The Power of Fort

Steve Moore (editor). Fortean Studies, Volume 5. John Brown Publishing, 1998. 

In this issue of, the always excellent, Fortean Studies there are several pieces which should be of particular interest to Magonia readers. Andy Roberts's study of the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui was of particular interest to me, because Affleck Gray's account of the BGM was an inspiration at the time of my own first journey into 'new ufology'. Andy ably summarises the evidence, and suggests that the core of the BGM experience is the sudden, inexplicable panic, a mountain panic experienced elsewhere. Andy sees this as an encounter with 'Pan', not of course, in any literalistic sense, for he suggests that all explanations whether in terms of occult beliefs in elementals and genius loci, or in quasi scientific terms, as earth energies or the sort are metaphors for the encounter with the 'raw force of nature'. Not the Disneyfied, tamed, always loving and beautiful nature of the townie green, but nature as is, the utterly wild force of creation and destruction, against which isolated human beings are utterly helpless, or as Andy puts it 'the direct experience of the overpowering force of nature and existence, to be fled from, to be personified as the BGM, a giant, the devil, genius loci or whatever'.

Andy notes there is also a positive, ecstatic transcendent response to wilderness. Are these panics not then 'anti-ecstasies', or ecstasies of terror and despair, what, I believe it was William James, called 'vastations'. These vastations, experiences of transcendent terror don't just occur in the wild mountains however, James recounts one case (probably that of his own father), where it occurred in his living room. The wildness from which he shrink in horror is not just the wildness out there, but the wilderness within.

It is not just the BGM either that is a symbol of the otherness of the external and internal wildernesses, many Fortean phenomena seem to be metaphors for. this encounter, whether it is strange lights in the Peak District, 'saurian' monsters in Loch Ness, beasts in Bodmin, or wild flying UFOs.

The journey into the mountains to encounter Pan might be seen as a pilgrimage, but so too is any road journey, the subject of Alby Stone's paper 'The road that makes things disappear', a study in the mythology of the road to the afterlife. Here the journey to the Otherworld is seen not as an ascension or descent but as a horizontal journey, to the world beyond the rainbow or the other side of the sunset. Such imagery of course was related by the German shaman whose story I reviewed in a recent Magonia, and occurs even in an Italian abduction narrative from 1954. Stone relates this motif to the modern legends of the phantom hitchhiker.

Another modern motif which he could have added is what I call 'the journey into the badlands', the strange hallucinatory experiences of distorted landscapes and frightening figures experienced by some night drivers. These bizarre experiences have some similarities to those encountered in that fairground domestication of the shaman's journey, the ghost train.

Lovers of historical and textual detective work (yes the dreaded cult of librarianship) will enjoy the contributions of Ulrich Magin as he tracks down the origins of a tale of a ship being found in a Swiss mine (a remote ancestor of the crashed flying saucer stories?), Gareth Medway and Mark McCann as they uncover several cases of plagiarism in the occult literature (I am sure they could easily write a full book on that one),  and Michel Meurger as he shows how Albert Ostman's tale of being kidnapped by Bigfoot folk has close similarities with a folk story from Brazil, and an even closer one from the French Alps (though as the latter appeared in a book written in  1977 it may have been plagiarised from Ostman's story, rather than the other way round). Meurger suggests that all these tales may be personalisations of pre-existing folk traditions, in Ostman's case derived from his native Sweden).

Of the other papers, the longest is Colin Bennett's; a further piece of literary criticism of For. It clearly shows great erudition, but his argument concerning the absence of science from the Anglo-American literary world view, gets muddled with many other claims, and the usual rants against science, which some of us would take a little more seriously if we didn't have the sneaking suspicion they were composed on word processors in a centrally heated domicile, complete with fridge, TV, WC and running water, all products of the dreaded science technology and modernity.

Neil Nixon continues with his study of ufology in the media, interesting and informative in parts, but at times reading rather too much like lecture notes, and eyebrows are raised by his comparison of Messes Devereux and Budden with Galileo, and his characterisation of Nigel Kerner's farrago of pseudoscientific ravings as 'one of the most innovative UFO books of the entire decade'

Such was the high standard of most of the papers in this volume, that when there is included a piece of more traditional Fortean writing, Jonathan Downes and Richard Freeman's piece on the dogman and werewolves, it looks rather downmarker in comparison. The material they present would be great as examples of modern folklore,  but these guys actually believe in werewolves, or nasty old boggarts disguised as werewolves, and even take the tales told by Montague Summers and Elliot O'Donnell as factual accounts. Time to go hunting for the Brentford Griffin again!

A sad reflection on what is happening at the edges (and not always at the edges) of our field is that Steve Moore has to apologise to Nigel Watson and Granville Oldroyd in his editorial for giving permission for a French journal to reproduce their piece about the Russians with snow on their boots. The academic sounding journal which requested this turns out to be a holocaust revisionist propaganda sheet. Warning to editors, if a magazine you don't know asks to reprint one of your articles, always get a couple of sample issues first. The only general quibble I have is whether with space being limited, so much should be devoted to the index to the previous years FT, I think that would be better as a separate publication, allowing more space in FS for excellent articles, and avoiding delays in publishing the latest research. – Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 67, June 1999.

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