Most people who research paranormal phenomena choose a side in a war of competing beliefs and disputed evidence. Hilary chose instead the side of scholarship, backed up by the massive home library that he donated to the Archives for UFO Research in Sweden – all 5.5 tonnes of it. His measured approach focused on social and cultural context and human psychology, as he believed that understanding extraordinary phenomena required understanding the person who experienced them. That is not to say he never drew conclusions. He was scathing about alien abductions, for example, a belief he (wrongly) predicted in the late 1980s would never take hold in Britain because people there were too sensible.
The range of his scholarship through time and across phenomena meant he was able to see connections no one else could. In books such as Intrusions: Society and the Paranormal (1982), Visions, Apparitions, Alien Visitors (1984) and Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardians (1987), he drew a direct line from, for example, folktales of fairies and leprechauns to modern-day accounts of extraterrestrial visitors. His later books included Outbreak! (2009), which examined cases of mass hysteria, and Sliders (2010), which covered street-light interference, the belief by some people that they turn off street lights as they pass by them. Failing eyesight prevented him from writing down his next book, which he had ready in his head.
The obituary is written by Wendy Grossman, founder of The Skeptic magazine. Note that John Rimmer has a really nice write-up of his memories of Hilary over at the Magonia blog as well.
Both Cryptomundo and Magonia (latter recently updated with more complete post) are today reporting that Hilary Evans, a pioneer of Fortean studies, has passed away. Writes Loren Coleman at Cryptomundo:
Hilary Evans, who was born in 1929, passed away this morning, July 27, 2011. He was an intellectual British pictorial archivist, author, and researcher into cryptozoological, Fortean, ufological and other undiscovered phenomena.
Evans was born in Shrewsbury, United Kingdom. In 1964 he and his wife Mary Evans founded the Mary Evans Picture Library, an archive of historical illustrations. In 1981 he co-founded the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena.
Evans was an exponent of the Psychosocial Hypothesis of UFOs as culturally shaped visionary experiences.
The fourth instalment of the wonderful Strange Attractor, edited by our good friend Mark Pilkington, is now available for sale. As with previous releases, the topics and authors in Strange Attractor Four are enough to get any Grailer salivating:
From Haiti and Hong Kong to the fourth dimension and beyond: discover the secrets of madness in animals; voodoo soul and dub music; ancient peacock deities; Chinese poisoning cults; the history of spider silk weaving; heathen mugwort magic; sentient lightning; Jesuit conspiracy theories; junkie explorers; Dali’s Atlantis; the resurgence of Pan (in London’s Crouch End); anarchist pirates on Madagascar; an ancient Greek Rip Van Winkle; French anatomical waxworks; Arthur Machen’s forgotten tales and the full text of Alan Moore’s unfinished John Dee opera.
Featuring written and visual contributions from
Richard Barnett, Mark Blacklock, John Cussans, Erik Davis, Paul Devereux, Roger Dobson, Joanna Ebenstein, Stephen Grasso, Gyrus, Ken Hollings, Mike Jay, Phil Legard, David Luke, Eleanor Morgan, Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Michael Neve, Andy Sharp, Robert Wallis, Sean Walsh.
You can pick up a copy of SA4 from Amazon UK or direct from the Strange Attractor website, which also has some sample PDFs showing off the full list of contents and the journal's always-wonderful presentation.
Boing Boing has posted a fascinating feature article by Jeff Kripal (Authors of the Impossible) titled "Psi-Fi: Popular Culture and the Paranormal". It continues Jeff's exploration of the topic, bridging the gap between his current book (which discusses the work of researcher-writers such as Charles Fort and Jacques Vallee) and his upcoming book on "some of the extraordinary ways that the paranormal experiences of artists and authors have helped inspire pulp fiction, science fiction, and superhero comics."
These paranormal patterns were so strong in the 1950s and 60s that sci-fi fans began speaking of Psi-Fi. Think pulp editor Ray Palmer's use of his colorful clairvoyant dreams to write short stories. Think sci-fi master Philip K. Dick's mind-blowing experience of "Valis," that Vast Active Living Intelligence System that zapped him with its bright pink light in the winter of 1974 and led him to believe that his earlier novels were predicting, intuiting, leading up to this. Think legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby absorbed in the ancient astronaut theory and playfully predicting a Spider-Man cult in 2450 in the editorial pages of The Eternals. Or think the famous comic strip writer Alvin Schwartz writing two metaphysical memoirs that draw on Tibetan Buddhism to understand the synchronistic ways that Superman and Batman functioned in his life and work—like Tibetan tulpas, it turns out. With the Wat Rong Kuhn temple, we don't quite have Kirby's Spider-Man cult (but, hey, it's only 2011) or Schwartz's Buddhist Superman and Batman in Tibet, but we do have Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man in a Thai Buddhist temple.
And remember that we posted an article late last year from Jeff, excerpted from his current book: "Jacques Vallee: Author of the Impossible". There is also a documentary in the works for that book, which I'm really looking forward to seeing.
Previously on TDG:
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.