Sects, Drugs and Chupacabra


Andy Roberts. Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain. Marshall Cavendish, 2008.

Jonathan Downes. The Island of Paradise: Crash Retrievals, Chupacabra and Accelerated Evolution on the Island of Puerto Rico. CFZ Press, 2008.

Michael Haag. The Templars, History and Myth. Profile Books, 2009.

The Fortean Times Paranormal Handbook, edited and compiled by David Sutton. Sutton Publishing, 2009.  
If one of the successes of an author is able to grab the interest of the reader who has little knowledge or interest in a topic, then Andy Roberts succeeded with me here. Those who know me can testify that I was never ever remotely interested in the drugs scene or its cultural by-products back in the 60s and 70s. In fact I tended to think that it was the sort of thing that was diverting the likes of Bob Dylan from their rightful role of singing protest songs to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar and preparing for the revolution. Although I wouldn't diverge all that much from that opinion even now, I found myself surprisingly sympathetic to Andy's arguments and to his portrayal.

There is much here for those who want to look at the LSD craze and society's reaction to it in terms of our old Magonian friends, Habitat and Wilderness, or Victor Turner's dichotomy between communitatas and structure, and whatever your personal views on the subject, this is a fascinating social history of Britain in what seems like an almost forgotten age, perhaps only glimpsed by me in the sort of alternative bookshops in which early issues of MUFOB were hawked.

Readers who purchase Jonathan Downes' book for amazing encounters with Chupacabras and fantastic revelations about crashed flying saucers are going to be somewhat disappointed. On the other hand those who love wild, disorganised travel books full of hilarious anecdote and barbed polemic might well love this account of Downes' trip to Puerto Rico in 2004. Increasingly I think that with the right self discipline and a high quality editor Downes could get a reputation as a great travel writer; the trouble is that in their absence he tends to digress on to what appears to be his real obsession, the sad life and loves of Jonathan Downes. I suppose this can be therapeutic for those who think their own lives and families are dysfunctional, bringing the realisation that you have way to go folks!

The Templars have become one of the principle subjects beloved by 'alternate historians', conspiracy theorists and assorted cranks. Michael Haag's well researched book presents the genuine history of the Templars and the turbulent times of the crusades, based in part on newly available evidence, which also gives useful background to today's conflicts. Haag also examines the rise of the conspiracy theories and the image of Templars in popular culture. A useful antidote to the reams of the speculative nonsense and pseudohistory. Also includes a tourist guide to Templar locations.

The Paranormal Handbook is essentially a special issue of Fortean Times devoted to introductory material and research guides on a range of Fortean Phenomena. Each section has an roundup article by writers in the field such as Alan Murdie on ghosts, Karl Shuker on cryptozoology, Jenny Randles on UFOs, Bob Rickard on life after death, Guy Lyon Playfair on psychic powers, Merrily Harpur on alien big cats, Mark Pilkington on crop circles and Ted Harrison on miracles, and articles for each topic on how to investigate. There are also other articles on special topics.

This means that the newcomer gets some idea of the wide range of often contradictory ideas and outlooks which surround these subjects, and some sensible advice and decent booklists. While aimed primarily at the newcomer and wannbe investigator, and in parts old hat to the likes of Magonia, there is still some good stuff for all. For me the outstanding piece was Therese Taylor's revisionist account of Lourdes, setting the story in its local folkloric context, as opposed the standard, very prettified and tidied up 'official' account. It is a perfect example of how many paranormal/Fortean stories originated in protean anomalous experiences which are then reconstituted under the influence of personal and communal belief systems. --Reviews by Peter Rogerson

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