Better Late Than Never

Brief notes of some books which slipped through the net and were not reviewed in Magonia Review when first published, but which are worthy of comment here.  Notes by Peter Rogerson.

Bennett, Jeffrey S. When the Sun Danced: Myth, Miracles and Modernity in Early Twentieth Century Portugal. University of Virginia Press, 2012.

An important detailed study of the Fatima apparitions set against the chaotic background of Portugal during the first republic, and the battles between the anti-clerical republicans and the Catholic Church, to be followed by Fatima’s promotion by the deeply pious dictator Antonio Salazar. Bennett also examines the lives and backgrounds of the visionaries. While much of this is insightful, it is marred by a fair dollop of now distinctly old-fashioned Freudianism. Despite this there is much that should be of interest to Magonia readers

Sean Casteel. Mad Mollie: One Woman’s Bout with Possession, Clairvoyance, Multiple Personalities and Uncanny Predictions. Global Communications, 2014 (Rev. edition)

Despite the crediting of Sean Casteel as the author of this book, the bulk of its contents are a reproduction, without authorial attribution of Abram H Dailey’s “Millie Fancher the Brooklyn enigma first published privately in c 1891. The despite this the reproduction of the rare original is to be welcomed and can be read in conjunction with Michelle Stacey’s The Fasting Girl reviewed here:

Diane Goldstein, Sylvia Ann Grider and Jeannie Banks Thomas. Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore. Utah State University Press, 2007

Elizabeth Tucker. Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses. University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

These two books , published nearly ten years ago but only just come to our attention are evidence of the growing academic in interest in ghost stories, in these cases from folklorists. Goldstein et al is an interesting collection of essays covering various aspects of ghosts and ghostlore in contemporary folklore, which ranges from discussions of how ghost stories can provide information on environment, geography and history, through a critical account of the evolutionary view of folklore, which portrays folklore as survivals from a primitive age, differences between the ghosts of fiction and memorates, gender in ghost stories, children’s’ ghost stories and commodification of ghost and other folklore

Elizabeth Tucker’s volume concentrates on a single, apparently narrow, topic, America’s college halls of residence and the ghost-lore attached to them. Tucker sees the stories as containing inner messages to do with maturation, the problems of young people away from home often for the first considerable time, and warnings of dangers faced by the young away from home. Halls of residence are seen as liminal places, homes that are also public places, she notes the liminal character of places such as bathrooms, attics and basements, and that universities are liminal places where adolescents undergo rituals that lead them to adulthood. It would be interesting to see such a study conducted in the United Kingdom.

Nicola J Holt, Christine Simmons-Moore, David Luke and Christopher C French. Anomalistic Psychology. Palgrave-Macmillan. 2012 (Palgrave Insights in Psychology)

A textbook aimed at A level students, those preparing for undergraduate courses and undergraduates studying anomalistic psychology and parapsychology, this book provides an excellent neutral round up of the topics, very largely accessible to the non-specialist. There are three main sections; on explanations for anomalous experiences; theoretical and methodological issues in parapsychology (dealing with issues surrounding experiments and their interpretation) and the demarcation between science and pseudoscience.

Magonia readers might be most interested in the third section which deals with specific examples of anomalous experiences; ghosts and apparitions, out of the body and near death experiences, and mediumship. There is an extensive bibliography. Hopefully this book will inspire young people to take up these topics.

Harvey J Irwin. The Psychology of Paranormal Belief: A Researcher’s Handbook. University of Hertfordshire, 2009.

A survey of social surveys of belief in the paranormal, examining various hypotheses as to the types of people likely to express them. Two chapters look at the role of culture and society and of individual psychology in the prevalence of such beliefs. Irwin then examines four models which purport to explain paranormal belief; the social marginality hypothesis, the worldview hypothesis, the cognitive deficit hypothesis and the psychodynamic functions hypothesis, before suggesting his own integrated approach. This is a dense academic work which should be of interest to students and researchers in the fields of parapsychology, anomalistic psychology and wider fields of psychology and sociology.

Remembering Utopia

Shirley Andrews, Lemuria and Atlantis: Studying the Past to Survive the Future. Llewellyn, 2004.

Franz Hartmann, With the Adepts; An Adventure Among the Rosicrucians, Forward by R A. Gilbert. Ibis Press, 2003 (First edition 1887)

There are some subjects of such perennial interest that they are always good for at least a few books a year, for instance biographies of Lord Byron or new theories about who killed President Kennedy. But whereas Byron's life story is essentially fixed, and even the wildest conspiracy theorists at least agree on the date and place of Kennedy's assassination, there are no constants in the story of Atlantis. Andrews is actually a conventionalist, in that she locates Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than, say, the Indian Ocean, The South Pole, or the Watford Gap services off the Ml. and she accepts Edgar Cayce's date for the first destruction of the continent as 50,722 BC. Nevertheless, she describes Atlantean culture in much more feminist terms than was normal a few decades ago: "Women priestesses usually directed the temples' activities. This was partly due to the strong influence of Lunar fertility Goddesses at that time, and also because during its various civilizations, Atlantis, Atlantis was a matriarchal society".

In her bibliography, alongside old favourites such as Braghine's Shadow of Atlantis are more recent titles like Brodie's Healing Tones of Crystal Bowls, 1996. Otherwise her information comes mainly from women who remembered lives as Atlantean priestesses and healers evidently they were so advanced that there was no need for road-sweepers and lavatory cleaners.

Hartmann's novel is about a man who is permitted to visit a secret monastery of the Brothers of the Golden and Rosy Cross in the Alps. The superbeings that he meets are mostly men, but he is surprised to discover two women amongst them, one of whom proves to be Joan of Arc, her body having been miraculously reconstituted following her burning at the stake. She tells him:

"Your intuition told you right. It does not indeed very often happen that an individual attains adeptship while inhabiting a female organism, because such an organism is not as well adapted as a male one to develop energy and strength, and it is therefore frequently the case that those women who have far advanced on the road to adeptship must reincarnate in a male organism, before they can achieve the final result. Nevertheless exceptions are found." 

This seems sexist now but it was quite advanced for its time, when the vast majority of secret societies, real or imaginary, were entirely made up of men.

Basically both authors describe a Utopia, whether hidden in mountains of the mists of the past. they are much the same, though, in that people have philosophical beliefs and possess useful occult powers. the fact is, however, that an ideal society is easier to describe than to create. -- Gareth J Medwaym from Magonia 85, July 2004

Careless Talk Costs Lives

James Hayward. Myths and Legends of the First World War. Sutton, 2002.
James Hayward. Myths and Legends of the Second World War. Sutton, 2003.

War is the progenitor of legend, rumour and fantastical stories, some arising spontaneously, others the products of the propaganda factories of the various combatants. In these books James Hayward looks at all sorts of legends surrounding the two Twentieth Century World Wars. Some of the legends are essentially folk interpretations of history, and in these readers should assume that Hayward's often critical views are just one of many, for example his chapters on the 'myth' of the ineptitude of the British generals in WWI, or of the 'myth' of Dunkirk in the Second, contain views which might be challenged by other historians. Other chapters point to universals in the human imagination, for example during WWI a rumour grew that a nurse who had looked after a wounded German officer had been told by him 'to avoid the Tube in April'. Virtually identical rumours circulated after 9/11, and today we see replays of the spy manias which led to attacks on German waiters in WWI and rumours of parachutists dressed as nuns in WWII.

Some rumours have dark consequences, for example reaction against the 'German atrocity' stories of WWI blinded many in the Allied nations to the reality of the Holocaust. The additional irony is that original atrocity stories were exaggerations rather than pure inventions, as the Prussian army had engaged in mass reprisals against the Belgians who had the temerity not to lie down and be raped by their conquerors, as the aristocrats had always expected peasants to behave, but had actually fought back, thus becoming 'terrorists' or 'illegal combatants', and subject to the sort of severe reprisals by which well brought up gentlemen demonstrate their superiority to peasants and savages.

For Magonia readers it is the more supernatural rumours which are likely to have the greatest interest, and Hayward devotes a chapter in the first volume to rumours of Angels of Mons and other supernatural visions, and in the second volume part of a chapter is devoted to foo fighters. In the former case Hayward comes to the conclusion that the rumours did indeed start with Machen's Bowmen, but the latter leaves him rather baffled. Faced with these sorts of story, along with tales of the missing Norfolks, supernatural warnings, and supernatural forces behind the Nazis, Hayward sometimes seems to irritated that 'educated people' could believe these things. Once again 9/11 and its subsequent wars have produced very similar rumours, beliefs, and appeals to the supernatural.

Despite the somber subject matter, there are flashes of dark humour at times, the WWI trial of Noel Pemberton Billing, arguably the most bizarre trial in modern British legal history, in which at one point a witness accused the judge himself as being part of the vast gay and lesbuan conspiracy undermining Britain, would make an excellent drama. Of course Billing would be a boon to the current tabloid press, and if alive today would no doubt end up as a celebrity castaway eating things just slightly more unwholesome that himself. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 85, July 2004

Crazy Talk and Critical Thinking

Robert E. Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford. Hoaxes, Myths and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking. Prometheus, 2003.

In many ways this is an interesting collection of articles on the psychosocial aspects of a wide range of anomalous experiences, covering the whole range of the sort of subject matters covered by Magonia 'contemporary visions and beliefs'. Though much of this material has appeared in earlier books by Bartholomew, for those who have not read the earlier volumes this makes a useful compilation. Magonia readers will find the chapter by David Clarke on the phantom helicopter of 1973 particularly interesting (needless to say the then Merseyside UFO Bulletin took a keen interest in this, and published one of the first round ups of the reports). This was a social panic generated in a period of exceptional social strain within Britain, with a background of class war, Irish terrorism, fears of illegal immigration, rumours of impending military coups and so on, in which the sort of ambiguous lights in the sky which were conventionally attributed to "flying saucers" now became associated with more terrestrial fears and paranoias.

In the chapters on the birth of the flying saucer, the 1909 airship scare in the United States and the 1896-7 airship stories, we see the various ways in which these ambiguous stimuli are interpreted in terms of current beliefs. For example in 1947, the 'flying saucer' wave was generated by fears of Soviet secret weapons, and the ETH didn't figure until several years later. Other social panics include the phantom gasser of Mattoon and Indian stories of the monkey men.

The boundaries between social panic and ritual form the basis of Bartholomew and associates studies of latah, dancing manias, fears of disappearing genitals and jumping responses, which have been rnedicalised into 'culture specific syndromes'. Bartholornew uses these to challenge the rnedicalisaion of a whole range of behaviours in the western world. He sees the various social rumours discussed in the book as falling into several categories; 'immediate community threat' (e.g. the Swedish ghost rocket scare), flight panics (e.g. the great Martian panic of 1938), 'symbolic threats' (e.g. the Satanic abuse scares), and wish fulfilling 'signs of transcendence' (e.g. visions of the Virgin Mal)' or ET's).

If this is in many ways an interesting book, it is not without its problems. The presence of 'review questions' indicates that this is a textbook, and as with many such books, the 'correct' answers to the questions are the ones which fit the author's own beliefs and values. There is also an annoyingly patronizing tone about its call for logical thinking to replace emotion. If Bartholomew and Radford had argued more the need to critically evaluate evidence this wouldn't have grated so much. As it is there is a hint of the CSlCOP idea that if only the proles could think more like well-educated college professors then all would be well, The problem with this is that just as many horrors have been perpetrated by 'rationality' as by blind emotion.

The witchcraft persecutions were supported by the finest minds of the time, arguing quite rationally within the confines of their cultural beliefs and values. The German doctors who established the euthanasia programme did so for perfectly logical and rational reasons, and were only too willing to discard 'irrational emotional responses' such as pity for the weak. Imagine that you have captured a terrorist whom you know has planted a 50 megaton under some city, but not which. Nothing you do to him will break him, but the psychologists tell you that if you torture his five year old child in front of him, then there's a good chance he will break down and tell you where the bomb is and thus save many millions of lives. Reason and logic tell you that you have to torture the child to save millions of lives, yet is there not some set of values beyond all reason and logic which say that it is never right to torture a child? -- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 85, July 2004

Blurred Pictures

John F. Moffitt. Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture, Prometheus, 2003

Presented with a book entitled Picturing Extraterrestrials written by a retired professor of the history of art, you would probably expect a glossy book full of gorgeous colour illustrations of aliens taken from book and magazine covers, film posters and the whole gamut of modern kitsch. What you get, apart from 16 pages of black and white illustrations, is mountains of text, discussing alien abduction narratives from a generally sceptical viewpoint. Some good points are made, and there are attempts at humour.

There is no doubt that this a wide ranging study; not many UFO books will cover the influence of Swedenborg and Eliphas Levi on symbolist art in the same pages which discuss the genesis of the American cultural icon Betty Crocker (don’t worry, fellow Brits, I’m as baffled by this name as you are). The thesis seems to be that the the abduction narratives are part of post-modernist commercial culture; they are capitalist commodities, phenomena of the world of TV and other pop kitsch images.

This is interspersed with general sceptical comments on the abduction scene, and UFO history (of course Americocentric, and containing a number of careless howlers). These are often sensible enough but they have been made many times before, and hardly seem the province of the art historian.The cover describes this book as "accessible", but I am afraid that this description is somewhat of a terminological inexactitude; reading it was rather like swimming through treacle. With a good, slashing editor, parts would have made interesting Magonia articles, but the chapters just don’t add up to a coherent book. Why cannot Prometheus Books employ good quality editors to make the manuscripts they receive actually readable? The feeling is that anyone wearing an 'I Love Randi' badge can walk into the office and get their manuscripts published regardless of literary merit. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 49, February 2004.