Daemonic Reality

Patrick Harpur. Daemonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld. Viking Arkana. 1994.

I have seen a daylight disc and craft like zeppelins; a black panther in Northumberland; a wood gnome, and under sleep deprivation the tooth fairy; a half-human, half-zebra entity in the office toilet during mycological flashback; a woman medium's face turn into that of a Chinaman; a bird give its life to save mine.

This book is about this sort of anomalous phenomena and the author suggests that "if these strange visitations have any purpose at all, it is to subvert the same modern worldview which discredits them." Luckily, I need no convincing, nor have since adolescence. The author, too, approaches the subject as a believer, but wanted to examine the data within a framework; to present it to himself as much as to others.

Harpur notes that this worldview, with its comprehension of the importance of dreams, unconscious contents, soul-images, existence of apparitions and so on, exists against all the odds unofficially and instinctively among groups and individuals in our own monotheistic culture. He notes that such people largely lack a sense of precedent for their view, an historical context for the evidence of their own eyes and senses; and this is partly what his book aims to provide.

Which brings us to the book's title. The daimons here, for the sake of convenience, embrace all apparitional figures, including fairies, angels, souls and aliens; flexibly changing form to suit their times, i.e. cultural tracking, as abstractions or preferably remaining personified. Archetypal personages going back from Jung to the Gnostic-Hermetic-Neoplatonic tradition of philosophy.

The neoplatonists described the world of gods and daimons as Anima Mundi (Soul of the World) and Harpur reckons this has the advantage over the collective unconscious as a root metaphor as it returns us to the idea of soul instead of psyche; reintroducing the idea of an objective, ensouled world `out there'.

There are particular places where we are more likely to encounter the unseen order of things. Lights hang over prehistoric sites while military bases, power stations and reservoirs attract hovering UFOs because they are the shrines of our modern secular culture, becoming a shadow display of high-tech alien `spacecraft' to mirror our technological preoccupations. At such places the laws of time and space, matter and causality seem attenuated; caravan sites and trailer parks being in that liminal area between town and countryside are specially prey to UFOs or strange creatures which particularly favour boundaries. This greater transparency at certain sacred sites has led to the ufological, and broader, term 'window area'. Paradoxically they straddle many borders, such as that between fact and fiction.

Harpur concludes the section with a discussion of urban myths, seeing them also spanning the gap between fact and fiction; ambiguous and using the friend-of-a-friend convention to distance us from the alleged event.

After the collective unconscious and anima mundi, he constructs a third model, that of imagination, for making intelligible he nature of daimonic reality. Primary imagination is here defined as encountering the sacred; secondary imagination is recreative and evaluating, making from the human condition art at at a personal level being theraputic.

Not only is a rather complex theory of models made to make sense (he could have included other models such as Mercurius or faery), but as all Forteans will understand, daimonic phenomena cannot, by definition, be explained, for explanations are images and myths anyway. Daimonic reality is a self-coined metaphor to emphasis the power of the models examined.

However, after taking the reader through such topics as missing time, scars, NDEs, stigmata, changelings, midwifery, alien sex, Bigfoot, supernatural food, satanic child abuse and bogus social workers, shamanism with Shiels and Shuttlewood, John Keel's quest, soul and body, he ends the book with two instructive examples of successful descents into the Underworld - "now more than ever the most appropriate spatial metaphor for daimonic reality".

These visits involve ufology's notorious greys (other contributors to Magonia will surely expand and argue over this in coming issues) and C. G. Jung.

For a book that is arguing that its subject matter cannot be explained and that soul resists spirit's wish to find single underlying principles, Harpur has come as close as anyone so far to producing a unifying theory for the great diversity of subject matter loosely labelled paranormal, supernatural, occult, mytlmlogical and folkloric.

Naturally the author sees the paradox, aware that the book's perspective is partial and incomplete. Nevertheless it is a remarkable tour de force. -- Reviewed by Paul Screeton, from Magonia 50, September 1994.


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