Paul Devereux. Haunted Land: Investigations into Ancient Mysteries and Modern Day Phenomena. Piatkus, 2001.
In some ways this book gives the impression of being two short books glued together to make one. The first part of the book continues Devereux’s quest to link spirit paths and other straight tracks with the ecstatic flight of shamans, and from thence to trace the shamanic roots of a a variety of folk beliefs. In this he draws on the work of pioneering folklorists such as Garlo Ginzburg and Eva Pocs. The idea of the shamanic roots of British folklore isn't new, it was a theme of the folk song historian A. L. Lloyd in the 1960s, and Geoffrey Ashe was writing on the same theme in the 70s and 80s. However these writers tended to argue that the shamanic motifs were imports from its Mongolian heartland, whereas Devereux sees shamanism as a ubiquitous phenomena occurring in most if not all cultures.
The second part of the book deals with modern ghost stories and apparational experiences, including Devereux’s own vision of a 'driverless phantom pickup truck' on an early morning motorway drive. This leads him into a fascinating study of the highway ghosts, phantom monks, grey ladies black dogs and the like. These include a couple of stories of human faced horses, and what could be regarded as a British bigfoot! Clearly there are some truly weird experiences going on out there, and these are only the ones sufficiently close to some conventional paranormal category for people to feel able to report. Devereux points out the obvious problems of conventional spiritualistic explanations for all of this, for example how the idea of the period costume ghost has arisen in the last two hundred years as people became more aware of history and started reading historical novels.
Devereux’s interest, as you might expect, lies in the impact of the landscape and environmental features on the development of these experiences, and he tentatively suggests that aspects of the environment can interact with the brain to produce hallucinations.
The link between the idea of shamanic flight and experiences such as the idea of traveling in the train of Diana, and modern experiences might be hypnogogia. Though the old hippie in Devereux inclines him to seek the origin of shamanic ecstasy in drug induced states, the sense of flying is also reported in hypnogogic imagery. Many of the reports of apparitions occur in hypnogogic or quasi hypnogogic states. Devereux's own experience of driving down a long straight stretch of motorway in the dark or early dawn was in conditions conducive to twilight states. Perhaps some road apparitions are internal alarm calls, sharply waking up motorists who are drifting off (the sense of bump of hitting something in the road might be as a result of the myalgic jerk of waking)
Years ago John Rimmer suggested that the sort of grey lady/monk apparition were minimalist apparitions, a sort of vague template of a human figure. This again suggests that in some sense we are dealing with the primal building blocks of perception.
Of course environmental factors cannot be the cause of all ghost stories, some have clearly cultural origins, being ways that society deals with deep traumas, or the sense that particular events can abstract areas from ordinary secular space, to become “sacred” taboo places.
Whether you agree with all of Devereux's arguments it is nice to see someone actually thinking in a field encumbered with unthought spiritualist clichés and heritage industry guff. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, March, 2002