and good-natured audience involvement.

But it would be wrong to be put off easily by the sometimes flip and lightweight style because this book has real value. Not so much for the chronological biographies nor for the development of laboratory practices and discoveries over the centuries (William Newman and Lawrence Principe have done it better) but for the intention to make the reader take this history of Alchemy into actual practice and see some of the wonders that simple chemistry, using everyday chemicals and minerals, can bring about. And mostly in the kitchen.

You would need to buy some Pyrex glassware, a few metals and a handful of chemistry-set chemicals and then, with this book, you can tinge silver into gold or make a new golden metal that might fool a careless assayer or you can make artificial emeralds and pearls! Just as miraculously, you can watch a ‘Tree of Diana’ flourish before your very eyes or you can grow a Philosophical Garden inside a flask in a demonstration that was discovered by Glauber in the 1650s. Unfortunately it is not the Philosophical Tree, made out of mercury and gold, that grew in Isaac Newton’s flask as he followed the mercury/antimony path but it is every bit as beautiful.

And this, indeed is the value of the book: to show that exploring the mineral world is not dangerous provided you take care.

The authors choose not to include mercury or antimony in any of their experiments, probably because of the volatile and toxic natures of these elements, but they do explore the three major mineral acids (sulphuric, nitric and hydrochloric). The caution might be well-founded because magickal historians will remember that, some decades ago, the occultist Jack Parsons, who was killed in an explosion at this home, is said to have accidentally blown himself up with Mercury Fulminate, a chemical made simply by mixing nitric acid and mercury.

The twenty Demonstrations, together with other pieces of alchemical labwork scattered in the book, eventually become 44 separate chemical experiments. They range from the trivial (making of invisible ink from lemon or onion juice) to the potentially industrial (making of metal alloys) and, on the way, they cross over all the traditional alchemical territory of gold-plating, silver-plating and the making of precious stones.

All the classical metals are there, bar lead and mercury (presumably because of their toxicity) and copper will be tinged silver by zinc and silver will be tinged gold by iron, tin will be made to look like gold and zinc and tin will form beautiful alloys. 

But also there are the basic chemicals that have always featured in the recipes from the Alchemical Cookbook: Alum (aluminium sulphate), Saltpetre (potassium/sodium nitrate), Vitriol (Copper/Iron Sulphate), Sal Ammoniac (Ammonium Chloride), Common Salt (Sodium Chloride), Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate), Lime (Calcium Hydroxide) and Vinegar (Acetic Acid). Of that list of chemicals, only Vitriol does not have a traditional kitchen or a culinary function as well as its role in the laboratory.

This reviewer is one of those whose practical use of alchemy has extended only into plant alchemy or spagyrics (though they may, over the years, have acquired small stocks of thing like antimony and mercury). However, now they have a couple of simple experiments in process from this book. The world of mineral experimentation is beginning to open!

And this is surely the destiny of this book even as it announces it itself in its Introduction: it wants to bring people into practical mineral chemistry as a way of exploring the miracles of the world around us and the life we are living but also as a pathway to guide us back to the practices and the mindsets of our esoteric ancestors and forebears. That is praiseworthy.

There is one other particular thing to praise about the book and a couple of things to quibble about - but not to the extent that they should undermine the value of the book in its purpose. The praise goes to the coverage of women alchemists, including Mary the Jewess (who invented the bain-marie), Anna Zieglerin (who died horribly for making fraudulent claims) and Anne of Denmark (who made medicines on an almost industrial scale).

The quibbles come from the easy-going style of the narrative. Paracelsus is a larger-than-life character and idea of a homunculus (a miniature humanlike creature, made in a laboratory) is a sure crowd-pleaser. But it has been questioned for many years if the recipe for a homunculus was, as our authors insist, the product of Paracelsus’ own quill:
"That the sperm of a man be putrefied by itself in a sealed cucurbit for forty days with the highest degree of putrefaction in a horse’s womb, or at least so long that it comes to life and moves itself, and stirs, which is easily observed. After this time, it will look somewhat like a man, but transparent, without a body. If, after this, it be fed wisely with the Arcanum of human blood, and be nourished for up to forty weeks, and be kept in the even heat of the horse’s womb, a living human child grows therefrom, with all its members like another child, which is born of a woman, but much smaller.” (De Natura Rerum)
The other quibble might be more fundamental.

There is the airy confidence in this book that the sought-after mystical element that figures so largely in alchemical theory: the substance that descends in the air, the ‘aerial saltpetre’, the ‘materia prima’ or, maybe, ‘the water that does not wet the hands’ was simply the element oxygen: the gas that Lavoisier/Priestly/Scheele discovered in the early 1770s. To this end, the authors tell of alchemist after alchemist who came so close to discovering the new element (oxygen) and yet who missed the possibility, blinded perhaps by the theory of phlogiston, first posited in the 1660s. 

But, if that were the case, why – 250 years on - are the world’s alchemists still carefully laying out their trays of minerals in the springtime and in the autumn to collect the dew? Because the aerial saltpetre is altogether more nebulous and aethereal than even an invisible gas. The ‘Universal Fire’ which is alchemy’s prima materia is not an element but a primal quintessence (http://www.sacred-texts.com/alc/catena1.htm).

The book is a slightly bumpy read (written, as it is, by three authors) and is educational rather than ground-breaking but it is unique in its mission: no other alchemical book in the marketplace actively encourages one to begin the practice. And that is the point of alchemy that differentiates it from other esoteric paths: yes, there is a magickal metaphysic surrounding it but at the core is the call to do the work, the Great Work – whatever it means to you – and only by doing the work will you find the Philosopher’s Stone.

This book tells you how to do the work of alchemy. -- Caroline Robertson.
 

11.11.14

CONSPIRACY QUARTET

Emma A. Jane and Chris Fleming. Modern Conspiracy: The Importance of Being Paranoid. Bloomsbury, 2014.

Andrew May. Conspiracy: A History of the World for Conspiracy Theorists. Bretwalda Books, 2014.

Andy Thomas. Conspiracies: The Facts, The Theories, The Evidence. Watkins Books, 2013.

Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent. American Conspiracy Theories .Oxford University Press, 2014.

In a dangerous and uncertain world it is perhaps not surprising that conspiracy theories develop and grow. These four books present various facets of the theories and their study.
 
Two of these are academic studies. Jane and Fleming’s book is a social science study of conspiracy theories, but also, unusually, of their critics, such as Daniel Pipes, Richard Thompson and David Aaronovitch., which in some respects present mirror images. Their argument is that even though the specifics of individual theories are often false, or indeed nonsense, their persistence is something worthy of social importance.
 
Uschinski and Parent trace the history of such theories in America, pointing out that the very foundation of state was based on a conspiracy theory, that of the conspiracy by King George to destroy the liberties of the people. Using letters to the editor of the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, they examine the development of such theories since the late nineteenth century. The result is an incredibly diverse set of suspected conspirators, covering nine columns and including; Anti-Sacharine men, anti-saloon league, Boers, the Bosnian government, construction workers, Croatian extremists, ice companies, Christian Scientists, Christian scientists, Pacifica Foundation, plumbers, silver interests, Wall Street gamblers and Mozart, not forgetting Filipino friars. They also use polling data to analyse the background of the those who believe in such theories.
 
On a more popular level, in his small book Andrew May traces the history of conspiracies, real and imagined, showing how far these go back into history; including for example the popish plot, the gunpowder plot, the murder of Edward I, the death of Napoleon etc.
 
Andy Thomas presents a very much insider view of conspiracy theories, identifying himself with the 'truth seeker community' and taking on many of the usual suspects.
 
Of course there are conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories. There are real conspiracies, usually be small groups of people and some of the more unpleasant are those undertaken by middle managers of various kinds who think they are going to please their bosses (and instead end up hugely embarrassing them). As Jane and Fleming point out, real life conspiracies are rarely plotted out in advance, rather they are reactions to events, and grow in complexity as attempts to cover up what usually started as cock-ups become more desperate. They take Watergate as an example, but if there is a conspiracy involved in the assassination of John F Kennedy it is likely to be of this character.
 
Having studied the Kennedy assassination for years, I am no further from knowing whether he was assassinated by a lone assassin Oswald or by what we would now call a terrorist cell, whether of the left or right. My own suspicion is that either way, the thing was known about in advance and the plan was to let it run to the wire, to provide Kennedy, in confidence, with evidence he could use to blackmail Khrushchev into abandoning Castro to the fate that was being planned for him in a few weeks time. Something went horribly wrong and the president really was shot, with the result that loads of people had to do an awful lot of backside covering. Many of the historical conspiracies related by May seem to fall into that category.
 
Though many of the conspiracies are ancient, the “conspiracy theories” about them are often relatively modern, and often date from the post Kennedy assassination era. Some of the various conspiracy theories surrounding the Lusitania or Pearl Harbour Fall into that category. A typical example might be the various conspiracy theories surrounding “Jack the Ripper”. In reality it isn’t even at all clear that there was a single Whitechapel murderer, the canonical five murders may have had two or three separate culprits, but even if there was just one, he was almost certainly a working class East Ender aged between 25-40, who was probably known to his victims and not perceived as a threat, and certainly not the Duke of Clarence, J. K. Stephen, James Maybrick, Arthur Balfour, Lewis Carroll or Montague Druitt; and probably not one of the “foreign” suspects either, nor someone perceived as so mad as to be incarcerated.
 
These real conspiracies and 'petty' conspiracy theories are quite separate from full grown mega conspiracy theories. These often involve at the lowest level, huge baroque operations, which would require hundreds of people to be involved. The sheer complexity of faking the moon landing, would, as Jane and Fleming point out, require far more effort, expense and expertise that actually getting people to the moon. Imagine the effort and planning needed to fake all the evidence in the Kennedy assassination, or the fake 9/11, or as they also point out, 'Obama is not American' conspiracy theorists have to end up arguing that Obama’s grandparents must have planned in advance when he was a baby to fake the evidence that would be needed so he could run for president nearly fifty years later!
 
The step beyond this is the sort of mega-conspiracy theory which argues that all of history is a fraud, that the guardians of society of really its secret enemies, or that all the pain, heartache and suffering in the world is caused by the terrible others. In a sense this must be comforting, to believe that everything that goes wrong is caused by the government or the One-World conspiracy means that there is someone in charge of events, that tragedies are not the result of terrible happenstance.
 
One of the most important features of such conspiracy theories is that the other is sufficiently like us, that they could be the people next door, or even our own relatives, or indeed ourselves. That is perhaps why Muslim Exteremists are often discounted as the conspirators, they are just too other, too niche, or just too incomprehensible to be good conspirators.
 
Of course, one cannot help feeling that for most of the people that identify themselves as truth seekers, this is play-paranoia, essentially a form of entertainment on a par with computer games. This certainly seems to be the cases with books like Thomas’s. Does anyone really believe that the Queen is an alien shape shifter for example, or that alien hybrids are planning to take over the world? Surely this, at least, is the stuff of computer games. When the play ends, terror begins. Hitler really believed that the Jews posed a total existential threat and acted on that belief with appalling consequences, and the real fear with conspiracy theories is that someone out there will indeed really believe them.
 
Paranoia is one of the those words, like fascism which is often banded around promiscuously, not least by people like Aaronovitch or Pipes, to delegitimise anyone who is opposed to the neo-con world view. The real thing can however be truly terrifying.
 
Truth Seeker is another term which seems to be much overused; one gets the impression that the only truth these people are seeking is one which confirms their own belief systems, which all too often involve Judeophobia, as witness if you enter 'Truthseeker' into Google.
 
There are of course equally dangers in the blanket repudiation of all talk of conspiracy, I am sure that a year or two ago David Aaronovitch would have assured us that any talk of the police fabricating evidence in the Hillsborough tragedy, conspiring to fit up a cabinet minister, having sex with women in order to infiltrate opposition groups (morally if not legally getting close to rape) was so much nonsense. After all we are British and we don’t do that sort of thing. -- Peter Rogerson.

 


8.11.14

I-SPY

Here's a puzzle for our eagle-eyed readers in London. The 'flying saucer' in my picture below is a decorative feature on a house somewhere in London. The first person to identify its location will win a copy of We Are Not Alone, Why We Have Already Found Extraterrestrial Life, by Dirk Schilze-Makuch, described by John Harney in his review as "a good introduction to astrobiology".

Here's a closer view from another direction:
 
Use the 'Comments' link below to send your answers, with your address.
 
Well, that didn't last long, largely due to my own carelessness in not changing the names of the jpeg files before loading them onto the blog! A quick right-click on your mouse would reveal that the photograph was taken in Hammersmith, as two people have now been quick to inform me. Thanks Tom and  someone calling themselves 'blutack' (I think I know who you are!). The decorative feature shown in the picture is above the bay windows on a house on Hammersmith Upper Mall, overlooking the Thames in West London. You can see the location fully at the link below. It is the modern building to the left of the large Georgian house, Kelmscott, which houses the headquarters of the William Morris Society in the small coach-house between the two buildings.
 
 
It is a remarkable piece of decoration, and if anybody has any idea what might be behind it, we'd be very glad to hear from them.
 
 

5.11.14

LOST PROPERTY

Daniel Smith. 100 Things You Will Never Find: Lost Cities, Hidden Treasures and Legendary Quests, Quercus, 2014.

There is something about reviewing this book that brings on a sense of déjà vu. I seem to remember ruminating upon things that were lost a short while back on these very pages. Some things one may be able to find after all. Also things may be unobtainable because they never existed in the first place or they may not have been what they were generally perceived to be at all and we have all been looking in the wrong place. This is the frame of mind, then, that the reader is advised to approach this title.

The book itself is, by its very nature, something of a general work. Many mainstream and obvious subjects are covered, such as the Loch Ness Monster, the Mary Celeste and so on. There are many illustrations; they are so plentiful they rival the text itself. The intriguing cover picture shows an underwater scene of shattered fluted columns, thus emphasising the air of mystery, evoking lost lands and drawing the reader in. The subjects that are unfindable cover the widest range possible, from legendary cities and people to comparatively modern vessels and artefacts. The only common denominator is that the subjects in question are not readily available to us today. The title itself sends out a challenge which is difficult to resist. The temptation is to head straight for the Contents page and to search out something that can, or has, been successfully located.*

This has all of the positive and negative qualities of this type of book. There is a very wide range for the seeker after mystery, and the subjects are covered in a page or two, large pictures (which are rather attractive in themselves) permitting. There is an index, but no bibliography. The subjects themselves are not grouped by similarity. Then, of course, there is the actual writing. Whilst the prose is easy and engaging, most of the theories for the non-availability of a hundred things are quite orthodox. There’s nothing outlandish; no alien intervention or wilder conspiracy theories here. However, there are one or two facts that have gone awry. The author claims that The Da Vinci Code was influenced by The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail whereas the court case (Baigent and Leigh v. Random House) disclosed that the book that shaped Dan Brown’s creativity was, in fact, The Templar Revelation. The section on the Holy Grail did not adequately address the fact that, as far as anyone knows, it is purely fictional and that the closest we may come to it is the artefact that seems to have influenced the original tale by Chrétien de Troyes, the Patène de Serpentine, currently located in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

This tome is obviously meant as a popular stocking-filler, coming out in time for the festive season. The high level of illustration would back that up. However, if anyone does get this for someone who enjoys the romance of objects that have passed beyond our ability to retrieve them, then some other reading around the subject is required. Having been somewhat harsh, however, it is a pleasing volume, and it is books like these general works that can turn many a mind on to the numinous, liminal world of Forteana. -- Trevor Pyne.

* Since this book was published one of the ships from Franklin's doomed 1845 expedition to navigate the North-West Passage has been located by Canadian searchers.


2.11.14

PASTA JOKE

Stan Friedman enhances his reputation as a Serious UFO Researcher by taking on one of the major issues confronting ufology today:



  • Many thanks to the now-legendary Terry the Censor for alerting us to this gem.

MAGONIA RECOMMENDS