My first experience of the Fortean Times Unconvention was sprung on me this last weekend after Greg offered me a press pass out of the blue. Once domestic leave was negotiated, I couldn't possibly refuse it - the central London venue of the University of Westminster being a mere hour's journey from my home counties base.
With simultaneous talks in two lecture theatres (one a little too big and the other a little too small), one was forced to make difficult choices at times. Thankfully though, having heard veteran researcher and Daily Grail blogger Paul Devereux speak earlier in the year, on the topic of 'Magical Mindscapes' - the investing of spiritual meaning in the landscape - a favourite topic of mine, mind you, and the subject of his latest book Sacred Geography: Deciphering Hidden Codes in the Landscape (Amazon US/UK), he was not too offended when I opted to attend Mark Pilkington's talk instead!
With the word 'Rendlesham' in the titles of no less than three of the weekend's talks, and another talk on the Berwyn Mountain UFO case, Mark, with his recently-published Mirage Men: An Adventure into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs (Amazon US/UK) , was hard put, in his talk on The Abuses of Enchantment - looking at the use of weapons of mass deception, to avoid the UFO topic in an effort to maintain some balance.
While it's good to see the results of quality research into UFO cases, and it's arguably not the fault of open-minded researchers (like mythbusting 'Rendlesham botherer' Ian Ridpath) if the ETH turns out to be largely unsupported by the evidence in the cases they study, the dominance of the UFO sceptic theme in this conference was somewhat unfortunate. Having said that, the individual presentations on this theme (that I attended) were all excellent.
Beyond the Ufological, Jan Bondeson's talk on the Bosom Serpent and its parasitic relatives, and Jeremy Harte's investigation into the trope of ghostly 'headlessness' were highly entertaining forays into the pre-scientific mind, both facilitated by the comic delivery of a moustachioed eccentric. I'd personally like to have seen more of an emphasis on how the symbolic significance of serpents and heads might lie at the root of these traditions though.
Charles Foster, speaking on the topic of his latest book Wired for God?: The Biology of Spiritual Experience (Amazon US/UK), gave a survey of attempts to explain away spiritual experience by reference to neurobiological research, before exposing the weakness of such reductionist arguments and concluding that correlations don't imply causes.
Gordon Rutter's talk on A History of Talking to the Dead did what it said on the tin, although largely focusing on the 19th century to the present day.
Feeling a bit under the weather on day 2, Ian Simmons' account of Fantastic (or is that bad taste) Taxidermy left me feeling rather worse for wear. Walter Potter kitten tableaux and Gunther von Hagens' plastinated bodies galore.
My powers of concentration impaired, I paid less attention to the Sunday afternoon offerings, although to be honest, they were of less personal interest to me than many of the other talks. Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham discussed their research into several cases of military and government interference in Hollywood. Authors Mark Chadbourn, Natasha Mostert and Adam Nevill discussed Forteana and Fiction, and Peter Brookesmith, David Clarke, Nick Pope, Ian Ridpath and Paul Devereux looked ahead to Ufology in the 21st Century.
While the Unconvention has not maintained a yearly presence, I look forward to the possibility of next year's event.
Grailer Nostradamus sends this cool video for all you anomaly-lovers out there: an alleged time traveler caught on film in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 movie The Circus:
Just let me bask in the Fortean glow for a few minutes before asking rational questions like "what cell-phone tower/network would they be using?". One of the top-rated comments over at YouTube suggests that the device is an early 20th century hearing-aid (such as this one), which seems the more likely explanation...although not sure why she would be chatting to herself like that. Also might be worth checking that it's not a modern addition, given that the person presenting the video is getting some pretty good publicity from this vid.
Both Charles Fort and John Keel would have loved this one. Last weekend there were plenty of news headlines about the UN appointing an Earthly ambassador to alien civilisations:
Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, is set to be tasked with co-ordinating humanity’s response if and when extraterrestrials make contact. Aliens who landed on earth and asked: “Take me to your leader” would be directed to Mrs Othman.
She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week. The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.
Mrs Othman is currently head of the UN’s little known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa).
However, it seems someone got their wires crossed, as official bodies knew nothing about it when queried, and Mrs. Othman herself said that though the idea "sounds really cool...I have to deny it." Besides which, there already is a group, headed by a leading scientist, dedicated to this role.
If you're in the UK, make sure you get along to the 2010 Fortean Times UnConvention, which is being held at the University of Westminster, London, on the weekend of the 23/24 October:
After a year off, we're back - and we'd like to invite you to join us for two weirdness-packed days of talks, workshops, experiments, music, comedy and lively discussion...
We'll be ranging far and wide across the world of strange phenomena - from conspiracy theory to cryptozoology, from magic to monsters, from religion to rocket science...
We'll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Rendlesham UFO encounter, going in search of the Blue Dogs of Texas and exploring the fortean themes of Doctor Who - not to mention enjoying bawdy ballads from the 17th century and investigating ghostly encounters of the sexual kind!
There will be fortean shopping opportunities galore with a wide range of dealers, full cafe facilities and (watch this space!) some surprise extra events!
Speakers include Dr David Clarke, discussing the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, and our good friend Paul Devereux on the 'magical mindscapes' of ancient people. For a full run-down of the speakers and topics on the agenda, head over to the FT website.
Claims of supernatural realms, parallel worlds, and lost civilizations are put to the test in this well-researched guide to the unexplained. Firsthand accounts and historical documents are explored, and in-depth coverage is provided on the mysteries of imagination, culture, perception, consciousness, being, and more. Included in this collection are Richard S. Shaver's personal experience of hell—replete with demons and ghouls—modern and ancient accounts of fairyland, life on Mars, alien worlds, parallel universes, and mystery airships. Also examined are the supernatural myths surrounding Mount Shasta, which include accounts of telepathic Lemurians living on its slopes, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. More than 40 beliefs, doctrines, experiences, and places are described and explored in this truly comprehensive guide to the wacky, weird, and otherworldly.
Not sure the description does it justice - make sure you click on the 'Search Inside this Book' link at Amazon and peruse the contents, and read the opening pages. Jerry has said the that book is about "the relationship of imagination to experience and brings, I hope, some fresh ideas to the discussion." Seems to me like a must for any writer or researcher, purely as a reference book, let alone for the enjoyment value. Definitely worth taking a look at.
Boing Boing co-editor David Pescovitz is a kindred soul - a lover of science, Forteana, and the wonderful resurgence of 'Maker' culture. Pesco's not in the media spotlight as often as his co-editors Mark Fraunfelder and Cory Doctorow, but last month he spoke at TEDxSoMa, covering all of the above topics in a very cool talk titled "The World as a Wunderkammer: Curiosity, Citizen Science, and the Maker Culture":
You can also hear more on David's thoughts about science and the occult via his interview with Technoccult which I included in yesterday's news briefs.
Posting just because it offered such a whack headline, and image to boot. Tropical Storm Agatha batters Guatemala, and opens a sinkhole to hell:
Larger versions here.
In case you're not familiar with the reference: Agartha. Fortean black humour aside, our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected.
Due to both financial and time constraints, the next release of Darklore (Issue 5) won't be until later in the year. However, in a happy coincidence, the good folk at Anomalist Books have just released their latest Fortean anthology collection, Electricity of the Mind (Anomalist #14). For all you Darklore addicts waiting for a fix, this should tide you over nicely:
Theo Paijmans mines the rich seam of digital newspaper archives to look at anomalies in a whole new way. Ulrich Magin ventures into a previously neglected corner of Earth Mysteries, taking us on a tour of out-of-place volcanoes across Europe. Dwight Whalen explores a forgotten tale of bizarre visions that brought vivid omens of World War I to the skies of Pennsylvania in 1914. Cameron Blount examines the implications of archaeological relics of Peru’s mysterious Moche culture and what they might tell us about the neighboring Nazca culture. Mike Jay discusses Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lasting and deep interest in the supernatural. Bryan Williams, Annalisa Ventola, and Mike Wilson provide a basic primer for exploring temperature and magnetic fields in cases of haunting. Patrick Gyger uses the “Black Books” of Fribourg to understand the mindset behind witch trials in the late 15th Century. Aeolus Kephas looks at the similarities between two of the 20th Century’s most popular and charismatic “literary shamen”: Carlos Castaneda and Whitley Strieber. John Caddy seeks a common root behind the various biological energies not known to science on which many esoteric knowledge systems rely. Chris Payne takes a new mathematical approach in trying to determine whether there are still Thylacines out there. Mark Pilkington takes a look back into the prehistory of crop art and reveals a thought-provoking precursor from the movies. Gary Lachman shares his previously unpublished notes from his book Politics and the Occult. Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, recounts his discovery of the first ever film of a magic trick. And last but not least, Tim Cridland, whose stage name is Zamora the Torture King, takes a long, hard look at the career of leading skeptic James Randi.
A strange assortment to get you through the week...
- At the Psychedelic Salon: Terence McKenna's "The Ethnobotany of Shamanism", parts one, two, and three,
- Guy Lyon Playfair takes the knives to Richard Wiseman's Twitter experiment on psi.
- Filip Coppens investigates the 'Denderah lightbulbs' from ancient Egypt.
- Bruce Rux is the subject of a 3-part Binnall of America audio podcast. So far parts one and two have been posted.
- At Sentient Developments, George Dvorsky explores transhumanist themes in Battlestar Galactica: Caprica.
- At Public Parapsychology, Wendy E. Cousins reviews Damien Broderick's Outside the Gates of Science (Amazon US and UK).
- An interview with Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare at Goats.
- The most recent Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast features an interview with Brian Brushwood.
- Michael Tymn remembers Frederic Myers, a giant in the history of psi/afterlife research.
- Graham Hancock's Forum section has a new article from Richard E. Ford, "The Great Pyramid: Symbols and Hieroglyphs in the King's Chamber".
- The latest Paracast interview is with Nancy Talbott discussing research into crop circles.
- Zahi Hawass tells all of his special relationship with Mark Lehner.
- In the most recent Skeptiko podcast, Alex Tsakiris chats with Mark Ireland who is seeking proof of psychic medium afterlife communication.
A few odd items to keep you busy over the weekend...
- Fortean Times takes you to Italy, to visit the "Sisterhood of the Skulls" (free registration may be required to view the article).
- Nick Redfern reviews a new release from Anomalist Books: Outbreak!, by Hilary Evans and Robert E. Bartholomew (available from Amazon US and UK.
- At Paranormalia, guest columnist Matthew Colborn wonders why skeptics are more media-savvy.
- Another article from the archives at Magonia, the new addition is Mike Hallowell's "Invizikids: Imaginary Childhood Friends".
- The latest Binnall of America audio podcast features Marie Jones and Larry Flaxman discussing the esoteric nature of numbers.
- This week's eSkeptic newsletter features Darren Iammarino's article "The Emergence of God".
- The Psychedelic Salon is offering Part 1 of Terence McKenna's lecture "The Ethnobotany of Shamanism".
- Sentient Developments has a guest blog from Michael Anissimov on the transhuman goal of "Eliminating All Pain, Forever".
- The latest Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast features an interview with Richard Wiseman, as well as discussion of chiropractic controversy and quantum mechanics.
- Greg Bishop urges you to "Walk in Someone Else's Shoes" when it comes to the believability of UFO reports.
- Forgetomori investigates the case of a "Vortex UFO over King's Dominion.
- Psypioneer 5:5 is now available for download (links to PDF file).
- Richard Wiseman shares some more results from the Twitter remote viewing experiment.