More Tea, Vicar?

Robert Wood. The Widow of Borley. Duckworth, 1992.

This is the remarkable life story of Marianne Foyster, wife of the rector of Borley, Essex, in the 1930, and inhabitant of the notorious "most haunted house in England". The book is not primarily concerned with the alleged hauntings, polts and other paranormal events reported at Borley, although inevitably these are considered. And inevitably one must come to the conclusion that all the most interesting of these manifestations are either hoaxes or misinterpretations of other events.

And it is the other events going on at Borley during the Foyster's incumbency which are far more fascinating than any mere hauntings. A rector living in a quasi-incestuous relationship with his wife, whom, since he baptised (and possibly sexually abused) her as a child, he regards as a daughter as much as a wife. A wife who has her violent lover installed on the premises, possibly to satisfy her husband's voyeuristic sexual tastes. A bigamous marriage with a travelling salesman who is told that his supposed wife's clergyman husband is actually her father - who happily goes along with the deception. No wonder the Borley poltergeist was supposed to give people black-eyes; they must have been a regular feature of such a weird ménage!

Of course, to the psychic investigators who went to Borley, none of this was apparent. The rector is described as "a cultured and intelligent observer", and of course no one would dream of accusing a rector's wife of wholesale sexual adventurism. After all, it's got nothing to do with ghosts - has it?

Robert Wood's observations on the popular literature and investigations surrounding Barley apply equally to the UFO and paranormal world: "The style of these works hovers uneasily between Conan Doyle and The Boy's Own Paper, and the author's invariably refer to themselves as 'trained and . serious investigators', though they never make clear where they received their training and do not identify the frivolous investigators with whom they do not wish to be confused. [They] also display a peculiar mixture of snobbery and naivety ... "

Wood notes that however painstaking and detailed Borley events were, they were worthless because they completely ignored the "complex psychopathology and the unusual domestic situation at the rectory". Similarly UFO researchers, particularly the abductionists, produce whole books about the alleged activities of entirely hypothetical Greys, whilst carefully avoiding telling us anything at all about the witnesses, other than that they are "intelligent and articulate" or something equally meaningless.

Of course, any more detailed publications of a percipient's private life may lead us foul of Britain's repressive libel laws, although the possibility that Marianne Foyster is still alive in the USA does not seem to have inhibited Robert Wood's revelations. Now however we have self-imposed restriction by the Great and the Good in the UFO world to curtail severely the amount of personal data on witnesses that we are to be allowed to read. Inevitably, in all but the most trivial light-in- the-sky case (and probably in a lot of them, too) this will make it impossible for anyone to understand the larger personal and psychological dimensions to the events which are being investigated.

There are all sorts of rumours that circulate about UFO cases, including some where the sexual proclivities of key participants are spoken about. If these were to be openly discussed some cases would take on a totally different character. Dennis Stacy's article in this issue of Magonia demonstrates what a minefield we are entering. We are probably in a situation more like that of the the Borley investigators than we realise, and it will probably also be nearly sixty years on before anybody has the nerve to publish the real background to such cases.

One small footnote to Borley that will raise a smile on ufologists' lips. In an attempt to escape discovery after Harry Price's book on Borley was published, the Foysters moved further and further into deepest Suffolk, ending up at a remote little village called . . . Rendlesham, Marianne eventually escaped to America by marrying a GI from the nearby Bentwaters US air base! Small world, isn't it.

I strongly recommend this book, not just for the investigations of the alleged events, which would make an excellent TV psychodrama, but for what it has to say about the problems of investigating any form of anomalous evidence which depends on the testimony of human beings - they're far stranger than aliens. -- John Rimmer, from Magonia 44, October 1992.

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