26.7.16

THE GODDESS THAT DARE NOT SPEAK HER NAME

Chris Morgan. Isis; Goddess of Egypt and India. Mandrake of Oxford, 2016.

The authors’ subject has brought about an unexpected problem. “Because of certain events happening in the political sphere just now, it has become difficult to use her name without risking confusion with a terrorist group, which uses a similar acronym. As always I think the goddess will outlive these ephemeral worldly events.”

We are often told that the Roman empire extended its influence all the way to India, and regularly traded there, but we are never given any details. I realise from this book that this is because so little is known. This account of how some aspects of Egyptian religion thereby found their way to the subcontinent is, necessarily, largely speculative.

“Although Roman speculators usually bankrolled the ancient maritime trade, Greek seamen almost invariably navigated the ships. Those Greek mariners, often natives of Alexandria, invariably worshipped the Egyptian goddess Isis.”

The Tabula Peutingeriana is a Roman world map painted on a scroll seven metres long. In south India is a picture of a temple marked “Templi Augusti”. It is well known that the Emperor Augustus was worshipped as a God, but it is surprising to find that he had a temple so far away. Morgan gives in some detail the principles of Roman temple design, which was explained by Vitruvius. He concludes that the contemporary Hindu temple of Kurumba Bhagavathy Devi in those parts might be built on the foundations of the Augustus temple – this seems a bit desperate, but clearly he is doing his best with limited material.

His search led him to Kotunkolur. There is a spring festival here which in recent years has provoked letters of complaint to the newspapers, as the worshippers sing verses like this:

If you want to fuck the goddess of Kotunkolur
You must have a penis the size of a Palmyra tree.

Finding the Goddess Isis is not easy, but one clue comes from the fact that the ancients often identified her with the zodiacal sign of Virgo. In a rare Sanskrit astrological text, the Yananaj Ataka, ‘the Greek Story’, “Virgo is described as a goddess holding a torch while standing on a boat. This is precisely the same as Isis Pelagia 'mistress of seafarers'.”

One remarkable tale is that of Pattini, a Goddess who took on human birth and married a mortal, and whose legend is still acted out at festivals; Morgan gives the complete text of one. Her husband, Palanga, cheated on her with a courtesan named Madhavi, who quarrelled with him after spending his money and leaving him penniless. The long suffering Pattini agreed to allow him to sell a piece of her jewellery, a golden anklet. Unfortunately, a goldsmith in Madurai he approached accused him of stealing it, the local king believed him, Palanga was put to death, and cut into fourteen pieces. Pattini came looking for him, and cursed the city of Madurai so that most of it was destroyed by fire. Eventually: “The other gods have intervened and successfully appeal to her to stop the destruction. In return Pattini is promised that after fourteen days she will again see Palanga, resurrected in astral form.” Apparently the Hindus do not realise that they are performing the story of Isis and Osiris.

The book is well illustrated, with many in colour  -- Gareth J. Medway.

23.7.16

HOLD ON TIGHT...

Frank Bures. The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death and the Search for the Meaning of the World's Strangest Syndromes. Melville House. 2016

Frank Bures was inspired to begin his investigations into the effects of culture in different parts of the world when he left his home in the American Midwest to spend a year in Italy as an exchange student. He writes: "After one short year immersed in Italian society I felt like a different person, and I was disturbed by the depth of this change".

He starts his description of his investigations by describing how he followed up a newspaper report headlined: 'Court Remands Man over False Alarm on Genital Organ Disappearance'. The young man was on a bus in Lagos, Nigeria, when he cried out that his penis had disappeared and accused the woman sitting next to him of having stolen it.

For several years, Bures had followed reports of similar cases from Nigeria, after reading an article on the BBC website describing an incident in which at least twelve people had been killed by an angry crowd in souhwestern Nigeria after having been accused of "making people's genital organs disappear". These people had been burnt alive.

Bures investigated similar incidents in ther countries, including China and Hong Kong, and in the course of his travels came to realise that the key to understanding different peoples was not only to study their languages but also their cultures. He made the main theme of his investigations, at least as described in this book, his studies of strange panics about allegedly disappearing penises, known to Chinese-speaking people as koro. In such cases the victims of these panics usually had the impression that their penises were retracting into their abdomens, which they believed would prove fatal.

A particularly interesting case occurred in 1967 when "in one of the best-documented cases of koro ever, hundreds of people rushed to hospitals in the city-state of Singapore, deathly afraid that of they loosened their grip, they would die". Bures wanted to find out if the people of Singapore were still susceptible to such panics. He discussed this with a psychiatrist named Paul Ngui,who had researched the 1967 epidemic. This started when a 16-year-old boy heard rumours that pork from pigs that had been inoculated against swine fever could cause koro, and that he had the symptoms, as he had eaten a bun with pork in it that morning. Eventually the panic died down after medical authorities, using radio and television, assured people that koro was a purerly psychological condition.

Bures started by having the impression that his native America was the norm, while other parts of the world had strange cultures. But on travelling to foreign parts and returning to America, he became much more aware of the distinctivenes of its culture. He also learned much about the extent to which various illnesses, both mental and physical, were sometimes apparently related to cultural differences.

This book is rather autobiographical in style, containing much material which the appropriate experts will want to follow up in their own investigations. Bures hopes that we will "come to see the part we all play in creating worlds that look strange from outside but that make perfect sense from within..." -- John Harney

18.7.16

WAKING THE DEAD

John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin. Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Near-death experiences have been hailed, especially in the United States, as evidence of an afterlife, and in some recent works as evidence of a specifically Christian one.

The authors of this book are philosophy professors, Fischer the Leader and Mitchell-Yellin a Fellow at The Immortality Project (2012-2015). They take a critical look at these claims and conclude that near-death experiences can be best explained in terms of brain function and the role of memory. In particular they challenge the view that these experiences occurred when people thought they did; rather, they argue they may occur when the brain is rebooting or perhaps even later. They also question how such narratives are compiled and, for example, they note that THE so-called experiences of children are always narrated through adult filters.

Much of their critique is directed against what they call “supernaturalist” explanations, pointing out that we do not have a complete knowledge of how the brain works. Of course the term “supernaturalist” is something of a misnomer, for if there were an afterlife it would still be part of “unitary nature”, but their point about lack of knowledge about the brain’s function is well taken.

Paranormalist explanations, to use a better word, are often seen as simpler, but the authors argue, when closely examined they turn out to be just as complex, for example how would a “non -physical” entity gather information about the physical world, store it and then transmit it to the brain, or indeed whether the notion of a “non-physical entity” makes any sense at all, (or indeed whether it makes any sense to talk of anything non- physical as having any special location at all, in or out of the body),

I wish the authors had developed some of those points at greater length, for, though I am basically in agreement with their position, their style of argument is all too often less than persuasive and I doubt they will be changing many “believers” minds. They are also hampered I suspect, by their unwillingness to question the honesty of the reporting of a number of well publicised cases, I can understand this, but one should bear in mind that two of the chief reasons that people lie are religion or ideology and money and when these are united together there are grave temptations.

The book would also have benefited from the authors having a much wider knowledge of the range of literature on near-death experiences, the paranormal in general, and of the range of philosophical discussion of life after death. -- Peter Rogerson.


15.7.16

HEART OF DARKNESS

Jean La Fontaine. Witches and Demons: A Comparative Perspective on Witchcraft and Satanism. Berghahn, 2016. 

This book is not, as its title might suggest, a comparison between the modern 'Witchcraft' and 'Satanism' religions, rather it is a series of essays/articles which explore the roots of belief in magical evil and how these impact in different ways on contemporary British culture.The first two of these articles reprise Professor La Fontaine’s study of the satanic ritual abuse panic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, noting how these arose from more general transcultural beliefs in a secret conspiracy of others who violate the most sacred taboos of humanity, or at least of their culture. The particular form that these beliefs took in this case was heavily influenced by images from fundamentalist and charismatic Christianity, but was also taken up by secular groups.

From these chapters La Fontaine moves on to a discussion of the role of witch beliefs in African immigrant communities in Britain. There is an article on the alleged murder of an African boy given the name Adam, whose headless torso was found in the Thames in 2001 and the claims that this was an example of human sacrifice. La Fontaine suggests that it might have been a case of murder for 'corpse medicine', a concept which she notes is by no means limited to Africa.

The second half of this book is given over to articles on 'child witches', those children who have been accused of witchcraft and as a result are beaten, maltreated, abandoned, or even murdered by their parents or carers. La Fontaine argues that though belief in witchcraft was part of many African traditional cultures, this did not include the belief that children could be witches, which was an idea imposed by Western charismatic churches that held the belief that children are born corrupted by original sin, which must then be beaten out them. These beliefs are given impetus by social collapse in the home countries, where there are large numbers of abandoned feral children, child soldiers and the like.

La Fontaine argues that for many immigrants western societies are seen as dangerous and ill disciplined, almost literally a wilderness, the wild spirits of which might corrupt their children. These influences are not necessarily traditional African beliefs but are beliefs imported by western missionaries who infected the societies they imposed upon. Ironically these immigrant communities and their home countries are haunted by the ghosts of old European fears and prejudices and are now coming to haunt us.


It is striking that in many ways the labelling of children as witches bares close similarity to the manner in which traditional European societies branded of children as changelings. Both of these labels seek to provide an alibi for the failure of parents to bond with children, particularly those with developmental, emotional or behavioural problems. Beyond these fears it is hard not see that they reflect more general fears of young people, often regarded as wild or hooligan, and were the subject of a number of moral panics back in the early 1970s. Our society today has very ambivalent views about young people aged 14-17, and now tends to defuse these fears by imagining childrea as being weak and vulnerable, with no will or mind of their own, unless we wish to either sanctify or demonise. In the latter case La Fontaine points out how society demonised the killers of James Bulger.

This book clearly shows how radical forms of Christianity can have the potential to become as dangerous as radical forms of Islam. In both cases it would appear that a significant source of problems is the existence of a kind of free market in religion in which anyone can set up as pastor or preacher of one sort or another and that this can be a real career option for those having difficulty finding employment. Exorcising witches can be one way that these people can compete with each other in the market place of religion. In mainstream western society that role now seems to be taken by a vast variety of so-called therapists of one kind or another, who perform very similar functions. The finding of witches by pastors and satanic abuse victims run parallel to each other.

The beliefs in witchcraft are not, as has sometimes been implied, confined to peasants in the bush; on the contrary most of those holding these beliefs are members of the international cosmopolitan bourgeoisie, fully linked to the internet world. The western bourgeoisie, though not overtly professing belief in witchcraft often professes beliefs that are only semantically different.

This is a dark and disturbing book on a dark and disturbing topic and definitely not one for the light read, but I would argue essential reading for police officers, social workers and others involved in child protection. -- Peter Rogerson


11.7.16

SPACE: THERE'S A LOT OF IT ABOUT

J Richard Gott. The Cosmic Web - Mysterious Architecture of the Universe. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Space: there's a lot of it about. It's all around us, and even inside us. It seems to go on forever, absolutely infinite. But what exactly is it?

We naturally tend to think of Space as nothing, emptiness, void or vacuum. However, it is an established scientific fact that a totally empty vacuum is an impossibility. 'Nature abhors a vacuum' is the principle first enunciated by the philosopher Aristotle and now confirmed by modern science. Quantum mechanics shows that the void is constantly bubbling with energy particles coming into existence and disappearing almost instantly. Perhaps the most amazing fact of all is that everything comes from nothing, literally.

Current thinking is that for every billion packets of energy or 'matter' coming into existence, only one remains while all the rest are cancelled out by packets of 'antimatter'. As if all that were not mind-boggling enough, it is now orthodox science to believe that the entire universe exploded from a point very much smaller than a single atom, about 13.8 billion years ago. In this book J. Richard Gott attempts to show how random fluctuations on the sub-atomic micro level at the time of the 'Big Bang' gave rise to the uneven distribution of matter in the form of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. His approach to this highly complex subject is shown in the first sentence of his Preface: "Galileo once said: 'Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book which ever is before our eyes - I mean the universe...The book is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures.' So it proved to be with the arrangement of galaxies in the universe. To understand it would require geometrical language." 

That language is 'topology', defined as 'the study of geometric properties and spatial relations unaffected by the continuous change of shape or size of figures.' There can be no doubt that the author was born with a brilliant brain and a propensity for topology and mathematics. Gott describes how, when only 18 years old, he discovered a group of "intricate, sponge-like structures made of triangles, squares, pentagons, or hexagons – some of which neatly divided space into two equal and completely interlocking regions." This became his high-school science project, which he presented at a local science fair in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky. "Surprisingly," he says, "this would later play a role in my own path to understanding the arrangement of galaxies in the universe." And so it proved to be, as "Great clusters of galaxies are connected by filaments, or chains of galaxies, in a sponge-like geometry, while the low-density voids are connected to each other by low-density tunnels; this entire structure is now called the cosmic web."

One thing Gott cannot do, nor anyone else for that matter, is to explain how the Big Bang occurred in the first place. Despite the quirk that Gott's name means 'God' in German, he does not possess supernatural knowledge, despite his brilliance. The riddle of that First Cause, and its nature, may be beyond the reach of any kind of scientific instrument and measurement. Having said that, I must admit that Gott has a great mind, perhaps one of the greatest in the field of cosmology for over thirty years. He excels at higher mathematics and parts of his book are completely baffling. You know that this book is written by a hands-on scientist and not a science writer. It is not that he appears in certain places to deliberately obfuscate the subject, but rather that the complexity of the concept itself results in challenging sentence structures. Take this sentence, for example, on the subject of inflation immediately following the Big Bang: "These effects create a small tip in the fluctuation spectrum as a function of scale relative to the constant value predicted by Zeldovitch." And then, a few sentences later: "In principle, inflation gave us both the ham and the eggs."



While not quite sure about the ham and eggs, I do like Gott's analogies of meatballs, Swiss cheese, and sponges, in relation to the agglomeration and distribution of matter in the universe. It is natural for the human mind to perceive patterns that correlate impressions of the micro world and the macro universe. My own casual observations have been similar, for example to see the shape of a revolving spiral galaxy in the froth on the surface of a cup of coffee and clusters of galaxies in the foam on a bubble-bath. Sure enough, Gott also discusses 'Bubble Universes': "I proposed that we lived inside a bubble universe and that our universe was just one of many bubbles. Our bubble universe would continue to expand forever. Meanwhile, outside our universe, other bubble universes would continue to form in the endlessly inflating, high-density sea." But what about the Big Bang? How could this notion of bubble universes, in a truly infinite 'multiverse', be reconciled with that? "The bubble looked like an ever-expanding, inflationary Big Bang universe. We, looking out in space and back in time, could see only our own bubble and the smooth inflating sea that produced it. We could not see the other bubbles."

It is worth mentioning that Gott is a Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. He is quite well known for proposing how a time machine might be constructed using hypothetical cosmic strings. In a previous book, Time Travel in Einstein's Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel through Time (2002) Gott grapples with the knotty philosophical problem of whether it is possible to go back in time. The difficulties are obvious, as shown in the 'Grandfather paradox'. If a man could go back in time and killed his grandfather, would that not wipe out his future existence? In that case, how could he ever have existed at all?

Questions such as these show how Physics at the highest levels becomes Metaphysics, and then Philosophy. Through thought-experiments Einstein famously worked out his General Theory of Relativity, in which space and time are directly related. Gott says : "This theory explained gravity in a revolutionary way, as the result of curved spacetime. Einstein's equation showed how the 'stuff' of the universe (matter, energy and pressure) cause spacetime to curve." Gravity is, of course, vital to any cosmological theory of "the architecture of the universe" as the force that holds everything together. However, we now know that there is a repulsive energy that counteracts the effects of gravity. 'Dark energy' is the name given to this remarkable substance that has a repulsive effect. Incredibly, it is estimated to comprise 70% of the energy content of the universe, and 'dark matter' accounts for about 25%, yet what they are made of is still a mystery.

Remarkably, only 5% of the known universe is made up of ordinary matter. Nothing in cosmology rightly deserves the adjective 'ordinary', and so it is with the kind of matter that we are familiar with. To our senses it is definitely solid, but in the quantum world it is virtually empty space. Above our heads the stars and constellations seem fixed. Yet, as Gott explains, it appears that the universe is in a stage of accelerated expansion, doubling in size every 12.2 billion years. This creates what is known as an 'event horizon', beyond which we cannot see.

All of this knowledge is relatively recent. It was less than a hundred years ago that Harlow Shapley discovered that our solar system's location is in an outer arm of a galaxy that we call the Milky Way, but we still knew nothing of other galaxies. Some, such as Andromeda, had in fact been observed as fuzzy images, and were interpreted as 'nebula', clouds of dust and gas. Then Edwin Hubble discovered that there were countless other galaxies and that the whole observable universe was expanding. By 'red shift' comparison of light sources we could see that the further away they were, both in space and time, the faster they were accelerating outwards. Knowledge has continued to grow at an exponential rate until now. As new discoveries are made, new questions arise.

In his final chapter ‘Dark Energy and the Fate of the Universe’ Professor Gott speculates on the ultimate end-time. After an unimaginably vast period of time, the stars will all have burnt out. Beyond that, "galactic-mass black holes will evaporate by Hawking radiation and blink out in a burst of glory". If you happen to be still around, "it would be like watching static on your television" as you watch thermal radiation from the event horizon.

While all of this speculation is interesting, it is as much use as science fiction. The most bizarre theory within the final chapter is that of ‘Boltzmann Brains’. Here is how Gott introduces the concept: "Once in a great while – once in every 10^10^70 years - you will see something called a Boltzmann brain; that is, something as complicated as the human brain will appear at random from the thermal radiation. I have argued (Gott 2008) that although you may see such a brain in the distance if you wait long enough, it would not be a self-conscious intelligent observer – because the thermal radiation is observer dependent."




Notice that Gott makes an impossible assertion as if it were fact. The fancy term, named after a German physicist's exotic theory, and an impressive-looking specific number (very, very big), are presented as if solving the greatest riddle of existence. It does nothing of the kind. If anything, it proves one thing, particularly with the author's self-reference, that there is another kind of 'inflation' in process: Gott's ego. He really must stop pretending that he knows everything and has the formula to solve any problem. His self-importance runs right through this book. Did you know he's in the Guinness Book of Records? He claims credit, with a few others, for discovering in 2003 the 'largest structure in the universe'. This is the 'Sloan Great Wall', a filament of galaxies approximately 1.38 billion light-years in length. Other apparently larger 'structures' have since been found.

Murphy (2016) would argue that the question of how consciousness and self-awareness arose in the cosmos is the ultimate mystery that physics will never solve. Possibly we can find it by looking within, exploring our own consciousness and spirit. Maybe that is the God-essence that has no beginning and no end. By all means check out 'Boltzmann brains' for yourself. See if it makes any sense to propose that intelligence, or self-awareness, can spontaneously arise out of chaos. But then again I did set out at the beginning of this review by asserting the truth that everything comes out of nothing. What do we really know? I agree with Socrates: 'True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing'.

Gott only knows. – Kevin Murphy

,/.

8.7.16

DISCOMFORTING CREATURES

Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore. McFarland, 2016.
Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Giants and Humanoids in Myth, Legend and Folklore. McFarland, 2016.
Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Spirits and Ghosts in World Mythology. McFarland, 2016.

To use a tired old phrase, these three books do exactly what it says on the tin. They are comprehensive alphabetical encyclopedias of creatures of vision and belief, taken from an extraordinary range of societies and historical periods. The largest of the books, Beasts and Monsters, contains over 2,200 entries, the two smaller books probably half that, so we have a set of encyclopedias containing the names and description of about 5,000 legendary and folkloric entities. All the entries are well referenced, and each title has an extensive bibliography. Also, unlike some alphabetical encyclopedias, the books each have a separate comprehensive index to topics include within the individual entries.

In reviewing encyclopedias like this it is impossible to check every entry for accuracy, so the reviewer is forced to check particular subjects on which they are fairly well informed; but in trying to do this it reveals one of the problems with this collection. The division of topics between the three books can sometimes seem quite arbitrary, and users may often have to check all three volumes before alighting on an appropriate entry. Although the Beasts and Monsters title largely covers non-human entities such as dragons, mythical horses, water creatures, etc., there are also entries for humanoid figures such as the mareikura, “a species of supernatural female beings from Polynesian mythology”. The description of these creatures suggests that they would have fitted more comfortably into the Spirits and Ghosts volume.

The encyclopedias cover a very wide range of cultures, well beyond the Western Classical and Oriental belief systems and folklore which seem to limit many other compilations. Australian Aboriginal, Native American, Oceanic, African and South American creatures and spirits are referenced, as well as the beliefs and folklore of smaller European ethnic and linguistic communities. There is particularly good coverage of North European and Scandinavian mythology as well (although I wish the proofreaders had got their P’s and รพ’s sorted out; with Iceland beating England at football this is urgent!). 

It is also interesting to see more modern folkloric traditions being incorporated, such as that of the American lumberjacks in the nineteenth century; creatures such as the gillygaloo, the hoop snake and the whapperknocker, which seem to exist in a debatable land between joke, campfire tale and you-never-can-tell semi-belief.

But these seems to be one very strange and very major omission. In none of the books, either in the main text or the index, have I been able to find any reference to our old friend the Yeti or Sasquatch, except in a brief description of the abnaanya, a semi-humanoid creature from the Caucasus, which is described as “yeti-like”. I can only conclude that Ms Bane considers our favourite hairy humanoid as being totally real and more appropriate for an entry in a zoological encyclopedia than one devoted to mythical and legendary beasts!

As a reference tool, these books seem very useful, and I would recommend them for a personal library but for one problem; the legendary, but unfortunately not mythical, prices in the £30 to £40 range for ‘trade-format’ paperbacks. This puts them surely out of reach to most Forteans and libraries. – John Rimmer.



4.7.16

CONNECTIONS TO ALL PARTS

J Douglas Kenyon (editor). Missing Connections: Challenging the Consensus. Atlantis Rising, 2016.

An alternative viewpoint can lead to a fresh and more exciting way of looking at aspects of our world. Treading the normal and everyday path is reliable and reassuring, but there are times when most of us desire a twist upon our regular position. To see with new eyes, as it were, may bring a stimulating and vibrant vista to something we thought we knew and add to our insight. Mind you, there is also the distinct possibility that it may not be the positive and refreshing spin that we hope for. The view from somewhere new could turn out to be flawed and fruitless.

The magazine Atlantis Rising is what might be titled an alternative periodical. It regularly covers subjects, many (if not all) are Fortean in nature. Alt. Archaeology is widely covered, as are varied views on historical subject matter. Some things looked at cover challenging interpretations of historically-accepted matters, ancient astronaut theory (also known as AAT) and things that may be scientifically feasible in the future. Naturally there is also occasional coverage of that mystery of mysteries, Atlantis itself plus any other undiscovered, extinct, ‘alien’ and/or advanced civilisation going. Their website is rather busy. It also boasts that it has become the magazine of record on ancient mysteries, alternative science and unexplained anomalies. This may come as something of a surprise to some others in the field; the Fortean Times, for instance.

This work is a collection of writings that started life as articles in the magazine itself. The six headings that they are grouped under are most definitely intriguing and provoke interest at the outset. There are, in order, Unsolved Crimes; America’s Secret Origins; Secret Societies, Lost Religions; The Unknown Jesus; Nazis and ETs; Mystic Travel. Some of the articles are authored by names familiar to seasoned Forteans, such as Robert M Schoch, Rand & Rose Flem-Ath and the late and much-lamented Philip Coppens. There is also David H Childress. The lion’s share have been penned by what seem to be regular contributors to the Atlantis Rising magazine. Although the back of the book contains brief biographies of the writers, there are no bibliographies and no footnotes, even at the end of the articles themselves.


The articles themselves most certainly cover fascinating questions, that is certain. Some of these are are staples of Forteana, such as 'Return to Oak Island', The 'Roswell Miracle Metal' and 'Ancient Egyptians in the Grand Canyon'. Others are more in the way of eye-openers; 'Quest for the Grail: The Sri Lanka Connection', 'Templars in Mexico' and the mind-bogglingly titled 'Shakespeare and the Bermuda Triangle'. The latter is about the true identity of Shakespeare and the nature of the start of the English colonies in America as opposed to the Bard of Avon penning a paranormal play. A vast shame, I know. As we have seen, the chiefest of the usual suspects, our old friends the Knights Templar, are represented too. In fact, they make a few appearances in various articles. It would be going too far to say that all of Forteana is here, but this is an ambitious tome covering an impressively wide range of subjects.

As has come to be the norm in a book of this nature, question marks abound. “Is It just a coincidence that the Grand Canyon has been given so many Egyptian names?” being a prime example. Whilst many questions are asked, not all that many are answered. Speculation is rife and facts are thin on the ground. Much Forteana is produced in this fashion. It is quite possible in some cases that there are salient points to be made; the exotically-named Shakespeare pieces make some interesting points about the authorship of his plays. Generally, however, the tone is such that, in the book overall, assumptions are made that have little or nothing to back them up.

This, then, is a fascinating read. The breadth of subjects, from Shakespeare to the Royal Society, from Jesus to Roswell, plus lost lands and cities still hidden deep in the jungle, is vast. Some of the articles are captivating. Personally I find this sort of volume absorbing provided it is read as speculation, at which it excels. If blue-sky thinking over widely-differing topics is what is desired then this excels at just that. -- Trevor Pyne.

1.7.16

SEEING THE LIGHT

Mark Fox. Lightforms: Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena. Spirit and Sage, 2016.

First published in hardback with the title and subtitle reversed and at an exorbitant price in 2006, this work, now published in an affordable soft cover edition, examines anomalous experiences of light and illumination. It is based on narratives submitted to the Religious Experience Research Unit established by Sir Alister Hardy, the well-known naturalist, in 1969, originally based at Manchester College, Oxford (the successor to the Warrington Academy) but now at University of Wales, Lampeter. The material was gathered by newspaper appeals for “all who have been conscious of, and perhaps influenced by, a higher power, whether they call it God or not” to send in brief details. He was not especially interested in anomalous personal experiences, but a fair number were submitted and it is from these that this study has been compiled.

I think that the title, however, is somewhat misleading, only a small portion of the narratives describe encounters with anomalous lights of the sort one finds in UFO accounts. The main sets of data consist of lights or luminous beings that bring comfort, with transformed perceptions of the landscape, feelings of being flooded with light and love, sudden flashes of light and similar 'spiritual' phenomena

The narratives do include some accounts of near-death experiences gathered before these were made famous by Raymond Moody, and these tend to involve things like tunnels of light, the presence of luminous beings etc. and not to include features such as the 'silver cord' and other features from Spiritualist and occultist literature. To what extent that is the result of double selection is hard to say.

Clearly given the nature of the original question, many of these experiences are interpreted in a religious and often specifically Christian context, one which is not only a consequence of the original intent of the survey, but of the times and culture within which they were generated. These stories were submitted in a more religious age and are often supplied by older people narrating experiences from much earlier in their lives. Today similar narratives are likely to be given a variety of interpretations from folk spiritualism and New Age figures to benevolent UFO beings.

While Fox himself clearly sees these experiences as the breaking through of some transcendent reality into the mundane world, the less theologically inclined might note that many of these experiences seem to occur at times of great personal crises or emotional strain, as do a number of other anomalous experiences. Though aimed clearly at a theological readership, this book should be of general interest to psychical researchers and Forteans. – Peter Rogerson.

MAGONIA RECOMMENDS