13 October 2011


Michael Pye and Kirsten Dalley (editors), Exposed, Uncovered, and Declassified: Ghosts, Spirits, and Hauntings, New Page Books, 2011.

This is a collection of ten essays, most of which could benefit from concentrating more on the details of strange experiences and how they are investigated and less on indulging in verbose and often incoherent speculation.
Andrew Nichols, on haunted houses, notes that there are three major theories to account for alleged hauntings, these being the psychological theory, the spiritistic theory and the parapsychological theory. Sceptics will of course favour psychological explanations and Nichols gives examples where these have successfully solved cases of alleged hauntings. One example involved a mother and daughter hearing mysterious footsteps at night, which stopped outside the daughter's bedroom. It was also said that previous occupants had never stayed in the house for long because they had had similar experiences. Investigations showed, however, that previous occupants had stayed for quite long periods, and that the mysterious noises were caused by the wooden flooring expanding when the central heating system switched on in the evenings.

In his essay about mediumship, Raymond Buckland displays quite breathtaking credulity. For instance, he even describes how the Fox sisters, living in Hydesville, New York, became famous in 1848 for their "spirit rapping", allegedly a means of communication with the deceased. He makes no mention of the fact that Margaret Fox confessed to deception and, in 1888, demonstrated how the sounds were produced before a large audience. He is equally credulous about spirit photographers, including William H. Mumler (1832-1884), who took portraits of people in which the ghosts of deceased relations appeared. Other photographers pointed out that these were merely double exposures, and Mumler's career collapsed after he was tried for fraud (but acquitted). Buckland doesn't mention this and thus deceives the casual reader. He remarks that these days it is easy to fake a photograph of a ghost, but "there are many authentic ones still being taken". How one picks out the authentic ones is, of course, not discussed.

Another writer who discusses photographs is Joshua P. Warren, who publishes a few pictures of ghosts, of the type familiar to readers of Fortean Times and known as simulacra. The rest of his essay discusses the "bio-energy field" and Kirlian photography, then rambles on vaguely about ghosts and quantum theory.

Micah A. Hanks, one of the more thoughtful writers on psychic experiences, discusses the relationship between such experiences and mental illness, and concludes that study of "the inner workings of the human mind" could help us to understand what we call the supernatural.

There is the now inevitable contribution from Nick Redfern, whose writings are so prolific that he must work for at least 24 hours a day. He gives us an interesting account of the monsters of folklore, and discusses the belief held by some people that the restless dead appear to the living, not as they appeared in life, but as monsters, such as werewolves and Bigfoot. He points out that these apparitions are not flesh-and-blood creatures, as they often haunt areas where there is insufficient food for them. His concluding remarks, which end by suggesting that they "may collectively represent our absolute nightmare come true", seem a bit tongue-in-cheek and, unlike some contributors to this book, he does not try to bully his readers into accepting highly speculative ideas as established facts. -- John Harney

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