13 November 2018


Timothy Green Beckley and Sean Casteel. UFO Hostilities and the Evil Alien Agenda; Lethal Encounters with Ultra-terrestrials Exposed. Global Communication/Inner Light. 2018

One of the first UFO books I ever bought was a cheap paperback Flying Saucers Are Hostile by Brad Steiger and Joan Whritenour, which promised ‘UFO Atrocities from strange disappearances to bizarre deaths.’ At the time it was as startling as the cover blurb promised.

This volume goes into even more detail about the dangers of UFO encounters and for good measure even includes a chapter about ‘Patterns of Horror’ by Brad that summarises some of the cases he used in his book. Many of the instances involve beams of light that burn the terrified witnesses and cause them to suffer from what seems like radiation burns. He also indicates that UFOs might be responsible for cases of spontaneous human combustion and that the magnetic field surrounding UFO craft flings aircraft to the ground and causes motor vehicles to crash if they get too close.

One of the more intriguing stories is about the discovery of the bodies of Miguel Jose Viana and Manuel Pereira de Cruz, on a hillside in Niteroi, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August 1966. The two electronics repairmen were wearing homemade lead masks and they had notes referring to waiting for the ‘agreed signal’ and prescribing the use of capsules. UFOs were seen in the local vicinity before they were found and lab tests were unable to explain their deaths. Brad, perhaps influenced by Charles Fort, wonders if they met with the occupants of a UFO and ‘...learned far too late that...[the aliens]...far from being indifferent to earthlings and shunning contact with us, are decidedly aggressive and regard Homo Sapiens as man might regard cattle?’ [This case was described in a very early MUFORG Bulletin

An earlier chapter by another veteran ufologist titled ‘The Hostile UFO Universe of George D. Fawcett’ lists numerous examples dated between 1944 and 1960 of hostile aviation encounters and instances where witnesses said they were burnt by exposure to UFOs.

A more considered viewpoint is given in ‘A Scientist Reports on the Hostility of Aerial Phenomena: Dr. James McDonald’ who says that cases of physical injures are relatively rare and need better authentication before they can be fully accepted. He agrees that UFOs have on occasion presented overt hostility and could be responsible for causing power outrages due to their magnetic fields getting too close to power distribution systems.

From that voice of moderation we get the screaming madness of Commander Alvin E. Moore who claims Skymen (his name for aliens) abduct people and extract blood from animals and humans, and for good measure are ruthless killers. Their work is made easy because they are invisible predators who stab or bite their victims and leave them drained of blood. He recounts several blood curdling instances of unexplained attacks and deaths to shoe-horn into his Skyman theory, but they are mainly based on news clippings rather than on any in-depth research or consideration for more plausible explanations.

The following chapters cover such topics as wartime UFOs, including my own chapter ‘Pre-First World War Scares and Sightings’, the Angel of Mons, disappearing soldiers, foo fighters and the Battle for Los Angeles. Alien attacks, abductions, mutilations and the evil plans ‘they’ have for humanity are all given room from consideration.

This collection of so many stories about the horrific side of UFO visitations gives little room for doubt that they have got it in for us, big time! Yet, before we head for the tin foil hat and underground bunkers all is not lost. Many of the reports are misleading and forget to mention rational explanations for them. Some are just examples of UFOs being seen in the vicinity of a mysterious event with no direct link being established between the two, or some cases might be due to such things as plasma balls, rare electrical phenomena, secret weapon testing or just plain rumours with little basis in fact.

The stories in the second half of the book, about abductions, mutilations, disappearances and the nasty alien agenda, indicate the pure paranoia and fantasy-proneness of people sucked into this subject. It also shows that some of us have not moved on from the mindset of Brad’s ‘Flying Saucers Are Hostile’ hypothesis.

I think such unconditional beliefs are far more dangerous than a UFO zapping you in the middle of the night, and this book should serve as a warning about the psychological dangers of ufology.

Whatever your opinion UFO Hostilities is a sensational exploration of the wilder and unfettered fringes of ufology. -- Nigel Watson.

9 November 2018


Eric Wargo. Time Loops. Anomalist Books, 2018.

First things first - this is the most interesting and well-argued book about a paranormal topic I have read in years. It slowly develops a fascinating case with scientific rigour and, whilst proposing what might seem a startling premise - that precognition is not what we often assume it to be - it never seems more than objective and takes seriously, and argues well, sceptical rebuttals. This approach for me is how we should address these topics and is in the true spirit of Fort and Vallee. Given that this is the author’s first ever book it is a remarkable debut because both those author’s would, I suspect, warm to the manner with which he reveals his ideas.

There is a small warning to issue. The book contains science - notably psychology and quantum physics - and discusses its research with a lot of references. This is not superfluous and nor is it hard to read. So do not fear being blinded by numbers - Wargo is a fine writer and never leaves you feeling lost. Indeed the format adds to the book in many ways. But there are literally hundreds of those references, many several paragraphs long, and the last 100 pages of the book are entirely given over to them and to the index. 

So invest in a good book mark is my advice - as you will find yourself flipping back and forth as you read the main 340 pages of text to get more detail of the source of the latest experiment or theory or to find where a summarised experience can be seen in more detail as it is often pointed up for later study by the reader. Such is the moment of this publication these diversions deserve your attention and you will doubtless want to grasp why the author has concluded what he has from these starting points. To put it simply - if Wargo is right in his theorem then the concept set out will revolutionise our understanding of many things.

Superficially, that might seem to be just the concept of ‘foreseeing the future’ - or retrocognition as he calls it with a logic that will become apparent as you read his text. But he helps reveal how precognition - the sudden experience of a future event before it happens - may need to be seen in a new and psychologically fascinating light. This book could be a Newton-plus-apple moment in the understanding of many currently way out there phenomena that we have investigated with frustrating lack of progress for many years.

Of course, it may not turn out to be quite so dramatic, as I think the author realises. But his work as a PhD anthropologist and science writer from Washington DC, with a fascinating blog delightfully called ‘The Nightshirt’, stands him in good stead to see meaning in things that may have passed others by.

Through a vast array of witness accounts about incidents that appear to have predicted the future - we are asked to consider a startling possibility. If true then it is as simple as it is profound. We tend to presume that if someone has a presentiment that they will have a minor car accident should they park in a spot they are driving into, that this occurs to forewarn and so prevent the occurrence.

Logical isn’t it? Otherwise why have the experience if it is not a warning to help us to avoid it? But then, if we never have the incident how was the sense about it happening accurate? It never occurred - so whatever else it was this cannot be described as a precognition. But what if the experience is not a forewarning but an after effect rippling backwards from the event when it happens and influencing us from the emotional impact on our life that event then has upon ourselves?

This is just one of many intriguing questions posed by this book and, as you can see, it leads to so many other implications about the nature of time, space, consciousness and what we call the paranormal that our horizons widen at every opportunity.

Filling it with case studies and speculation as to their meaning with a sprinkling of obscure science experiments you may never have encountered you start to see the import of these questions asked as the author has you thinking deeply all the way. We have a forensic analysis of multiple source precognitions such as 9-11, the Titanic sinking and Aberfan with an even-handed assessment of pros and cons alongside many recent events collated by the author.

There is even a chapter devoted to the prolific science fiction author Philip K Dick, who, despite dying young just before Blade Runner launched his big screen career, has probably been the source of more hit SF movies than anyone - from Total Recall to the ongoing Amazon TV series, The Man in the High Castle. How much did his writing owe itself to his retrocognitive abilities as his frequent experiences seem to suggest? It is certainly a theme that he took to heart.

This book takes you on a journey into the mind and its relationship with time and space and you will emerge aware, perhaps as never before, how things that once looked simple are anything but.

If you believed premonitions either did or did not happen in the way popularly assumed, then Wargo reveals how they instead might be glimpses of the inner core of the universe and how it truly works. -- Jenny Randles

4 November 2018


The Omega Factor: The Complete Series. BBC. Simply Media 2017. (12)

The Omega Factor was a short-lived conspiracy thriller set in the murky world of psychical research, broadcast by BBC Scotland in 1979. James Hazeldine played Tom Crane, an investigative journalist specialising in the occult and paranormal. Keen to interview Drexil, an ageing black magician with suspected historic connections to the Third Reich, Crane travels to Scotland. There, his wife, Julie, is killed in a car crash brought on by Drexil's psychic powers, or those of his mysterious, silent assistant Morag.

Crane finds himself developing psychic powers, and is recruited by a sinister secret servant, Scott Erskine into Department 7, secret government research unit exploring ESP and the paranormal, headed by Dr. Roy Martindale. Crane also develops a close professional and personal relationship with the physicist, Dr. Anne Reynolds, played by Louise Jameson. Fans of Dr.Who will remember her as the barbarian warrior woman, Leela, one of the companions of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor. Crane also finds that his brother has also been recruited into the organisation.

As Crane and Reynolds pursue their investigations, with Crane intent on tracking down Drexil, they uncover another, far more secretive and sinister organisation, Omega. Omega are taking Department 7's research and using it to develop systems of mind control that threaten human freedom across the globe. They are ruthless, killing, abducting and destroying their opponents minds and bodies. And their power reaches to the heart of Department 7 and at the highest levels of the civil service.

During its 10 episodes, the series referred to and explored a variety of paranormal topics, including hypnosis, sensory deprivation, poltergeists, witchcraft demonic possession, the Ouija board, mind control using drugs or ultrasound, the 'stone tape' theory of ghosts, Findhorn and intelligence in plants, witchcraft, doppelgangers, astral projection and out of body experiences, telepathy and the Ganzfeld experiments, psychic conditioning and assassination, and Street Lamp Interference.

Drexil seems partly based on the notorious Aleister Crowley. As well as being a black magician, Drexil also, like Crowley, has founded a series of occult groups. One of these was the Golden Light, whose name clearly harks to the Golden Dawn. And a members of these groups, including a woman, have died in mysterious circumstances, rather like the death of one of Crowley's female disciples at his 'Abbey of Thelema' in Sicily.

In the documentary on the programme included in the special features, the creators, producer, director and writers state that the programme was based very much on 'what was in the air at the time'. The '70s were a period of increasing interest in the occult and paranormal. It was the decade that saw the launch of the magazine, The Unexplained, edited by Magonia's long-term friends and contributors, Peter Brookesmith and Lynn Picknett. American astronauts had performed ESP experiments in space during the Apollo missions, and it seemed that parapsychology was on the verge of becoming an established, respectable science. The programme's producers were also friends with the late Prof. Archie Roy, an astronomer, formerly the leading members of the Society for Psychical Research. Roy also wrote thrillers containing parapsychology, and agreed to look over the scripts.

Edinburgh is the Gothic city of R.L. Stevenson, but its university was also the home of the Arthur Koestler parapsychology laboratory. Gerson also had an interest in history, and the episode 'Powers of Darkness', in which a female student is hypnotically regressed to a past life, in which she was a witch, was inspired by his research into the North Berwick witches and the Bridie Murphy case. The series was also strongly influenced by the superpowers' interest in psychic abilities as a tool for espionage. Two of the foreign psychical researchers in the series are eastern European. One is an East German defector, while the name of another, Vashevski, seems to reflect the Russians' own military psychic research. I also wondered if the character's Russian-sounding name may have been partly inspired by the SPR's John Beloff, who sadly died a few years ago.

The blurb on the back of the DVD sleeve states that since the programme was first aired, it has 'been lauded as the show which inspired other iconic thrillers such as The X-Files. I'm not sure if the programme was an influence on the latter series, as I understood Chris Carter based his show on Kolchak: The Night-Stalker, a series about a newspaper journalist investigating cases of the weird and paranormal. Nevertheless there are parallels between the two. In both series, the conspiracy reaches into the heart of the departments in which the heroes work. Crane, like Mulder, infiltrates army bases and secret laboratories in pursuit of the truth. Also like Mulder, Crane is in constant trouble with his immediate boss, Roy Martindale, and is on the verge of being thrown out of the organisation. And Erskine is also the source of secret information, rather like the X-Files' Deep Throat and X.

There are also differences as well as similarities. The Omega Factor concentrated very much on the paranormal and psychic, whereas the X-Files also included weird science – Artificial Intelligence, genetic engineering, cryptozoology and, famously, UFOs and alien abductions. UFOs were also very much in the news in the 1970s. The Travis Walton case was also reported on British television in 1976, as well as local news programmes on the Warminster Thing, and various documentaries, including one which attacked and demolished Erich von Daniken's ancient astronaut ideas. However, the X-Files' story arc about UFOs and alien infiltration was strongly based on the abduction scare which emerged later in the 1980s. As I recall, television in the '70s was rather more sceptical. The programme I recall about UFOs from that decade was Project UFO, a children's series broadcast around 5 o'clock in the evening. It was an American import, based on the US Airforce's Project Blue Book. It featured two men investigating UFO sightings, all of which turned out to be, or were strongly hinted as, cases of misidentification.

The Omega Factor also differs from the X-Files in that it's much less violent. The X-Files was set in the FBI and was also strongly influenced by the Silence of the Lambs, so that serial killers were also among the other weird and sinister characters hunted by Scully and Mulder. Each episode featured grim, violent, and very often multiple deaths. Violence and murder also occurs in The Omega Factor, but it's far more low-key than the X-Files. Some of this might be due to the different standards over the level of violence considered acceptable on television, and especially in British television in contrast to America in the period, as well as budgetary constraints.

The programmes' time slot was also a factor. Over here at least, the X-Files was put on after the 9 o'clock watershed. The Omega Factor, by contrast, was shown before it. The creators and producers were determined that the series should not be a children's show like Dr. Who, and so should not have over-the-top violence and plenty of bodies. And this may well have been a contributing factor in the controversy the series caused. Mary Whitehouse and her Viewers' and Listeners' Association included the series amongst the number of other TV, films and plays they believed were a threat to wholesome British values. Whitehouse herself wrote to the network heads demanding its cancellation, and publicly declared that it's producers 'must be made'. The producers speculate that the low level of violence in the Omega Factor, far from making it less frightening, actually made it more so by making it more believable. Whether this is the case, viewers can judge for themselves.

As well as the series' ten episodes, there is also a documentary, 'Inside the Omega Factor', an audio commentary for the episode 'Powers of Darkness' and a photo gallery. -- David Sivier

28 October 2018


Chandra Wickramasinghe, Ph.D., and Robert Bauval. Cosmic Womb; The Seeding of the Planet Earth. Bear & Company, 2017.

This book is comprised of some quite different sections. The first part, ‘Origins of Life in the Cosmos’, by Wickramasinghe, is a renewed statement of the thesis that he put forwards many years ago along with the late Fred Hoyle, that life did not originate on earth, but somewhere in outer space, being perhaps brought here by comets crashing. He presents some subsequent discoveries that tend to support this hypothesis.

The first eighty pages of Part II, ‘Intelligent Speculation Based on Cutting Edge Science’, by Robert Bauval, consists of three general chapters on unsolved problems in science. The remaining eighty concern his favourite hobby horse, the pyramids of Giza.

“More rubbish has been written about the Great Pyramid than any other construction on this planet” – John Keel. “The Pyramid of Cheops, in particular, has inspired hundreds of crazy and untenable theories” – Erich von Däniken. It will be observed that neither of these two authors have ever been noted for their cautious scepticism.

In fact, though it is fairly obvious that the New Egyptologists were originally inspired by von Däniken, as indicated by some of their titles (Fingerprints of the Gods, etc.), they now find this an embarrassment. Hence Bauval writes: “…a “contact” might have taken place long ago when humans either did not detect it, or worse, they might have heard the “message” but misunderstood it as a divine revelation and turned it into religion. I know that this possibility will evoke the Erich von Däniken, ancient aliens, or paleo-SETI hypotheses that have vexed the scholarly and scientific communities. But this cannot be helped.”

As long ago as 1859, London mathematician John Taylor had observed that when he divided the circumference of the base of the Great Pyramid by twice the height he to the number 3.144, which is similar to Pi, 3.14159. He deemed this to be too close for coincidence. So he supposed that the builders had been trying to ‘square the circle’.

The summit of the Great Pyramid has been ascertained by modern technology to be at 29.9792 degrees north. “It has often been noted by pyramid researchers that if the decimal point of this value is moved forward by four digits it will give the number 299,792, which is, as weird as this may sound, precisely the speed of light in a vacuum measured in kilometres per second.” Bauval asks if this can really be a coincidence? Now, conceivably, extraterrestrial visitants could have informed the ancient Egyptians about the velocity of light, but not even advanced space aliens could have known what arbitrary measures of distance and time would be employed thousands of years in the future.

Bauval proudly observes that he originated the ‘Orion Correlation Theory’ (OCT), that the three main pyramids on the Giza Plateau matched the stars in the belt of Orion. As Magonia meeting regulars Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince pointed out, “the only time that all three pyramids line up perfectly with the stars is in graphics used in Hancock/Bauval television programmes.”

He has tacitly dropped some of the hypotheses of his previous books. One was that the southern shaft leading from the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid was designed to align with Sirius. Actually, this had been suggested by the Masonic writer Albert Churchward as long ago as 1898. Once again, Picknett and Prince pointed out that this could hardly be the case as the shafts have kinks in them, so they could not be “directed at a specific point in the sky.” But even if they were, no-one that I have read explains how they could have been aligned to any particular star. It might seem unnecessary to say so, but ‘fixed’ stars are not fixed, at least not relative to the earth’s surface, and even have different latitudes at different seasons. Only the Pole Star is roughly fixed.

Another idea from the Keeper of Genesis that is not now mentioned is that the Sphinx must have been built in the Age of Leo, that is, the age during which the Spring Equinox occurred when the Sun was in the sign of Leo, about 10,500 BC. Now, Leo and the other constellations of the Zodiac were originally named by the Sumerians. But these names were not imported to Egypt until about 500BC, ten thousand years after this hypothetical date of the Sphinx.

A forty-four page Appendix by Gary Osborn continues the arithmetic theme, asserting that “highly advanced mathematical data” is encoded in the Great Pyramid: not only pi, phi, and the logarithmic constant e, but the diameter of the earth, the distance of the earth to the moon, and so on. He considers that these are accurate to fourteen significant figures.

I am not sure what all of this is meant to prove. – Gareth J. Medway

24 October 2018


UFO. Director: Ryan Eslinger; Writer: Ryan Eslinger; Stars: Alex Sharp, Gillian Anderson, Ella Purnell. Story Mining & Supply Co., 2018

This is an intelligent look at UFO contact, which centres on a UFO sighting at the Cincinnati International Airport on 17 October 2017. A real TV report tagged on to the end of the film, shows that the story is loosely inspired by the well-known UFO sighting at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on 07 November 2006, to give it a touch of authenticity. It also touches base with The X-Files by featuring Gillian Anderson as Professor Hendricks, and the ‘IMDb’ website informs us that the font used for the ‘UFO’ title is borrowed from Gerry Anderson’s classic ‘UFO’ TV series.

The opening captions note the universal nature of the Fine Structure Constant (Wikipedia tells us that this is ‘...a dimensionless physical constant characterising the strength of the electromagnetic interaction between elementary charged particles’), and that intelligent life elsewhere would recognise this mathematical equation. The captions go on to mention the Arecibo radio message which we aimed at the M13 star cluster thousands of light-years away to get the attention of extraterrestrials, ending with the thought that ‘they’ might already be here.

The core of the film shows how brilliant maths student Derek, played by Alex Sharp, is attracted to the news of the UFO sighting at the airport because he had a sighting when he was a child, and because it intrigues his mathematical instincts.

The sighting also brings FBI special investigator Franklin Ahls (David Strathairn) to the scene, where he embargoes all photographic evidence and radar data related to the incident. Eyewitnesses are ushered into conference rooms and strongly told to keep quiet about the event. The cover story is that the sighting was caused by a drone.

From the maths, based on the sighting reports, Derek quickly calculates that the UFO was far too big to be a drone. Probing further into the story he discovers that the object sent out radio signals that are in binary code. He becomes fixated on decoding the signals at the cost of losing his friends and his final year maths examinations. At the same time the FBI follows and monitors his activities to keep a lid on the case.

FBI agent Franklin Ahls as well as being a suppressor of UFO reports, heads a group of top scientists to decode the alien signals. It is his view that they testing us on the Kardashev Scale to see if we are worthy of becoming a Type 1 civilisation. It is not explained why this information is being covered-up, is it the fear of mass panic or that the aliens are a real threat to us? Whatever the reason it offers the opportunity for Franklin and Derek to play cat and mouse.

UFO is cleverly put together yet it is ditch dull. It is like the director got hold of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind wrung out all the drama, tension, suspense, excitement, action, emotion and special effects and replaced it with mathematical formula. I described 2036 Origin Unknown (http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2018/08/2036-2001.html) as a pound shop 2001: A Space Odyssey this is unfortunately a pound shop Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Best I can say is that it makes a long-winded advert for studying the Fine Structure Constant, need I say more? -- Nigel Watson.

20 October 2018


Robin Melrose. Magic in Britain: A History of Medieval and Earlier Practices, McFarland, 2018.

This book begins with a description of the archaeological evidence for religious and ritual practices that can be found in Iron Age sites across Britain, largely evidence of funerary rites. These include such practices as ‘excarnation’, when a body is buried and allowed to decompose until the flesh is separated from the bones, and then the remaining skeleton is given a second funeral. In some cases there appears to be evidence that the flesh may have been removed by dogs or wolves, a practice which seems reminiscent of the ‘sky funerals’ of Tibet. It is thought that this is to ensure that the spirit of the deceased is not trapped inside the flesh of the corpse, and is ready to leave the physical sphere completely, and will remain attached to its physical environment.

Excavations from the Romano-British period have uncovered burials which seem also intended to ensure that the spirit of the deceased was totally freed from their physical body. In some cases this may have been simply to be simply to ensure that they were able to join the after-life spirit world, but some also seemed to be to ensure that the spirit would not remain to haunt the community. These involved such practices as buried the body face downwards and burying the head separately from the rest of the body, usually between the feet.

Evidence for spellcraft in this period centres on various curse-tablets which have been found across the Roman Empire. These were usually small lead, fragments with often highly elaborate curses inscribed on them, calling the vengeance of a god or gods onto some named individual. One unearthed near the river Hamble in Hampshire calls upon the god Neptune to curse a thief who had stolen money from a certain Muconious, and for him to “consume his blood and take it away”. A curse tablet from Bath (Aqua Sulis) asks the local sun-goddess Sulis to punish some unknown soul by “losing their minds and eyes in the goddess's temple” - which seems extraordinarily harsh for stealing a pair of gloves!

After the departure of the Romans Anglo-Saxon settlers brought various forms of Germanic paganism into Britain, and the author notes the significance of the horse in many of the funerary practices uncovered at burial sites. Horses, presumably sacrificed, were buried alongside human graves in sites across Britain, and particularly in East Anglia. However, in the absence of very much in the way of contemporary documentation, a lot of the evidence for religious and magical practices has to be deduced 1,500 years later from the remains of bodies and artefacts.

'Thor's Hammer' found at Spilsby, Lincolnshire

The gradual Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms often led to curious mixtures of pagan and Christian practices, and the arrival of Danish and Norwegian Vikings later also added to the mixture. Stone crosses from areas of Danish settlement which had converted to Christianity display images which are also to be found on pagan monuments from Denmark and northern Germany. The moulds for casting silver crosses were easily adapted to make Thor’s hammers to be used as pendant.

England had become almost totally Christian well before the time of the Norman Conquest, and the native church was already creating its own Saints and their cults, a process which continued after the Conquest. The second half of the book deals with this later era, examining particularly the magical legends attached to the Saints and various holy sites such as Glastonbury and Iona, and rituals associated with holy wells and lakes. It would seem that almost every area of Britain had its own local mythology based on a particular saint or holy site, and these are described often with lengthy descriptions from early sources.

The notes and bibliography appended to the book are extensive and seem exhaustive, and certainly provide a great number of references for the serious student. The author is a retired lecturer in English and linguistics, and a times these later chapters can read rather like lecture notes, but nevertheless provide an interesting account of the role of religion in popular belief of the period.

However, there is little in it which I would describe as being an account of magical ‘practices’, with really only the final chapter making brief acknowledgement of ritual magic and witchcraft. The chapters describing the paganism of the Anglo-Saxon era provide a great deal of information of the history of the Saxon kingdoms and their eventual unification, and the interaction with, and absorption, of Viking and Germanic beliefs and practices, and the later chapters give a good account of the various cults, superstitions and beliefs associated with saints and religious houses.

Although the book will be of value to anyone interested in the history and archaeology of the period, I think it would have been better entitled ‘Religious Superstition in Medieval and Earlier Britain’, and as such it would more clearly describe its focus. – John Rimmer

16 October 2018


Brandon Massullo. The Ghost Studies. New Page Books, 2017

This is a genuine attempt by someone who is a trained clinical therapist and parapsychologist to scientifically evaluate reported experiences of the paranormal. The author accepts that "95% of reported ghostly encounters are not the result of mental illness"; this does not of course mean that the phenomena, which so many people (including the reviewer) have experienced, are real.

So what then is going on? Some of these experiences can be explained by external magnetic interference with the brain. Ghost hunters (or "paranormal investigators"), on the other hand, use electromagnetic field meters to measure anomalies as evidence of a possible ghostly presence, whereas the sceptic might say that the anomaly is creating the illusion of a ghostly presence in the mind. I liked his account of the research carried out on the metal bed in the Tapestry Room at Muncaster Castle; the room had been the venue for numerous hauntings since the 1960s and high-tech equipment was set up there to measure the electromagnetic field. The upshot was that measurements proved that there was magnetic field variability in the bed area, from which one draws the conclusion that it was this that increased the chances of anyone sleeping on the bed to experience a ghostly encounter.

On the other hand there are a wealth of paranormal experiences across the world which cannot be so easily explained away, and these the author describes in numerous fascinating case studies; one compelling example cited is that of a mother who in 1973 experienced the trauma of her son dying in battle thousands of miles away in Vietnam, presumably by some form of telepathic communication. The author accepts the validity and truthfulness of such accounts, which leads him on into an attempt to explore the various theories around to explain such happenings, such as place theory (the environment can hold the memory of a past event), before proffering his own scientific interpretation. My own take on these ideas is that there must be some things beyond the ken even of science, so I am sceptical about science's power to offer a definitive interpretation.

Massullo concludes by offering the hope that the book has been for the reader both scholarly and entertaining; I mostly found this to be so, albeit there were occasional passages that reminded me of a scientific journal. – Robin Carlile

13 October 2018


Darryl Jones. Sleeping With the Lights On: The Unsettling Story Of Horror. Oxford University Press 2018

Darryl Jones’s Sleeping With the Lights On has a wide range of reference, eclecticism and comprehensiveness. In just over 168 pages he admirably delineates “horror” as a cultural power embedded in Western art and civilisation and still allows himself a few nods towards Asia (The Ring horror franchise of the 1990s.) 

From the Epic of Gilgamesh, the bloody rituals of Greek drama, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Shakespeare, the 19th century’s exploration of the gothic / sublime, Fraser’s The Golden Bough right up to our post-world war horrors of nuclear threats, pollution and individual anxiety: internal horror and its external threats are seen to accompany us, indeed are a strong component of what it means to be human. And Jones finds horror not just in our cultural products (films and books) but in the thoughts of Herodotus, Hobbes, Burke, Darwin, Thoreau, R.D.Laing and Foucault.

(Of course a lot of this territory has been explored before. My own personal reference bible is still The Penguin Encyclopaedia of Horror and the Supernatural edited by Jack Sullivan and published in 1986. But that was a large encyclopaedia, whilst Sleeping with the Lights On is a small guide that synthesis equally important and newer material.)

Perhaps the most persuasive chapter of Jones’s book is called “Science and Horror.” He quotes the astrologer and SF writer Carl Sagan who reminds us of our unease concerning science and scientists “For in 1995 half the scientists on Earth work at least part-time for the military.” Jones thinks we have good cause to be apprehensive.

“Victor Frankenstein is only the most famous of a large group of unethical experimentalists in bloodstained laboratory coats, scalpel or serum in hand, or else of bloodless, abstract theoreticians who would, like Edward Teller, destroy the world in order to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Fiat experimentum in corore vili (“Let the experiment be performed on a worthless corpse”). The attitude expressed in this Latin proverb informs much of the anxiety horror has bout science, the fear people have of being treated as corpora vilia, expendable experimental subjects.”

Horror films and horror fiction have struggled (still struggle?) for cultural respectability. Yet the paradox is that one of horror’s chief aims is to attack the decent, respectable and normal – the bourgeoisie and capitalism being primary targets, According to Jones (and I agree with him) horror is often at its most potent when transgressive. He rightly mentions George Romero’s film, Night of the Living Dead (1968) as a landmark work with its critique of violence, white American values, racism and the war in Vietnam. In 1972 Romero made Dawn of the Dead. This savage attack on consumerism (Zombie survivors of a holocaust take shelter in a supermarket) causes Jones to declare.

“Dawn is probably best viewed as a combination of a delirious Swiftian satire and a Frankfurt school treatise: this is Theodor Adorno’s Culture Industry, once again red in tooth and claw.”

Although I feel Jones’s is being a bit ripe and overblown I generally share his reaction.

In fact most of Jones’s observations about horror are apt and succinct. Perhaps my only quibble is the book’s length. I felt that a little more space was required to make his commentary breathe more deeply. Sometimes it feels inconclusive. Take the final section on “Horror since the Millennium.” The idea that horror entertainment, now co modified by a bland capitalism, has drained it of its energy to produce an easier “un-horror” (eg The Twilight movie series) is an argument in need of greater development.

Yet Sleeping With the Lights On has much to say. It’s a compelling introduction for anyone wanting to resource and explore the concept of what constitutes the horrific -certainly a cultural force to be seriously faced and examined and Jones understands this very well. – Alan Price