14 June 2021


Monica Black. A Demon Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors and Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany. Metropolitan Books, 2020.

Looking at Germany today it is almost impossible to imagine the wrecked and devastated nation described in this book. After the moral collapse of society in the Nazi years, the country was plunged into near-anarchy with the disappearance of all the arms of government, the destruction of the physical infrastructure, and the arrival of millions of homeless refugees.

The Allied occupying powers struggled to establish a civil society, whilst at the same time obliterating all traces of the previous regime. This was in practice impossible, and despite a policy of ‘denazification’ many of the old administrators continued in-situ into the post-was years, through necessity, or corruption. The local doctor treating you for an injury may less than a decade earlier, have been listing you for sterilisation – or worse.

At the same time a large proportion of the population was in denial of what had happened in that decade. There was still the fear that one might be denounced, or reported to the authorities, by someone with a grudge, or who was seeking vengeance for something that happened in the ‘recent past’, no matter which side you felt you were on.

In the years immediately after Germany’s defeat there was little trust in any of the news media, and after the de-rationing of newsprint a wealth of sensational magazines burst into print. Apocalyptic predictions flourished in the new, freer climate, and in 1949 papers screamed headlines like. “On March 17th the World Will end”, and “Families Want to be Together for the End of the World”.

It was in that apocalyptic March 1949, with people looking for signs and miracles and the end of the world, that the figure of Bruno Groening appeared in the small town of Herford in North Rhine-Westphalia. Attaching himself to the Hulsmann family and their disabled son Dieter, he launched himself as a healer, although, as Germany had strict controls on ‘folk-healers’ and unregistered practitioners he was very careful never to quite describe himself as such. Over the following years Groening travelled around Germany, attracting crowds of thousands, many coming for physical cures, others for some more spiritual or psychic form of redemption.

There were many other post-war occult or quasi-religious expressions of faith in Germany, such as the Virgin Mary apparitions at the village of Heroldsbach, near Nuremburg in Bavaria, historically a strongly Roman Catholic area. Between 1949 and 1952 an estimated million and a half people visited the village, for spiritual uplift and many seeking healing. There were several other BVM apparitions in other locations in the same period although none drawing such huge numbers as Heroldsbach.

Groening’s mass rallies – a phrase which in itself caused concerns in 1940s Germany – drew huge crowds in all parts of Germany, the Protestant northern lander as well as strongly Catholic regions like Bavaria. His meetings and individual consultations did not have any specific rituals or forms of words to ‘treat’ people, or any overtly religious content or ritual. Simply being in his presence was enough for people to feel that they had received some kind of cure. Although he later dabbled with the idea of setting up a chain of what we might now call ‘health spas’ nothing really came of it, following a disastrous business venture. Most people who came to him received only a small rolled-up ball of silver paper to mark the meeting. This seems to have started as a spur-of-the-moment gesture with some cigarette packet silver foil he happened to have in his pocket.

People who sought his help called for ‘seelenbehandlung’ - ‘soul treatment’, implying that his work was less to do with technique and practice than with him having some “inborn facility with hearts and minds.” He spoke of his followers illnesses and psychological problems as being the result of “evil spirits” inhabiting them, rather than anything inherent in their own actions – an attitude which many Germans had taken to explain their own relationships with the Nazi era.

Groening’s mass rallies – a phrase which in itself caused concerns in 1940s Germany – drew huge crowds in all parts of Germany

After several years of being a mass phenomenon, the Groening magic began decline. It began in 1950 when a young girls, ‘Ruth K’, died from TB after she and her father had met Groening and placed all their faith in him, refusing any conventional medical treatment. He was eventually tried for ‘homicide by neglect’ in 1957 and was acquitted, largely because the court found it difficult to judge just what his role in the affair had been. The acquittal was challenged, but Groening died suddenly in early 1959, bringing the proceedings to a halt. However this did not mean the end of his influence. There is a massive Groening presence on the Internet, including a 'Bruno Groening Circle of Friends' website, and sites promotion his ‘healing’ philosophy.

Much of the details of stories such as Groening’s lie in obscure and previously unexplored State and local archives and previously untranslated newspaper files. The author has undertaken a remarkable detailed study of these, and has dicovered much of an “almost unremembered history” of witchcraft accusations and trials.

Black has studied a series of accusations reported from Schlezwig-Holstein, in northernmost Germany by the Danish border. Walderman Eberling, a cabinetmaker in the village of Dithmarschen, had a reputation for curing illness through besprechen, using the ritual vocalisation of prayers and verbal charms to heal. He was called in by a local family to use these talents on their young daughter who had been ill for some time with vague symptoms. A spell in the local hospital had little effect on her condition.

Eberling suggested to the family that some neighbours may have been putting an 'evil influence' on the child. At first a neighbour, Frau Maassen, was accused, and later the former mayor of the town, a man named ‘Claus’. Claus later, along with Maassens son, laid a formal complaint with the local police. At this point the national press began to take an interest in the event, producing headlines like “Witch-Superstition in the Era of the Hydrogen Bomb’,

Another family, the Heeschs also accused the former mayor of causing them harm, calling him an “evil force”. In this case the historical, personal and political motivations become clearer. During the Nazi era the Heesch family were the dominant force in town affairs and the largest local farmers. One of the family had been the mayor before Claus in the Nazi era, and after the war Claus had overseen the redistribution of property, including the Heesch’s, during the denazification programme.

Although this was reported by the national media at the time as a bizarre hold-over from historical witch-hunting panics, it was very much part of a contemporary movement in German society. A survey published in 1959 in the magazine Der Okkulttäter showed that although there were eight ‘witchcraft’ trials in Germany between the First and Second World Wars, between 1947 and 1956 there were seventy-seven. Other sources give much higher figures. The vagueness of the term ‘witchcraft trial’ will undoubtedly be responsible for these varied figures. However the book demonstrate that this was a specifically post-war phenomenon, developing from the social, political and economic circumstances of the era, but also echoing similar societal disruption throughout history.

Although a work of deep scholarship, this book is immensely readable, and presents a vivid picture of a society emerging from a nightmare but unable, and sometimes unwilling, to face its own past. It gives an empathic insight into the lives of individuals, many struggling to escape that past, others still deeply enmeshed in it. This is a very important book for anyone wishing to understand the demons – metaphorical and perhaps sometimes almost literal – of the Twentieth Century. – John Rimmer

See also: Black, Monica and Eric Kurlander (editors). Revisiting the ‘Nazi Occult’: Histories, Realities, Legacies. Camden House, NY. 2015.

31 May 2021


Alan Steinfeld (editor) Making Contact: Preparing for the New Realities of Extraterrestrial Existence. St Martin’s Essentials, 2021.

It is a useful warning to find this book is "dedicated to brave pioneers such as Budd Hopkins, John Mack, Whitley Strieber, Linda Moulton Howe, and many more..." There are chapters by them and Nick Pope, Grant Cameron and Mary Rodwell, showing this is a mixed bag of the bad and the ugly, that turn up in every mind-boggling and ditch-dull television documentary about UFOs.

23 May 2021


Jack Hunter, Spirits, Gods and Magic: An Introduction to the Anthropology of the Supernatural, August Night Press, 2020.

Spirits, Gods and Magic is another example of a trend in several areas of academia and the social sciences – as in the work of Jeffrey J. Kripal and Arthur Versluis, to name but two – that calls into question the model of reality on which Western science, and much else, has long been based, chiefly because of science’s rejection of areas of human experience that don’t fit the model. 

16 May 2021


Stephen James O'Meara. Mars. Reaktion Books.

This is a really excellent book that tells the story of how humans have interacted with the planet Mars from our early civilisations through the dawn of science, and up to modern day space missions that have landed there and crossed its surface digging up samples. This is all told in an engaging and well written manner by an award winning astronomer who even has an asteroid named after him.

8 May 2021


Ceri Houlbrook. Unlocking the Love-Lock; The History and Heritage of a Contemporary Custom. Berghahn, 2021

Ceri Houlbrook’s previous book examined the phenomenon of ‘coin-trees’, living trees or felled tree-trunks which are decorated by people pressing coins into the bark. This book looks at another way in which people mark their presence at a site, and explores the meanings that such mementos carry.

23 April 2021


Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Mythological Objects. McFarland, 2020.

This book, as the rather overused clichΓ© puts it, does “what it says on the tin”. It is the latest in a series of serviceable reference volumes from Ms Bane on topics such as ‘Demons’, ‘Beast and Monsters’ and ‘Giants and Humanoids, amongst others. This volume looks solely at the inanimate features of mythology, the weapons, treasures, buildings, vehicles and magical garments that form the furniture to the world of myth, rather than the gods, entities and creatures that inhabit it.

16 April 2021


Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon. Don Sharp, director. Studiocanal 2021.

Originally released in 1967, this is a new restoration of Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon. Taking enormous liberties with Verne’s original 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, it is set in Victorian England, where a series of scenes of British efforts at pushing the frontiers of science are shown to be comically incompetent.

11 April 2021


Merlin Coverley. Hauntology, Ghosts of Future Pasts, Oldcastle Books, 2020.

Hauntology, Ghosts of Future Pasts is a book about hauntings, or more precisely the idea of haunting, and why, since the publication in 1848 of Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto, we, meaning modern English society, have been pre-occupied with the supernatural. The term hauntology was first used by the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1983 and describes, according to Merlin Coverley, “the ways in which the past returns to haunt the present.”

6 April 2021


David J. Halperin. Intimate Alien; The Hidden Story of UFOs. Stanford University Press, 2020.

David Halperin is a true ufologist. Unlike many academics who have dipped a toe into the cold water of ufology, he has done his time deep down in the ‘gutter roots’ of the subject, as Peter Rogerson once so eloquently described it. His first chapter, ‘Confessions of a Teenage Ufologist’ tracks a ufologocal career progression that will be familiar to many of his, and Magonia’s, readers. 

29 March 2021


Timothy Green Beckley and Sean Casteel (editors) Alien Lives Matter: It’s OK to be Grey. Inner Light/Global Communications, 2021.

This time Tim and Sean collect reports and stories that take a two-pronged attack on the biggest issues in ufology. The major part of the book is dedicated to hostilities between humanity and aliens and underlines the point that throughout history being Grey has not been OK.