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Fortean Approaches to Religion

The following essay is a modified version of the introductory chapter to the book Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal (available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK).

Intermediatism and the Study of Religion

by Jack Hunter

Over the course of four groundbreaking books published between 1919-1932,1 Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) meticulously presented thousands of accounts of anomalous events that he found documented in scientific journals, newspapers and books at the New York Public Library and the British Museum. In conducting his wide-ranging textual excavations, Fort uncovered impossible numbers of extraordinary reports of fish and frogs falling from the sky, poltergeists wreaking havoc on unexpecting families, spontaneous human combustion, unidentified flying objects, levitations of people and things, mysterious disappearances, apparitions, and so on.2

All of these strange events, according to Fort, had been brushed under the carpet by mainstream science,3 indeed his books were deliberately intended as an out-and-out affront to the scientific establishment, and in particular to the idea that science has essentially ‘sorted it all out’ already. Fort was not at all convinced by this, and his collections of ‘Damned Facts,’ as he called them, served as evidence in support of his suspicions and speculations. Fort obsessively catalogued these ‘Damned Facts’ on small pieces of card, which he stored in hundreds of shoe boxes in his New York apartment, ready to be unleashed in the wild processions of his books.4

Fort’s books would go on to become classics of ‘paranormal’ literature, and inspired others to employ a similarly ‘Fortean’ approach in their own work, notably including writers such as John A. Keel (1930-2009), Colin Wilson (1931-2013), Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), and Jacques Vallée, amongst others (some of whose work is discussed in later chapters ofDamned Facts). Fort’s books and approach were also the inspiration behind the founding of the famous magazine Fortean Times, which, since it was first published in 1973, has helped to keep Fort’s eclectic legacy alive.5

The original goal of Damned Facts was to explore what a Fortean approach to the study of religion might look like, with all of its associated anomalous events and enigmatic experiences. The book, however, became something much more diverse. The contributors to Damned Facts each offer their own unique perspectives and insights, and take us to places that we might not immediately associate with ‘religion.’ With this eclecticism in mind, then, what I would like to do in this introduction is to give a basic overview of some of Fort’s philosophical speculations on the nature of science, religion and reality more generally, and then to outline some of my own ideas concerning what a Fortean approach to religion might entail.


Throughout all of his published works on the anomalous, Fort employed a philosophy that he called ‘Intermediatism,’ the basic tenet of which suggests ‘that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,’ and ‘that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness,’6 a kind of ontological indeterminacy. He writes:

…in general metaphysical terms, our expression is that, like a purgatory, all that is commonly called ‘existence,’ which we call Intermediateness, is quasi-existence, neither real nor unreal, but the expression of attempt to become real…7

Through the lens of this ontologically agnostic perspective, in which all phenomena take place somewhere along a spectrum between the real and the unreal, Fort was able to explore some exceedingly strange territory, unearthing phenomena that mainstream science had either refused to comment on or had rejected outright. Charles FortIn the process, Fort (often half-jokingly) postulated some intriguing hypotheses to account for his damned data, including, for example, the frightening idea that human beings are, in some undefined way, ‘property,’ and the equally bizarre notion of a ‘Super-Sargasso Sea,’ a mysterious place to which objects are teleported.8 Fort, however, often immediately contradicted and discredited his own theories, and is famous for announcing that: ‘I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I cannot accept that the products of minds are subject-matter for beliefs.’9 His agnosticism extended even to his own theories and ideas.

By approaching all phenomena as equally real/unreal, from the common-place and everyday to the most exceptional and far-out, Fort was essentially proposing a Monistic metaphysics, according to which all events, in all their varied manifestations, are, in some sense, fundamentally connected to one another. All are part of the same process of ‘becoming real,’ of moving toward ‘positiveness,’ and all give equal insight into the ‘underlying oneness.’10 Fort suggests that this oneness might best be thought of as a living system, perhaps as a cosmic ‘organism,’ maybe even possessing some form of purposive intelligence and agency.11 This idea was later taken up by John Keel, who suggests the possibility that ‘the earth is really a living organism, and that it in turn is part of an even larger organism.’12 For Fort, the strange phenomena he collected provided glimpses into the underlying nature of this system. He writes:

We shall pick up an existence by its frogs…if there is an underlying oneness of all things, it does not matter where we begin, whether with stars, or laws of supply and demand, or frogs, or Napoleon Bonaparte. One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.13

To the Intermediatist, then, all phenomena, from the most mundane to the most extraordinary, provide gateways through which we can approach the structures and processes of the ‘underlying oneness.’ Perhaps strange events are something akin to ‘phantoms in a super-mind in a dreaming state.’14 Maybe these ‘phantoms’ reveal the working structural mechanisms of the super-mind itself.

The implication is, then, that the extraordinary phenomena and experiences reported by humankind, throughout history and across continents, may well prove fertile ground for investigating not only the nature of religion, culture, and human consciousness, but also of ‘reality’ itself, and should not be brushed under the carpet because they don’t yet make sense, nor because they contradict our currently dominant models of reality. Fort’s philosophical approach emphasises wholeness, and cautions us away from ignoring any aspect of existence, no matter how bizarre or disconcerting.15 There is much to be learned from the anomalous, and Fortean Intermediatism provides us with a useful framework through which to approach it.


Writing some fourty-three years before the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s (1922-1996) famous The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,16 which emphasises the role of successive ‘Paradigms’ in the development of science,17 Fort was already keenly aware of the influence of what he called ‘Dominants’ on the interpretation of phenomena and events: ‘All phenomena,’ he writes, ‘are “explained” in the terms of the Dominant of their era.’18

Much like the anthropologist James Frazer (1854-1941), whose book The Golden Bough proposed an evolutionary model of the development of modern rationalism (from magic, to religion, to science),19 Fort proposed a three-tiered model of successive ‘Dominants.’ While Frazer’s stages culminate with ‘science’ as the pinnacle of human intellectual development, however, Fort’s model projects forward to a future state: Frazer stops at science, but Fort pushes on. Fort’s model moves from the old Dominant of religion, through the scientific Dominant (which we still seemingly inhabit early in the twenty-first century), through to the so-called ‘New Dominant,’ a state of intermediatism.20 He writes:

In our acceptance, Dominants, in their succession, displace preceding dominants not only because they are more nearly positive, but because the old Dominants, as recruiting mediums, play out. Our expression is that the New Dominant, of Wider Inclusions, is now manifesting throughout the world, and that the old Exclusionism is everywhere breaking down.21

Fort’s use of the terms ‘Exclusionism’ and ‘Inclusionism’ here refer to each Dominant’s attitude towards ‘Damned Facts.’ The old Dominants of religion and science are both exclusionist in Fort’s view, rejecting the anomalous in favour of their long established models of an ordered reality. The New Dominant, by contrast, would be inclusive of damned facts, no longer rejecting them, but embracing them, taking them seriously as part of the nature and process of reality.

Unlike Frazer, again, who held ‘science’ up as the final point of human intellectual development, Fort was of the opinion that the ‘New Dominant’ too would one day become rigid, stagnant and fixed, at which point another Dominant would emerge to build on and succeed it, moving humankind further towards greater inclusivity and an appreciation of all parts of the ‘whole.’

Natural and Supernatural

For a student of extraordinary phenomena it might come as something of a surprise to learn that Fort was not at all interested in the ‘supernatural,’ at least not as the term is classically defined. The supernatural, he writes:

…has no place in my vocabulary. In my view, it has no meaning, or distinguishment. If there never has been, finally, a natural explanation of anything, everything is supernatural.22

Here Fort’s approach echoes the efforts of Psychical Researchers in the late nineteenth century to escape from the religious connotations of the ‘supernatural’ in their investigations of strange and anomalous experiences (apparitions, extrasensory perception, telepathy, psychokinesis, and so on). Colin EvansFrederic Myers (1843-1901), a founding member of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882, for example, proposed the term ‘supernormal’ (later becoming ‘paranormal’), as a means of indicating that extraordinary experiences and phenomena are not in any sense un-natural, abnormal, or beyond the scope of rational investigation, but are, in actuality, natural and surprisingly common.23 The Fortean rejection of the ‘supernatural’ also resonates with Émile Durkheim’s recognition that the category of the ‘supernatural’ itself is a distinctly ‘modern’ one, and that:

In order to call certain phenomena supernatural, one must already have the sense that there is a natural order of things, in other words, that the phenomena of the universe are connected to one another according to certain necessary relationships called laws.24

Fort rejects the label ‘supernatural,’ precisely because he remains unconvinced of the ‘natural’ laws proposed by mainstream science. Fort’s notion of the ‘natural order of things,’ is significantly different to the dominant cosmology of materialist science.

Fort’s philosophical perspective, then, which is founded upon a radical skepticism regarding the authority of cultural ‘dominants’ (both religion and science included), questions the solidity of science’s underlying assumptions (that there are natural physical laws, that matter is inert, and so on) and, as such, he remains open to the possibility of extraordinary events – they are no less possible than anything else. Fort argues that his procession of ‘Damned Facts’ actually challenges the established ‘natural’ laws of science (as well as those of religion), and actively push us towards adopting an intermediatist position,25 according to which all things are understood to partake of a ‘quasi existence, neither real nor unreal,’26 and all events are connected by an ‘underlying oneness.’ In Bernardo Kastrup’s words anomalous phenomena are ‘calls to the absurd,’27 while for Peter Berger, they are ‘signals of transcendence,’28 hinting that there is something more going on, just below the surface.

Witchcraft, Psi and Faculty-X

Religion is belief in a supreme being. Science is belief in a supreme generalization. Essentially they are the same. Both are the suppressors of witchcraft.29

Fort’s use of the term ‘witchcraft’ here refers to unusual human capacities and experiences,30 such as the ostensible ability to predict future events, the strange manifestations that seem to occur around ‘poltergeist girls,’ and the morbid wounds of Stigmatics. From a Fortean perspective, then, the term ‘witchcraft’ is much like Colin Wilson’s ‘Faculty X,’31 or the term ‘psi,’ as employed in the parapsychological literature, which refers to such phenomena as ‘anomalous processes of information or energy transfer that are not currently explainable in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms.’32 Psi, Faculty-X, witchcraft and magic are natural, not supernatural.

Again, Fort’s understanding of witchcraft is prescient of the writings of anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard, whose 1937 book (published 5 years after Fort’s final publication), Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande suggested that the Azande of Northern Sudan:

…have no conception of ‘natural’ as we understand it, and therefore neither of the ‘supernatural’ as we understand it. Witchcraft is to Azande an ordinary and not an extraordinary…event. It is a normal, and not an abnormal happening.33

So, just as witchcraft is a normal, taken for granted, component of Azande life and cosmology, so it is also to be expected in Fort’s metaphysics and philosophy, where it is viewed as a natural human capacity.

In Lo! Fort explores the idea that the manifestation of ‘witchcraft’ is significantly influenced by the psychological, social and cultural factors that surround the agent or experient. In the context of religious revivals, for example, Fort writes:

…when a whole nation, or hosts of its people, goes primitive, or gives in to atavism, or reverts religiously, it may be that conditions arise that are susceptible to phenomena that are repelled by matured mentality.34

Here Fort preempts the theories of the Italian anthropologist Ernesto de Martino (1908-1965), whose book Magic: Primitive and Modern35 suggests that paranormal experiences and phenomena are embedded in broader networks of psychological, social and cultural influence: ‘culturally conditioned nature.’ The idea is that psychical phenomena manifest more readily in socio-cultural conditions that are open to their existence, while conditions that are ‘actively anti-magic’ will repel or inhibit them.36 According to this view, culture, or a Fortean Dominant, serves as a sort of lens or filter for what is deemed possible, and this, in turn, filters what is actually able manifest as ‘real,’ or, in Fort’s terminology, to ‘become positive.’

It is also clear that Fort recognised the centrality of human consciousness, and especially altered states of consciousness, in the mediation of psychic experiences, suggesting that mind can be trained (consciously through the practice of meditation, for example, or unconsciously through the influence of cultural Dominants), to manifest in fantastic ways. This notion is further elaborated in Fort’s final book Wild Talents, published in 1932, where he examines the influence of conditions of religious belief on the manifestation of certain psychical phenomena. In discussing the apparitions witnessed at Lourdes, the apparent miraculous curing of a young boy’s paralysis ‘by the touch of a bit of bone of St. Anne,’ and recent cases of Stigmata, for example, Fort suggests that:

The function of God is the focus. An intense mental state is impossible, unless there be something, or the illusion of something, to center upon. Given any other equally serviceable concentration-device, prayers are unnecessary. I conceive of the magic of prayers. I conceive of the magic of blasphemies. There is witchcraft in religion: there may be witchcraft in atheism.37

Fort’s idea of witchcraft is not bound by any particular ideology, but is instead a natural function of the ‘underlying oneness’ of our ‘quasi-reality,’ ready and waiting for a gap in our ‘matured mentality,’ or for just the right socio-cultural conditions, to allow it to filter through us and manifest.38

‘The realization of the imaginary’

Fort’s notion of witchcraft also includes extraordinary mind-body processes within the human organism. He asks:

Can one’s mind, as I shall call it, affect one’s own body, as I shall call it? If so, that is personal witchcraft, or internal witchcraft. Can one’s mind affect the bodies of other persons and other things outside? If so, that is what I call external witchcraft.39

Fort’s notion of ‘internal witchcraft’ sounds a lot like certain theories put forward in discussions of Stigmata, which appears to represent a highly culturally specific (usually, though not always, Catholic),40 manifestation of the influence of consciousness and culture on the physical body. Padre PioResearcher of Stigmata Ian Wilson suggests that in such cases ‘the flesh really does change, in an extraordinarily dramatic way, in response to mental activity,’41 which he takes as indicative of the notion that Stigmata is a psycho-physiological phenomenon related to social and cultural expectation. He notes, for example, that the particularly dramatic symptoms of Stigmata (gorey, bleeding wounds, and so on), only appear in the historical record following an aesthetic cultural shift in depictions of the crucifixion. It was only after artists began depicting the crucifixion in vivid, life-like, detail that Stigmatics began to manifest their own graphic wounds.42

We also see similarities here with the ‘psychosomatic,’ or ‘psychogenic’ disorders, which appear to manifest physical symptoms that are shaped by cultural expectation,43 and with the field of psychoneuroimmunology, which emphasises the role of psychosocial influences on bodily healing processes.44 The veil between the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘extraordinary’ feels especially thin here, as do the boundaries between the ‘mental’ and the ‘physical,’ the ‘internal’ and the ‘external,’ and the ‘cultural’ and the ‘natural.’ Fort captures this break-down of dichotomies in his concept of transmediumization:

…meaning the passage of phenomena from one medium of existence to another…I mean the imposition of the imaginary upon the physical. I mean not the action of mind upon matter, but the action of mind-matter upon matter-mind.45

Here Fort seems to be talking about some form of panpsychism, or the notion that mind and matter have co-evolved and are fundamental to one another,46 in other words, that both matter and consciousness ‘are two aspects of a single system.’47 What if, then, the very foundations of the dominant materialist perspective (upon which most ‘Western’ academic theorising is tacitly based), are misguided, or incomplete? What if all matter is, in some sense, conscious, or at least has the potential to become conscious? And what if we, as consciousness-matter ourselves, can interact with the matter-consciousness surrounding us in subtle, and less subtle, ways? If this is the case, does it mean that we will have to reconsider some of our dominant explanatory models and theories? Whether we like them or not, these are important questions.

Fort’s intermediatist approach raises fundamental questions about the limitations of our understanding of the world around us,48 and totally destabilises the metaphysical assumptions and ontological certainty inherent in positivist-materialism, which dominates scholarly discourse and the cosmological models it constructs.49 This destabilisation of ontological certainty, I suggest, is a useful starting point for exploring the extraordinary, religious and paranormal dimensions of human experience.

The X-Files of the Humanities

As an academic discipline concerned, in the first instance, with ‘belief,’ Religious Studies frequently assumes an agnostic framework that allows exploration without the need to commit to a single interpretation. This is one of the ways in which Religious Studies has sought to distance itself from Theology. Often, however, this agnostic stance does not extend beyond the ‘beliefs’ of our informants. When discussing beliefs, things are easy enough to deal with: we do not have to share those beliefs, and we embrace a relativist position.50 But what about experiences and events? What about when our informants tell us that something highly unusual happened to them, or what if (heaven forbid), something extraordinary happens to the researcher in the field?51 The standard approach has been to ‘bracket’ the phenomenon/experience, to demarcate it as beyond the realms of acceptable scholarly contemplation, to move on, and look at something else instead.52 In Fort’s view this would be a deliberate exclusion of an essential part of the whole.

Miraculous events, strange powers and supernatural beings are fundamental components of many (if not most) of the world’s religions, and yet, for some reason, their relevance and implications have been somewhat downplayed in the scholarly discourse. Folklorist David J. Hufford, following Max Weber’s (1864-1920) similar observations, has identified a process of disenchantment within Western scholarly discourse, whereby the ‘modern’ rational and scientific worldview emerged in opposition to traditional, magical and mythic modes of understanding the world. Indeed, this modern worldview actively constructs itself in opposition to what it deems ‘unreal’ and ‘irrational.’53 This is the underlying framework that supports much of the theorising in the humanities.

I am of the opinion that Religious Studies and other allied disciplines such as anthropology, folklore, and so on, have the potential to become the X-Files of the humanities. A safe place to catalogue, compare and analyse the anomalous and extraordinary experiences and capacities of human kind, and to critically engage with their implications. What I mean to say is that Religious Studies is already ideally suited to the exploration of a wide range of extraordinary phenomena while still maintaining its academic respectability as a discipline. Jeffrey Kripal’s recent textbook Comparing Religions (2014), gives a good example of how one such approach to Religious Studies might look. Kripal explains that he is

sceptical of models of religion that focus on the normal, on the everyday, and on the ways these events are domesticated, rationalized, and institutionalized. All that, too, is ‘religion’ – of course. Maybe it is most of religion. But, if we only focus on these social processes, we will get a very flat view of religion, which is exactly what we have today in much of the field.54

In essence, what we have here is a more inclusive Religious Studies, an Intermediatist Religious Studies, that does not exclude the extraordinary, but rather understands it as an essential part of the system under study. Kripal is not the only voice calling for a more inclusive Religious Studies, however. Other scholars have also been exploring the possibilities inherent in this kind of open-minded approach to the study of religion. See, for example, the work of anthropologist Edith Turner in regard to experiencing the reality of spirits, and on the efficacy of ritual,55 Geoffrey Samuel and Jay Johnston’s recent edited book on the significance of ‘subtle bodies’ in religious practices,56 Ruy Blanes and Diana Espírito Santo’s volume examining spirits as agents rather than symbols,57 and Fiona Bowie’s efforts to investigate afterlife beliefs through the lens of ‘cognitive empathetic engagement,’58 amongst others.59 All of these researchers are pushing the study of religion further toward greater inclusivity.

Ontological Flooding

In a nutshell, then, what I am suggesting is that we extend Fortean agnosticism60 into the domains of ontology,61 and question the very foundations of what we understand as ‘real.’ In other words, we should not assume that we already know what is really real. Fort’s intermediatist philosophy goes some way towards achieving this kind of ontological destabilisation. According to this perspective nothing can be said to be wholly real, just as nothing can be said to be wholly unreal. This opens up the ontological flood barriers, a process I have referred to elsewhere as ‘ontological flooding.’62

But what is the point?

The point has to do with admitting the limitations (or at least the possibility of limitations), inherent in the dominant explanatory models of the social sciences, and with embracing the possibility that there may be more going on in the things that we study than the established models can adequately account for. This does not mean that we have to become believers in ‘the supernatural’ (Fort certainly did not), but just that we need to be aware of the fact that our models are more than likely incomplete. There may well, for example, be more going on than social functional processes, cognitive processes, power struggles, economic struggles, politics, doctrines or ideologies (of course, that is not to say that such factors are not involved, just that they are not necessarily all that is going on).

What if religious rituals and collective worship are at least attempting to tap into psi, Fort’s ‘witchcraft,’ or Wilson’s ‘Faculty-X,’ for their efficacy? What if prayer really is effective in some way? What is going on in cases of Stigmata or physical mediumship? Is it all fraud, or are such cases hints of ‘internal witchcraft’? Is spirit possession purely a social-functional phenomenon, or a cognitive phenomenon, or something more? What if there is a God, or gods, or some God-like thing(s)? Some kind of intelligence(s) perhaps? Or spirits? Might matter possess consciousness? Do shamanic practitioners enter into other worlds during their rituals and trance states? The dominant approach, grounded in the established materialist metaphysics, says ‘No,’ but, like Fort, I remain unconvinced that we have worked it all out, and so, for this author at least (and, no doubt, for Fort as well), the possibility that there is ‘something more’ going on remains open (whatever that ‘something more’ might be).

Fortean Approaches

In keeping with the agnostic nature of Fort’s philosophy, the chapters gathered in Damned Facts each approach their subject matter in different ways. There is, then, no defining stance or conclusion that unites the essays, nor was this ever the intention in putting the book together. Instead, the chapters are united by an open-minded willingness to consider the implications of Fort’s procession of Damned Facts.

In ‘No Limestone in the Sky,’ Amba J. Sepie introduces us to the politics of Damned Facts, especially in the context of anthropology, an academic discipline in which encounters with ‘spirits’ in the field are not an uncommon occurrence. Timothy Grieve-Carlson’s paper then looks at the similarities between Charles Fort’s philosophy of Intermediatism and William James’ philosophy of radical empiricism. Although it is unclear whether Fort read James, Grieve-Carlson suggests that much of Fort’s philosophical perspective is pre-empted in James’ writings on radical empiricism.

Next, Wellington Zangari and colleagues from the University of São Paulo give an overview of extraordinary and religious phenomena from Brazil, which include everything from encounters with apparent alien entities, to cases of physical mediumship and poltergeist manifestations. Their chapter summarises religious, folkloric, scientific and Fortean interpretations of such experiences. In ‘A New Demonology: John Keel and the Mothman Prophecies,’ folklorist and journalist David Clarke examines John Keel’s ultraterrestrial hypothesis and its impact on the ‘Occult Revival’ of the 1960s and 1970s. Clarke’s paper is then aptly followed by Robin Jarrell’s chapter on ‘ufo Abductions as Mystical Encounter,’ in which she draws on Jacques Vallée’s famous research linking contemporary ufo and abduction experiences to traditional faerie folklore motifs. Jarrell’s paper pays particular attention to the extensive abduction experiences described by the horror author Whitley Strieber, and links them back to the writings of Vallée, the seventeenth century Scottish priest Robert Kirk (1644-1692), and the early twentieth century ethnographer W.Y. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965).

David V. Barrett’s contribution takes a slightly different Fortean approach to religion, leaving behind the UFOs, poltergeists and Stigmatics to focus on British-Israelism, the belief that the British people are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Not only is this chapter fascinating for its exploration of the ways in which such beliefs are supported by the misunderstanding of myth as historical truth, it is also frightening to see how these beliefs can come to be used in the promotion of particular (often far-right) political ideologies and agendas.

Next, in ‘The Transmediumizers,’ Eden S. French and Christopher Laursen take Fort’s concept of ‘transmediumization’ as their starting point, and look forward to the dawning of the New Dominant, when binary oppositions of ‘man/woman, black/white, human/beast, life/death, human/God, organic/artificial’ break down to reveal ‘a larger, more complex, networked ecology of materiality and immateriality.’

Interestingly, the two final chapters of Damned Facts both draw on the labyrinth as a model for exploring the nature of mind and reality. In ‘The Mirror Maze,’ James Harris takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey through art, revelation and neuroscience in an effort to make sense of a psychedelic vision he had under the influence of Psilocybin mushrooms. Harris argues that we must come to accept ‘that it is puzzles all the way down.’ In the final chapter, Roberta Harris Short gives a very personal account of an experience she had following a premonitory dream about her mother. When the dream apparently came true her understanding of the nature of reality shifted considerably, leading her, like James Harris, to ponder its labyrinthine qualities.

Damned Facts is an eclectic book, which, I hope, captures something of the essence of Fort’s Intermediatist approach, so why not let down your ontological flood barriers, and go with the flow…

Damned Facts is available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Damned Facts Book Cover

1. The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1925), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932).
2. In the introduction to The Directory of Possibilities (1981), Colin Wilson criticises Fort’s scatter-gun approach to presenting his ‘procession of Damned Facts.’ Wilson writes ‘He jumbles up all kinds of weird occurrences…as if all were on the same level, and he fails to make the slightest attempt to explain them.’ To Fort, as we will see, however, all phenomena are on the same level, and this, in a sense, works towards his explanation for them.
3. Perhaps ‘scientism’ would be a better term.
4. Jim Steinmeyer, Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural (London: Heinnemann, 2008).
5. Paul Sieveking and Bob Rickard ‘Introduction by the Editors of Fortean Times.’ In Adam Sisman Ed. The World’s Most Incredible Stories: The Best of Fortean Times (London: Warner Books, 1996), 10-14.
6. Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned: The Collected Works of Charles Fort (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2008), 15.
7. Ibid.
8. A term that Fort coined in Lo!
9. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 555-556.
10. Here, Fort’s perspective seems to resemble the Process Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Whitehead suggested that ‘the actual world is a process, and that the process is the becoming of actual entities,’ Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1979), 22.
11. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 556.
12. John A. Keel, The Eighth Tower: On Ultraterrestrials and the Superspectrum (Charlottesville: Anomalist Books, 2013), 248.
13. Ibid., 544.
14. Ibid., 258.
15. Fort’s yearning for greater holism brings to mind William James’ (1842-1910) comments on the importance of incorporating the full range of altered states of consciousness into our models and conceptions of reality: ‘No account of the Universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded,’ The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004), 355.
16. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
17. Kuhn defines a paradigm, very simply, as ‘universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners’ (1970, 11).
18. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 306. See also Colin Bennett, Politics of the Imagination: The Life, Work and Ideas of Charles Fort (Manchester: Headpress, 2002).
19. J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1993).
20. Jeffrey J. Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics and the Paranormal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 87.
21. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 249.
22. Ibid., 655.
23. ‘[Supernormal refers to] a faculty or phenomenon which goes beyond the level of ordinary experience, in the direction of evolution, or as pertaining to a transcendental world. The word supernatural is open to grave objections; it assumes that there is something outside nature, and it has become associated with arbitrary inference with law. Now there is no reason to suppose that the psychical phenomena with which we deal are less a part of nature, or less subject to fixed and definite law, than any other phenomena’ Myers, 1902, in Kripal, Mutants, 67.
24. Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 28.
25. Which could, perhaps, be understood as a form of ‘magical consciousness.’ In which case, Fort’s model of development through Dominants is a virtual reversal of Frazer’s.
26. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 15.
27. Bernardo Kastrup, Meaning in Absurdity: What Bizarre Phenomena Can Tell Us About the Nature of Reality (Winchester: Iff Books, 2011)
28..Peter Berger, A Rumour of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971).
29. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 999.
30. Because, in Fort’s view, Religion (with a capital ‘R’), acts as a suppressor or witchcraft, I feel that a Fortean approach to religion (with a little ‘r’), would be primarily concerned with what Rudolf Otto calls ‘the numinous,’ defined as the ‘non-rational’ experiential component of religion, The Idea of the Holy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958). Witchcraft and the numinous are equivalent. A Fortean approach to religion might also intersect nicely with ‘ordinary theology’ and ‘vernacular religion’ approaches in Religious Studies.
31. Wilson writes: ‘If by “normal” we mean something that tells us the truth, then Faculty X is far more normal than our everyday awareness, and the reality seen by the mystics is the most normal of all’ Beyond the Occult (London: Corgi, 1989), 123.
32. Daryl Bem, ‘Feeling The Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect,’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100 (2011): 407.
33. E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 30.
34. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 666.
35. Ernesto de Martino, Magic: Primitive and Modern (London: Tom Stacey, 1972).
36. Ibid., 58.
37. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 1001.
38. Sociologist Eric Ouellet, taking inspiration from parapsycholgist Walter von Lucadou’s model of RSPK (poltergeist) cases, has proposed a social-psi explanation for the UFO phenomenon. According to Ouellet’s model, waves of UFO slighting can be understood as collective psi events, expressive of underlying social, cultural and political tensions. Eric Ouellet, Illuminations: The UFO Experience as Parapsychogical Event (Charlottesville: Anomalist Books, 2015).
39. Fort, The Book of the Damned, 1014.
40. Parapsychologist Stanley Krippner has written on Stigmatic phenomena occurring with the Brazilian medium Amyr Amiden, who was brought up in the Islamic faith.
41. Ian Wilson, The Bleeding Mind: An Investigation into the Mysterious Phenomenon of Stigmata (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988), 100.
42. Ibid., 80-81.
43. Edward Shorter, From the Mind into the Body: The Cultural Origins of Psychosomatic Symptoms (New York: The Free Press, 1994).
44. Michael Winkelman, Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing (London: Bergin & Garvey), 209.
45. Ibid.
46. Max Velmans, ‘The Co-Evolution of Matter and Consciousness,’ Synthesis Philosophica 22.44 (2007): 273-282.
47. Kastrup, Meaning in Absurdity, 105.
48. Rupert Sheldrake, The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry (London: Coronet, 2012).
49. Other recent writers have come to similar conclusions. See Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), for example.
50. E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 17.
51. See David E. Young and Jean-Guy Goulet (eds.) Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience (Ontario: Broadview Press, 1994); Jack Hunter, ‘The Anthropology of the Weird’ in Greg Taylor (ed.) Darklore VI (Brisbane: Daily Grail, 2010).
52. Jeremy Northcote, ‘Objectivity and the Supernormal: The Limitations of Bracketing Approaches in Providing Neutral Accounts of Supernormal Claims,’ Journal of Contemporary Religion 19.1 (2004): 85-98.
53. David J. Hufford, ‘Modernity’s Defenses.’ Paper presented at Symposium on The Anthropology of the Paranormal, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California, Oct. 2013.
54. Jeffrey J. Kripal, Comparing Religion: Coming to Terms (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), xiv.
55. Edith Turner ‘The Reality of Spirits: A Tabooed or Permitted Field of Study,’ Anthropology of Consciousness 4.1 (1993): 9-12.
56. Geoffrey Samuel and Jay Johnston, Religion and the Subtle Body in Asia and the West (Oxford: Routledge, 2013).
57. Ruy Blanes and Diana Espírito Santo, The Social Life of Spirits (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
58. Fiona Bowie ‘Building Bridges, Dissolving Boundaries: Towards a Methodology for the Ethnographic Study of the Afterlife, Mediumship and Spiritual Beings,’ Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81.3 (2013): 698-733.
59. See also Jack Hunter and David Luke (eds.) Talking With the Spirits, Ethnographies from Between the Worlds (Brisbane: Daily Grail, 2014), Jack Hunter (ed.) Paranthropology: Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal (Bristol: Paranthropology, 2012), and Jack Hunter (ed.) Strange Dimensions: A Paranthropology Anthology (Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant: Psychoid Books, 2015).
60. Robert Anton Wilson, The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science (Phoenix: Falcon Press, 1987).
61. In this context, the term ‘ontology’ is taken as referring to ‘the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality.’
62. Jack Hunter, ‘“Between Realness and Unrealness”: Anthropology, Parapsychology and the Ontology of Non-Ordinary Realities.’ Diskus: Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion 17.2 (2015): 4-20.

  1. Nothing is real, nothing is unreal
    This is what is referred to in Buddhism as ’emptiness’. All of reality is essentially a dream, having appearance but no true independent existence.

    ‘Interdependence’ is also a core tenet, expressing the idea that all phenomena are inherently one and connected, but maintain the appearance of separateness.

    ‘Faculty X’ manifests as ‘siddhis’ in both Hinduism and Buddhism–supernatural abilities known to be a common result of attainments in mediation on emptiness and non-duality. Essentially a siddha is someone who has realized the dream-like nature of reality, and can alter it in progressively more impressive ways depending on the depth of their realization.

    Many of these concepts are known in gnostic religions as well(which themselves may have resulted from Buddhist and Hindu ideas, especially those spread via Nalanda University.)

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