30.11.10

SECRETS, SHRINES AND SAUCERS

Joel Levy. The Secret Societies Bible. Godsfield Books, 2010.

Anthony J. Taylor. The Sacred Sites Bible. Godsfield Books, 2010.


William J. Birnes. Aliens in America. Adams Media, 2010.

The first two titles, although weighing in at 400 pages each, are compact but comprehensive guidebooks to their topics. Secret Societies divides its subject into two sections; firstly religious, mystical and occult, and then rather pointedly, political and criminal. Both sections are arranged roughly chronologically, from the Templars to Opus Dei and from the Assassins to the triads and the mafia. The individual entries on such topics as Freemasonry, the Rosicrucians, the occult societies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are brief, but give a good description of the societies, the people who formed them, their aims, and links to other groups. The entries are written very straightforwardly and the writer is clearly attempting, and achieves, an objective point of view. A useful guide to a complex subject.

Sacred Sites presents brief descriptions and histories of several hundred sites revered by a great number of religions and traditions, from ancient Pagan to American New Age. The sites covered landforms such as Uluru and Glastonbury, pilgrim destinations, retreats and places associated with saints, sages and other religious figures; and churches and places of worship from Neasden to Samoa, where, I learn from this book, Baha'i is now the most widely practiced religion. With just a page for each site the descriptions are inevitable limited but are enough to give basic information on the location. My only complaint about coverage is that the English pilgrimage site of Walsingham is not included. The descriptions are, again, straightforward and objective. Both books are lavishly illustrated.

Unfortunately, I cannot be so enthusiastic about William Birnes tourist guide to aliens in America. Birnes is the publisher of the American UFO Magazine, a publication not noted for its critical approach to the topic. Nor is this book. It takes twenty famous American UFO cases, ranging in date from Maury Island to Stephenville, and presents the most credulous account of each incident; sceptical views are dismissed in a few sentences. Each chapter concludes with a page listing some local hotels and restaurants, presumably to justify its description as a "hunter's guide to extraterrestrial hotspots across the USA". Looking at the locations involved I think anyone following this as a travel guide would be in for a pretty dull vacation! -- John Rimmer

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