9.4.15

WOOLLY SCIENCE

A lot of weird stuff in the papers lately. I thought this might be of interest to our readers, from the Bath Chronicle, March 27, 2015. Thanks to the ever-informative Angry People in Local Papers website. In the final paragraph Dr Robert Salmon from the University of Durham seems to have nailed it. 
 
Solar eclipse killed my sheep, says Gloucestershire farmer

A farmer from Gloucestershire reckons two of his sheep were killed by the solar eclipse.

Rob Taylor found two of his flock of around 250 ewes dead in one of his fields, which he believes is down to electromagnetic radiation blasting from the phenomenon.

Mr Taylor believes his sheep died on Wednesday - five days after the eclipse - due to a lack of calcium in their blood.

The farmer, who operates 200 acres at his farm in south Gloucestershire, said: "I was walking through my field and saw that two of my sheep were dead.

"I tested them and my results show they died from acute hypo-calcification of the blood. It was brought about by electromagnetic radiation flooding back down to Earth immediately after the eclipse. I thought the eclipse would, of course, change mineral levels in livestock, but I did not think that it would be fatal."

Mr Taylor has spent the last 27 years studying supposed effects of radiation from the Sun on livestock.

During the BSE crisis in the 1990s, Mr Taylor had a number of his herd diagnosed with 'mad cow disease'.


A POSSIBLE TEST SUBJECT FOR DOCTOR SALMON
Mr Taylor runs 'Earthing Therapy' - an alternative website based on unreported effects of minerals on livestock. His website states that he researches "the inherent deficiencies in the trace minerals copper and selenium, that affect the pastures." Mr Taylor also reckons mineral toxicology can be rapid and irreversible.

He said: "The specific relationship between anti-oxidants, derived from these minerals, free radicals and the operation of the natural detoxification systems within mammals, are so critical for both their physiological and psychological well-being. "It is this through investigating this particularly complex, dynamic and confusing area of research, that I have come to study the way in which the body adapts to environmental change and the nature of intolerance syndromes, such as chemical and electrical sensitivities."

But since Mr Taylor does not have accurate calcium level readings in the sheep that died before and after the eclipse, actual scientists would struggle to back up his theory.

Biologist Dr Robert Salmon, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Durham, said: "Without much more empirical scientific research and a large amount of data, this does not seem likely, otherwise scores of sheep across the country may have died.

"The circadian rhythm of the sheep could have been disturbed by the eclipse, but that could be tested by putting a bag on its head during the day and seeing if its calcium levels dropped."
 

8.4.15

FALSE MEMORIES

Another important piece from the Spiked website on the dangers of so-called 'recovered memories'. Anybody who is familiar with the alien abduction scenario and the 'Satanic abuse' panics will recognise the dangers of bringing this sort of evidence into criminal cases. Spiked comments: "The unprecedented media frenzy over Savile, succeeded by wild accusations about VIP paedo-murder ‘rings’, should have flagged up to any intelligent person the obvious dangers of accepting tales of woe from long ago, uncritically. But this has not happened".
 
In fact it now seems that people who have attempted to look critically at these issues are themselves coming under attack and being driven from their jobs.
 
Susan Clancy was a cognitive psychologist working at Harvard who was subjected to hate mail and a student boycott after publishing her research on false memories which demonstrated the dangers of taking them at face value. Her mentor at Harvard suggested that she move to the less politically troublesome field of recovered alien abduction memories.

The full article can be read here:
http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/how-recovered-memories-fuelled-the-paedo-panic/16850#.VSVeMLRFB9A

Peter Rogerson's review of Susan Clancy's book is here:
http://mrobsr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/believing-in-abductions.html

 

7.4.15

GRIMMS' TALES: BACK TO BASICS

Jack Zipes. Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms' Folk and Fairy Tales. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Think of the Brothers Grimm and what associations come to mind? Fairy tales, 'Cinderella', 'Snow White' ... Disney?

That's it. In this book Jack Zipes, an American scholar and serious academic, explores the legacies of the Brothers Grimm in Europe and North America. Zipes has an axe to grind and particularly takes issue with the infantilisation and 'Disneyfication' of the Grimms' tales in modern culture, despite the fact they did themselves produce many 'small editions' specifically for children. As a former Professor of German at the University of Minnesota, and accepted as probably the world's greatest authority on the Grimms and fairy tales in general, Zipes is well qualified to redress the common perception of the brothers' published works.

Who were the Grimms? Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) were German academics, cultural researchers and authors who made it their life's mission to collect and publish folklore and folk tales. Their father, a lawyer, died suddenly of pneumonia in 1796, plunging the whole family into poverty and crisis, and causing the brothers grief and tribulation for many years.

Being destitute forced them to rely on each other and excel in their studies, both graduating from the University of Marburg with the best grades in their years. While at University they developed a curiosity about German folklore, which grew into a lifelong dedication to collecting and recording German folk tales from the oral tradition, as handed down from generation to generation and from stortytellers. Their first collection of folk tales, Children's and Household Tales was published in
1812. Having vowed to work with each other for all their lives, for some years they worked as librarians, which did not pay well but allowed plenty of time for research.

Apart from their well-known collections of stories for which they became famous, they also spent a great deal of effort until the end of their lives to produce a definitive German dictionary. The first volume was not produced until 1854, and the whole project never reached completion.

Grimm Brothers Monument at Hanau
Between 1812 and 1857 they revised and re-published their collection of stories many times, increasing the the number of stories from 86 to over 200. At first they recorded these folk tales exactly as spoken in the oral tradition, which they published in 1812 and the second volume in 1815. Jack Zipes has translated these editions into English, in his book The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, which has received great critical acclaim as it presents the original versions of the stories without any embellishment. That embellishments were continually added to the original stories, particularly by Wilhelm Grimm, is proved by comparing original manuscripts with later work. In some cases the final version of a tale may be twice as long as the original.

One example of modification is seen in the tale 'Rapunzel', where the prince has a sexual motive for visiting the princess in the tower and impregnates her. The princess, being pregnant, asks 'Mother Gothel, why are my clothes becoming too tight? They don't fit me anymore'. No, this is not a case of obesity but pregnancy, and this element was removed from later versions for reasons of taste. In 'Little Snow White' and 'Hansel and Gretel', mothers were changed into stepmothers, because for the Grimms mothers were sacred.

Here in England, the 1812 edition of Grimms' tales was translated into English by Edgar Taylor, and published as German Popular Stories in 1823, and in 1826 he published his translation of the 1814 second volume. Zipes regards Taylor's translations as separating the fantasy elements of the stories from the cruel or profane elements, with the addition of Christian principles, to widen the popular appeal of the stories. Zipes explains how Taylor directly influenced the Grimms' policy on the format of the stories: "It was only after they received a letter and a copy of German Popular Stories in 1823 from the young Englishman Edgar Taylor that they clearly began to alter the tendency of future editions ... by creating the Small Edition and taking greater pains to address a general bourgeois reading public. In this respect, Taylor's sudden appearance in their lives - his letter and book came out of the blue - represented a momentous occasion that caused the Grimms to rethink their 'marketing strategy' and how they might better guarantee the reception of the tales." (Page 44)

So here we have the vital clue to understand how Grimms' tales were eventually aimed at children!After all, even when somewhat sanitised, some tales such as 'Little Red Riding Hood' or 'Hansel and Gretel' were considered to be 'cautionary tales' for children, serving as warnings about the consequences of disobeying one's parents, or general naughtiness. Others were repositories of cultural history, as well as being for enjoyment and pleasure. There is something of the longing for Utopia or Paradise in fairy tales, which is of course why they can appeal to adults as much as to children.

Even in the 'Disneyfied' versions of the Grimms' tales in America, with which we are so familiar, and which Zipes decries in his erudite scholarly manner, some of the original themes survive sufficiently to fire the imagination. Dumbed-down to appeal to a middle-class consumerist society, still the characters and subject matter contain the threads of magic and witchcraft, violence, danger, and death, and the struggle that is needed for good to triumph over evil. If the Grimms, particularly Wilhelm, continually polished and refined the stories, why should not Disney take it to yet another stage of development? This is how culture develops, but the important thing is to be aware of the authentic roots, as Zipes reminds us.

Finally, how about the Grimms' legacy in Germany itself? In his chapter 'Two Hundred Years after Once Upon a Time: The Legacy of the Brothers Grimm and their Tales in Germany', Zipes tells us that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, German national identity was linked to the Grimms, and the Nazis recommended that a book of the Grimms' tales shoud be in every home. But as in all things German, since 1945 there has been something of an aversion, or, at least, a re-evaluation of anything cultural that was linked to the Nazis, and there has been a tendency 'to turn the tales into kitsch'.

If there's one thing we can be sure of in consideration of the original folk tales that the Brothers Grimm collated: kitsch it ain't! -- Kevin Murphy.


4.4.15

MAGICK, MUSIC AND ROCK AND ROLL

Peter Bebergal. Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. Tarcher, 2014.

Music, it has been said, is the only art that engages our entire brain. Whether this is true or not, it can certainly reach into us and touch emotions in a way that other art forms may miss. It is something that can surprise us by reaching into our memories in an abrupt and unexpected fashion to resurrect past times and moods. Especially in this day and age, music now accompanies us from the cradle to the grave, a permanent soundtrack to our lives. It has become a constant in a changing world; something to console and comfort when other things shift around us.

Rock and roll derives from that modern subset of music that was born from African-American slave beginnings, merging gradually with mainstream popular music via vaudeville then going on to shape the dominant genres of music consumed by the majority of the listening public. Therefore jazz, coupled with the timely invention and spread of radio, record players and talking pictures, exported the fledgling art form worldwide in the period between the two world wars. Consequently, musicians everywhere picked up and recorded their own take on this new phenomenon. After the Second World War, aspects of jazz and other popular music, combined with the still novel electric guitar, fused to bring rock and roll as we know it to the world stage.

It is mainly from this period onward that Season of the Witch looks at rock and roll, and how otherworldly forces may have shaped it. Time is spent looking right back at both the African and African American origins of the music that was the grandmother of the rock we know today. The relevance of religion, again from the paganism originating from Africa and American Christianity of the time, is examined for the effects that it had on the chrysalis of slave music. There is then quite a leap to what we can start to see as the beginnings of rock and roll proper, as it were. From then on music is examined so as to note the effects of the liminal upon it.

The author has quite a way with prose. His emotional investment in this subject shines from the enthusiasm and intensity on the page, making this a book that will whisk the reader along in its wake as the spirit of the bands and musicians is almost poetically, and most vividly, evoked. His analysis of the ‘Crossroads’ legend that was woven around the influential blues musician Robert Johnson, who was supposed to have sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in return for remarkable guitar playing skills, is looked at in as much detail as can be gathered together, given the paucity of information about a founding myth of the Blues. From then on he turns his eager gaze to most of the major groups and musicians, bringing the same level of exuberance to each of them. Not only does his coverage of the bands and individuals convey his zeal, but also his involvement in investigating the occult movements and personalities whose otherworldly influence moves and touches the music makers is just as strongly pursued.
 
It has to be remembered that this is a personal odyssey for Peter Bebegal, and it’s a subjective account in some ways. However, there has obviously been a large amount of research, which is impressive, considering the scope and range of the work. There is a decent index and end notes, as opposed to numbered references in the body of the text. If your interests lie in the direction of magickally-affected popular music then you could do a lot worse than to read this avid and entertaining book. -- Trevor Pyne.


31.3.15

GOOD IN PARTS

Robert Davis. The UFO Phenomenon: Should I Believe? Schiffer, 2014.
 
Compared with the two other UFO books I have recently reviewed, this one looks like an oasis of common sense, in that the author does not try and bludgeon you into believing in the spaceships. He provides an overview of various types of UFO reports and the various theories that have been evoked to explain them. His central position is that while the anecdotal reports are intriguing, there is nowhere near the kind of clear scientific evidence that would be needed to persuade the scientific community of any exotic explanation.
 
Though Davis has a somewhat sceptical head, his heart is clearly on the side of the aliens or some such, though he might be persuadable that novel natural phenomena might generate some reports. He also shows the usual American lack of detailed background knowledge of European Ufology. Thus we get cases like Trancs-en-Provence and Bentwaters quoted as examples of high quality evidence for anomalous phenomena, without any notion that local ufologists have found multiple problems with them. Davis also refers to a variety of ufological data-bases, without realising that these are nothing more, as they stand, than collections of folk stories.
 
Davis has quite an ambitious research plan for Ufology, not only does he propose that the US Congress or the UN should set up such a body but that it should, among other things:
  • Assemble a multi-disciplined team of renowned scientists to test various hypotheses.
  • Arrange international collaboration.
  • Ensure representation on leading international scientific committees and agencies.
  • Centralise a newly developed UFO data base to compile and analyse existing and future evidence on a global basis.
  • Train UFO investigators.
  • Publish research findings in established scientific journals and at international conferences
Hmmm. The sense of déjà vu is quite overwhelming, see for example:

Of course none of this is going to happen, it might just have done forty or fifty years ago, but won’t now. Even if such a study was undertaken, financed by some Silicon Valley billionaire, it would either be biased from the start by the agenda of the funder, or would come to conclusions that ufologists don’t like and be accused of being part of the cover up.
 
Furthermore some UFO theories such as the ETH fall into the category of “not even wrong” in that they are too vague and flexible to test. The ETH, as I have pointed out many times, could only become a scientific hypothesis if we had independent knowledge of the nature and powers of the ETs to test against UFO reports.
 
This is really what ufology is now; at worst the promotion of pseudoscience or wild conspiracy theories, or like this, at the better end, rehashing the naïve hopes of the students of the 60s and 70s. -- Peter Rogerson


26.3.15

WITCHCRAFT AND PAGANISM

Trevor Greenfield (ed.) Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On. Moon Books, 2014.

Trevor Greenfield (ed.) Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans. Moon Books, 2014.

Richard Metzger (ed.) The Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult. Disinformation Books, San Francisco, 2014.

These books are similar, in that all are collections of essays by different authors on contemporary occultism. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On, which refers to Gerald Gardner’s 1954 book, is 180 pages long, whereas The Book of Lies, which is primarily about Aleister Crowley (from whom the title is borrowed, and who resurrected the old spelling of ‘magick’), is much larger, 352 pages with small print in double columns.

It is now six decades since the appearance of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, which sold 5,500 copies. To those not familiar with publishing, this might not seem many, but actually very few books sell more than 5,000 copies. He originally intended to call it New Light on Witchcraft, and included a lot of material on yoga, which his editors deleted as irrelevant.

The sensational point was his claim that witchcraft was still practised, albeit on a very small scale, when most people assumed that it was extinct, if it had ever existed at all. But Gardner’s biggest influence was by way of a work that he never published – the ‘Book of Shadows’, which contains a set of witchcraft rituals, and has now been copied worldwide. The various contributors to 60 Years On discuss the diverse offshoots, ‘Alexandrian witchcraft’, derived from Alex Sanders, the ‘Seax Tradition’, which is based around the Saxon deities Woden and Freya, the feminist Dianic Tradition which naturally is for women only, and so on.

There has also been a widespread revival of Paganism generally, witchcraft being just one aspect of it. Greenfield has assembled an even larger group of contributors, 101 as his title indicates. These include Druid, Heathens, Goddess Followers, and there are discussions of Deities, Nature, Ethics, Afterlife, Ancestors, Ritual, Magic, Healing and Celebrant Work.

Jack Parsons was a prominent rocket-fuel scientist, and certainly the only disciple of Crowley to have a crater on the far side of the moon named after him. He died in an explosion in his laboratory in 1952. An explosion in a rocket-fuel laboratory should not be too surprising (it was rocket science), but his ‘Scarlet Woman’ Marjorie Cameron, who went on to star in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, “always believed that Howard Hughes was somehow behind it.”

The connection of H. P. Lovecraft with Crowley is tenuous: in his Supernatural Horror in Literature he discussed Leonard Cline’s novel The Dark Chamber, which mentioned Crowley. Erik Davis observes that “while most 1930s pulp fiction is nearly unreadable today”, Lovecraft has a ’cult’ status, with a curiously literal dimension. Fans are not content to read stories about weird otherworldly entities, Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlathotep, and the rest of them, but often invoke them in magickal ceremonies. This is an interesting example of how a piece of fiction takes on a life of its own. To this day the London headquarters of Santander Bank, which is located in Baker Street, employ a secretary to answer letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Even more remarkably, the city of Verona employs several secretaries to reply to letters sent to Juliet by lovelorn women.

Allen Greenfield looks at the influence of Crowley on Wicca, based upon his research into unpublished documents. As he observes, there are Crowley borrowings in the Book of Shadows used by Gardner. In consequence, “I think Aleister and Gerald may have cooked Wicca up.” The problem with this hypothesis is that the Crowley borrowings, on close inspection, all turn out to have been taken from a 1919 volume entitled the Blue Equinox. Notably, Crowley’s Book of the Law is nowhere quoted at first hand, only at second hand, which proves that he was not personally responsible for the Book of Shadows. -- Gareth J. Medway.
 

22.3.15

TWO UFO CRASHES

Larry Holcombe. The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama. Foreword by Stanton Friedman. St Martin’s Press, 2015

Can UFOs Advance Science? A New Look at the Evidence. SUNRISE Information Services, 2015.

Among the vast plethora of UFO books that I read in the 1970s was one called UFOs, Past, Present and Future by Robert Emeneger (Ballantine Books, 1974), based on a TV documentary. What distinguished this otherwise reasonable run-of-the-mill book was a fictional presentation of a future alien landing. Years later UFO-lore started to claim that this story was an actual event; a real life UFO landing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 1964 - although that was later changed to 1954, and the president that met the aliens was Eisenhower not Johnson. Needless to say no actual evidence was ever presented to back up this tale or tales.
 
This tale is now being resurrected along with a good many more pieces of ufological apocrypha in Larry Holcombe's book, which purports to document how US presidents dealt with the 'UFO problem'. Contemporaneous documentation is notable in large part for its absence, instead we have fake documents such as the notorious MJ12 memos, alleged memories, various rumours presented as fact and so on. Of course also included is the hint that President Kennedy was murdered (by whom?) because he was about to reveal the 'truth' about UFOs.
 
We now have more alleged 'documents' claiming that an alien spaceship or spaceships was/were shot down or otherwise crashed during the Second World War and that FDR (who clearly didn’t have enough to do) set up a top secret investigation. He was succeeded by Harry Truman, who knew how to keep a secret because the US military is good at keeping secrets - tell that to Julian Assange or Edward Snowdon - as witness the Manhattan project (not exactly a secret to Stalin); or indeed for the most important secret of all, the details of the D-Day landings, which were so secret that they ended up in a Times crossword, compiled by a group of schoolboys as a punishment.
 
As has frequently been pointed out (by me among others) that secrecy only works when you are in charge of the situation. What would have been the point of secrecy if an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell? How would they know that the aliens would not land on the White House and demand the wreckage back (that’s what the US military would have done), and why would any politician keep schtum about the greatest story in human history and not spin it for maximum political capital? That secret would have to be kept by every leader of every country in the world for nearly 70 years.
 
Apparently the president who was going to reveal the truth about the UFOs was Richard Nixon. We know this because the widow of the comedian Jackie Gleeson tells us so. Obviously Gleeson was in the possession of the secrets that 'They' shot John and Bobby Kennedy to protect. I can just about imagine that Tricky Dicky might have been tempted to create a UFO contact story in some last desperate bid to hang on to power, but either got cold feet or was stopped at some point.
 
Of course we are told that Donald Menzel the noted UFO skeptic was in the dreaded MJ12 and was a personal friend of John Kennedy (or so we are told). That was before James Jesus Angleton had Kennedy assassinated to protect the secrets of MJ12. That was after bumping off Marilyn Monroe for the same reason. It is not clear what Menzel thought about that. All of this will be familiar to viewers of the old Dark Skies TV series, but that was at least advertised as fiction.
 
What is clear is that American ufologists’ now think investigating actual UFO reports is below their dignity, playing political activist and hunting out imaginary conspiracies is clearly far more fun, at least for those who are not playing at being psychotherapists. The sub title of this book should read 'fantasy history' rather than 'secret history'

The short answer to the question posed in the title of the second book under review is 'maybe', but not by the methods adopted in this anonymous book, which consist of a few poorly and uncritically presented UFO cases, none of them new or original, and lots of idle speculation, much of it centred around the anti-gravity theories of the late Thomas Townsend Brown. Brown was the original founder of NICAP, the well-known American UFO group, only to be booted out and replaced by Donald Keyhoe after about a year. As with much of these theories, most of the last century of physics is ditched.

Needless to say despite chapter headings 'Are we dealing with a secret man-made experiment' and 'Are we dealing with ball lightning' these suggestions are dismissed and we are back to good old fashioned nuts and bolts ETH.

The mysterious organisation which has published this book is described as an 'Australian owned private research centre', aimed at creating what it calls 'stable core knowledge' which will eventually explain everything in a simple way and will act as a sort of religion; indeed the acronym stands ‘Search for a Unified Religion in Information for Social Equality‘. Information that is not provided on its website or in this book is the names, qualifications and background of its members. You might think that when people hide behind anonymity it means they have something to hide, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Of course the idea of a search for a 'stable core of knowledge', which is presented as a quasi- religion may appeal to authoritarian and uninspiring school teachers but is antithetical to real science. If this book is anything to go on it is also unlikely to have more than a superficial resemblance to the science taught even in the dullest and most out of date textbooks, even at your local free school. -- Peter Rogerson.


MAGONIA RECOMMENDS