Meeting Postponed

Meeting Postponed

29.7.15

FIRST READ: THE START OF THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

This is the last in Peter Rogerson's series reexamining the books which cultivated his early interest in the paranormal and the unexplained. We would like to hear from Magonia's readers of books which similarly sparked off their own interest in the topics we examine here. Of course, few of our readers are quite as old as the Editors, so there is no obligation that these titles should have been published '50 Year Ago', and numerous other little logos are available to head the article! If you would like to contribute, please contact me at magoniareview@gmail.com.

A. V. Sellwood and Peter Haining. Devil Worship in Britain Corgi, 1964.

When I was a teenager we didn’t have video nasties and computerised war games to allow you to venture into the dark realm, you read books like the Pan Book of Horror Stories , the Pan Book of Ghost Stories, or things like this.

Long term Magonia readers will recall our various articles on the great Satanism and Satanic abuse panics of the 1980s and early 1990s. It was assumed at the time that this was an American import. Not so; if there is an origin point of the modern Satanic panic it is this book; advertised as “a startling expose which reveals the shocking truth about Satanism today”.

Written in the style of the gutter tabloids which provided most of its 'facts' this book typified the moral panics of the post Profumo period; lumping together a range of social phenomena such as sex parties, neo-witchcraft, teenage vandalism, and fears of immigration into a single package. Any interest in the occult was seen as an opening through which you could fall into Satanism. As a metaphor for social and sexual change 'Satanism” had a powerful symbolic ring. Actual evidence as to its existence was hard to come by, not least because the thing didn’t actually exist, at least not outside some rather kinky play-acting based on the novels of Dennis Wheatley.

Some of the fears in this book look very peculiar; it will, I think, come as surprise to Messrs. Rimmer and Harney to learn that the Liverpool of the 1960s was rife with the devotes of a secret Polynesian cult, dedicated to the god Tiki. Racism was very much an undertone of this book; dark skinned immigrants were bringing in “dark rites” and so on.

Very little of what was to become the kernel of the great Satanic abuse legend - the sexual abuse and murder of children - features here, just the odd rumour (or rumour of a rumour). Dancing in the nude and smoking were wicked enough for Satanists in those days, or so it seems.

These beliefs continued for a number of years; I recall being warned as a nineteen-year-old reading the now-classic partwork Man, Myth and Magic, that this was a road to Satanism, presumably via visiting tarot card readers and attending séances.  - Peter Rogerson

20.7.15

25 YEARS AGO, MAGONIA 36

Apologies once again for the late appearance of a '25 Years Ago' review. However, I hope that by publishing these features Magonia Review readers will be encouraged to visit the original articles to which I provide links, and perhaps from there explore further into our archives, which now include virtually all the articles from MUFOB and Magonia, and of course our associated Book Review Archive.

Magonia 36 (May 1990) was desk-top published using a rather temperamental program with a curious range of typefaces, which was further un-enhanced by being printed on paper which seems to have been recycled a few too many times, and gave finished pages which appear to have been printed on blotting paper.

The magazine's rather startlingly yellow cover reproduced a cover illustration taken from the first issue of the Padgate College Magazine, published in Spring, 1947. This bears a striking resemblance to the illustration used on the cover of our previous issue which illustrated Martin Kottmeyer's investigations into UFO imagery in American comics of the 1930s

Peter Rogerson unearthed this particular image in his job as local history librarian in Warrington, and in his Northern Echoes column he asked: "Just what is going on here? Are those strange object pre-Arnoldian UFOs? Do the dinosaurs indicate some kind of pre-Von Daniken ancient astronaut speculations? Your guess is as good as mine!"

My contribution was an overview of some recent books on the then rapidly-expanding abduction phenomenon. I suggested the study of abductions might be rightfully moving from ufologists towards psychologists and sociologists. Although there were some indications that this was happening at the time, in the end the psychologists and sociologists did not seem to find enough in the topic to study it in any real depth, and instead it moved away even from scientific ufologists into the world of totally belief-oriented cultism.

Editor Emeritus John Harney uncovered a curious account of spontaneous human combustion in The Family Oracle of Health, Economy, Medicine and Good Living; Adapted to All Ranks of Society from the Palace to the Cottage. (They knew how to do titles in those days) published in 1826. It will be no surprise to learn that the writers, A. F. Crell, MD, FRS, and W. M. Wallace Esq., Assisted by a Committee of Scientific Gentlemen, concluded that the cause of this disastrous phenomenon was that "the persons who experienced the effects of this combustion, had for a long time made immoderate use of spirituous liquor", and that "the combustion took place only in women".

Unfortunately the print quality of the magazine has so far frustrated my attempts to scan the article into a format which I can put onto our archive, so I may be forced to get my typing fingers into working order and copy it manually. (Sigh).

Manfred Cassirer, one of the pioneers, along with Hilary Evans, of encouraging a cross-over with research into UFOs and psychic phenomena, contributed 'Delusions'. This presented a historical look at many of the beliefs about the nature and alleged phenomena associated with witchcraft.

Our sorely-missed colleague Roger Sandell presented a feature-review of a book, Not Necessarily the New Age, from Prometheus Press. He saw the development of 'New Age' thinking to have had a correspondence to wider political and social developments in Europe and the United States. This is another piece which I think I will need to input into our archive from scratch! (Sigh, again).

17.7.15

IRISH EYES

Jo Kerrigan. Old Ways Old Secrets - Pagan Ireland. The O'Brien Press, 2015.

Jo Kerrigan grew up amid the wild beauties of West Cork. After some years working as a writer, journalist and academic in the UK, having studied Medieval History at Oxford University, she returned to home ground where she continues to write regularly for Irish and international newspapers and magazines.

In Old Ways Old Secrets - Pagan Ireland, she explores the old beliefs, legends, spiritual practices and sacred places that existed long before Christianity came to Ireland, and which still underlie its culture and unique character. So many of Ireland's traditions and festivals relate to the ancient past and the natural world.

The opening theme of the book is this: "In Ireland, the Otherworld and its spirits are taken for granted. Wherever you go, you will find evidence of ancient beliefs, customs and traditions."

In Part One, 'The Keepers of Power - Druids, Deities and Superheroes', we are introduced to the earliest known recorded history of Ireland and the Irish, the Lebor Gabala Erenn, known in English as The Book of Invasions and in Modern Irish as Leobhar Gabhala, compiled in the 11th Century from ancient narratives. This is now considered by modern scholars to be more mythology than accurate history, and an attempt to explain the origins of the Irish much as the Old Testament gives a history of the Israelites. According to this account, the first inhabitants arrived in Ireland in what is now County Kerry in the South West, 300 years after the Deluge. They came from Greece led by one Parthalon. Some 300 years later most of the descendants of Parthalon were wiped out by plague and Ireland was left empty for 30 years. Then came Scythians, otherwise known as Nemedians, descendants of Nemed, from the borders of Europe and Asia, who, soon after their arrival were viciously attacked by a particularly nasty-sounding tribe, the Fomorians, possibly early Norsemen who had weapons of mass-destruction. The Fomorians appear to have been sea-pirates rather than settlers.

Eventually, it is said, the Nemedians left Ireland in three groups, one to Northern Europe, one to the neighbouring island of Britain, and the third group to Greece. This latter group were the first to return to Ireland..... and became known as the Fir Bolg or Bag Men, from their sensible habit of carrying good, rich earth earth in woven bags wherever they went, so that they could be sure of making their land fertile. Small, dark, gentle farming folk, they cared for the land and worshipped the spirits of nature who made the rain fall, the sun shine, and the crops grow; the Nemedians who had gone to the Northern lands had spent their time perfecting the arts of divination, druidism and philosophy. A couple of centuries later, these emigrants came back as the skilled, wise and powerful Tuatha De Danann, or people of Danu, the great earth goddess. Powerful in the arts of magic, they easily overcame the unwarlike Fir Bolg.

Much later, the Celts, wandering westwards across Europe for many thousands of years, prepared to invade Ireland. They had long believed that their destiny lay in that green land, which to them was known as Inisfail. They finally made the voyage from the coast of northern Spain, with battleships and warriors, prepared to drive out whoever already lived in this land of plenty and seize it for themselves, for the Celts were a warlike people, always ready to fight for honour and glory as well as material gain.

The legends assert that the Tuatha De Danann yielded to the Celtic invasion by withdrawing gracefully and mysteriously into the very land itself, taking up their new habitations in grassy mounds and ancient hills, beneath thorn trees and stone circles. In other words, they seem to have become the inhabitants of the Otherworld, and it is said that they still ride out at the time of the great divisions of the year, such as the Celtic festivals of Bealtaine and Samhain. The great heroes of Irish legend often have some Tuatha De Danann blood in their veins, and their birth may be the result of a chance meeting between a young man or woman from this world and a bright figure from the Otherworld.

Sounds familiar? Redolent of many Greek Myths, and the stuff of Fairy Tales, where divine beings mingle with earthlings, this mixture of legend and factual history explains much of the unique Irish psyche. Nearer to our own troubled times, of course, come the cruel Norse invasions and heroic figures leading battles against them, but still the Norsemen have left their legacy in the form of coastal cities that they founded such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Although viewed with horror by the Christian monks, who suffered badly at their hands, the Norsemen's beliefs blended easily with the Celtic ones.

Ruled harshly by English overlords for several centuries, the Irish people on the whole proved to be resilient and adaptable, where necessary continuing to practise their Catholic religion in secret, like their ancient ancestors, often returning to the ancient stones, circles and rocks where they had worshipped as pagans for thousands of years. The more they were oppressed, the more they treasured their old stories and songs, passing them on from one generation to the next. The final part of this excellent book records many of these traditional stories. It also has to be mentioned that the book is beautifully illustrated throughout by misty monochrome photographs by the author's partner which perfectly complement the spirit of Ireland and its people.

Jo Kerrigan's book is invaluable for anyone with Irish ancestry, such as myself, seeking to know more of its ancient history and myths, and of the many sites that we can visit to see and feel the legacy that lives on to this day. -- Kevin Murphy

13.7.15

LOOKING OVER THE EDGE

Michael Brooks. At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise. Profile Books, 2015.

The term "discoveries" in the title of this book is rather misleading; it would be better to talk of 11 fields in which interesting and possibly paradigm busting, developments or possible developments are being made. The first two chapters deal with research which suggests that rather than being some sort of epiphenomenon restricted to human beings and without which organisms could get along fine, consciousness is essential to survival in all complex organisms. It may well be like something to be a spider.

They also suggest that consciousness is not some all or nothing phenomenon, which emerges like a rabbit from a hat, but rather something which has built up from simpler phenomena. Not only is consciousness more widespread in the animal kingdom than we have assumed, it is also more persistent in people than has been considered the case, surviving in at least some people who have been assumed to be in a persistent vegetative state.

New developments in the science of epigenetics are again reviving the possibility of some form of inheritance of acquired characteristics, at least in the limited sense that stresses in people’s lives, especially severe malnourishment can not only affect the children born during that time but their descendants. An example of this is provided by the long term affects that the starvation that Dutch people underwent in 1944/5 has had on later generations.

The connection between human and animal is reprised in the chapter dealing with chimeras, the insertion of genes from one creature into another. This is a more subtle programme than that of trying to breed humans with chimpanzees. The role of consciousness is further explored in the chapter on psychosomatics. A section on the possible role of quantum physics in biology leads into the chapters on physics and cosmology. These include speculation that the ultimate reality is information, an attempt to construct Alan Turing’s dream of a hypercomputer, suggestions that the laws of physics may be different in different parts of the universe and that the universe may be rotating, that there are real problems with the standard approaches to the big bang, that time may be an illusion. This might be indicated by experiments which suggest that a sub-atomic particle might just not be in two places but in two times.

It would, of course, require specialist knowledge in a variety of fields to really assess some of the claims reported here, and precognition to know which are the eccentric products of maverick scientists and which, if any, are harbingers of fundamental paradigm shifts.

Though I don’t really need any psychic powers to predict that despite all of this the most controversial claim reported in this book is that women feel pain more than men. -- Peter Rogerson

8.7.15

FAIRY FRIENDS

Ronan Coghlan The Fairy Realm. Skylight Press, 2014.

Apart from the Tooth Fairy, whom probably most of us believed in as children because we had "proof" in the form of a coin under our pillows in exchange for the tooth we had lost, there was another fairy who went by the name of Nuff, often invoked by adults when agreeing on something, as in the expression "Fairy Nuff". On a personal note, your reviewer had his own experience of seeing a 'fairy' when, at the age of about three or four, I saw a blue humanoid creature appear over my bed, suspended between the wall and ceiling above me, chattering rapidly in a high-pitched voice as if communicating something of importance to me. Frozen in wonderment, I remained watching and listening for several minutes, until I forced myself to slip out of the bed and go to my mother's bedroom to tell her that there was a "little blue man" talking to me in my room. Disturbed from her slumber, my mother wearily told me to go back to bed. When I did so, the creature had gone and I spent some time trying to reach the spot where he had appeared, to no avail. I never saw him again, and to this day I do not know what or who it was, but have no doubt that it was a creature of intelligence.

If that seems like a whimsical introduction to this review, it is in keeping with the light-hearted conversational style of the author, Ronan Coghlan, who sounds like just the type of Irishman I would like to meet for a chat about fairies over a pint of Guinness in a Dublin pub. Coghlan, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, has served as a schoolteacher for over 20 years and has authored a long list of books on a wide range of mystical topics. Perhaps the best known of these is the Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends, which has sold over 120,00 copies worldwide, including translations into languages as diverse as Hungarian and Japanese. Of that book, The Skeptical Review said: "I am not sure what I was expecting, but Coghlan sounds a lot like a Professor I wish I had at Gettysburg. While he came across as wonderfully eccentric, he did know his Grail lore..."

In The Fairy Realm Coghlan provides many instances and reports of the existence of supernatural creatures that appear in fairy tales and folk mythology, such as giants, ogres, trolls, mermaids, brownies, wildmen, kelpie, and puca. The puca, with variant spellings such as pooka or even phooka, is a creature of Irish and Celtic folklore who is a shapeshifter taking all kinds of human or animal form. The Germanic form of this word is "Puck", which can of course be used as a proper name as in the Shakespearian character in the play A Midsummer Night's Dream, and as a common noun referring to a mischievous nature spirit or elf.

They can be either beneficent or malevolent, which seems to depend to a great extent on how they are treated by a human in an encounter. For this reason Irish country people were very wary of any unfamiliar creature, or indeed of anything whatsoever that might be supernatural. Having had an Irish father, who grew up on a farm in Kerry, I have direct experience of this. In my childhood during the 1950s and early 60s my family took our summer holiday every year on the farm, and I was fascinated on occasions to overhear slightly fearful references to the influence of supernatural creatures. They were never discussed openly as a mark of great respect, owing to the great harm they could bring. Even the souring of a full milk churn could be a great disaster for a family, and such a misfortune may be attributed to a spiteful puca.




Perhaps the most feared supernatural creature in rural Ireland was the banshee. Coghlan writes: "The banshee would warn of forthcoming death.People claim to have heard her and even to have seen her. Her cry resembles the Irish custom of keening (uttering a lament) over a dead person." My father was a very strong and practical character, but I can confirm that I once heard him say in all seriousness that the family had heard the wailing of a banshee the night before his teenage brother died, in a way that sent shivers down the spine.

However, as I said at the beginning, the whole subject of supernatural creatures is nowadays treated in a whimsical manner, and no creature better epitomises this attitude than the Irish leprechaun whose image, red-haired and clad in a green suit and matching hat with a buckle, smoking a pipe and grinning with delight next to an overflowing pot of gold coins, adorns many an Irish-themed betting shop. Paddy Power indeed!

Coghlan gives an example of a reported sighting of leprechauns in Liverpool as follows: "On June 30th, children in Liverpool reported a number of little men in Jubilee Park. They wore white hats and threw sods at each other. Some people said they were leprechauns, an identification perhaps arising from the large number of people of Irish ancestry in Liverpool." Or perhaps they were Diddy Men?

Another area in which Coghlan has great expertise is cryptozoology, the study of strange beasts or animals which have been reported but remain inexplicable according to conventional science. In the chapter 'Fairy Animals' he discusses, amongst other creatures, the kelpie that looks like a horse, but lives in a body of water. Apparently this is another shapeshifter, that can also appear as a hairy man who will jump out of cover and crush you to death. He goes on to speculate that an explanation of the kelpie might be the horse-eels of Irish legend and may be related to similar creatures reportedly seen in many Scottish lochs, notably Loch Ness: "The Loch Ness Monster is, if it really exists, is said to be much larger than a horse, but there may be smaller specimens. These could occasionally in misty weather, for which Scotland is famous, have been mistaken for ponies." And then, in a way that truly sums up the charm of this writer and his approach to these mysteries, Coghlan adds: "I have been using in this paragraph one unknown to explain another, which I shouldn't really do. But I've done it."

In my opinion he has indeed done it, and done it well, by producing a book that is erudite without taking itself too seriously, while being entertaining, humorous and amusing. Very Irish, in fact. -- Kevin Murphy

3.7.15

SOUND AS A BELL

Steven T. Parsons and Callum E Cooper (editors). Paracoustics: Sound and the Paranormal. White Crow Books, 2015.

This collection of papers by the editors and a number of contributors covers several areas of sound and the paranormal, after general discussions of the physics and psychology of sound.

The first area of discussion are the various knocks, raps and imitative sounds encountered in haunted houses; in many ways these, rather than visual experiences, constitute the essence of the haunting experience and a number of examples are given. There had always been a discussion as to whether these are subjective or objective sounds, and an area which has not been explored properly is whether some of these sounds are actually internal body sounds that the brain normally filters out.

Some of the raps are objective because they have been recorded; and in his paper Barry Colvin compares these sounds with normal percussive raps, and seems to show that they have different acoustic properties. This seems like an excellent area for experimental study.

Whether the alleged paranormal voices reported during the Enfield poltergeist belong in this section is rather doubtful. Perhaps they belong in the next chapter dealing with raps, voices and other sounds heard during séances. Here perhaps the role of fraud is more prevalent, for example in the case of trumpet and other forms of direct voice mediumship. For years that was the opinion of most members of the SPR. Raps of course were at the heart of the story of the Fox family which led to the birth of spiritualism. I suspect that the two girls at the heart of this had accomplices, or rather were themselves accomplices in a hate campaign directed by a young woman named Lucretia Pulver and her friends against her former employer.

The next area covered is that of various forms of Electronic Voice Phenomena and the editors provided a very comprehensive and balanced summary of this, though they could perhaps have added cases of alleged EVP involving aliens rather than spirits, such as those recorded by Phillip Rogers, the partially sighted musician and ufologist back in the 1960s (I can’t say that I found these very impressive, the aliens sounded more like little children, or someone imitating little children). There were also cases of alleged radio communication with aliens back in the 1950s.

Related to these are telephone calls from the dead, a topic first raised by Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless. As with many of these anecdotal reports it is hard to know which of a number of possible explanations might apply; the story is just being made up; the sequence of events as become distorted in memory, empty lines and random calls are misperceived; the calls took place in dreams or dream like states or the recipient was the victim of a prank. Ufology also has its anomalous telephone calls, reports of which can be found in the works of John Keel, Brad Steiger etc.

Among the odd things reported over the phone is phantom music, which leads into wider discussions of that topic by C R Foley and Melvyn Willin, the latter discussing its role in out of the body and near death experiences. This music, which the late Scott Rogo called NAD, can range from the disquietingly eerie or even threatening, to the transcendental. It is interesting to note that a number of paleoanthropologists believe humans possessed vocal music long before abstract language, so there is something very primal in this. Of course all music emerges from the human mind, and perhaps this music of the mind can only be imperfectly reproduced by physical instruments.

These musical sounds are however only part of the sounds heard during OBE/NDE and these should be compared to those heard during aware sleep paralysis and in general hypnogogic/hypnopompic states. They might be compared with sounds heard during UFO experiences, as documented by Dan Butcher in his Reference Book of UFO Sounds which actually compares them to those in Out of Body Experiences.

Jack Hunter then discusses the role of music in generating alternate states of consciousness.

A rather different approach to sound and the paranormal is the study of the role of infrasound in producing uncanny feelings and experiences, a study pioneered Vic Tandy and continued by co-editor Parsons, who provides a discussion. Some of the original papers are reproduced as appendices. It is a pity that the original paper as reproduced here breaks off in mid-sentence on p209 (the following page being blank). Needless to say much of this is of a technical character.

Sadly there is no index but despite this, this will be a most useful book for anyone interested in psychical research. -- Peter Rogerson.

27.6.15

DINING AT THE GOBLIN'S MARKET

Joshua Cutchin. A Trojan Feast: The Food and Drink Offerings of Aliens, Faeries and Sasquatch Anomalist Books, 2015

In her book The Folklore of Guernsey (Guernsey Press, 1975) Marie De Garris includes a tale told by Edmund Vale in Blackwoods Magazine in 1922:

“ I remember a farmer in Guernsey, on whose land stood a giant dolmen, telling me that one morning early when he went into the field, he saw a tall stranger, with a great beard, sitting on one of the capstones of the dolmen. He rose on seeing the farmer and beckoned him. When the farmer came near he poured out a strange liquid into a tiny cup and set it down on the capstone. Neither spoke. Presently the stranger lifted the cup and of it, offering the remainder to the farmer. The latter, fascinated, if not awed, partook. The host then bowed to his guest, and to another not visible, and departed, never again to be seen. “And that” whispered the farmer into my ear, “was the sign”. And although he was not clear in any way what the sign was, it seemed to him a grave occasion, a momentous business” (p204-5)

That little story sums up rather the theme of Joshua Cutchin’s book, and that I should come across it while reading his book is one of those odd synchronicities which appear from time to time. 

Across time and culture human beings have told stories about encounters with “the others”, who offer them food and drink. In many stories this food is best rejected. The tale that opens Cutchin’s book warns of this. In the early eighteenth century a Norwegian farm maid is guarding the herd when she hears the sound of strange music and sees a man she thinks is her employer coming down from the mountain. He tells her to leave the herd and come with him, to a place where they are joined by four blonde men, dressed in red shirts, black trousers and caps and blue stockings. Now the man she thought was her employer looks like the rest and she finds herself inside a mountain. There she meets a minister who urges her to eat and drink of their fare, as does his wife. Time and again she is tempted but refuses and she is eventually released. Though she thought only twelve hours had passed she was away for four days. In other tales the captive is warned by someone present, usually another human taken into the other-world, not to partake of the food and drink, lest they be lost for ever in the otherworld.

As Cutchin shows these stories are not just ancient lore, they occur in modern stories of encounters with aliens, abductions and encounters with Sasquatch. They also, though Cutchin does not say this, encountered in tales of Satanic Child Abuse. The drinks may be sweet or sour; the food tends to concentrate on a few items, mainly fruit and bread, but also in our modern age, pills. Of course none of this unearthly food is ever found to be really unworldly. Joe Simonton’s pancakes being mundane enough for example. Traditional lore suggests this is true of all other-world gifts.

The others do not just give, they take. It is well to leave offerings out for the “little people” and such ideas are barely secularised in stories told by people who claim to be “habituating” Sasquatch. In both cases those who refuse might live to regret it. In other lore the others just take the “essence” of food, leaving just some “dead” unappetising residue.

Cutchin traces connections to sleep paralysis, other-world ointments, sexuality, psychedelic substances such as ayahuasca and DMT, and to Hindu theories of diet. At times he goes into speculations where few are likely to want to follow, mainly because he makes the usual error of assuming that stories are some sort of quasi-scientific evidence.

What they are is evidence that human beings are a story telling species and that food and its offering are of profound importance. The offering of food, and of sex, and protection are the primary transactions out of which societies are constructed, and it is through the widening of such trades that human beings forge a habitat and become something more than just another wild animal. These primal transactions go back much further than modern humans and modern language, they must have been at the core of the very first stories ever told, perhaps they are “the story” which gave birth to complex language.

The foods which appear in these stories rarely include red raw meat from the outer wilderness, they seem to be agrarian and proto-agrarian foods, foods around which the first stories were told. The gathering and sharing of food therefore is the building of society, but they also offer temptations away from the band. Food and sex are also the primary temptations and as such tend to be related together. The theme of temptation runs through many of these stories. Nor must we forget that many would have been told in hungry times when people were completely obsessed with where the next meal was coming from.

Even today there is the sense of food being a source of dangerous temptation, especially when offered by the exotica, the outsiders. How many children are told not accept food from strangers and don’t we talk of forbidden fruit. These themes occur strongly in Christina Rossetti’s poem 'Goblin Market'.

“Nay, take a seat with us, 
Honour and eat with us,” 
They answer’d grinning: 
"Our feast is but beginning"

The partaking of food also implies an acceptance of allegiance both spiritual and temporal. Taking the fare of the 'others' implies an allegiance to them, who might be the forgotten dead of the wilderness, and the temptation to escape from the quotidian realities of the world into the fantasy world of fairyland, offering liberation from the restraints of society. This fairyland might well be the deeply ambivalent Pure Land wherein all the complexities, contradictions, pains and heartaches of the world are resolved. One only has to watch the headlines to know what sort of places such Pure Lands actually turn out to be, especially when they pretend to be preserving the Habitat while destroying everything that holds human societies together.

Our modern word for temptation is grooming, so you might ask what might it mean to be groomed by the nameless dead arriving in magical machines.

In his final chapter Joshua Cutchin suggests that this food is 'mirage food. by which the others can communicate (or is that possess) us. He takes this rather literally, but if we substitute the phrase 'false food', we can see that this makes an excellent metaphor. Today Laura would not even have to get off her backside to get the goblin’s false food, the Internet will supply it at the press of a button, no doubt delivered by a mindless drone on leave from dropping bombs, and it can offer you fruit so false that it would make the hardiest boggart vomit its guts out.

Folklore is not about aliens it is about us, and that is why it is important. So you can read this book as a source of modern fairy stories but you would be well advised to think hard on what these stories mean for us today. -- Peter Rogerson.

22.6.15

GOING APE

Bryan Sykes. The Nature of the Beast: The First Scientific Evidence on the Survival of Ape-men into Modern Times. Coronet, 2015.

Bryan Sykes is one of the pioneers of DNA ancestry, and in previous books has traced the migration patterns of modern humans around the world, and the peopling of the British Isles. Here he turns his attention to claims that there other kinds of hominids, humans and their relations in the world. He collects physical evidence in the form of skin, bone and other traces of DNA among alleged remains of creatures such as the yeti, bigfoot, the almasty and so on.

Based on a Channel 4 documentary, this book examines this possible DNA evidence. As the fact that the world of anthropology hasn’t been shaken to its foundations demonstrates no unambiguous evidence for such creatures was in fact found. The majority of the samples of Bigfoot weren’t even from the bears which probably give rise to most Bigfoot reports, but from cattle, dogs, deer and in one case a modern human. The vignettes of his interactions among the Bigfoot hunters demonstrate how far removed from his kind of science many of them are. One tell him that Bigfoot has telepathic abilities; another that she encountered a Bigfoot walking into the sea, however this was through remote viewing!

Perhaps the oddest of these claims was that a Bigfoot lived under an old tree and communicated by knocking. Things were getting sticky because the Bigfoot was getting jealous of the boyfriend of the woman who communicated with it and the knocking was getting more agitated. A local game warden that Sykes brought in to investigate had a more prosaic explanation: the sound was being carried down a nearby tree as its branches brushed together in the wind, the old log acting as a sounding board. It struck me that in another context these knockings or ‘raps’ would have been evidence of a poltergeist or spirit communication.

Not all the evidence was as weak as this. There was a flurry of interest in that some of the yeti DNA appeared to come not from an anomalous primate but from an anomalous bear, one which showed a relationship to a fossil ancestor of the polar bears, or was a polar bear/brown bear hybrid. This has now been challenged by another group http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-30479718 who argue that the DNA was from an ordinary Himalayan bear.

An even more interesting case is that of Zana, an alleged almasty captured in the Caucuses in the 1850s, who lived in captivity until 1892. She had two surviving sons and they left several descendants. Their mitochondrial DNA appears to be West African and suggests that Zana may have been wholly West African.

"ZANA"
Sykes however seems to try and argue that Zana was remembered as being very different from the average west African and her DNA was rather different. From this he suggests that she might have been a descended of some relict population that had left Africa before the modern human mainstream. However there are at least a couple of problems with this; first she was described as dark skinned, but a people who had been in the Caucuses many thousands of years before the majority of the population would have paler not darker than the mainstream and secondly they would have almost certainly interbred with the majority population many times over through the millennia.

In fact there is no actual evidence as opposed to assertion that Zana originated from the local area at all; she had passed round from one person to another several times over with just a legend that she had been captured in the wild. Such tales were used by showmen to display ‘wild men’ who were often just ordinary people with some form of learning difficulty or genetic malformation.

How tortuous her journey to Caucasus was we will never know, but we do know it involved probably removal from her people at a very early age, treatment as a wild animal or show freak, imprisonment, degradation, slavery, repeatedly the victim of rape and sexual assault. Her mutism is not evidence of her animal nature but of trauma on a scale which beggars comprehension. Yet she lived to see two of her children accepted into the community. She is not a cryptozoological specimen but a testament to human courage, endurance and survival against almost insupportable odds. Her descendants should be proud of her.

The search for surviving Neanderthals and the like is likewise futile. Because the recent evidence of some significant interbreeding shows that they too would not cryptozoological specimens, but just another human ethnic group, and would long have been assimilated into the human mainstream. Any surviving group of other hominids would have to be very different from us indeed, such as the famous “hobbits” of Flores.

Though Sykes remains impressed by ‘eyewitness testimony’ he has to concede not only the lack of real physical evidence, but that to many of its practitioners cryptozoology, like ufology, is a religion rather than a science. And as with ufology they not so much interested in evidence to help solve a scientific puzzle as ‘evidences’ for some quasi-theologically held world view. Bigfoot is almost certainly not a paws and pelt creature but an inhabitant of the goblin universe of the human imagination.

The book sadly lacks an index. -- Peter Rogerson.


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