Remembering Utopia

Shirley Andrews, Lemuria and Atlantis: Studying the Past to Survive the Future. Llewellyn, 2004.

Franz Hartmann, With the Adepts; An Adventure Among the Rosicrucians, Forward by R A. Gilbert. Ibis Press, 2003 (First edition 1887)

There are some subjects of such perennial interest that they are always good for at least a few books a year, for instance biographies of Lord Byron or new theories about who killed President Kennedy. But whereas Byron's life story is essentially fixed, and even the wildest conspiracy theorists at least agree on the date and place of Kennedy's assassination, there are no constants in the story of Atlantis. Andrews is actually a conventionalist, in that she locates Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than, say, the Indian Ocean, The South Pole, or the Watford Gap services off the Ml. and she accepts Edgar Cayce's date for the first destruction of the continent as 50,722 BC. Nevertheless, she describes Atlantean culture in much more feminist terms than was normal a few decades ago: "Women priestesses usually directed the temples' activities. This was partly due to the strong influence of Lunar fertility Goddesses at that time, and also because during its various civilizations, Atlantis, Atlantis was a matriarchal society".

In her bibliography, alongside old favourites such as Braghine's Shadow of Atlantis are more recent titles like Brodie's Healing Tones of Crystal Bowls, 1996. Otherwise her information comes mainly from women who remembered lives as Atlantean priestesses and healers evidently they were so advanced that there was no need for road-sweepers and lavatory cleaners.

Hartmann's novel is about a man who is permitted to visit a secret monastery of the Brothers of the Golden and Rosy Cross in the Alps. The superbeings that he meets are mostly men, but he is surprised to discover two women amongst them, one of whom proves to be Joan of Arc, her body having been miraculously reconstituted following her burning at the stake. She tells him:

"Your intuition told you right. It does not indeed very often happen that an individual attains adeptship while inhabiting a female organism, because such an organism is not as well adapted as a male one to develop energy and strength, and it is therefore frequently the case that those women who have far advanced on the road to adeptship must reincarnate in a male organism, before they can achieve the final result. Nevertheless exceptions are found." 

This seems sexist now but it was quite advanced for its time, when the vast majority of secret societies, real or imaginary, were entirely made up of men.

Basically both authors describe a Utopia, whether hidden in mountains of the mists of the past. they are much the same, though, in that people have philosophical beliefs and possess useful occult powers. the fact is, however, that an ideal society is easier to describe than to create. -- Gareth J Medwaym from Magonia 85, July 2004

Careless Talk Costs Lives

James Hayward. Myths and Legends of the First World War. Sutton, 2002.
James Hayward. Myths and Legends of the Second World War. Sutton, 2003.

War is the progenitor of legend, rumour and fantastical stories, some arising spontaneously, others the products of the propaganda factories of the various combatants. In these books James Hayward looks at all sorts of legends surrounding the two Twentieth Century World Wars. Some of the legends are essentially folk interpretations of history, and in these readers should assume that Hayward's often critical views are just one of many, for example his chapters on the 'myth' of the ineptitude of the British generals in WWI, or of the 'myth' of Dunkirk in the Second, contain views which might be challenged by other historians. Other chapters point to universals in the human imagination, for example during WWI a rumour grew that a nurse who had looked after a wounded German officer had been told by him 'to avoid the Tube in April'. Virtually identical rumours circulated after 9/11, and today we see replays of the spy manias which led to attacks on German waiters in WWI and rumours of parachutists dressed as nuns in WWII.

Some rumours have dark consequences, for example reaction against the 'German atrocity' stories of WWI blinded many in the Allied nations to the reality of the Holocaust. The additional irony is that original atrocity stories were exaggerations rather than pure inventions, as the Prussian army had engaged in mass reprisals against the Belgians who had the temerity not to lie down and be raped by their conquerors, as the aristocrats had always expected peasants to behave, but had actually fought back, thus becoming 'terrorists' or 'illegal combatants', and subject to the sort of severe reprisals by which well brought up gentlemen demonstrate their superiority to peasants and savages.

For Magonia readers it is the more supernatural rumours which are likely to have the greatest interest, and Hayward devotes a chapter in the first volume to rumours of Angels of Mons and other supernatural visions, and in the second volume part of a chapter is devoted to foo fighters. In the former case Hayward comes to the conclusion that the rumours did indeed start with Machen's Bowmen, but the latter leaves him rather baffled. Faced with these sorts of story, along with tales of the missing Norfolks, supernatural warnings, and supernatural forces behind the Nazis, Hayward sometimes seems to irritated that 'educated people' could believe these things. Once again 9/11 and its subsequent wars have produced very similar rumours, beliefs, and appeals to the supernatural.

Despite the somber subject matter, there are flashes of dark humour at times, the WWI trial of Noel Pemberton Billing, arguably the most bizarre trial in modern British legal history, in which at one point a witness accused the judge himself as being part of the vast gay and lesbuan conspiracy undermining Britain, would make an excellent drama. Of course Billing would be a boon to the current tabloid press, and if alive today would no doubt end up as a celebrity castaway eating things just slightly more unwholesome that himself. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 85, July 2004

Crazy Talk and Critical Thinking

Robert E. Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford. Hoaxes, Myths and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking. Prometheus, 2003.

In many ways this is an interesting collection of articles on the psychosocial aspects of a wide range of anomalous experiences, covering the whole range of the sort of subject matters covered by Magonia 'contemporary visions and beliefs'. Though much of this material has appeared in earlier books by Bartholomew, for those who have not read the earlier volumes this makes a useful compilation. Magonia readers will find the chapter by David Clarke on the phantom helicopter of 1973 particularly interesting (needless to say the then Merseyside UFO Bulletin took a keen interest in this, and published one of the first round ups of the reports). This was a social panic generated in a period of exceptional social strain within Britain, with a background of class war, Irish terrorism, fears of illegal immigration, rumours of impending military coups and so on, in which the sort of ambiguous lights in the sky which were conventionally attributed to "flying saucers" now became associated with more terrestrial fears and paranoias.

In the chapters on the birth of the flying saucer, the 1909 airship scare in the United States and the 1896-7 airship stories, we see the various ways in which these ambiguous stimuli are interpreted in terms of current beliefs. For example in 1947, the 'flying saucer' wave was generated by fears of Soviet secret weapons, and the ETH didn't figure until several years later. Other social panics include the phantom gasser of Mattoon and Indian stories of the monkey men.

The boundaries between social panic and ritual form the basis of Bartholomew and associates studies of latah, dancing manias, fears of disappearing genitals and jumping responses, which have been rnedicalised into 'culture specific syndromes'. Bartholornew uses these to challenge the rnedicalisaion of a whole range of behaviours in the western world. He sees the various social rumours discussed in the book as falling into several categories; 'immediate community threat' (e.g. the Swedish ghost rocket scare), flight panics (e.g. the great Martian panic of 1938), 'symbolic threats' (e.g. the Satanic abuse scares), and wish fulfilling 'signs of transcendence' (e.g. visions of the Virgin Mal)' or ET's).

If this is in many ways an interesting book, it is not without its problems. The presence of 'review questions' indicates that this is a textbook, and as with many such books, the 'correct' answers to the questions are the ones which fit the author's own beliefs and values. There is also an annoyingly patronizing tone about its call for logical thinking to replace emotion. If Bartholomew and Radford had argued more the need to critically evaluate evidence this wouldn't have grated so much. As it is there is a hint of the CSlCOP idea that if only the proles could think more like well-educated college professors then all would be well, The problem with this is that just as many horrors have been perpetrated by 'rationality' as by blind emotion.

The witchcraft persecutions were supported by the finest minds of the time, arguing quite rationally within the confines of their cultural beliefs and values. The German doctors who established the euthanasia programme did so for perfectly logical and rational reasons, and were only too willing to discard 'irrational emotional responses' such as pity for the weak. Imagine that you have captured a terrorist whom you know has planted a 50 megaton under some city, but not which. Nothing you do to him will break him, but the psychologists tell you that if you torture his five year old child in front of him, then there's a good chance he will break down and tell you where the bomb is and thus save many millions of lives. Reason and logic tell you that you have to torture the child to save millions of lives, yet is there not some set of values beyond all reason and logic which say that it is never right to torture a child? -- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 85, July 2004

Blurred Pictures

John F. Moffitt. Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture, Prometheus, 2003

Presented with a book entitled Picturing Extraterrestrials written by a retired professor of the history of art, you would probably expect a glossy book full of gorgeous colour illustrations of aliens taken from book and magazine covers, film posters and the whole gamut of modern kitsch. What you get, apart from 16 pages of black and white illustrations, is mountains of text, discussing alien abduction narratives from a generally sceptical viewpoint. Some good points are made, and there are attempts at humour.

There is no doubt that this a wide ranging study; not many UFO books will cover the influence of Swedenborg and Eliphas Levi on symbolist art in the same pages which discuss the genesis of the American cultural icon Betty Crocker (don’t worry, fellow Brits, I’m as baffled by this name as you are). The thesis seems to be that the the abduction narratives are part of post-modernist commercial culture; they are capitalist commodities, phenomena of the world of TV and other pop kitsch images.

This is interspersed with general sceptical comments on the abduction scene, and UFO history (of course Americocentric, and containing a number of careless howlers). These are often sensible enough but they have been made many times before, and hardly seem the province of the art historian.The cover describes this book as "accessible", but I am afraid that this description is somewhat of a terminological inexactitude; reading it was rather like swimming through treacle. With a good, slashing editor, parts would have made interesting Magonia articles, but the chapters just don’t add up to a coherent book. Why cannot Prometheus Books employ good quality editors to make the manuscripts they receive actually readable? The feeling is that anyone wearing an 'I Love Randi' badge can walk into the office and get their manuscripts published regardless of literary merit. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 49, February 2004.

No Truth and No Consequences

Kevin D Randle. Case MJ-12: The True Story Behind the Government's UFO Conspiracies. HarperTorch, 2002.

You've got to hand it to him, he doesn't give up easily. Here is Kevin Randle trying to flog the dead horse of Roswell in both senses of the word. Randle's thesis is simple, because an alien spaceship crashed in Roswell, there must have been a secret oversight committee, a sort of real Project Magic. Of course this isn't the MJ-12 that all those documents were on about at the end of the eighties, because they were being hawked around by his rival in chief Stanton T. Friedman … sorry I meant to say contained all sorts of textual flaws.

But don't let that fool you, Kevin knows there was an oversight committee, not just because there had to be one, but insiders have told him so These include the now notorious Frank Kaufman, the usual anonymous sources, and characters who have access to really secret information. Except they don't. There is nothing that these characters come up with that isn't already part of the ufolore. Forgotten bits of the lore are retrieved and presented as amazing inside information.

For example General Arthur Exon regales Randle with a tale how in the 1950s, four jet fighters were lost chasing a flying saucer. Randle can't find any reference to this, so this must be something really secret, because generals don't ever lie. This story struck me as being rather familiar and on pages 215-217 and 256-257 of Donald Keyhoe's Flying Saucer Conspiracy (US Henry Holt edition), are accounts of 'mysterious' plane crashes, not actually involving UFO chases as I'd seemed to remember, but clearly presented in such a context. The latter pages deal with the crashes of no fewer than six planes over a few days. It seems likely that Exon's story was a half memory of the incidents in this book.

Then there are the tales told by Robert Sarbacher, another insider who simply repeats bits of the legend. Thus when writing to Willard Smith (himself a crank and contactee groupie) in 1950, Sarbacher simply says there is 'something' in the tales told by Frank Scully. By 1983 writing to William Steinman he adds that 'their' material was unusually light and strong (taken from the Roswell Incident by Berlitz and Moore), and that they aliens were like some insects found on earth (taken from Gerald Heard's 1950 book Riddle of the Flying Saucers).

Randle defends the idea of the coverup against the obvious objection that there is not much use in covering up what you don't control, with the argument that as 'they' haven't done anything the military can just sit pretty. But that is an argument from hindsight. In July 1947 the authorities would have had to assume that anything could happen anytime. There would have been no incentive to hind this from the Soviets for another two years (when they tested their first atom bomb), and the priority would be to release the story with the best possible spin before something dramatic happened. These decisions would have been taken not by middle ranking military officers, but by the top political leadership. President Truman would know that if he got this one wrong he might not just end up impeached, but lynched from the nearest lamppost by his own bowels. there would be no vague 'oversight committee' to deal with the situation but the drafting in (not inviting) of America's. if not the world's. leading physicists from Einstein and Bohr downwards. When you realise that the codewords for the Normandy Invasion became clues for a British national newspaper crossword because the kids who compiled them as a school punishment heard them from their sister's GI boyfriends, you get the idea of how leaky even the best secrets can be.

The almost certain truth is that are no crashed flying saucers, no oversight committees and that opinions in the US military on UFOs range from total debunking to wide eyed belief, in other words they mirror totally the spread of opinions in general society. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 81, May 2003.