26 June 2012


Peter A McCue. Zones of Strangeness: An Examination of Paranormal and UFO Hot Spots. Author House, 2012.

Peter McCue, a clinical psychologist and long time member of the Society for Psychical Research, asks whether there are any areas where anomalous experiences are more widespread than others, the so called window areas. After an initial examination of the evidence for ghosts, poltergeists, UFOs and bigfoot (the latter two based on rather inadequate sources), he takes a careful look at specific areas.
The include Clapham Wood, Warminster, the 'Welsh Triangle', Rendlesham Forest, Cannock Chase. the Pennines, Bonnybridge, Ben Macdhui, the Loch Ashie Area near Inverness, some minor ones in the UK including Sudbury/Borley, Blueberry Hill, Dartmoor, Daresbury and Carrington; then looks at those in the USA including the Yakima Reservation; Unitah Basin and the Skywalker ranch, the San Luis Valley, the Hudson Valley. His last pieces are on Puerto Rico and the Bermuda Triangle.

In a good number of these cases the author has made real attempts at his own investigation, and in several of them points to a variety of contradictions and discrepancies in the various tales, though he remains convinced that a portion of them are “genuinely paranormal”. The areas can be vague, if “The Pennines” runs from North Staffordshire up to Todmorden and Pendle Hill, it is covering a huge amount of ground!

What unites a large majority of the areas is the presence of paranormal researchers and entrepreneurs, of varying degrees of rationality and honesty. At Clapham Wood it was Toyne Newton, author of books such The Demonic Connection: An Investigation into Satanism in England and the International Black Magic Conspiracy and The Dark Worship: The Occult Quest for World Domination. You might think those titles tell you all you need to know about the credibility of stories emanating from that quarter, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

At Warminster it was Arthur Shuttlewood; at Bonnybridge it was Councillor Billy Buchanan (left) and Malcolm Robinson; at Milford Haven it was Randall Jones Pugh; for Rendlesham it was Brenda Butler (her latest claims outlined here should also give you some idea of how much faith we can put in the Rendlesham story); Cannock Chase, Nick Redfern; Pennines and Daresbury, Jenny Randles and colleagues. At Unitah basin it was Joseph Hicks; Yakima Reservation, Greg Long and his informants; Hudson Valley, Philip Imbrogno; San Luis Valley. Christopher O’Brien; Puerto Rico, Jorge Martin; Borley, Harry Price.

Even in the absence of investigators, entrepreneurs and charismatic witnesses, it seems probable that suggestion, fatigue, anxiety, and in some cases the bandwagon effect and the desire to tell a good story. How many of these stories started out as fairly mundane affairs, only to be ‘sexed up’ by writers is anyone's guess.

In a couple of cases I know the area concerned, I was a local history librarian in the Runcorn-Warrington area for 36 years, and I know that many strange stories were told. In the Runcorn area, this may have been stimulated by a well known poltergeist case in the 1950s, and the presence of early contactee, Jim Cook. A fair proportion of the stories were also collected by a student folklorist in the early 1970s. Warrington also had a fair share of ghost and paranormal stories, but also a mountain of fakelore generated by a local charity worker, some of which I have seen reported as fact in books and Internet sites.

The tales of the Daresbury timeslip were amusing. A colleague lived in Preston Brook, and I used to tell her to go through the timewarp on the way to Warrington, arrive before she set out and then ring herself up and tell herself to have a lie-in as she had already arrived! Sadly the tales of drivers ending up miles from where they should have and hours late had a prosaic explanation, a notoriously confusing road network, in which a moments loss of concentration and a missed exit could easily send you miles from where you wanted to go. In the case of Carrington, hardly a hot spot, except in the sense that the petrochemical works there used to burn gas and there were some quite spectacular flames.

In order to demonstrate the existence of “hot spots”, one would have to demonstrate the existence of ‘cold spots’, where fewer than usual paranormal events are recorded, and I am not sure how this could be done (I must say Urmston seems a good case for one, but then I haven't gone out asking for stories).

Of particular interest perhaps in McCue’s study of the strange experiences suggestive of a phantom army around Loch Ashie area. This suggests that some odd experiences have origins in other than the tales told by charismatic individuals. McCue has analysed a couple of classic “phantom army stories”, including the notorious phantom army of Edge Hill and found the corroborating evidence lacking. This reinforces the suspicion that the pamphlets describing the phantom re-enactment were not factual journalism but pieces of theological cum political propaganda.

It is clear that McCue is much more at home in the theatre of psychical research than say ufology, where he appears to think that Tim Good and Jorge Martin are halfway reliable sources of information.

It is especially sad, after showing some fair degree of critical faculty, that McCue’s explanation for these alleged anomalies is “higher intelligences”, for which perhaps one should just read 'the gods'. So we are back to explaining anomalies as the sports of the gods (or there more politically correct substitutes). Back to thunder being the wrath of Jupiter and volcanoes being the wrath of Vulcan. Pure intellectual laziness at its worst. – Peter Rogerson.

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