Mark Fox. Lightforms: Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena. Spirit and Sage, 2016.
First published in hardback with the title and subtitle reversed and at an exorbitant price in 2006, this work, now published in an affordable soft cover edition, examines anomalous experiences of light and illumination. It is based on narratives submitted to the Religious Experience Research Unit established by Sir Alister Hardy, the well-known naturalist, in 1969, originally based at Manchester College, Oxford (the successor to the Warrington Academy) but now at University of Wales, Lampeter. The material was gathered by newspaper appeals for “all who have been conscious of, and perhaps influenced by, a higher power, whether they call it God or not” to send in brief details. He was not especially interested in anomalous personal experiences, but a fair number were submitted and it is from these that this study has been compiled.
I think that the title, however, is somewhat misleading, only a small portion of the narratives describe encounters with anomalous lights of the sort one finds in UFO accounts. The main sets of data consist of lights or luminous beings that bring comfort, with transformed perceptions of the landscape, feelings of being flooded with light and love, sudden flashes of light and similar 'spiritual' phenomena
The narratives do include some accounts of near-death experiences gathered before these were made famous by Raymond Moody, and these tend to involve things like tunnels of light, the presence of luminous beings etc. and not to include features such as the 'silver cord' and other features from Spiritualist and occultist literature. To what extent that is the result of double selection is hard to say.
Clearly given the nature of the original question, many of these experiences are interpreted in a religious and often specifically Christian context, one which is not only a consequence of the original intent of the survey, but of the times and culture within which they were generated. These stories were submitted in a more religious age and are often supplied by older people narrating experiences from much earlier in their lives. Today similar narratives are likely to be given a variety of interpretations from folk spiritualism and New Age figures to benevolent UFO beings.
While Fox himself clearly sees these experiences as the breaking through of some transcendent reality into the mundane world, the less theologically inclined might note that many of these experiences seem to occur at times of great personal crises or emotional strain, as do a number of other anomalous experiences. Though aimed clearly at a theological readership, this book should be of general interest to psychical researchers and Forteans. – Peter Rogerson.