13 October 2009



Joanne Austin (compiler). Weird Hauntings: True Tales of Ghostly Places, illustrated by Ryan Doan. Sterling Publications, 2006.

This book in the Weird US series presents a collection of memorates and folklore, much of the latter coming from essentially teenage lore. Clearly many of the memorates reflect a crafting of what might have been more fragmentary experiences. Of these experiences perhaps the most interesting are cases where odd noises and movements in outdoor quasi-wilderness locations are interpreted as ghostly phenomena, whereas in other contexts they might have been interpreted as the presence of Bigfoot.

Michelle Belanger. Haunting Experiences: Encounters With the Other Worldly. Lleweylln, 2009.

Set of first person accounts which seem to inhabit the liminal zone between personal experience and short story. They are certainly more literate and less in your face ego centric that much of this type of literature, and though they are expressed within the language of pop spiritualism/occultism/paganism, as mediated by Hollywood, (e.g., 'spirits' as lumps of energy which can be dealt with by energy work) there are signs of a more thoughtful approach under the surface.

Bowen Pearse. Ghost Hunter's Casebook: The Investigations of Andrew Green Revisited. Tempus, 2007.

There are a couple of interesting things in this book, a forward by Alan Murdie and introduction by the author giving some details of the life and career of Andrew Green. While Green was convinced that some experiences of ghosts and apparitions had an anomalous origin, he rejected explanations in terms of human survival or non-human entities. His own explanations in terms of 'electricity' however had no scientific basis as was pointed out several times during his lifetime.

However it did mean that he had little patience with the legions of 'mediums' and 'psychics' who could leech on people who had anomalous experiences, and often add considerably to their distress. He was also very clear that many of the experiences reported were caused by a variety of medical, psychological and social causes, and that the investigator needed to be often more of a councillor and social worker than a ghost hunter. A couple of fairly sensational sounding cases turned out to have been generated by the side effects of misused medication, and Green quickly solved the problem without being tempted to write a sensationalist book on the case.

From the point of view of the reader there was something of a downside, in that because he considered his most interesting and instructive cases to be private matters not to be exploited for sensation and profit, that the bulk of his published works tended to concentrate on the usual tourist industry locations, and this is definitely true of this book, which retells some of the hoariest old stories going, and with only one or two exceptions, is devoted to ye typical olde haunted pile or olde haunted pub, and their legends are usually the products of about 250 years of tourist industry fakelore. Of course the older fakelore sooner or later becomes part of the local storytelling scene.

Michael J Hallowell. Paranormal South Tyneside. Amberley Publishing, 2009.

Despite the title, this is an eclectic collection of memorates, folklore and some probable fakelore covering a wide range of paranormal and Fortean topics taken from the author's WraithScape column. Newspaper columns like this, and talk in radio shows are clearly the modern version of the storytelling sessions around the cottage fire. There is also quite a large amount of obvious padding, general idle speculation etc.

There is however, one quite illuminating example of how precognitive experiences are generated. On 9th September 2001 a psychic predicts "I have an awful feeling something terrible is going to happen. What ever it is it will happen soon and the whole world with be forced to sit up and take notice". What an amazing prediction of 9/11, except of course it wasn't, it was an completely open ended prediction, specific neither as to the nature of the "something terrible" nor the time frame meant by "soon". Scarcely a week goes by without something "terrible" happening somewhere in the world. I can do just the same and predict that in October 2009 something truly terrible will happen and cause a great deal of grief. Sadly I don't need psychic powers to do this provided I remain vague enough. [Within a week of Peter writing this we had the South Pacific tsunami and the Indonesian earthquake, resulting in massive damage, and loss of life]

Darren Ritson. Paranormal North East: True Ghost Stories. Amberley Publishing, 2009.

The title might suggest that this book will contain a wide selection of memorates of anomalous personal experiences provided to the author by members of the public, or at least a regional guide to ghost lore. Sadly this is just an account of the 'vigils' conducted by the author and fellow members of his GHOST group, all with obligatory 'psychic' in tow. In my first letter to the old Merseyside UFO Bulletin as a teenage UFO enthusiast 40 years ago I suggested that John Keel's 'flap areas' were haunted houses writ large; this book makes me suggest that these ghost hunting vigils are skywatches writ small. They suffer from exactly the same problems as skywatches, in that the combination of expectancy, suggestion, sensory restriction, fatigue and group dynamics can produce some very strange experiences indeed.

That the experiences are generated by the dynamics of the group rather than any possible environmental factors is strongly suggested by an unwitting experiment in which they conduct a 'diagnostic investigation' of an old church hall which they admit has no local reputation for being haunted and from which there have been no reports of anomalous personal experiences. Despite this they experience all sorts of odd effects. This ought to tell them something, but doesn't. Needless to say they were not invited back and have been forbidden from mentioning its name!

The rise of the these ghost hunting groups parallels the phenomenal rise in the interest in family history, and is perhaps a similar attempt to reach out to an elusive and fading past. Often however the past that ghost hunters reach out to is an imaginary one. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the story of the Wheatsheaf pub in West Boldon, where on the word of a self proclaimed psychic, police conducted an investigation into the alleged murder of a Jessica Ann Hargreaves by a Joseph Lawrence in 1908, one of many children murdered, she claimed. About 20 minutes investigation in Ancestry showed that only one Jessica Hargreaves was born between 1897 and 1907, in Burnley in 1902, where she died 2 years later. Only one adult Joseph Lawrence was living in Durham in 1901, in Felling not Boldon. A complete and utter delusion which has cost taxpayers money and police time which could have been spent dealing with real crime. -- All above reviewed by Peter Rogerson

Daniel Love. Scottish Ghosts. Amberley Publishing, 2009.

This new edition of a title originally published in 1995 covers a much more traditional range of hauntings than the two volumes from the same publisher above. Scotland's long and often violent history has provided a prolific source of ghost legends, particularly associated with the country's many castles, battlefields and stately homes -- council houses hardly figure in these accounts.

The story of the 'Big Grey Man of Ben McDhui' (or more accurately, it would seem, Beinn Macduibh) is recounted, with the comment that local legend claims it as the ghost of a poet who died on the hills. Love points out that the writer actually died in action in the Peninsular Wars. The 'Grey Man' is more likely a manifestation of the sense of panic which often affects mountaineers and walkers in remote and lonely places. 

Like most books of this nature, it's hard to distinguish between the stories which emerge from local historical traditions - the 'literary criticism' which some ufologists are accused of - and those which emerge from accounts of actual experience. As this book is not a scholarly thesis in the style of Hufford's 'Terror...' it would be unfair to suggest it should attempt such an analysis. However as a tourist-oriented introduction to some of the more traditional haunting legends of a ghost-rich nation, which avoids dysfunctional families and violent poltergeists, this is an excellent guidebook. -- John Rimmer

Gordon Rutter. Paranormal Newcastle. The History Press 2009.
Rather like the Mike Hallowell volume for Amberley, this book covers a wide range of folklore, with a short chapter on UFOs. There are lots of nice photographs, and I suspect part of the aim of this series is to introduce local history to a wider range of the public, with a paranormal sugar coating. The word is fairly stretched here with chapters on witchcraft, the Newcastle mummies, and fairy ring mushrooms. Ghosts, which are the mainstay of volumes like this, are relegated to a few vague rumours and a rather tedious account of a seance at the Newcastle Lit and Phil.

One possible reason why books like this tend increasingly to rely on vague folklore, antique sources or the author's personal experiences is a European Union directive which bans most public libraries and record offices from supplying photocopies of anything which might be in copyright for "commercial research", which includes research for any book or periodical article written for a fee. -- Peter Rogerson.

1 comment:

Mike Hallowell said...

Perhaps Mr. Rogerson would simply like to write a generic critique of all my future books - it would certainly save him time.

Regarding the psychic prediction of the Twin Towers disaster, he omits to mention that, in my book, I state:
"...the clairvoyant hadn't given any specific details or times...Her prediction could have fitted any major disaster", which acknowledges the flaws in using this case as a proof-positive test or benchmark. Of course, by failing to mention that I added the above caveats, Rogerson leaves it open for the reader to assume that I was blindly acknowledging the event as a prediction of 9/11 - which I didn't. All I claim in my book is that I found the close proximity of her prediction to 9/11 chilling".

I'm also intrigued by his comments on the book title. How does the title, Paranormal South Tyneside conflict with the fact that it is "an eclectic collection of memorates"?

Finally, as for padding, Rogerson should know that I originally had so much material that it was decided to split it into two volumes. Far from "padding" the stories, I actually had to edit them down.