Northern Magic

Nigel Pennick. Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition, Aquarian, 1989.

Clive Barrett. The Norse Tarot. Aquarian, 1989, (Book and Tarot Deck)

Nigel Pennick continues his retrieval of neglected aspects of northern European folk and religious lore, Firstly he examines folklore survivals of calendrical traditions, time recording, and perceptions of direction and orientation which helped to structure the framework within which the northern peoples (here basically considered as non-Latin northern and western Europeans) perceived their environment and the natural changes within it. He then considers nature lore; the nature and attributes of plants and places, particularly as revealed through surviving traditions and folklore, In the chapter 'Magic of the North' he looks at what is known of the Northern mystical and religious beliefs and an interesting section compares the warrior tradition of the Viking berserkers with the better known oriental martial arts, perceiving a common thread between them.
In the final chapters of the book he looks at the possibilities of reusing some of these traditions as part of a modern system of mystical and magical practice, and proposes a set of rituals that a latter-day practitioner might use, However, I think most readers will find the book of greatest value for its recovery and recording of the wealth of popular belief that has survived, albeit precariously, to the present day. It is particularly rich in the lore of East Anglia, the author's home territory.
Generously illustrated, and with useful appendices and glossaries (I was pleased to discover Belisama, the Goddess of the River Mersey) the book is a most readable account of fast disappearing beliefs, rituals and survivals, and it tells you how many beans make five!

Norse gods and Viking life form the basis of the illustrations on Clive Barralt's tarot cards, The quality of the illustrations is excellent: firmly yet delicately drawn, and using to the full the rich visual imagery of the Northern traditions a contrast to some other recent decks from the same publishers, which have been weakly illustrated, The traditional tarot trumps have been very well interpreted to aspects of Norse mythology, sometimes so appropriatly - the "Hanged Man as Odin suspended from the sacred tree, for instance - that one is tempted to ask if this may have been the source of the original image! The suit cards show aspects of secular Viking like rather idealised but are also good, strong images. -- John Rimmer, Magonia, 1989.

Like the Circles That You Find in the Windmills of Your Mind

Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews. Circular Evidence: A Deteiled Investigation of the Flattened Swirled Crops Phenomenon. Bloomsbury, 1989.

Paul Fuller and Jenny Randles. Controversy of the Circles: An Investigation of the Crop Circles Mystery. BUFORA, 1989.

Terence Meaden. The Circles Effect and its Mysteries. Artetech, 1989.

Crop damage has numerous causes, such as strong winds, hail, plant diseases, pests, or trampling by persons and animals. But when the damage takes the form of sharply defined circles, ringed circles and even symmetrically arranged groups of circles, then some more elaborate explanation is called for. These three new books complement one another in that they present and interpret the evidence in different ways. Circular Evidence contains excellent photographs, mainly in colour, and detailed descriptions, which make it useful as a work of reference. However, its treatment of theories is weak and highly speculative. The theory that they may be caused by whirlwinds is dismissed as 'a joke', The authors conclude, after discussing various unlikely explanations, that "the circles are created by an unknown force manipulated by an unknown intelligence". Of course, if you accept that theory, then you don't have to bother thinking about it any further, as such a theory can explain practically anything.

Dr Meaden, in The Circles Effect and its Mysteries, refuses to take such an easy way out. He has been working on the circles problem since 1980. He is a physicist with a strong interest in meteorology, especially the more unusual or poorly researched kinds of meteorological phenomena. He is editor of the Journal of Meteorology, which contains many interesting reports on such topics. Meaden has developed the theory that crop circles are caused by "a previously unrecognized kind of atmospheric plasma vortex". Ordinary fair-weather whirlwinds, sometimes observed in England on hot summer afternoons, would not leave regular circles in crops. Meaden attributes this regularity to intense ionisation. Under the right conditions, separation of electric charges in the rotating column can lead to ionisation intense enough to cause powerful electric fields which constrain the air to move in a highly regular manner, Meaden's descriptions of the processes involved are rather hard to follow, and there is no mathematical treatment of the theory given in the book. This is hardly surprising, as mathematical descriptions of the behaviour of rotating fluids are somewhat complicated, and will be made even more so when the effects of electric charge separation have to be taken into account!

The theory is still being developed and Meaden has to keep making adjustments to account for newly discovered features of the circles, The attitude of professional meteorologists to his work is somewhat sceptical and aloof, most of them rejecting the circles as the work of hoaxers. Meaden's reply to them is: "But as with all specialist topics in science, those who are unqualified to judge should refrain from comment, No-one, but no-one should adopt a posture on the circles problem without first examining, in the company of an expert guide, at least a few circles in the field."

If the theory of plasma vortices should turn out to be correct, it would explain a great many UFO reports, much to the chagrin of ETH enthusiasts. Such vortices would glow in the dark and produce alarming electrical effects, such as those described in many UFO encounters. A number of examples are given in the book. Meaden also gives three eyewitness accounts of circles actually being formed, including one by Arthur Shuttlewood, who was with a large number of other witnesses at the time. There are a number of bizarre' reports in Shuttlewood's writings that could be attributed to sightings of plasma vortices.

In Controversy of the Circles, Fuller and Randles give an excellent review of circles reports, theories and field investigations. All of the theories are discussed, but Meaden's is by far the most favoured by BUFORA investigators. The authors are well aware of the various objections to the theory, though, and there is no tendency to be dogmatic about it, Considerable space is devoted to revealing the activities of the myth-makers, and the more irresponsible ufologists who constantly air theIr absurd notions in the tabloids and in the barmier UFO journals.
The authors of all three books are in agreement in dismissing hoaxing as a major cause of circle formation. They point to the great complexity of the manner in which the crops are laid down and various other details which are difficult or impossible to produce artificially. This leaves us with only Dr Meaden's theory worthy of serious consideration, unless we prefer to start burbling about mysterious forces and alien intelligences whenever the subject is mentioned. - John Harney, Magonia 1989.

Alien Evolution

Jack Cohen and lan Stewart. Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life. Ebury Press, 2002.

Cohen, a biologist and Stewart, a mathematician, are science fiction fans who have made a hobby of doing the science for a number of leading SF writers. In this book they combine science and science fiction to challenge the view, expressed in Ward and Brownlees Rare Earth, that complex life will be a very scarce phenomena They argue that Ward and Brownlee's arguments arc too parochial and have been in part falsified by the discovery of life in extreme environments here on earth.

They think the same goes for much standard astrobiology, which presumes that life must be like life on earth, or rather what we imagine life on earth to be like in oversimplified accounts. They propose a much more radical approach of xenoscience and xenobiology. This 'life' may be much more alien than anything we can imagine (nuclear life on neutron stars, or plasma life in the Sun's photosphere).

One thing we can be certain of is that no real aliens will be bipedal humanoids or anything else related to terrestrial organisms. They suggest some features which have evolved many times over on earth might be more universal (flight of some kind for example) This doesn't mean this will be the only kind of life out there, . merely that it might reoccur in quite a number of different places.

What most writers call intelligence Cohen and Stewart call extelligence, a shorthand for . cultural intelligence mediated by complex 'language' capable of transmitting highly abstract 'ideas' and information, and of preserving this outside the bodies of particular individuals. They seem to be willing to entertain the idea that this extelligence may be widespread and perhaps a universal development, but have to concede that of all the millions (or perhaps billions) of species that have evolved on earth, only one, ours has produced this extelligence. It has to be faced that only one terrestrial culture went through an industrial revolution and developed heavy industry of the sort needed to build radio telescopes and spaceships.

Even without this argument Cohen and Stewart reject ufologists images of the ETH. If ETs are present in our environment it will not be as biological entities, but as some form of 'technology' so subtle that we could never detect. The aliens of ufology, like those of Star Trek, etc. are essentially cultural icons, secularised forms of the creatures of folklore and myth.

As to whether Cohen and Stewart, or Ward and Brownlee are right, who knows at this juncture. If we encounter the truly alien in the oceans of Europa then put your bets on Cohen and Stewart, if all we find is nothing or just terrestrial type organisms courtesy of some passing meteorite. then go for Ward and Brownlee. But forget the Greys and their breeding programme (of course if we are wrong and the Greys actually exist then we know that they aren't ETs at all, but some other terrestrial creature we have somehow overlooked perhaps descended from some as yet undiscovered branch of the hominid bush) -- Peter Rogerson

The Blame Game

Leslie G Howarth. If in Doubt, Blame the Aliens: A New Scientific Analysis of UFO Sightings, Alleged Alien Abductions, Animal Mutations and Crop Circles. Writer's Showcase, 2000.

In this self published book, Howarth, an industrial chemist with a Ph.D. in dental ceramics etc, tries what he imagines is a scientific approach to ufology. This involves a statistical treatment of a mass of reports dredged up from a data base, in this case a ufological CD-ROM. This is not new, it was very much the fashion in the 1960s and early 70s, but with much more sophistication than is shown here. The technique used is something called Kepner-Tregoe analysis; and either Howarth is totally misusing it, or the whole technique is just another piece of management pseudoscience. Needless to say all the judgments used are purely subjective.

He compares various 'explanations' of UFO reports with what he believes the evidence shows. As the evidence consists of a biased database, and the versions of UFO stories found in popular literature, it is flawed from the start. Explanations such as aircraft, astronomical objects etc are taken in isolation, as if anyone thought that each individual explanation accounted for all UFO reports. UFO reports are generated by very many different stimuli.

The result, surprise surprise, is that UFO reports are likely to be generated by alien activity. This is achieved by purely subjective reasoning. For example Howarth claims UFO events don't take place in the rain (not true actually), but on this premise he rules out aircraft and stars and planets as not fitting. Excuse me, but isn't it obvious that people will see more things in the sky (whether stars, meteors, aircraft, or alien UFOs for that matter) in clear weather rather than when it's wet and overcast?

One genuine thing of interest that he notes is the great scarcity of UFO reports from the Indian subcontinent, which is quite puzzling given the vigorous English language press, and extensive family contacts with the West. This points to a psychosocial explanation, in which the sort of experiences which give rise to UFO reports in the West do not exist, or are interpreted differently Hindu or Islamic culture. -- Peter Rogerson. From Magonia 80, March 2003

Voices of the Rocks

Robert M. Schoch and Robert Aquinas McNally. Voices of the Rocks: Lost Civilisations and the Catastrophes which Destroyed Them, Thorsons, 2000.

This book seems to be on a winner in that it links two very lucrative contemporary themes, apocalyptic speculation surrounding "killer asteroids" and heterodox archaeology, centred around our old friend Egypt.
Schoch's main thesis, that the Sphinx is much older than conventional archaeologists believe, is an example of what might be called a medium-rank anomaly. If true it would not challenge any fundamental scientific principle. After all, the people of 10,000 years ago were just as intelligent as ourselves, and Schoch is not evoking any paranormal magical technology, ancient astronauts and the like; on the other hand it is just about surprising enough for the scholarly community to demand really good evidence before they would so drastically revise their chronologies, and it is not at all clear that he has assembled such overwhelming evidence as yet.

At times, I got the feeling that Schoch, a geologist, doesn't quite grasp the passions and furies which drive history. At one point he argues that the conventional view that the mass burnings of many ancient Mediterranean cities were the result of war, invasion and rebellion, must be wrong, because why would rational invaders burn cities that they would want to use and exploit? Well, because invaders and revolutionaries are not usually rational; cities were burned and their inhabitants massacred out of pure ethnic or class hatred, and certainly many peasants did not want to live in the cities; they saw them as sinks of iniquity and vampiric tax gatherers, to be wiped off the face of the earth, not occupied.

The belief that destruction comes from the skies, and not from ourselves is a comforting one, but the other thesis, which challenges the notion of sustained, fast, single-track progress is less so. The notion that many times in, say, the last 30,000 years cultures have risen and fallen, most usually to peasant Jacqueries, of which Kampuchea and Rwanda were but the most recent, is pretty scary, evoking the possibility that ours might just go the same way, and the future might not be the Universal Denmark, but the Universal Somalia. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 31, September 2000.