9.2.16

FASTEN YOUR SEAT-BELTS!

Ian Niall Rankin. A New Look at the Solar System. Book Guild, 2015.

As if we didn't already have enough to worry about living on Planet Earth in these troublesome times, along comes yet another publication telling us that we're all doomed. Not from a man-made cause such as a Third World War, or the cumulative effects of the climate change purportedly taking place, but from a sudden polar shift of the planet that will wipe out all of civilisation. Mankind is doing a pretty good job anyway of destroying his civilisation in many parts of the world, but when the planet 'flips on its axis' the destruction will be earth-wide and there is nothing we can do to prevent it.

The good news is that this book was originally published in 2004 under the title Doomsday Just Ahead and we're still here in 2016. The bad news is that great planetary upheavals have occurred many times, and according to the evidence presented here another one is imminent. Why the book has been re-published under a less apocalyptic title is not exactly clear. It does not appear to have been modified or supplemented by new material. A brief foreword by the author or publishers would have been helpful in this regard.

New evidence regarding the origins and formation of our solar system is coming to light constantly. With advanced scientific instrumentation available we can now study other planetary solar systems and see them at various stages of development. It so happens that at the time of writing this review in January 2016, I came across two sources of information quite independently that put a new light on the formation and structure of the solar system. A recent BBC Horizon programme, 'Secrets of the Solar System', showed clear evidence of titanic disturbances in our solar system after its initial formation, greatly changing the planets' orbits and positions. As the BBC website summarises these findings: "Far from a simple story of stable orbits, the creation story of our solar system is a tale of hellfire, chaos and planetary pinball. It's a miracle our Earth is here at all."

The Horizon documentary posited that a massive icy giant planet was ejected from the solar system by the gravitational effects of Jupiter. Now Caltech researchers in America have announced that they have found evidence of just such a planet, nicknamed Planet Nine. It has a mass 10 times that of earth and orbits the sun about 20 times further out than Neptune. That means it takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit the sun. It has not yet been observed directly so now the hunt is on to find it. That task will be difficult. At such a vast distance from the sun it may even be impossible to find, giving virtually no reflected light. Its presence is indicated only by very slight gravitational perturbations between the observable planets. If those calculations give a clue as to its location, that may be confirmed by its transit temporarily blocking the light from a distant known star.

This brings us neatly to Ian Rankin's new theory presented in Part Two of this book. He is without doubt a bold and original thinker, and in some ways seems to have presciently foreseen, over 12 years ago, the kind of anomalies that are right now coming to light. In one sense he is definitely right. We used to think that the planets had formed from blobs of the primordial gas and solidifying matter cast off by our evolving parent star. This ab initio momentum of planetary bodies orbiting the sun, held in place by a balance of gravity and centrifugal force, was the orthodox explanation. It was thought that the planets had more or less stayed in the same orbits from the time of their formation. Rankin's theories challenge all of that.

However, there are at least two aspects to Rankin's general theory which will cause difficulty for most readers. He does not believe in 'Gravity' as a mutually attractive force between bodies of matter. Instead, he proposes that the attractive force is magnetism. He asserts that every body has a magnetic field of some kind. This review will not attempt to explain whether he is using the term 'magnetism' to describe the mystery of exactly what 'gravity' is. Most scientists do admit that the whole concept of how 'gravity' works is a mystery. But, using the example of comets as they orbit the sun, Rankin presents an interesting question: Why are comets approaching the sun not pulled into it by the sun's massive gravitational attraction? The conventional understanding, says Rankin, is that comets, on their approach to the sun on their eccentric orbits from the outer reaches of the solar system, have enough momentum to overcome the sun's gravitational attraction. His answer is that the solar wind and light itself have a repulsive force. He goes further to say that the solar wind and light itself are the forces which keeps the planetary bodies rotating.

The other highly controversial aspect of Rankin's 'New Theory' is that he believes our sun is orbiting around a relatively tiny black hole, which he terms the Magnetic Centre, or MC: "The sun is attracted by the MC, but is at the same time prevented from getting any closer to it by the pressure of its own solar emissions. So, although received science considers the Sun to be the centre of the solar system, it is in fact not."


The only theory that comes near it was the hypothetical Planet Vulcan proposed by the French scientist Le Verrier. in 1860 Le Verrier confidently announced the discovery of this planet orbiting very close to the sun, and named it 'Vulcan' after the Greek god of fire


I have been able to find no evidence whatever from other sources to support this theory. The only theory that comes near it was the hypothetical Planet Vulcan proposed by the French scientist Le Verrier. in 1860 Le Verrier confidently announced the discovery of this planet orbiting very close to the sun, and named it 'Vulcan' after the Greek god of fire. Le Verrier was no eccentric amateur. In 1846 he had correctly predicted the existence of the then unknown planet Neptune. He had done this by painstakingly analysing irregularities in the orbit of the planet Uranus. After presenting his findings to the French Academy, he sent the co-ordinates to Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory. On the same evening of the day they received the data, Galle and his colleague Heinrich d'Arrest found Neptune. Le Verrier's calculation was accurate to 1 degree. However, with Planet Vulcan he was mistaken. His findings were based on anomalies in Mercury's orbit. It speeds up and slows down on its eccentric orbit around the sun. It was not until 1915 that these irregularities were successfully explained, in a paper entitled 'Explanation of the Perihelion Motion of Mercury from General Relativity Theory'. The author? A certain Albert Einstein.

From all of this you would certainly deduce that Rankin is an original thinker of the first order, or a maverick eccentric. But he has a track record of success through his interesting life. Actually a Baronet and the son of a lady in waiting to the Queen Mother, he was educated at Eton and Oxford. He then launched himself into several careers, which included the design of seat belts, which were at the time not fitted as standard equipment in cars. From this he made a lot of money which financed other projects such as the design of miniature motorbikes and an employment agency in Holland. Latterly he ran an international oil company. Travelling the world in search of hydrocarbons he became fascinated by the earth's geology. This led to his interest in planetary movements and the solar system.

Although his theories presented in Part Two may be somewhat suspect and lacking corroboration, at least until now, he does have more credibility in Part One. He presents a great deal of evidence for pole shifts occurring in the Earth's past, even as recently as 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. The Sahara Desert is but one example. 4,000 years ago it was temperate savannah. Something dramatic obviously happened to our planet at about that time. Another compelling piece of evidence is the remains of hundreds of mammoths who died at that time, quick-frozen on Wrangel Island, just off the Siberian Coast: "....these animals died with summer feeding in their stomachs, but under arctic winter conditions. Summer grazing for mammoths would have been in temperate latitudes, some 2,000 miles from the equator. We believe these creatures were grazing in the southern hemisphere, when a polar-axis shift occurred: this took them through 140 degrees of latitude, via the North Pole, to the present location of Wrangel Island."

As you can guess, not everyone agrees with Rankin's interpretations of all the evidence he has amassed. The Smithsonian Magazine of May 2014 says: "Over the course of our planet's history, the (magnetic) field has flipped hundreds of times: Magnetic north has slid toward the bottom of the planet while magnetic south has traveled north. Signatures in volcanic rocks reveal that the switch last happened 780,000 years ago, when human ancestors were just learning to make fire."

Spot the difference? Excuse the pun, which is intended, but these interpretations are polar opposites, and the lay reader may be quite baffled by Rankin's theories. It's a most interesting and stimulating read. If you go for it as I did then you will inevitably wish to consult a whole range of scientific articles and authorities to verify or refute his apocalyptic message. But all of this fact-finding and theorising has made my head spin. I think I need to lie down on my axis for a while. -- Kevin Murphy

6.2.16

IN SEARCH OF THE MONSTER HUNTERS

Gareth Williams. A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness. Orion, 2015.

First things first, this is not really a book about whether the Loch Ness Monster exists or not. It’s much more Magonian than that. It’s about the people who have seen, hunted and believed in the Monster and how they have created and directed the phenomenon. By far the most exotic life forms we meet in this survey are the remarkable collection of characters who have searched for the monster from the days when it first came to national and international attention in the 1930s, largely via the pages of the Inverness Courier and its wildlife correspondent who seemed to keep a vary careful eye on the waters of the Loch. In fact this was Alex Campbell, a water bailiff for the Ness Fisheries Board, and regular contributor to the Courier.

Campbell is central to the development of the Ness Mystery and seems to fill the role that Arthur Shuttlewood did for the Warminster Mystery - the authoritative local, feet firmly on the ground, who knew everything and everyone around the Loch. It was Campbell who reported the sightings of the often anonymous witnesses to the early sightings of the monster.

It was not long before these reports began to drawn interested outsiders. Probably the first was Rupert Gould, famed as the restorer of the historic Harrison’s Chronometer at the National Maritime museum, and author of the proto-Fortean collections Oddities and Enigmas, as well as The Case for the Sea Serpent, and of course it was his research for the latter which provoked his interest in the Loch and coloured his conclusions.

Gould’s trip was financed by another colourful character, Dundee marmalade millionaire Alexander Kieller, described by Williams as being “fond of sex, sometimes on a near industrial scale”. Not surprisingly he was chummy with another character who was spending some time at Loch Ness, Aleister Crowley, who gained extra notoriety by complaining to the local police committee about the scarcity of prostitutes in the locality.

The famous ‘Surgeon’s photograph’ of 1933 brought a burst of publicity when it was published in the Daily Mail on its front page, and soon the elusive creature was infiltrating popular culture, with the first books on the subject being published and the creature appearing in films and even ladies’ fashions. Elite culture was less enamoured when it was announced that the dragon Fafnir, in Covent Garden’s production of Siegfried would be redesigned to resemble the Monster.

Gould’s book The Loch Ness Monster and Others, appeared in 1934 and made it clear that he thougth the Loch Ness creature was linked to the sea-monsters he had previous written about, but a rival book by retired army colonel W. H. Lane, claimed that it was a giant salamander such as those from the mountains of Burma. After all, Lane had been out East and seen a thing or two!

The monster was soon becoming something of a celebrity, questions were being asked in Parliament, and the Inverness Chief Constable was concerned that his officers might be unable to protect the creature in the event of an attack on it. Its credibility grew with the discovery of a ‘living fossil’, the Coelacanth, in 1938, giving hope that creatures once thought extinct might still be lurking around in the deeps.

But the Monster seemed too frivolous and did not really belong in the dark atmosphere of World War II. Sightings and interest dropped like a stone into the Loch’s unfeasible depths. But after the war, a new era brought it into the spotlight again. Radio and later television was showing the wonders of nature to a mass audience, and one of the programmes that did this was a radio show called The Naturalist, featuring an ornithologist and wildlife artist called Peter Scott, son of the great Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott.

Scott claimed that his interest in the Monster was aroused by the book More Than a Legend, by Constance Whyte, a (non-practising) doctor who lived near the Loch, which recorded dozens of sightings and aroused public interest in the beast from its post-war slumber. In fact he had been aware of the monster’s story for a long time, but his interest was awakened by a letter from an aeronautical engineer named Tim Dinsdale. This provoked a correspondence which drew Scott more deeply into the subject, leading him to set up a showing of a film Dinsdale had made allegedly of the monster to a panel of experts at London Zoo. They were not impressed.

Scott gave the monster a new notoriety when he proposed a scientific name for it - Nessiteras rhombopteryx - in the mistaken belief that this was necessary for the creature to be listed as a protected species. Although Scott was quite sincere about this, his reputation took a bit of a dive when the ‘eccentric’ (i.e. permanently pissed) MP Nicholas Fairbairn pointed out that the name was an anagram of "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S". Another MP, David James, took a more constructive approach and promoted the Monster in meetings at the House of Commons where Scott and Dinsdale were able to present their evidence.

Scott and Dinsdale continued to promote the cause of the Monster, or at least the idea that it was a topic suitable for serious scientific study. This led to Dinsdale devoting most of his life to the quest, through a number of books and the establishment of a permanent research centre on the banks of the Loch. Here he was joined by a gallery of characters devoted, with varying degrees of rationality to finding the elusive evidence.

There was Frank Searle who spent fifteen years by the Loch accompanied by, in the now legendary phrase, “a bevy of nubile female acolytes”. His main legacy seems to have been a collection of very dubious monster photographs and the enmity of every other Loch Ness investigator. Roy Mackal was an American professor of biochemistry who spent some time at the Loch as a ‘scientific adviser’ and writing a book about it, before heading off to the Congo to hunt for dinosaurs. Ufologists will recognise the name of ‘Ted’ Holiday, author of The Dragon and the Disc, linking the Monster and UFO mysteries, presenting Nessie as a multi-dimensional ‘tulpa’ with psychic powers.

Some serious scientific work did take place at the Loch, notably by Adrian Shine, whose careful investigation techniques revealed a great deal of very useful information about the topography and ecology of Ness and neighbouring waters but unfortunately little evidence towards demonstrating the existence of the Monster.

The resemblances between the search for the monster, and the activities of ‘serious ufologists’ are quite remarkable. We have various underwater searches with cameras, microphones, radar and sonar, all ambiguous and inconclusive, which remind me of the brave souls who spent long dreary nights on hilltops around Warminster with cameras and a range of instrumentation, of variable efficiency, looking for the elusive ’physical evidence’.

At Loch Ness as at Warminster a community developed, bringing both friendships and life-long enmities. People moved homes and jobs to be close to their magic location.

There are the same problems of the assessing the value of eye-witness testimony, and the same dangers of underestimating the likelihood of hoaxing. Long-standing cases crumble under the harsh glare of hindsight.

Gareth Williams ‘Last Word’ sums up the frailty of the evidence for the Monster in a sentence which echoes Magonia’s ufological conclusion: “The Loch Ness Monster that thousands of people have seen, photographed, filmed and echo sounded is not a single entity, but a rag-bag stuffed with non-monstrous animals, tricks of nature and hoaxes.“

Earlier I compared Alex Campbell, the water bailiff for the Loch, to Arthur Shuttlewood, the doyen of the Warminster phenomenon. Did his journalism, like Arthur’s, shape the phenomenon, seeding its earliest manifestations with a little imagination, allowing a vague report to come to life in the mind of his readers and listeners? Williams’ careful re-evaluation of the earliest reports suggest that without the encouragement and enthusiasm of the man on the spot the mystery may have been still-born.

This is an important book, perhaps the first true social history of the Loch Ness phenomenon, and reveals the human side of the mystery. There is tragedy here - the expert from the Natural History Museum whose career was wrecked by his monster-hunting; and humour - trying to catch the creature with an ox carcass baiting a giant fishing line, as well as the rather unconvincing footprint made using a rhinoceros-foot umbrella stand. Between the hoaxing and the madness though there was also some serious scientific method being utilised, and ultimately although a lot of dreams were shattered, the hope still remains.

An essential and enjoyable read for all Magonians. -- John Rimmer


3.2.16

MEDIUM WAVE

Erlendur Haraldsson and Loftur R. Gissurarson. Indridi Indridason: The Icelandic Physical Medium. White Crow Books, 2015.

Zofia Weaver. Other Realities? The Enigma of Franek Kluski’s Mediumship. White Crow Books, 2015.

The stories of Indridi Indridason (1883-1912) and Franek Kluski (pseudonym for Teofil Modrzejewski (1873-1943), give us an extremes example of apparently rational and sober people reporting events which by currently accepted views of the world, just could not have happened, and indeed it is difficult to imagine any world view at all in which such things could be possible.

Haraldsson and Gissurarson’s account centre on séances held by the so-called Experimental Society, which, despite its name, was mainly concerned with psychical research. These were held with Indridi between 1905 and 1909, by which time his health had become undermined. This book is based on recently re-discovered notebooks of the Experimental Society and press reports. Much of the séances were devoted to physical mediumship of one kind or another. These began with table turning, automatic writing and trace, but gradually progressed into levitations of objects and Indridi himself, knocks, strange lights, clicking sounds, a quieting period in which healing, 'psychic surgery' and trance mediumship occured, followed by an upsurge of violence in which there levitations, objects thrown about, sounds of music, mysterious voices and sitters touched by invisible arms, followed by choirs of music and materialised limbs.

Indridi Indridason
The most extreme alleged phenomena were the dematerialisation of Indridi’s left arm during séances held on 19-21 December 1905 and the appearance on the road outside the séance house of a creature like a cross between a horse and cow in the autumn of 1907. This is clearly some kind of folk boggart and was claimed to be the spirit of a suicide using materials from animals to materialise. The authors provide useful tables of Indridi’s phenomena and detailed comparisons with the phenomena attributed to Daniel Home.

Convinced spiritualists and believers in physical mediumship will see this as further confirmation of their beliefs. More sceptical readers are likely to come to the conclusion that much of this would be a lot more impressive if these amazing events had taken place in broad daylight and in conditions which made fraud virtually impossible, rather than in darkness. They might also think that it is by no means impossible that an intelligent but bored young man might get quite a kick out of fooling the local intelligentsia. If Indridi was a fraud he almost certainly had one or more confederates.

Not all the alleged phenomena can be attributed to fraud by Indridi; in one case a 'communicator' announced a fire in faraway Copenhagen, at time when there was not even a telegraph service to Iceland, and where the alleged entity was found by Haraldsson in 2009 to fit the profile of a man who lived a few doors away from the site of the fire. Here we are pushed to the conclusion that something genuinely anomalous occurred on at least this occasion or that the whole thing was made up by the Experimental Society after the event from knowledge gained back in Denmark. More neutral commentators might note the similarities with shamanism and ask whether such a folk tradition continued in Iceland under the surface of Christianity, and also to look at the social background to these events, as Iceland was at the time engaged in the struggle for home rule from Denmark. They might also note that in the stories around Indridi we can see a mixing of traditional lore, folk Christianity and Spiritualism. 

Franek Kluski
If anything the claims made on behalf of the Polish medium Kluski were even more extreme and the connection with shamanism even closer. As a child he is said to have told fellow children of his journey’s to the kingdom of the mole via long dangerous road and tortuous passages, and constructed a sort of shaman’s tent out of chairs covered by a shawl. He was said to have communication with invisible human and animal friends from puberty onwards. Two traumatic events, the death of his first love, and his own near fatal injury in dual, seem to have only added to his shamanistic personality. He apparently suffered from sudden and inexplicable (?psychogenic) ailments and violent swings of mood. In his séances all sorts of odd things happened, human forms and strange creatures materialised, the latter including the so called 'Pithecanthropus', a sort of folk image of an ape man, which had a habit of licking sitters with its huge tongue, as did a sort of materialised dog. Kluski was also seen to grow an extra arm on occasion and also produced materialised hands which left impressions in wax and which seem difficult to fake,

His most extraordinary alleged feat however is said to have occurred not in a séance but in his own home where on the evening May 7 1920, in reasonable light, a “tall elderly man with a large dark beard wearing a white burnus and ... head wrap” materialised, bowed to the audience, sat on the floor, conversed in sign language and when offered a cigarette from a box a couple of metres away “stretched its hand towards the table, the hand becoming elongated and nebula like..” Never did the phrase 'a festival of absurdity' seem more apposite. 

We really are forced into the position of accepting the world is totally different from what we assume it to be or that these stories are essentially made up. In the case of Kluski the bulk of the stories about him come from his friend Norbert Okolowicz, artist and soldier, another connection was a bohemian poet and Modrzejewski himself was a published writer. Is it possible that Kluski (the pseudonym means something like 'Dim Frank' was a fictional character created by Modrzejewski and his friends and the séance were forms of performance art? Could this have been a satire by devout Roman Catholics on spiritualists, or even some kind of satire by friends of Pilsudski on what they regarded as the chaotic and disorganised Polish Republic 

Such an interpretation doesn’t seem as plausible in the case of Indiri, and if that story is a fiction then its motivation lies buried in the mists of time.We can note that both of these narratives come from countries struggling to re-establish independence and a national identity. As I have argued before the real problem that those who claim these narratives are evidence for extraordinary human abilities face is why, given how useful in the struggle for survival they would be, they are not entirely commonplace. -- Peter Rogerson

31.1.16

TECHNOGHOSTS

Steven T. Parsons. Ghostology: The Art of the Ghost Hunter. White Crow Books, 2015.

The subtitle of this book is somewhat misleading, it is not really about “the whole art of ghost hunting” but is largely devoted to a critical analysis of the various types of equipment favoured by the techno-geek ghost hunter and it performs that service very well. All sorts of gadgets are described which are used to measure temperature, electromagnetic energy, humidity, infra-sound, along with various sorts of cameras and sound recording devises, and the basic physics behind each is explained, as are possible pitfalls in their use. This makes this an indispensable guide for anyone wanting to use such equipment, though at times I fear this book maybe too dry and technical for your average ghost hunter.

From the examples quoted in this book, it is sadly clear that many 'ghost hunters' are as far from scientific as it possible to get, especially when they resort to mediums and psychics, all too often such folk seem to take delight in frightening people with gory stories. I rather suspect that spooky entertainment and not science is the motivation behind many of these groups.

This sort of approach is all well and good when dealing with essentially deserted properties, (though some account of law and general health and safety would be more than valuable), but this kind of techno-geek approach fails to take account of the fact that “ghost” experiences, whatever their cause are essentially human experiences.

Investigators dealing with actual families must understand that they may well be dealing with very traumatised people, and, as an examination of the literature shows, sometimes families with deep seated problems that would tax the most experienced social worker. The investigators may be faced with very taxing ethical and even legal problems. Unless at least one member of your team has a background in psychiatric social work and /or family therapy, do not investigate family homes. It also stands to reason that people invited into the homes of possibly vulnerable people, particularly where there are children or young people involved, should be subject to full criminal record checks.

My conclusion on this book is that it is excellent on technology but rather lacks the human touch. -- Peter Rogerson

27.1.16

GOING GREEN

Carolyne Larrington. The Land of the Green Man - A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles. I.B.Tauris, 2015.

In her new book Carolyne Larrington explores the richness and diversity of the folklore of the British Isles, which of course comprises England, Wales, Scotland and the whole of Ireland. What is presented to the reader is a great treasury of ancient tales of the supernatural and legends that relate to the geographical features of these lands and the peoples who lived in them. 

But this book is much more than a compendium of folk tales. It is a journey through the landscape. Here we learn about local people in real places, still in existence today, and interactions with all kinds of supernatural beings. All our old favourites are here: goblins, trolls, kelpies, enchanted shapeshifters and the whole panoply of folklore. There is not only entertainment but also wisdom to be gained from many of these stories. Lessons such as seeing beyond an ugly or repellent feature to the beauty lying within. The Irish tale of Oisin and the pig-headed Princess is such a story.

Arthurian legends, such as 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight', receive a good deal of attention and analysis. The various claimed resting places of King Arthur himself are here. Also you will find many intriguing unexplained mysteries, such as the Black Dog or 'Black Shuck' of Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk. During a terrible storm of lightning and thunder on Sunday 4 August 1577, the villagers were sheltering in their churches and praying for deliverance. A few people met violent deaths when a 'horrible shapen thing' attacked them inside the sanctuary of the churches. This was perceived by the terrified villagers as the 'Black Shuck', and you can still see its black clawmarks on the church door in Blythburgh. The actual cause was probably ball-lightning, a strange phenomenon that might well in the circumstances be perceived as a vicious and evil entity.

Dr Carolyne Larrington is a Fellow and Tutor in Medieval English Literature at St John's College, Oxford, and a prolific author. Her erudition shows throughout this book as she not only re-tells these stories in a charmingly direct style but also perceptively analyses their deeper meanings.

In the hustle and bustle of modern-day Britain, especially in its increasingly congested urban areas, one can easily lose sight of the rich spiritual heritage of this 'green and pleasant land', as William Blake so memorably described it. The book's own cover blurb puts its theme this way: “Beyond its housing estates and identikit high streets there is another Britain. This is the Britain of mist-drenched forests and unpredictable sea-frets of wraith-like fog banks, druidic mistletoe and peculiar creatures that lurk, half-unseen, in the undergrowth, tantalising and teasing just at the periphery of human vision. How have the remarkably persistent folkloric traditions of the British Isles formed and been formed by the identities and psyches of those who inhabit them?”

The book comprises an Introduction and six Chapters: 'The Land over Time', 'Lust and Love', 'Death and Loss', 'Gain and Lack', 'The Beast and the Human' and 'Continuity and Change', followed by a section of Notes with references, a list of Further Reading and an Index. It covers a broad scope from ancient legends and mythology right up to modern culture, including 'Game of Thrones' and 'Harry Potter'. Perhaps as would be expected from the author's academic speciality, there is a strong literary aspect to the book, with some elegant interpretations and rigorous evaluations of novels in the fantasy genre.

It is a delightfully entertaining book that can be read for pleasure, ideal for bedtime reading or while on a journey. Yet it also has something of the nature of a reference book. That impression is given partly by the sheer amount of information and references contained in the text but mainly by the manner or format in which the text is laid out. There are occasional sub-titles, which help to locate a theme or story title, and some very welcome illustrations, 30 in total, which add greatly to one's interest and comprehension. However, to serve as a reference book it does require a comprehensive Index and that is sadly not the case. For example, having read the book thoroughly I knew that there were several references to Orkney, with some mermaid and selkie tales from those islands and even a summary of a 2013 novel with that title, but, inexplicably, 'Orkney' does not appear in the Index. The same applies to 'Isle of Man', appearing several times in the main text, but not at all in the Index.

Also on the downside there are rather too many pages where the text appears as a solid block with little or no variation. An otherwise exciting and fascinating subject thus becomes somewhat heavy and hard to read in places. This book's appeal would benefit from a little judicious editing to enhance its accessibility to the general reader. Obvious suggestions for improvement would be shorter paragraphs or better spacing, and more use of illustrations and sub-headings. Some variation of font size and boldness to emphasise particular names and themes would also help.

"In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck
they now saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered,
pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes,
and a grin that ran right across his freckled face"

The Introduction opens with a quotation from Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill: “Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest - gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.”

Following this most appropriate quotation, which sets the scene and themes of the whole book, the author invitingly draws us into her personal world with a warm description of her participation in a communal occasion: The Scouring of the White Horse. This family-centred event, arranged by the National Trust, was for the purpose of renovating the ancient chalk figure of the White Horse. This enormous figure, now known from archaeological research to be nearly three thousand years old, lies along a hill high above the Oxfordshire vale to which it gives its name.

As Oxfordshire is the author's adopted home county this anecdote is a nice personal touch for an Introduction. It also gives her the opportunity to describe the old-time Scouring Festival, almost an evocation of 'Merrie England'. This leads on to coverage of other ancient sites in the same area: Uffington Castle, an Iron Age hill fort, and the ancient Ridgeway, said to be England's oldest road. This route has been walked for five thousand years, originally running coast to coast, all the way from the Wash to the Dorset shore, passing the ancient mysteries of Stonehenge and Silbury Hill. Barrows and chamber graves, such as Scutchamer Knob and Waylands Smithy, lie on the Ridgeway. There are also dramatic natural features there, including Dragon Hill, where tradition has it that St George slew the dragon. White chalky patches show where the dragon's poisonous blood seared through the grass. The author conjures up the image of the brave young knight on his proud white horse which echoes the figure on the hillside above. However, she points out that the legend of George and the Dragon is truly an international one, whereas the tales associated with the White Horse are as local as they come. What is their significance?

Referring to archaeological digs and dating research, while acknowledging the great contribution this makes to our understanding of the lives of our ancestors, Larrington emphasises the limitations of such scientific knowledge: 'Knowing the Horse's age and knowing the tale of the Horse's habits: these are two crucially different modes of understanding the British landscape, both its past and its present.....And it's that 'something' that they were looking for, that second kind of knowing, that this book is interested in.'

As Larrington goes on to explain, it is a strong human urge to belong to a geographical place, be it a nation, landscape or city: “...our yearning to belong somewhere, to find a space called home, is an enormously powerful human drive, and the strength of our bonds with the land, even with the city streets, should never be underestimated. And strong too is our longing to be told stories, tales which draw their energy from the places where we live or where we travel.”

There is some poignancy to this statement by the author, as she confides that she was a 'forces brat', having to keep moving from place to place in her childhood. She felt that she came from 'nowhere', and this indeed explains her especially strong interest in what it means to choose and live in a particular place that one can call 'home'.

Many of these tales, featuring supernatural creatures such as giants, fairies and mermaids, are centuries old and had a life of their own. They refused to be locked away in libraries as 'records of superstition which no longer had any relevance to the modern age'. Authors such as Kipling, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis drew upon this rich heritage of mythology and dramatic legends for a reason. They were not simply re-telling old stories or creating new ones but rather examining the human condition and the challenges it poses; subjects such as life and death, love and desire, riches and poverty. As Larrington puts it, the legends of our past offer “beautiful and mysterious answers...to very large questions“.

One of the largest questions is, inevitably, 'Where do we come from?' There are of course many possible answers to that question, but at some point the mythological ones become just as valid as those based on scientific enquiry. Historical records go back only so far, and even the records of archaeology and geology are never complete and become essentially speculative and subject to interpretation. We know that dinosaurs existed because we can see their massive skeletons for ourselves in many Natural History museums. But as to how they evolved or were created is still uncertain. Whether humanoid monsters or giants ever existed is much more a matter of speculation. Huge natural features such as the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea are explained in mythology and folk tales as the work of giants. This book thoroughly details all of these ancient legends and manages to cover virtually every corner of the British Isles.

Regarding the origin of giants, many readers will already be aware of the account in the Old Testament that they were the hybrid offspring of coupling between 'sons of God and the daughters of men'. But did you know that the British Isles at one time had a large population of giants? In this book I learned of the legend of Princess Albina, the eldest of thirty-three evidently violent sisters, who arrived on these shores after some previous adventures. Apparently, this land was uninhabited at the time, apart from a multitude of demons, and the sisters named it Albion after their leader. Not having any men available, the unruly women were driven to coupling with the demons, giving birth to even more violent and uncivilised offspring. One wonders whether any of this progeny has survived in the genes of some modern-day Britons!

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's history, Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas from Troy and founder of Britain, systematically wiped out the giants throughout the land, all the way to Cornwall. It is said that the county gets its name from Brutus' companion Corineus, who killed the last mighty giant by throwing him off a cliff. That giant's name was Goemagog, or Gogmagog, whose name derives from the biblical giant pair Gog and Magog.

WICKER IMAGES OF GOG AND MAGOG IN THE LORD MAYOR OF LONDON'S PARADE
However unlikely this story may sound, the names have survived to this day. At the Guildhall in the City of London, many hundreds of years ago there used to be two giant figures representing Corineus and Gogmagog, later known as Gog and Magog. New figures were made in 1953 to replace the wooden figures destroyed during the London Blitz in 1940. Large wicker versions of Gog and Magog lead the procession of the annual Lord Mayor's Show. As we can see, ancient tradition is very important to the City of London and to Britain generally. 'They remind the city-dwellers that there are forces which, despite their ingenious technologies, their concreting over the clay, humans cannot control, and which they must remember to propitiate......they throw up important questions about how we live in this land...and how our imposition of human culture on nature has changed the land - and changed us'. There is an important message here. Ancient legends, particularly concerning giants, refer to powerful natural forces which may initially seem friendly but can turn extremely nasty and hostile if not treated with respect.

Before concluding with what or who the 'Green Man' is, this review would not be complete without mention of the 'Green Children'. According to a Latin chronicle written around 1210, two very strange green children, a boy and a girl, were found at the village of Woolpit, near Coggeshall in Essex. The composer of the chronicle, Ralph of Coggeshall, was the abbot of the Cistercian monastery there. He relates that the children had bright green skin and spoke an unintelligible language. They were taken to the local manor house of Sir Richard de Calne. There they refused to eat anything but beans. The boy did not thrive and eventually died, but the girl flourished and lost her greenness as she began to eat a more varied diet. Eventually she learned to speak English, so could then explain where she and her brother had come from. In simple terms, it sounds like fairyland. Could this be where ultimately the stories of 'little green men' originated?

As to the 'Green Man' himself, the nature god appearing in many places as a 'foliate head' mixture of human features and foliage, he never existed! Larrington saves this surprise for the end of her book. It was the anthropologist Julia, Lady Raglan, who gave birth to him in a 1939 edition of the journal Folklore by conflating the images of 'Jack-in-the-Green' inn signs with Robin Hood. So there you have it. Truth may sometimes be stranger than fiction, but, as this book beautifully shows, fiction can also become truth. -- Kevin Murphy



25.1.16

FROM THE VAULTS

Albert S. Rosales. Humanoid Encounters, The Others Amongst Us: 2000-2009. CreateSpace, 2015.

Back in the day Ted Bloecher and David Webb set out to produce something called HUMCAT, a catalogue of reports of UFO occupants, something which I worked with for a time during the INTCAT years. All of that got swallowed up by the abduction tales, Ted Bloecher became so disillusioned with that development that he left ufology altogether to work with the New York Gay Man’s Choir, and Webb got more sucked into the Andreasson saga.

HUMCAT was kept going for a time and then ended up in the vaults of the now largely defunct CUFOS, from where it was rescued by Rosales, a Miami police officer. His website (HERE)  has become a repository of a huge range of material, going far beyond the boundaries of ufology and this book provides a paper copy of the stories from the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Though Rosales himself takes a fairly literal view of these stories, as explained in my introduction to INTCAT I take a much less literal view: they are modern folklore. The stories in this book show how this folklore flourishes and diversifies when all the gatekeepers are removed. Rosales lets everything in, there is no attempt to separate true and false stories. Furthermore this collection can thought of as representing post-ufological lore.

The great inspiration for all of this work was Jacques Vallee’s catalogue in Passport to Magonia, which we, in what was then MUFOB, first read 45 years ago. In Vallee’s catalogue the stories were taken either from newspapers, Project Bluebook files, the pages of popular books, or most often journals such as Flying Saucer Review, Lumieres dans la Nuit, Phenomenes Spatiuax, APRO Bulletin and UFO Investigator. The latter attempted to present at least a façade of scientific ufology and the cases presented had often been investigated by people with a degree of competence. The result was in effect a homogenised product in which ufologists ideas of what constituted real cases predominated,

Rosales twenty-first century material by contrast comes from a period in which organised Ufology has collapsed, and much of this material derives from 'tell your own story' internet sites. The material is also much more global and one of the main differences is the appearance of a vast range of material from the former Soviet Union, joining the material from Latin America. The United States and Western Europe and very much in the minority here.

Significantly the grey hegemony is over, the entities in these stories range from the blond angels of contactee lore, gnomes, bipedal reptiles, floating monks, hairy humanoids, even mermaids and a Nigerian centaur. This lore also reflects the ebbing of secular ufology. Material with a contactee or New Age background is much more prevalent, although in the United States abduction stories still predominate. Some old fashioned occupant reports remain, but now a decided minority.

Looking at this material, it strikes me that what we are seeing here is folklore escaping from its historical, cultural and ideological background and being melded and globalised, and that the Internet is the main engine for the globalisation of folklore as for much else. We can also see the technologisation of traditional lore. Aliens replace angels and devils, they call on a sinful earth to repent, they guard the natural resources, they are the new mysterium.

The others are protean creatures of the imagination, and quite a number are actually presented as shape-shifters. Whether from the deep spontaneous imagination of dreams and visionary experiences, or from the crafted imagination of the story teller, they speak of a need to tell stories of signs and wonders, of encounters with the other, against which we can mirror ourselves.

This is not a book for ‘scientific ufologists‘, and no doubt academic folklorists would much prefer to hear these stories told by the original tellers, inflections and all, but definitely for anyone interested in modern lore and how it reflects the human need for wonder. -- Peter Rogerson

21.1.16

HEAVYWEIGHT MAGIC

David J Collins (editor). Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

This is a huge collection of twenty scholarly essays covering the history of magic and magical thought from ancient Egypt and the Near East to modern Neo-Paganism. The contributors are all professors and and lecturers at universities in Britain and America, in fields such as history, religion, anthropology and the history of art.

The earliest chapters, which examine magical practices in the ancient world emphasise the difficulty of identifying specific practices which could be seen as different from the religious belief and practices of the era, or those which form part of the popular folk wisdom. In discussing Greco-Roman attitudes to magical acts Kimberley Stratton, notes “”Roman law also suggests that there was no distinct concept of magic, nor any laws specifically against it in the republican era or earlier”. The use of ritual incantations, for instance, was only punished when these were intended to hurt or steal from someone, and were regarded as simply the method used to carry out a criminal act, rather then being criminal in themselves.

Roman religion did not comprise an organised system of theology, but was rather a collection of beliefs and practices that were seen as part of the day-to-day routines of life. Later in the Roman era an idea of ‘magical discourse’ arose, but this developed largely in a literary context with formal curses, often involving the use of bizarre ritual ingredients.

This began to change in the later Roman Imperial period, when ‘magic’ began to be seen in a sinister light, involving human sacrifice and necromancy. The actual act of magic was now seen as evil in itself, regardless of the nature of the result it intended to bring about. At this time the idea developed of magic as a form of inverted religion, separating the gods of heaven from the gods of the underworld.

The early Christian Church furthered the distinction between magic and authorised religion. In the chapter ‘The early Church’, Maijastina Kahlos explains that Christian writers looked at magical practices in two ways, one emerging from the Greco-Roman idea of magic being of human origin, with practitioners using the powers of natural objects and forces, and also the idea emerging from Jewish thought of humanity being introduced to magic through the ‘fallen angels’. The idea of magic involving the intercession of devils and demons became the dominant thinking and determining the Church’s attitude to such practices.

AGOBARD DENOUNCING BELIEF IN THE TEMPESTARII

In the chapter on the Early Medieval West we meet a character who is well know to Magonia readers. Archbishop Agobard of Lyon. In his treatise ‘Against the Multitude’s Absurd Belief Concerning Hail and Thunder’ Agobard gives us the first recorded use of the name ‘Magonia’ to refer to a mystical land in the sky. But far from believing in such an entity, Agobard denounces belief in the so-called tempestarii who supposedly had the power to cause storms and hail. Rather than seeing them as magicians or witches, it is suggested that Agobard was aiming his fire at local clerics who pretended to have power over the weather, and using belief ion the powers as a way or extorting ‘protection money’ from local farmers who feared having their crops destroyed.

The second section of the book looks at parallel strands of magical belief which have influenced Western thought on magic and witchcraft, including an examination of magic in Byzantium, Islamic and Jewish magical beliefs. The author of the chapter on Jewish Magic in the Middle Ages notes that it was “widely and openly studies and practiced by many learned Jews”, although many rabbis objected to practices which they though close to idolatry. However the tradition was not driven underground and flourished in the development of Jewish mysticism.

In a section ‘Old Europe’ two chapters contrast ‘common magic’ and ‘learned magic. Catherine Rider explains ‘common magic’ as practices which were rooted in everyday life - “curing illness, seeking prosperity or love and explaining and averting misfortune”. These practices were not confined to one particular type or class of person and were generally disseminated through practice and custom rather that thorough a literary canon, as were the magical processes considered in the chapter ‘Learned Magic’ by David Collins. However there seems to have been overlap between the two traditions, with popular grimoirs circulating amongst the ‘common’ magicians.

It was the ‘learned magic’ which was seen as the major challenge to the established order and provoked the earliest retaliation from state and church authorities, but it was also the learned magic, largely based on classical texts, which declined as many of its aspects were appropriated into the growing scientific disciplines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a process which had little effect on the ‘common magic‘.

‘Diabolic Magic’ and ‘Magic and the Priesthood’ examine further how ‘learned magic’ interacted with ecclesiastical and secular authorities and increasingly became to be seen as a challenge to the status-quo, and accusations were often used to undermine individuals and institutions.

A considerable section on magic and the colonial experience examines topics such as the interaction between the Spanish and native traditions in Mexico and the influence this had on the development of the Catholic church in that country. The chapter on the folk magical tradition in North America deals largely with New England witchcraft. Other chapters deal with colonial magic in the Dutch East indies, and the conflict between native and colonial authorities across Africa throught the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The idea of ‘literary’ or ‘elite’ magic returns with discussion of the societies devoted to ritual magic which arose in the nineteenth century, starting with the description of a bizarre duel with pistols between rival magicians in Paris in 1893.

The nineteenth century magicians had the entire esoteric tradition of the early-modern era to work with, merging the so-called Egyptian Mysteries, with Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and Enlightenment ideas such as Mesmerism. At the same time a post-colonial magic movement was underway in America which introduced pre-Columbian and African beliefs and practices into the religion introduced by the colonialists. The tradition of ‘literary magic’ was maintained through Kardec’s Spiritist movement which sought to reconcile esoteric and scientific traditions.

The book concludes with a chapter on the growth New-Age and neo-Pagan magic, which however seeks to give only a brief account of the sources of contemporary practices.

This is a massive, and expensive, compilation coming to 800 pages with its extensive bibliography and index, and is not intended for the general reader or the contemporary practitioner. But although it is written by and for academics it does not descend into the deliberately opaque style of too many works aimed a similar readership and will be accessible to many people with a more general interest in the topics covered. 

This will certainly be a standard reference work for students of this particular fascinating strand of social history and should be part of any academic history reference collection. -- John Rimmer.


18.1.16

TEXT AND CONTEXT

Jason Colavito (editor). Foundations of Atlantis, Ancient Astronauts and Other Alternative Pasts: 148 Documents Cited by Writers of Fringe History, Translated with Annotations. McFarland, 2015.

‘Alt Archaeology‘, or Alternative Archaeology, has been in vogue at least since at least the seventies, even before the publication of the infamous Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken. Some may say that the reason for this popularity is that, lacking the rigorous scholarship of mainstream archaeology, along with a slant towards more sensational claims than those of academia, Alt Archaeology is more accessible and more appealing to the general public than that which comes from universities and colleges. Those who champion this point of view say that the alternative dares to take the cognitive leaps of faith that the hidebound educational system, which is capable of punishing those who are perceived as stepping out of line with consensus thought, will not dare to take. Also, the somewhat unconventional claims of alternative authors help to create a certain tension in the whole field.

Foundations of Atlantis, Ancient Astronauts and Other Alternative Pasts, named hereafter as Foundations, is a book on a mission. The idea is to look at documents referred to by some of the pre-eminent (or notorious, depending upon your point of view) alternative archaeology writers, and to see if the written material supports the arguments of the authors. It should be noted at this point that the editor of this work, Jason Colavito, is a self-professed sceptic when it comes to the statements of alternative archaeologists. He says on his website that he is a “skeptical xenoarchaeologist”, therefore laying out his position straight away as to the direction that his arguments will take.

There are a wide variety of subjects covered in this book, from the Old Testament flood and the Watchers, Atlantis and the Americas, to the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, so Foundations is ambitious in scope. The subject is chosen and the supporting documents are appended so that the reader can compare the texts with the author’s claims in order to draw conclusions as to whether the accuracy of the original claims are supported. However, along with the documents provided by the author of Foundations, there is significant editorial comment which guides the reader, whether they take note of the documentation’s direction or not.

One example is on page 88 of the chapter 'Flying Chariots and Ancient Astronauts' where Colavito writes “In 1:16, for example, a more magnificent version of the Babylonian wheeled chariots for transporting divine statues is quite clearly indicated”. This is in response to the claims of many ancient astronaut theory supporters that the vision in a storm mentioned in Ezekiel of the Old Testament is that of an alien spacecraft. His conclusion that this conveyance is a grandiose version of a mundane and easily explainable ground vehicle may indeed be accurate, and if one is going to comment upon such things then a grounding in early Middle-Eastern history and culture certainly would not hurt, although it is still directing the reader in lieu of them coming to conclusions via the data supplied.

That said, there is an index, and relevant data after the heading of each document as to the language it was written in, the approximate date when it was originally created and so on.

Foundations has a praiseworthy mission in that the author is supplying his audience with information, ostensibly so that they may make their own minds up as to whether the claims of alternative archaeologists are viable. However, this is tempered by the supplying of sufficient guidance in his editorial comment to ensure that readers draw the conclusions that would point them closer to the sceptical pool of thinking that he represents. Having said that, it will still be a valuable resource because of the accumulation of so many relevant texts in one volume. -- Trevor Pyne


MAGONIA RECOMMENDS