This anthology includes sixteen articles from the journal Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal over the period 2013-2014. We tend to associate anthropology with remote ‘exotic’ societies of the sort that feature in the National Geographic and TV shows. Previous works in this sort of field have dealt with the sort of experiences anthropologists might experience in these sorts of communities and which might challenge their western world view.
Here most of the focus is much closer to the Western home and as the list of contents shows covers a wide range:
Editor’s Introduction: Many Strange Dimensions – Jack Hunter
Foreword: Playing with the Impossible – Joseph P. Laycock
Part 1: Ethnographies of the Anomalous
1. Profane Illuminations: Machines, Indian Ghosts, and Boundless Flights Through Nature at Contemporary Paranormal Gatherings in America – Darryl V. Caterine
2. Hearing the Voice of God – Tanya M. Luhrmannn
3. Life is Not About Chasing the Wind: Investigating the Connection Between Bodily Experience, Beliefs and Transcendence Amongst Christian Surfers – Emma Ford
4. Communication Across the Chasm: Experiences With the Deceased – John A. Napora
5. The Paranormal Body: Reflections on Indian Perspectives Towards the Paranormal – Loriliai Biernacki
Part 2: Making Sense of Spiritual Experience
6. From Sleep Paralysis to Spiritual Experience: An Interview With David Hufford – John W. Morehead
7. A Matter of Spirit: An Imaginal Perspective on the Paranormal – Angela Voss
8. The Spectrum of Specters: Making Sense of Ghostly Encounters – Michael Hirsch, Jammie Price, Meghan McDonald & Mahogany Berry-Artis
9. “Spirits are the Problem”: Anthropology and Conceptualising Spiritual Beings – Jack Hunter
10. The Brain and Spiritual Experience: Towards a Neuroscientific Hermeneutic – Andrew B. Newberg
Part 3: High Strangeness
11. Playback Hex: William Burroughs and the Magical Objectivity of the Tape Recorder – James Riley
12. Crop Circles as Psychoid Manifestation: Borrowing Jung’s Analysis of UFOs to Approach the Phenomenon of the Crop Circle – William Rowlandson
13. The Para-Anthropology of UFO Abductions: The Case for the Ultraterrestrial Hypothesis – Steven Mizrach
Part 4: Consciousness, Psychedelics and Psi
14. Navigating to the Inside: First Person Science Perspectives on Consciousness and Psi – Rafael G. Locke
15. Connecting, Diverging and Reconnecting: Putting the Psi Back in Psychedelic Research – David Luke
16. A Paradigm-Breaking Hypothesis for Solving the Mind-Body Problem – Bernardo Kastrup
The articles most likely to appeal to Magonia readers are those by Catarine, Morehead, Hirsch and co-writers and Mizarch.
Of particular interest is the interview with David Hufford on sleep paralysis. Hufford continues to maintain a position of a strong dichotomy between the 'experiential source' and cultural source' models of anomalous personal experience. I suspect that this dichotomy does not exist and that there is a continuous feedback between experience and culture.
Hufford argues that there is a problem with a purely neurological explanation for sleep paralysis experiences because “people do not experience (things like) the ceiling falling in on them or terrorists entering the room..” How does he know this? If that was how they initially interpreted their experience they would not contact the likes of folklorists or psychical researchers. When in the first instant they realised the roof had not fallen in they would simply put the experience down to a bad dream. In the latter case most would do the same, but a minority might call the police and report a break in. In the past I rather suspect that such experiences may have given rise to fears of being buried alive, and today leading interpretations of such experiences involve fears of having a stroke or heart attack.
Hufford also goes on to argue that there is no way science can determine whether spirits exist or not. This is true is one assumes that ‘spirits’ have no impact on the empirical world, in which case their existence or nonexistence is wholly a matter of personal faith and lies outside the purview of science and scholarship. It of course follows that they cannot be evoked to explain anomalous experiences. If they are envisioned as having an impact on the empirical world, then they are as much a part of that world as everything else, and subject to the same rules of study as say electrons.
In his article Steven Mizrach looks at various UFO explanatory hypotheses and even makes reference to Magonia, though the impression that he gives that we have a team of resident writers is somewhat misleading, and I am not sure that Eddie Bullard would be pleased to be described as a supporter of the psycho-social hypothesis. Mizrach ultimately comes down in favour of some version of the ‘ultra terrestrial’ hypothesis.
Daryl Caterine’s article is essentially a summary of his 2012 book Haunted Ground, in which he visits Roswell, the spiritualist camp at Lily Dale and a Dowsers convention, while Hirsch and 'co-writers' (actually among the people who supplied him with ghost stories) show how anomalous personal experiences can happen to anyone.
Taken as a whole this collection of essays are intriguing. Challenging and in parts controversial, and perhaps of varying degrees of scholarship, no doubt reflecting their origin in a semi-informal magazine. Academic interest and scholarly study in all forms of anomalistics is most welcome, but there needs to be constant vigilance against slides into scatter-gun contrarianism or the equation between open mindedness and hostility to modern science or secular society in general. -- Peter Rogerson