24.8.15

PSI, ESP, UFO, A-Z

Matt Cardon (editor). Ghosts, Spirits and Psychics: The Paranormal From Alchemy to Zombies. ABC-CLIO, 2015.

There have been various attempts to contrast an encyclopaedia or quasi encyclopaedia of what might loosely be called the 'paranormal' over the years. It is not to an easy task to say the least. Compiling encyclopaedias where there is at the least a consensus that the topic exists is hard enough, especially where there are differing interpretations and outlooks. It gets much harder when there is no agreement as to whether the subjects of the encyclopaedia, or at least some of them, actually exist. The normal criteria for evaluating reference books (the ones used by librarians in olden days when there were such things and they actually selected books) such as comprehensiveness, authority, up to dateness, neutrality and readability are often harder to apply.

The contents page (http://publisher.abc-clio.com/9781610696845/shows what a wide range of topics this book is aiming to cover and that in itself will cause controversy, many parapsychologists bitterly resent their subject, which they see as a science, being associated with topics such as astrology and ritual magic. A further problem that this sort of approach brings is that coverage often has to be drawn with a very broad brush. 

While sections of this book are clearly just such a broad brush, others seem very specific, and the whole seems more like an almost random collection of essays rather than a clearly planned encyclopaedia. That’s not to say that the essays are bad; some are clearly by people who know what they are talking about; Christopher French on anomalistic psychology; Caroline Watt on parapsychology; Roger Luckhurst on psychical research; Callum Cooper on electronic voice phenomenon (sic) or Roger Sherwood on animals and the paranormal, though this latter tries to cover too many disparate themes in one article.

The other extreme is represented by no fewer than four essays on poltergeists; the main one plus 'witchcraft and poltergeists', vampires and poltergeists' (?!) and the Enfield poltergeist; surely these belong just as sub-headings in the main article. I would have thought that the articles on 'apparitions', 'ghosts' and 'hauntings' could also have been brought together.

The coverage of ufology is poor; the main article is too general and its 'bibliography' a joke; the one on abductions rather better. Other related articles are on John Keel, Whitley Strieber and Jacques Vallee, but none of these give the impression that the author has any great background knowledge of the subject.

As with many of these works, it is with the biographical entries that the thing really falls on its face; the names seemed to be picked out of a hat; are they meant to be people important in the development of parapsychology, or influential in popular culture. Neither applies to Stan Gooch, and I could easily think of at least a hundred people more worthy of entry.

All in all a good try that is greatly hampered by lack of a clear editorial direction and appreciation of what and who are important in the field. -- Peter Rogerson.


20.8.15

FIRST READ - MIRACLE VISITORS

A book can have an impact even though you first read it many years after publication. Ian Watson's Miracle Visitors was published nearly 40 years ago, and it had a major affect on some British ufologists at the time. Jenny Randles wrote about it in her book Mind Monsters, and noted a number of coincidences between the fiction events in Miracle Visitors and the UFO abduction that she was investigating at the time of its publication. She features it in her 1997 book Alien Contact, describing is as "the best attempt yet to dramatise the extraordinary complexity of alien contact without resorting to cliches of little green men and spaceships".

Magonia contributor David Sivier gives his views on the novel after coming across it for the first time recently 

This was first published in 1978, but reissued 12 years or so ago by Gollancz as an SF classic, along with Ian Watson's The Jonah Kit. I picked it up a year or so ago in one of the remainder bookshops in Cheltenham. It's an unusual book. It's heroes aren't the square-jawed conquerors of space of the space operas of Pulp SF, but ordinary mortals in the present day trying to grapple with the UFO phenomenon and its devastating effect on their lives. Several of the characters are university lecturers and students, so that it has something in common with the campus novels of Oliver Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury, if those authors had only had their characters whisked into space aboard alien craft, and then tried to muddle their way through the great secrets of this universe.

Which is what makes it weird.

Not because of its ideas - much of SF is about the ultimate nature of reality and the place of humanity in the cosmos. It's weird because it's a work of literary SF about UFOs, which actually takes its subject seriously. Despite the massive impact ufology has had on popular culture, literary science fiction, as opposed to the pulps and comics, has tended to avoid it. Some of the hard SF writers, who rooted their works in solid science, were particularly hostile to ufology. Arthur C. Clarke was horrified at one point when he was talking to Stanley Kubrick about making a science fiction film, when it looked like the great director wanted to make a monster movie, or one about UFOs. Clarke persuaded him against this, and the result was the classic 2001.

Miracle Visitors is also a novel of ideas, which shares that movie's interest in the achievement of cosmic transcendence. I found it an optimistic book. It deals realistically with the confusion and bewilderment experienced by UFO witnesses, contactees and abductees, and the fact that much of the phenomenon is indeed bewildering gibberish that you're probably best off ignoring and should get on with your life instead. But it also portrays the phenomenon as a genuinely transformative experience that can lead a very few - the elect initiates - to genuine cosmic knowledge and transcendence.

Like Clarke's and Kubrick's masterpiece, it's a work of techno-mysticism, which I found more compelling than the genuine UFO religions like Unarius and the Aetherius Society. Unlike them, the book isn't concerned with re-incarnation, and the 'Space Brothers' - the Gebraudi - don't belong to a galactic federation and aren't remotely humanoid.



It's also optimistic and positive in that it draws on elements of Islam, though incorporated into a non- but not anti-Muslim view of the universe's ultimate reality, without seeking to promote controversy. Its Sufi characters are modern, scientifically-literate Egyptians, whose ancient mysticism offers a clue to getting a handle on this most modern form of mystical experience. That comes from a time before 9/11, when instead of a 'Clash of Civilisations', the world was looking forward to a process of mutual enrichment from the encounters between its myriad cultures. If there is a genuine unexplained supernormal aspect to the UFO phenomenon, rather than a myth created by misperception, anomalous psychology and outright hoaxes, then it would be much better for it to be something like that depicted by Watson than the Manichaean terrors and malign tricks of the Abductionists and Keel.

The book is about a psychology professor specialising in altered states of consciousness reached through hypnosis, John Deacon, who takes on the case of a student, Michael, who had years before had his own intimate encounter with an alien seductress, Luvah, years before. He has subsequently forgotten this, but remembers it during his hypnotic session with Deacon. They are joined by Barry Shriver, an American Ufologist and former AAF pilot, who bears more than a little resemblance to John Keel. Following Shriver, they view the UFO phenomenon as part of the same force that has created angels, fairies and gods over the centuries.

They then encounter supposedly real aliens, the Gebraudi, who inform them that the Unidentifieds, as they call them, are the creation of Whole Planet Life - the sum of the consciousness created by all the organisms on Earth. Every planet has its own Unidentifieds, and they have been sent to Earth by theirs to correct and heal those of Earth. Humanity is the rational part of the web of consciousness created by Earth's ecosystem. Due to humanity's aggressive, destructive nature and decimation of the environment, Earth's unidentifieds too have become mad and destructive. This poses a danger to the local civilisations around Earth, who could be overcome and destroyed as humanity expands into the Galaxy.

The Gebraudi themselves are ecologically aware herbivores with a strong ethic of altruism, whose technology is based on harnessing the consciousness inherent in plant life as a kind of vast sensor and computer network. Their civilisation is also powered by ley lines and the dragon energy from sacred sites.

Deacon's own researches lead him to appear in Egypt, following a fugue episode, to seek the advice of an academic colleague, Muradi, who is a Sufi sheikh, the head of a mystical order called the Fihi'iya. He receives from the sheikh a copy of the grimoire, The Little Key of Solomon, whose sigils he recognises as part of a general map of the deep consciousness at the heart of reality. The novel includes speculations about UFOs being a kind of cosmic control mechanism, a kind of teleological explanation for evolution as successively complex forms of organisation in the cosmos draw the lower forms upwards to themselves by a kind of suction, the ultimate reality as a kind of cosmic void, which produces the universe and its conscious organisms through a kind of emanation, almost like the Neo-Platonist One and the interconnectedness of all minds across the universe. This seems somewhat similar to one of the ideas in Lovecraft's Through the Gate of the Silver Key.

The book is clearly influenced by the ideas of John Keel and Jaques Vallee, as well as reflecting the new trends in eco-awareness and John Mitchell's and Bruce Cathie's ideas about ley lines and nets of terrestrial power. It also reflects the late 1960's - '70's exploration of consciousness and mysticism as depicted in Ken Russell's Altered States. It also seems to have been written as part of the UFO craze following Spielberg's Close Encounters, though unlike that film, it takes a totally different approach, far more influenced by Keel's The Mothman Prophecies.

It also includes cosmic speculation on the implications of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, and the loss of information in communication from higher order intelligences to lower as part of the explanation for the incomprehensibility of UFO experiences and the visitors' messages. And there's also a touch of the holographic universe in the idea of the universe as a simulation of itself, also described as a dream dreaming itself. This seems to me to be the ultimate origin of the line 'I am the dreamer, you are the dreamed' uttered by one of the aliens in Whitley Streiber's Communion.

14.8.15

THE LIFE OF GEORGE

The Belgian ufologist Marc Hallet, in cooperation with Richard Heiden, has written a book examining the life and works of George Adamski. They have made it freely accessible on the Internet in a number of formats (I found PDF easiest to use), and we are very pleased to be able to make it available via the Magonia blog.

Marc introduces the work:

"I was a teenager in 1968 when I met May and Keith Flitcroft for the first time. May was one of the oldest co-workers of George Adamski (dead then for three years) and with her husband she headed the Belgian UFO group BUFOI. As years passed, I became more and more deeply involved in BUFOI activities, and the day came when May asked me to write a book about Adamski. I accepted. At that time I was still convinced that everything Adamski had said was true. But as I conducted my research in order to write a serious book, my certainties vanished one after another.

"We had many debates about my new discoveries. It was clear that my friends were always trying to find an explanation in order to keep their beliefs intact. This was an understandable attitude because a great part of their lives had been devoted to Adamski and his claims. For me, the situation was different and easier: I was a young man and I had no preconceived thesis or 'hero' to admire or protect. I wanted to stand only on facts. The day came when, looking at a first-generation copy of the Adamski-Rodeffer film under a microscope, I discovered it was incontestable that that film had been faked. It had a positive result in my life because after that I finally left BUFOI and became more and more a UFO skeptic.

"Since 1976, I have published a lot of critical works on ufology and all kinds of beliefs (religious or not). Except for a short text on my personal website [http://www.marc-hallet.be/Bienvenue.htm] and a chapter in the anthology UFO 1947-1997, edited by Hilary Evans and Dennis Stacy for Fortean Times, all my critical works about Adamski had been published in French. In 2013 my friend Richard Heiden (USA) offered me to help me to write - this time in English - an entirely new study about the contactee. Rich did a difficult and marvelous work, not only with the editing of the text (the way I write English requires numerous corrections) but also with many verifications and corrections of details. So here is now our book entitled A Critical Appraisal of George Adamski, the Man Who Spoke to the Space Brothers, freely downloadable here..."

https://archive.org/details/ACriticalAppraisalOfGeorgeAdamskiTheManWhoSpokeToTheSpaceBrothers



11.8.15

OOPS!

A bit out of our usual run of things, but this seemed too good to ignore:

(Credit to Guido Fawkes)

4.8.15

HAUNTING HUMPTY-DOO

Tony Healy and Paul Cropper. Australian Poltergeist: The Stone –Throwing Spook of Humpty Doo and Many Other Cases. Strange Nation, 2014.

The authors of “Out of the shadows: mystery animals of Australia” and “The Yowie” here provide a catalogue of Australian poltergeist cases and give detailed accounts of 11 of them. The largest section deals with the title case, that at the oddly named Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory, which took place from? March 1998 and into the Australian winter. (There is no precise date given). This began with stones being hurled at the occupants but then moved on to other things being hurled around, and then messages appearing, either on walls made with marker pen, or with pebbles and other artefacts arranged on the floor. There were the usual accusations of fakery and counter accusations. One puzzling feature was that when examined by heat detecting cameras the things throw showed up hot all over and not in finger like patches. The authors personally investigated this case and were clearly puzzled by it.

The second case that of the Mayanup poltergeist in West Australia from 1955-1957 involved things appearing and disappearing, floating around as well as showers of stones, objects taking off. These things took place over three properties in Mayanup, Pumphrey and Boyup Brook and also involved strange lights in the sky, sounds of cars where there were none and so on. These included reports of objects emitting beams of light. Interestingly there was a classic CE2 on the road from Kojunup to Boyup Brook in October 13 1967 when a Mr Sprago found his car engulfed in beam of light from a mushroom shaped object and while this was going on found he couldn’t even hear his own heartbeat let alone the night sounds.

At Tarcutta New South Wales in 1949 metal plates from a milking machine flew off and landed over 200m away; between 1992 and 1997 small objects seemed to appear out of nowhere and fall in a legal brothel in Canberra. At the centre of this was a woman who moved from being a civil servant to being a prostitute and committed suicide “because men were no longer captivated by her”; at Cannibal Creek Queensland in 1935 household utensils flew around and rappings and groanings were heard; at Cooyal NSW in 1887 it is stones falling apparently through the solid roof, there is a mysterious black object, chills and thumping sounds; at Newcastle NSW in 1977 noises like footsteps were heard and pictures were taken down from the walls and laid neatly down; at Alice Springs in 1989/90 socks, toys and utensils are thrown about and “footsteps” heard and a male apparition seen; Gurya NSW 1921 stone throwing again and at Coalbaggie Creek at NSW there were household items flying around and a gruff voice speaking.

The catalogue follows the same pattern and shows the preponderance of stone throwing particularly in the earlier reports, rather different from most modern cases here in the UK or USA, though stone throwing was common here in the 19th century.

When it comes to explanations I was disappointed that the authors tend to go in for spiritualist clichés rather than look for scientific explanations. Am I the only person who just thinks it’s absurd to attribute physical effects such as stone throwing or writing on walls to “disembodied intelligences” (I suspect the latter is itself a self-contradiction)

Physical effects have physical causes, and perhaps the most parsimonious explanation is that physical actions by human beings cause them. I would certainly argue that is the explanation for writing on walls, pictures being gently let down etc. You might call this trickery, but I would imagine that we are dealing with something much more complex and deep than party tricks here. It seems clear that some of these cases involve people and families in crises of one form and another. The people at Humpty Doo had just lost a close friend in a terrible accident which one would expect to lead to some form of PTSD. When you have a woman who took up as a prostitute and then killed herself because she feared she was no longer irresistible to men, it seems obvious you are dealing with someone very damaged indeed. One wonders what might lie at the heart of other cases. Poltergeists therefor lie on a spectrum that runs from “normal” teenage vandalism through to self-harm and symbolic acting out (casting stones, disorderly house, injury to the home as extended body, importation of the wilderness into the habitat etc.).

There is a problem with such a simple explanation, not the simplistic notion that a kid/these country hicks etc. couldn’t possibly know this/do that, but that if these effects are due to 'trickery' then human perception and memory are much more problematic than we would like to think. Do we experience what we expect to experience, not what is actually out there. Can human testimony be relied upon for anything, particularly of an unusual nature?



If you argue that there is more than trickery involved, that these effects are real, you may end up getting into a deeper quagmire. The next default position might be that poltergeists like other Fortean phenomena are evidence that we are, as has been seriously proposed by some physicists that we are living in some vast computer simulation, and that Fortean phenomena represent glitches in the programme. That seems to be recycled and technified Berkelian idealism, with slippery slopes to solipsism and endless regress (the simulators are themselves simulations ad infinitum). It also reeks of the old notion of attributing to “advanced intelligences” our own current preoccupations writ large.
Then there is macro PK, trouble is there is no evidence for it, and quite a lot against. If it were possible it would have been selected for and would be a quotidian part of our lives. I rather think that year after year that the moment the school holidays start up here the UK, it starts to rain and continues to do so until the kids go back to school and then the sun comes out again, as pretty much evidence against it.

We can, of course, invent almost any number of science-fictional “explanations”; our environment is pervaded by defunct alien pico-bots from the days when Earth was an alien “hey look at the big nasty creatures” theme park, and every so often something prods one or two of them into desultory action; there is a “re-coherencing mechanism” which allows access to alternate quantum realities, onr there is another brane so close to the planck length in higher dimensional bulk space that the two can overlap, or…so on till your head hurts. And that’s just the stuff we can think about.

The end result is that while trying to explain everything by “trickery” looks inadequate, none of the more exotic alternatives really work either. Despite my general scepticism I still think poltergeists are worthy of real scientific study, even if the odds are a million to one or even a billion to one against, the tantalising possibility that these events might just give a clue to an exotic energy source which could be harnessed to give an unlimited source of clean energy and advance physics by centuries makes the possible rewards worth the risk of waste. -- Peter Rogerson.


1.8.15

TWO CULTURES?

Peter Harrison. The Territories of Science and Religion. The University of Chicago Press, 2015

This book explores the history of the interactions between what we now refer to as science and religion. There is a tendency to believe that they belong to two distinct domains, and that they always have done but, as the author discusses at length, it is a modern idea to consider that science is concerned only with understanding the nature of the universe and that religion deals with questions concerning human meaning and value.

Science is believed to have its origins in ancient Greece, when philosophers began to seek rational explanations for natural phenomena. It is then believed to have suffered a setback caused by Christianity, but after its decline in the Middle Ages it was revived with the Renaissance and scientific revolution.

This version of events is dissected by Harrison who notes that the philosopher Thales of Miletus (d. 546 BC) is considered to be the founder of Western science by virtue of rejecting supernatural explanations and engaging in rational debate about the world and its operations. This was said to have made classical culture lose its nerve, and this caused the rise of mystery religions and the eventual success of Christianity. Christian writers were said to have associated Greek science with paganism and to have discouraged its practice.Thus there developed the popular notion of the clash between science and religion. Here, Harrison unsurprisingly gives us the familiar example of Galileo's problems with the Inquisition, of which many authors of popular science books have given ludicrously oversimplified and misleading accounts.

The prevailing view is that when religious and scientific explanations came into conflict it was science that always won. In fact, it was not until modern times that science and religion and were regarded as belonging to quite separate domains. To the ancient Greeks there was nothing equivalent to what we now call science. "The ancient philosophical schools, for all their differences, agreed that philosophy was about how life was to be lived." Natural philosophy was in some ways similar to what we call science, but one of its main aims was the moral reform of the individual. In other words, one could deduce moral principles from the study of natural processes, unlike modern science, which regards morality as an entirely separate subject.

Chapter 4 describes the processes by which science and religion gradually came to be seen as quite distinct from one another, so that today we tend to see science as concerned with facts and religion as concerned with values. Harrison's description of how this came about is too complex to be summarised here, as this work is intended to be studied, rather than being an interesting but easy read. The book concludes by stating that those who advocate positive relations between science and religion, and argue that science supports religious belief, tend to reinforce the very conditions that make conflict possible. -- John Harney


29.7.15

FIRST READ: THE START OF THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

This is the last in Peter Rogerson's series reexamining the books which cultivated his early interest in the paranormal and the unexplained. We would like to hear from Magonia's readers of books which similarly sparked off their own interest in the topics we examine here. Of course, few of our readers are quite as old as the Editors, so there is no obligation that these titles should have been published '50 Year Ago', and numerous other little logos are available to head the article! If you would like to contribute, please contact me at magoniareview@gmail.com.

A. V. Sellwood and Peter Haining. Devil Worship in Britain Corgi, 1964.

When I was a teenager we didn’t have video nasties and computerised war games to allow you to venture into the dark realm, you read books like the Pan Book of Horror Stories , the Pan Book of Ghost Stories, or things like this.

Long term Magonia readers will recall our various articles on the great Satanism and Satanic abuse panics of the 1980s and early 1990s. It was assumed at the time that this was an American import. Not so; if there is an origin point of the modern Satanic panic it is this book; advertised as “a startling expose which reveals the shocking truth about Satanism today”.

Written in the style of the gutter tabloids which provided most of its 'facts' this book typified the moral panics of the post Profumo period; lumping together a range of social phenomena such as sex parties, neo-witchcraft, teenage vandalism, and fears of immigration into a single package. Any interest in the occult was seen as an opening through which you could fall into Satanism. As a metaphor for social and sexual change 'Satanism” had a powerful symbolic ring. Actual evidence as to its existence was hard to come by, not least because the thing didn’t actually exist, at least not outside some rather kinky play-acting based on the novels of Dennis Wheatley.

Some of the fears in this book look very peculiar; it will, I think, come as surprise to Messrs. Rimmer and Harney to learn that the Liverpool of the 1960s was rife with the devotes of a secret Polynesian cult, dedicated to the god Tiki. Racism was very much an undertone of this book; dark skinned immigrants were bringing in “dark rites” and so on.

Very little of what was to become the kernel of the great Satanic abuse legend - the sexual abuse and murder of children - features here, just the odd rumour (or rumour of a rumour). Dancing in the nude and smoking were wicked enough for Satanists in those days, or so it seems.

These beliefs continued for a number of years; I recall being warned as a nineteen-year-old reading the now-classic partwork Man, Myth and Magic, that this was a road to Satanism, presumably via visiting tarot card readers and attending séances.  - Peter Rogerson

20.7.15

25 YEARS AGO, MAGONIA 36

Apologies once again for the late appearance of a '25 Years Ago' review. However, I hope that by publishing these features Magonia Review readers will be encouraged to visit the original articles to which I provide links, and perhaps from there explore further into our archives, which now include virtually all the articles from MUFOB and Magonia, and of course our associated Book Review Archive.

Magonia 36 (May 1990) was desk-top published using a rather temperamental program with a curious range of typefaces, which was further un-enhanced by being printed on paper which seems to have been recycled a few too many times, and gave finished pages which appear to have been printed on blotting paper.

The magazine's rather startlingly yellow cover reproduced a cover illustration taken from the first issue of the Padgate College Magazine, published in Spring, 1947. This bears a striking resemblance to the illustration used on the cover of our previous issue which illustrated Martin Kottmeyer's investigations into UFO imagery in American comics of the 1930s

Peter Rogerson unearthed this particular image in his job as local history librarian in Warrington, and in his Northern Echoes column he asked: "Just what is going on here? Are those strange object pre-Arnoldian UFOs? Do the dinosaurs indicate some kind of pre-Von Daniken ancient astronaut speculations? Your guess is as good as mine!"

My contribution was an overview of some recent books on the then rapidly-expanding abduction phenomenon. I suggested the study of abductions might be rightfully moving from ufologists towards psychologists and sociologists. Although there were some indications that this was happening at the time, in the end the psychologists and sociologists did not seem to find enough in the topic to study it in any real depth, and instead it moved away even from scientific ufologists into the world of totally belief-oriented cultism.

Editor Emeritus John Harney uncovered a curious account of spontaneous human combustion in The Family Oracle of Health, Economy, Medicine and Good Living; Adapted to All Ranks of Society from the Palace to the Cottage. (They knew how to do titles in those days) published in 1826. It will be no surprise to learn that the writers, A. F. Crell, MD, FRS, and W. M. Wallace Esq., Assisted by a Committee of Scientific Gentlemen, concluded that the cause of this disastrous phenomenon was that "the persons who experienced the effects of this combustion, had for a long time made immoderate use of spirituous liquor", and that "the combustion took place only in women".

Unfortunately the print quality of the magazine has so far frustrated my attempts to scan the article into a format which I can put onto our archive, so I may be forced to get my typing fingers into working order and copy it manually. (Sigh).

Manfred Cassirer, one of the pioneers, along with Hilary Evans, of encouraging a cross-over with research into UFOs and psychic phenomena, contributed 'Delusions'. This presented a historical look at many of the beliefs about the nature and alleged phenomena associated with witchcraft.

Our sorely-missed colleague Roger Sandell presented a feature-review of a book, Not Necessarily the New Age, from Prometheus Press. He saw the development of 'New Age' thinking to have had a correspondence to wider political and social developments in Europe and the United States. This is another piece which I think I will need to input into our archive from scratch! (Sigh, again).

MAGONIA RECOMMENDS