Riding With Ghosts

Michael Goss. The Evidence for Phantom Hitchhikers. Aquarian Press (in association with ASSAP), 1984. Republished Coronet, 2015.

Once again, a distinctive theme seems to have arisen unbidden in the pages of this issue of Magonia. Articles by Peter Rogerson and Nigel Watson explore the theme of 'participative folklore' where real, flesh and blood people actually experience some of the traditional themes of folklore. Such themes witchcraft, leprechauns lie on a thin dividing line between real experience and literary artifice; and no theme more, perhaps, than the phantom hitch-hiker.

The PHH (please excuse yet another paranormal acronym) has become almost a symbol of that type of encounter which lies just beyond the reality of individual experience; students of contemporary folklore have used it almost as a symbol of their fugitive subject matter. Until now the only books which have looked seriously at the PHH legend have been those like Brunvand's The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meaning, which have looked on the stories as archetype, and sought a meaning to the accounts in terms of social imagery. They have seen the PHH perhaps as a symbol of the transience and rootlessness of much of Western society. Another tradition of writing has seen the Hitchhiker simply as a ghost story, a good yarn to anthologise, without too much concern as to where the event may lie in a spectrum of reality and myth.,

Michael Goss is aware of the symbolic significance.of the PHH, and analyses it expertly and authoritatively in his study. But also he has travelled the road in search of the one or two original Hitchhiker witnesses; not friends of friends, or second cousins of the man who came to mend his auntie's washing-machine, but the man sitting opposite telling of how he met the Phantom, with all its time-honoured attributes. Even then, the evidence is slight, the stories uncorroborated, but how could they be otherwise? the final link in the chain just that little bit too elusive to pin down. But we know that it happened, we can be sure that one or two people, not many more, will put their hands on their heart and tell you: "I met the Phantom Hitchhiker!"

But that said, we still have the mystery; after all, a thousand people will tell you "I met an alien", and are we any closer to understanding what is happening? If the PHH is out there stalking the highways of the world, is it symbol, reality, illusion or hoax? Michael Goss leads us carefully through the welter of interpretation, and brings us out, much wiser, at the other side. He will not please the sceptic, who wants him to say that all is just a mass of rumour; he will not please the eager-believer, who wants to hear that they are the ghosts of picturesquely slaughtered wanderers. But he will satisfy those who are glad that at last the PHH has been brought firmly into the field of human experience, and can be studied as a paranormal event, but who is still willing to accept its meaning in terms of myth, belief and archetype.

This is a fine book, closely argued - it repays careful reading well written, and, so far, easily the best title in the 'Evidence' series, bar none. -- John Rimmer, from Magonia 18, January 1985.

Out of Time

Joan Forman. The Mask of Time: The Mystery Factor in Timeslips, Precognition and Hindsight. Macdonald and Janes, 1978.

Included in this book are several accounts by people who claim to have had experiences in which they were transported in time. What interests us is not whether any of these experiences are literal encounters with another time (which we very much doubt), but the quality of phenomenological descriptions of some of these experiences. As summarised by Ms Forman, these include:  
  1. A silvery light which seems to be present during the timeslip, irrespective of the actual weather conditions.
  2. An unusual silence, outside noises seeming to fade.
  3. An apparent distortion of the planes in the scene viewed.
  4. A trigger or threshold factor, setting the experience in motion.
  5. A feeling of physical unease or malaise in the percipient, preceding the onset of the event.
  6. Distortion of sounds or speech, when these are present during the experience.
  7. Abruptness of the onset and termination of the experience.
All of these items, particularly two, five and seven, are to be encountered in accounts of alleged UFO experiences.
Timeslips are basically metachoric experiences, in which the percipient(s) find that the environment of consensus reality is replaced by one which appears to the percipient to belong to a past (or more rarely a future) time. The above features seem to be common to all kinds of waking metachoric experiences.

There is even a case in which ambiguous physical evidence, so typical of ufology, is presented. An elderly man went into a shop in Yarmouth and bought some envelopes for his coin collection. He noted a few period pieces: the Edwardian dress of the lady assistant, her surprise at decimal money, etc., but thought nothing of it. Only later, on returning to the shop, d id he find that the entire scene had changed and there was no lady assistant. The bag in which the envelopes had been put disintegrated, though the envelopes remained. However examination by the manufacturers indicated that they were simply 10 to 15 year old cellulose film bags, and could not have come from the Edwardian period. In other cases alleged conversations are reported in timeslips which seem to have the same absurd and trivial character as those described in UFO encounters.

This is a book which will serve to broaden our understanding of the basis of the UFO phenomenon. -- Peter Rogerson, MUFOB New Series 13, Winter 1978/9

Anyone Here Seen Kelly?

Isobel Davis, Ted Bloecher and Leonard Stringfield. Close Encounter at Kelly and Others of 1955. Center UFO Studies, 1978.

The first part of this book is a detailed account of the visitation by humanoids to the farm of Mrs Ellenie Iangford (formerly Mrs Sutton) at Kelly, near Hopkinsville, Kentucky. There were eight adult and. three children present. The case has become a classic , but this report is the first accurate account of the incident. The account has been compiled by Ms Davis, based on interviews by Bud Ledwith, a local radio announcer, with the adult members of the family; and with a follow-up by Ms Dav is herself conducted in July 1956.

The resultant description of two separate visits by Wholly non-human creatures (seemingly naffected by rifle shot and hardly recognising the existence of the laws of gravity) nicely illustrates the absurdity' of such encounters. The hiatus in the visitation was caused by the family trooping off to the police station, and the descent on the farm of police, reporters, and general sightseers. These found nothing, yet when they had gone the creatures returned.

It is difficult to make any kind of sense of this case at all. Ms Davis tries to jam the facts into a 'nuts and bolts' ETH framework , but the strain is evident. An examination of cases of haunting would, I think, have made the author rather less willing to dismiss completely the theory of hallucinations of some sort.

The introduction and second part of the book are Ted Bloecher's studies of the history of CE3s in the United States up to 1955, and his account of some selected cases from that year. These provide yet more jolts to reason; they are all incompatible with a nuts and bolts explanation: But nor, for that matter, are they compatible with any reasonably simple psychological theory. What is one to make of chef Robert Hunicutt's encounter with a bunch of lopsided beings standing at the roadside in Branch Hill; the long nosed dwarves seen by Ms Symmonds; the ghostly craft and beings encountered by the children at Riverside?
How do we deal with the case of David Ankenbrandt who came across a strange aircraft, found himself paralysed and was confronted by a 6-foot-tall man in a ski suit who spoke in a high pitched voice, warning him to tell the government that if there were any more wars 'they' would take over? The same incident occurred at the same place 48 hours later. Ankenbrandt refused to get involved with the Adamski circus, and vanished into history. The humanoid wave reached mass panic in parts of Cincinnati, where hoaxers were also involved.

Also discussed are a couple of bigfoot reports, though they are small bigfeet! Bloecher is perhaps too easily convinced that these refer to some form of primitive hominid, for the point about bigfoot is not that it represents any real hominid, but rather the public's conception of what a missing link should look like.

The volume is well illustrated with maps, diagrams and drawings. The investigations show commendable thoroughness and give an idea of the detail a competent investigation should contain. This report is highly recommended for anyone making a serious study of the UFO problem. -- Peter Rogerson, from MUFOB New series 13, winter 1978/9

Western Way

Caitlin and John Matthews. The Western Way. Arkana, 1985.

Most cultures have evolved their own systems of spiritual self-development. In this century, and particularly in the last twenty years, an explosion of literature has brought into the public domain systems of meditation, ritual and self-development from every culture. The benefits of this unveiling have been the cross-fertilisation and revitalisation of systems which were in danger of becoming fossilised. However, in the past, the secrets of each method were carefully guarded, and to good purpose: to one unprepared a particular path may be ineffective and even dangerous. These difficulties redouble if one tries to follow a system which evolved in a culture quite different to one's own.

Caitlin and John Matthews, who both have had deep experience of several paths, have in this book developed a system of specific value to Westerners. The sub-title of the book is "A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition", and such is exactly what it is: practical and written from experience.

A series of progressive exercises is given which seeks to put the practitioner in touch with the source of his being; each exercise is explained both to purpose and methodology. Having been fortunate enough, long ago, to have received instruction in one of the exercises from the authors, I can personally vouch for their effectiveness. All in all one of the most intelligently written guides to the Western way.

Amidst this paen of praise I must strike one note of disappointment: I have long given up expecting East European names to be written correctly in books in English, but to spell the famous anthropologist's name as Malinowski and then a few lines later as Malinowsky indicates that a proof-reader should be spoken to. -- Wojtek Gaworzewski, from Magonia 22, May 1986.

Brain Box

Stephen Michael Kosslyn. Ghosts in the Mind's Machine: Creating and Using Images in the Brain. W. W. Norton, 1985.

This book is an account of recent research into mental imagery. It describes various experiments which have been devised to investigate ways in which people create and manipulate mental Images.

Such investigations cannot be carried out by studying the brain itself, but by studying the functioning of the brain. To this end experiments are carried out in which subjects are asked to view various images and then are asked questions designed to test their powers of mental imagery. Some 'of the experiments also explore the connections between mental images and the words which are used to describe the objects being visualised. Although most of the experiments described are quite simple, the experimenters have taken precautions to ensure that subjects do not 'second guess' them and fake the 'right' answers just to please them. The results make it possible for a theory to be constructed of how the brain functions and to give us some insights into the processes involved in the construction and use of mental images.

A more indirect form of investigation described in this book is the devising of computer programs which are capable of identifying images. Experience with such programs leads to results which suggest useful ideas for further experiments on human subjects.

The subject of perception and mental imagery is, or should be, of great interest to all those who are interested in reports of UFOs or other strange sights, and this book provides plenty' of information to inspire the . serious researcher into such phenomena, although I must emphasis that it deals almost exclusively with normal imagery and not hallucinations and other unusual experiences.

My only quibble is with the philosophising in which the author indulges, where he asserts that new theories of mental functioning have solved the mind-body problem. This' problem actually has very little to do with the details of brain functioning, and this is why it has proved to be so intractable. -- John Harney. Magonia 20, August 1985