24 August 2015


Matt Cardin (editor). Ghosts, Spirits and Psychics: The Paranormal From Alchemy to Zombies. ABC-CLIO, 2015.

There have been various attempts to compile an encyclopaedia or quasi encyclopaedia of what might loosely be called the 'paranormal' over the years. It is not to an easy task to say the least. Compiling encyclopaedias where there is at the least a consensus that the topic exists is hard enough, especially where there are differing interpretations and outlooks.
It gets much harder when there is no agreement as to whether the subjects of the encyclopaedia, or at least some of them, actually exist. The normal criteria for evaluating reference books (the ones used by librarians in olden days when there were such things and they actually selected books) such as comprehensiveness, authority, up to dateness, neutrality and readability are often harder to apply.

The contents page (http://publisher.abc-clio.com/9781610696845/shows what a wide range of topics this book is aiming to cover and that in itself will cause controversy, many parapsychologists bitterly resent their subject, which they see as a science, being associated with topics such as astrology and ritual magic. A further problem that this sort of approach brings is that coverage often has to be drawn with a very broad brush. 

While sections of this book are clearly just such a broad brush, others seem very specific, and the whole seems more like an almost random collection of essays rather than a clearly planned encyclopaedia. That’s not to say that the essays are bad; some are clearly by people who know what they are talking about; Christopher French on anomalistic psychology; Caroline Watt on parapsychology; Roger Luckhurst on psychical research; Callum Cooper on electronic voice phenomenon (sic) or Roger Sherwood on animals and the paranormal, though this latter tries to cover too many disparate themes in one article.

The other extreme is represented by no fewer than four essays on poltergeists; the main one plus 'witchcraft and poltergeists', vampires and poltergeists' (?!) and the Enfield poltergeist; surely these belong just as sub-headings in the main article. I would have thought that the articles on 'apparitions', 'ghosts' and 'hauntings' could also have been brought together.

The coverage of ufology is poor; the main article is too general and its 'bibliography' a joke; the one on abductions rather better. Other related articles are on John Keel, Whitley Strieber and Jacques Vallee, but none of these give the impression that the author has any great background knowledge of the subject.

As with many of these works, it is with the biographical entries that the thing really falls on its face; the names seemed to be picked out of a hat; are they meant to be people important in the development of parapsychology, or influential in popular culture. Neither applies to Stan Gooch, and I could easily think of at least a hundred people more worthy of entry.

All in all a good try that is greatly hampered by lack of a clear editorial direction and appreciation of what and who are important in the field. 
  • Peter Rogerson.

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