Sunday, 26 September 2010

Book review: Magic, Mysticism & The Molecule by Micah Hanks

All through human history, we've had contact with The Other- ghosts, spirits, fairies, extraterrestrials- it seems the guise changes but the core phenomena remains more or less the same. Much of this contact is transient, indeed this seems to be one of it's defining features, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to it. However, some people have sought out contact with these other intelligences, and this book looks at the various methods that have been used through history.
The book's broken down into three broad sections, as per the title, looking at the use of magic, mysticism and mind altering substances in the pursuit of making contact with the Other, taking in everything from John Dee, Alister Crowley's Amalantrah working (where he claims to have made contact with an entity he named Lam, the drawing of which looks suspiciously close to the modern image of a grey, and some have claimed that this ritual, and/or Jack Parson's attempted Moonchild ritual in 1946 opened a doorway for the UFO phenomena to begin in 1947), Ouija boards, psychomantiums (particularly interesting as the author has some direct experience of this), through to altered states of consciousness, thoughtforms  and the possible influence of electromagnetic energy on human consciousness and much more.
It throws up some fascinating possibilities- that altered states, be they induced by rituals, physical ordeals or mind altering substances may allow us access to other realities or to perceive things that we ordinarily can't. For instance, the parallels between shamanic experience and alien abduction narratives are difficult to ignore, being drawn up, often towards a bright light to be met by diminutive entities who will perform painful procedures (medical experiments in UFOs, shamen often report being taken apart and re-assembled). This is especially fascinating in light of the fact that the human brain can produce the hallucinogenic molecule DMT under circumstances that are not yet full understood.
Even if all this can be explained in terms of brain chemistry or hallucinations, it still begs the question why certain images recur, especially across time and different cultures. Do we have the trope of small beings who interfere with us medically hardwired into our brains, and if so why?
My favourite part has to be the final chapter, which ties together Nikola Tesla, HP Lovecraft and contemporary research into DMT- in "From Beyond", Lovecraft identified stimulation of the pineal gland as a method of perceiving extra dimensional entities, and recent research as identified this gland as being the site of where DMT molecules are manufactured in the brain.
This gives you a good insight into what the book's like- it weaves strands from Forteana, biology, psychology and anthropology into one coherent whole. Hanks' writing style is amiable and accessible, with a healthily skeptical attitude. It's solidly researched and referenced, so if anything in particular piques your interest, you'll have no problem in following this up.
I'd highly recommend reading this if you've an interest in strange phenomena and want to get beyond the gosh-wow-its-all-real/oh-no-its-not dichotomy that most books serve up. A worthy additional to any Fortean's bookshelf.
As a footnote, Micah's website, The Gralien Report is well worth checking out, you'll find a bunch of his writings on there.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Book review: The Cryptoterresterials by Mac Tonnies

I first came across Mac Tonnies in a volume of the excellent Darklore series, which included his "The Ancients Are Watching", a piece on the possibility that the UFO phenomena represents an interaction with a post biological intelligence. In this essay, he mentioned in passing another theory that an impoverished culture of indigenous humanoids could be behind UFOs. This idea really piqued my curiosity as I've had a long term interest in things like The Shaver Mystery,  the notion of an earth based origin for UFOs (beyond secret military technology etc) had largely fallen out of fashion since the 60/70s and was intrigued to see it framed in more modern terms.
So it was with much anticipation, and a degree of sadness (Tonnies passed away in his sleep last October, he was only 34) that I approached this book. His basic idea is that if we look at close encounter narratives, the UFO occupants are very human like, suspiciously so for apparent extraterrestrials. Also, given the apparent degree of interest in our DNA and reproductive systems, this raises red flag in the sense that we are unlikely to be biologically compatible with extraterrestrials (if we can't reproduce with close relatives such as chimps, the chances of reproducing with aliens would be even less), yet there are cases of humans allegedly having sex with UFO occupants (the best known probably being that of Antonio Villas Boas), which if true, would point to them being more or less human. Also, there seems to be staged aspect to many close encounters, like the UFO occupants want to be seen and want us to believe they're from out there.
So from this, he theorises that we may have a sister species living amongst us, perhaps under the sea (there is a large body of sights of UFOs exiting or entering bodies of water), underground or even in remote parts of the planet. Similar ideas have been advanced in the past, notably by the likes of John Keel (though he did ultimately formulate the idea of ultraterresterials, prior to that he noted that many UFO occupants appeared very human, with long fingers, pointed chins, high cheek bones and slanted eyes being a recurring feature), what's novel in Tonnies' theory is that they may well be exaggerating their technological prowess in an attempt to maintain the charade that they're aliens and so keep us off their trail, but ultimately may represent a species in decline.
In one sense, the book works well as a critique of the Extraterresterial Hypothesis (ETH), which is the dominant explanation for the phenomena (beyond the null hypothesis, which is that it's all hoaxes, misperceptions and novel psychological phenomena). There's no evidence at all of an extraterrestrial origin, beyond claims of the entities themselves and our own cultural assumptions, and 63 years on from Kenneth Arnold's seminal sighting over Mt Rainer, we're no closer to an answer, so maybe we should be looking elsewhere?
The logic of the Cryptoterresterial Hypothesis is fairly strong, however it's weak point is firm evidence to back it up- if scientists can detect fossil remains of ancient bacteria, you would expect a humanoid race to leave more traces, especially one with a degree of technology, and the book doesn't tackle this aspect, though it does point to areas for research, such as the fossil record, unusual artifacts, unexplained transmissions or energy emissions, the forensic aspect of close encounters and so on. I would have liked to have seen some discuss what's out there that could support this idea. Frustratingly, he had mentioned during a interview on a podcast that he'd seen US military documents relating to encounters with humanoids on a Pacific island during WW2, but none of this is included in the book.Also, he cites some fascinating first hand correspondence he's had from a man who claimed he'd had an encounter with small human-like beings that pre-date us, but now live amongst us, passing themselves off as children and homeless people, but the details of this are frustratingly brief.
Of course, it should be pointed out that this book was released after Tonnies death, and was taken from a draft he had given to a friend, so had things worked out differently, the book may have been fleshed out a bit.
What endeared Tonnies to so many was not only his endless stream of ideas (and you'll find more ideas packed into a page on this book than you'd find in the whole of some writers output), was his lack of dogmatism- he's came up with this theory, has put forward how to test it, and was more than willing to be proved wrong, which is refreshing in this field where there are so many defenders of the faith, who'll stick by theories or cases when there's no credibility left in them.
Tonnies use of language makes the book a joy to read, even if you're extremely skeptical and I suspect some of the ideas put forward in the book may well be lifted by SF writers in the future.One note I'd make is that it's probably not for people unfamiliar with the field as it discusses cases and concepts with little exposition, so if that is the case, I recommend reading a few more general books before tackling this one.
So, all in, a thought provoking book that's a great read, even if the central theory may not ultimately hold up.
If you're interested in finding out more about the CTH, this interview with Tonnies is a good starting point.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Another Perthshire Big Cat

From Big Cats In Britain, a further sighting of what is presumably the same animal mentioned on previous post:

Aberuthven. Behind houses in fields.

Jet black, blacker than black, chasing roe deer.
Pointed ears
This is the strange part I can't remember noticing the tail.
Same size as roe deer but longer in length.
250yrds down field, from my house.
I was just up and standing having my coffee and went out to have a cigarette on my decking and I always look down the field when I saw roe deer running away from this jet black creature, at first I thought it was a bear, but it ran into woods on all four!
I am more vigilant. I have been down field with my dog looking for prints, thats's how sad i have become!!"

Aberuthven is a village on the road between Perth & Stirling, close to Auchterarder, and just north of the Ochil Hills, which places it in the same general area as the previous couple of sightings. I'm fascinated by the recurring description of the cat being bear like, this suggests quite a heavily built animal (though I admit I'm mildly confused by the witnesses statement that they thought it was a bear until it ran off on four legs- does this imply it was on two legs at one point??)
Edit: having just reread the previous sighting, they sound pretty similar, so they could possibly be different accounts of the same sighting.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

You Wouldn't, Would You?

This week, I have mainly been thinking about human/ape hybridisation, mainly off the back of this week's episode of The Paracast, where David Hatcher Childress discusses Bigfoot, the Yeti and so on, and at one point discusses various alleged attempts by various cryptohominids to mate with humans.
The best known of these is Zana, an alleged abnauayu (the local word for a relict hominid, similar to alma, kaptar etc) captured in the Caucasus mountains in the 1840s- more info on her capture is here. She became tame, and gave birth to several children, many of whom died after she washed them in a cold stream immediately after birth. The villagers eventually saved some of her offspring by confiscating them. The aforementioned article shows a couple of pictures of her descendants, including her son and grand daughter.
Various people have claimed this as evidence of a population of relict hominids in the area, though if she produced viable offspring with mating with humans, this suggests she was fully human. An analysis of what is thought to be her skull has been done, along with that of her son, and although they are unusual, they are not outwith the morphological range for modern humans, and DNA analysis has confirmed they are both genetically modern humans. This has lead some people to suggest that Zana may have been a black slave who had escaped from Turkey and her wildness exaggerated over time, alternatively it's been postulated that she may have been a local suffering from a condition such as hypertrichosis. Another interpretation is that the area does harbour an extremely primitive but otherwise modern tribe of homo sapiens.
Going by the photographs, her descendants don't look unusual at all- maybe a bit darker than you'd expect people from that part of the world to look- her son in particular looks a bit like an aborigine, but you wouldn't look twice if you saw them on the streets of a multi-racial city.
There are quite a few other tales of Bigfoot/yeti/other wild people abducting humans with the intention of mating with them, possibly the best known being that of Albert Ostman, who claimed he was kidnapped to be the mate of a young female Bigfoot.
Hatcher Childress mentioned a photograph of an apparent human/hominid hybrid woman from Brazil, which I'm not familiar with, I may need to invest in a copy of his book to find out more.
I'd barely finished digesting that when Micah Hanks posted this article at The Gralien Report about chimp/human hybrids. There's no confirmed humanzees of chumans, some biologists do believe it could be possible, in the laboratory at least- although there are documented instances of human/ape sexual contact, such as this story about a female orangutan rescued from prostitution (I realise Vice is hardly the best source of info, but I'm reluctant to dig further on this subject)- not sure if it's the same orangutan, but a couple of my friends visited a primate sanctuary in the UK who had a orangutan rescued from prostitution, not sure how widespread this practice is, and I suspect it's maybe better not to know in this case.
As a footnote, it's worth mentioning the chapter on sex and the sasquatch in Loren Coleman's excellent Bigfoot: The True Story Of Apes In America which includes a sighting of what can only be described as a sasquatch bumming a cow. Friends have accused me of making this story up, but it's in this book, make of that what you will!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Stone Age Genocide

Outside of Forteana, one of my main interests is bad films and occasionally the two crossover. While watching the 80s cave man/Conan knock off Ironmaster, one particular scene caught my attention. The film revolves around a tribe of cavemen who discover iron and use this to wage war & conquer their less advanced neighbours. In one scene, they chase down some apemen into a cave, pile up firewood and suffocate them with the smoke.
Interestingly, this parallels tales told about what have been interpreted by some as relict hominid populations. Possibly the best known is the Ebu Gogo, a diminitive race said to have dwelt on the island of Flores in Indonesia (and linked by some to Homo floresiensis). They would occasionally raid villages for food, and eventually, so the legend goes, islanders trapped them in a cave and set fire to palm fibres piled inside, exterminating the remaining population.
Similar legends are attached to the Nittevo of Sri Lanka.
So how did this end up in an early 80s Italian exploitation film? Is this a wider spread archetypal tale than we realised? Was the writer familiar with these legends? Co-incidence?
If you're interested in tracking down a copy, it's not had a dvd release, so you may need to track down a vhs copy (or it's easily available on file sharing websites). I would warn you that it shares many of it's contemporaries cavalier attitude to animal cruelty, which is a shame as otherwise, the film's a hoot, Gerorge Eastman is great as the despotic tribal chief. There's a trailer on youtube, with a clip from the scene in question around one minute in.
I may need to do a post on Sasquaplotation films, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Another Perthshire big cat sight

Following on from my last post, this sighting from the Big Cats In Britain blog caught my eye:

"On Monday 6th September I was having my usual coffee while standing admiring the view out my back door in Strathearn when I noticed Roe deer running, then what I thought looked like a jet back bear/cat, it was chasing the roe deer into the woods. I nearly choked on my coffee.
I told my husband and some colleagues. I didn't think they believed me until my husband came home on Thursday with an article that was in the Sun newspaper about Ray Mears saying he had saw 3 cats in Scotland. The article had two pictures and the cat/bear I saw was like the second picture.
I have since spoken to the Strathearn Herald (local newspaper) and they are going to do an article this week about my sighting, they also told me to get in touch with you guys, well I think it was you! So I just thought I'd let you know about my sighting."

The Sun article referenced is here. The second picture that the witness compared her sighting to looks a still taken from this video, filmed in Helensburgh last year. I find her description of the animal as a bear cat interesting as the squat, muscular build combined wth the short face is something that crops up in big cat sightings from time to time, and has lead researchers such as Di Francis to speculate that Britain may be home to an as yet unrecognised species of big cat, sometimes referred to as the mastiff cat hypothesis. The idea of a large predator surving unrecorded in the UK into the 21st century, is of course, unlikely. However, the occasional snippet of intriguing evidence does crop up, such as a photo taken by a camera trap in Argyle, which shows a squat, muscular black feline in quite clear detail. (This photograph has not appeared online, though it has been used by the Centre For Fortean Zoology on the cover of a previous issue of Animals & Men, though if my memory serves me correctly, it does appear in this video, which is  talk given by Shaun Stevens of Big Cats In Britain).

As a footnote, I went to the Strathearn Herald website, and found this article from last year which had a completely different interpretation to the above, suggesting that a binturong (also known as a bear cat) was loose in the area, so maybe this coloured the witnesses choice of words? Certainly seems to have been a fair few sightings in the area.
NB- Strathearn is an area of Perthshire, covering Comrie/Crieff/Auchterarder, plenty of country for a cat/bearcat/whatever it is.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Big cat in Perthshire

I've been meaning to post this for a while, so it's slightly old news now, but I found this report of a big cat just outside Perth to be really interesting. Rather the usual panther or puma type sightings, it sounds a bit more like a Kellas cat, a hybrid between a domestic and Scottish wildcat, or possibly even a rabbit headed cat, the status of which is a bit more controversial.
My mum had an encounter with a large black cat outside of Luncarty (the other side of Perth to where this encountered occurred) around 20 years ago. Flicking through a book, she tenatively identified the Kellas cat as being closest to what she saw. One of her workmates spotted what was presumably the same animal a few days later, which crouched in a field and hissed at her. Could they range much further South than is generally assumed?
For more info on the Kellas Cats, I recommend My Highland Kellas Cats by Di Francis, who first brought them to national attention, and even attempted breeding them.