Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spooky News - Now on Twitter!

Sometimes something weird comes across my desk, and I don't have too much to say other than "Hey, look at this weird thing, but don't touch it you fool!" If headlines such as "Whitest Voodoo Priests Ever Team Up to Fight Hitler" or "US Military to Weaponize Flying Snakes" pique your interest, just follow me on Twitter by hitting the button on the right. These and other strange stories will show up in your electro-tickertape fresh from the workshop.

Monday, October 11, 2010

All the Myths are True (a little fun)

One of my favorite songs over the last few years, and one eminently suited for the topics this site covers is Abney Park's "All the Myths are True." It's all about legends, monsters, lost cities, zombies and the like. They had me at "Scientists unearth enormous skeletons" You'll hear what I mean.

Now, you can listen to it with Abney Park's Electro-Mechanical Music Listening Machine. Just twist the dial until the song you want is lined up with the selector cog within the machine's face. Or the winding stem. It's a little cantankerous.

If you haven't guessed already, Abney Park is one of the music groups flying the steampunk flag. The band flies the H. M. S. Ophelia, on the lookout for zeppelin freighters to plunder, and dodging air krakens of the sort we covered over the last two years.

You can check more of their music (I loved their last album Aether Shanties, and they've got a new one coming out this week) and other sundry goods at their site or myspace.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Fantasies of Control: Government and Supernatural Fears

Image by RadioKirik (Wikicommons)

A recent news item, and two book releases concerning UFOs and the US government, got me thinking about the concept of government reaction to claims of the paranormal.

According to a recent Freedom of Information disclosure from the Dyfed Powys police in Wales, UK. In the past five years, they've dealt with 86 calls concerning witches, as well as
"one call about a werewolf, seven about vampires, 19 about UFOs, 13 about big cats, 73 reports of ghosts, 16 of zombies, 35 of demons, five regarding big foot sightings, 33 of monsters and 18 about wizards"

One of the more cliched ideas in fantastical fiction is that of the government agency that polices the supernatural. While there are more fantastical examples in fiction, the most cliched version boils down to a secret organization, with an odd number or acronym in its name, that investigates and eliminates paranormal threats, often containing them in some fashion. I don't know what the earliest version of the concept is in either folklore or fiction, but by the 1980s it had already become something of a humerous trope (warning: link to addictive tvtropes site, where they call this is some variation on the Extranormal Institute and its subtype Secret Government Warehouse). Current examples include the MiB in the Men in Black Films, Warehouse 13 and Fringe on television, the B.P.R.D in comics, X-Com and Delta Green
in games, and amongst plenty of examples in print, Charles Stross' "The Laundry" (such as his recent The Fuller Memorandum).

More intriguing are the two sorts of groups that appear in both folklore and reporting in the real world. The UFO world in particular has had an obsession with government conspiracies and secret organizations for decades, crystallizing in the form of the Majestic documents, discredited in the eyes of many within and without of ufology. The original documents describe a high-level, shadow-cabinet of sorts, set up after various flying saucer crashes in the 1940s and early 1950s, but subsequent documents include operations manuals and other suggestions of active operations. The operations of Project Moon Dust and other government agencies (US and otherwise) to retrieve objects fallen from space have been brought into the larger UFO mythology. Such efforts, aimed at collecting and exploiting foreign military and aerospace technology, have been enmeshed into Majestic and other ufolore. Paranormal researcher Christopher O'Brien has suggested government or other secret special forces-style occult teams as explaining part of the patterns he finds in cattle mutilations, as he discusses with Greg Bishop on the podcast Radio Misterioso in January 2005. Like something out of the B.P.R.D., he suggests that copycat cattle mutilations may be rituals by such a group to counteract the activities of possibly non-human entities, ultramodern blood sacrifices to deal with ultraterrestrials, if you will.

As exciting as these ideas are, more documented paranormal task forces within government seem to be much less proactive, or active at all. The fall into one of two categories.

The first are those willing to use paranormal beliefs as psychological and propaganda weapons. Legends and supernatural beliefs, most famously Filipino vampire myth, have been used in combat, with mixed success. The CIA thought flying saucers made a great human interest story to flood the Guatemalan papers when their plans for a coup had been exposed, and also were happy for some UFO reports to continue when they were actually sightings of the U-2 and other spy planes (the Soviets made similar efforts regarding space launches). Mark Pilkington's recent book Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs suggests that much of the UFO phenomenon can actually be chalked up to such intelligence activities. I have not read this book and cannot evaluate its claims. Arguably Project Bluebook would fall into this category. The very public US Air Force project was in reality a small operation based out of Ohio, and while it did occasionally conduct field investigations of UFO sightings, such as the Socorro, New Mexico landing or the Kelly-Hopkinsville goblin siege, scientific advisor J. Allen Hynek and others have made it clear that the office was primarily an effort to minimize public concerns and interest in UFOs, in keeping with the recommendations of the Robertson Panel.

The second type is intriguingly close to the fictional and more impressive folkloric concepts. Harold Blum's Out There: The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials suggested back in 1992 that there was an informal UFO study group composed of officers of the intelligence and military communities. Blum's findings would eventually be echoed by the work of Jon Ronson and others culminating in The Men Who Stare at Goats, including some of the same individuals and groups, as well as the release of information on Project Stargate, the CIA psychic/remote viewing project. Despite plenty of myth-making all around, there was clearly at least one set of officers within the military and intelligence establishment that pursued paranormal interests and studies. Similar projects have been declassified by the British Ministry of Defense.

So it is with both interest and skepticism that I mention the most recent high profile claim of an intra-governmental paranormal study and action group. Nick Redfern chronicles (I have listened to and read several discussions of Mr. Redfern's findings, including some on his blog for this book, but not the book itself) in FINAL EVENTS and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife the tale of a loose group that became convinced that UFOs are actually demonic in nature, and that the transformation of American society to a Christian fundamentalist culture is necessary to defend against these forces. This belief is persistent amongst a subset of UFO followers, and I believe it is growing. Given the public resurgence of the Christian right in recent years, and especially in the training and top-level conduct of the military and government, the concept is controversial but timely. I would like to see some of the evidence that such a group might exist, but its existence is eminently plausible. Just as eastern religious ideas influenced the individuals described in The Men Who Stare at Goats, we would expect more radical Christian ideas to be reflected by some in the power establishment, no matter what you think of those ideas.

All of these groups and efforts, real or imagined, are about control. A classic skeptical critique of conspiracy theory is that people unable to accept that an unruly world is chaotic, imagine secret controlling factions, placing events in someone's hands (even if they are sinister hands), belieinv that someone is in control. While I am a skeptic, I've never liked that idea much, it doesn't make a lot of sense either logically or from experience. Sure, we might feel more comforted if we believe that in the case of catastrophe, say an asteroid impact, that there is some super-secret organization which will spring into action and save us. But I don't see how belief in all-powerful conspiracies controlling the world to the detriment of the believer and society is terribly comforting. Instead, in many cases it seems, in my experience, that belief in a powerful evil conspiracy allows for belief in a powerful counterforce. The New World Order/Satan will rouse good patriots or Christians to battle in a final war and be victorious. Moral decay and oppression acts as a backdrop for enlightened consciousness and transformation into a New Age. This perhaps is comforting, not in imagining control in the hands of a conspiracy, but instead providing the believer with an enemy to fight, something to focus angst upon rather than ill-defined unease.

In the cases of psychological warfare and propaganda, control is the obvious goal. Here, the right words or symbols, including powerfully charged supernatural symbols, are hoped to magically bend a population's or an enemy's will, without the application of brute force physical violence. A push button society, controllable through manipulation, is a technocratic dream of the modern era, by the intelligence officer and the ad man alike.

And lastly, in the case of government paranormal action groups, control is indeed sought over an unruly world. The UFO phenomenon is believed to be maddeningly chaotic to many who study it, to the point that the "trickster" concept from anthropology and mythology has become a popular buzzword in the community. Likewise, parapsychology has a long history of fitful starts and stops, vague and problematic findings and methods, and lack of scientific progress. Individuals feeling as such, but with organizational power at their fingertips, have a tool to possibly control some of that chaos. On the other hand, such beliefs can be a key to understanding and controlling the logic of a chaotic world. Projects like Stargate, the remote viewing effort of the CIA, are shortcuts to hopefully better results than those obtained through traditional intelligence work.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Loveland Frog Festival, Saturday October 2

This Saturday, the people of Loveland, Ohio will be celebrating the 3rd Annual Loveland Frog Festival, in honor of one of the weirder creature legends in the United States. Published reports vary widely, but in 1955 several sightings in the area of bug-eyed "trolls," as labeled by Loren Coleman in his Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, with sparking electrical equipment have become conflated with two separate reports from 1972 of a humanoid frog or lizard like creature.

In both years, even more dramatic reports of humanoids from the deep were reported in North America, in Indiana in 1955 (when a hand nearly grabbed an unfortunate swimmer in the Ohio River) and in 1972 in Thetis Lake Vancouver (which has largely been written off as a hoax). It has not escaped notice, especially in the Indiana case, that The Creature From the Black Lagoon had been released in theaters the previous year. Humanoid sightings in general were big in both years. In 1955, all sorts of sightings of odd humanoids were centered in the Ohio River valley (see Albert Rosales' 1955 entry in his compilation of humanoid sightings in the context of UFO lore). This was the same year that the infamous Kelly-Hopkinsville "goblin" UFO encounter occurred in Kentucky. No such wave occurred in 1972, but UFO sightings would skyrocket in 1973.

There is no real back story, that I'm aware of, to the Loveland Frog. The 1955 reports have been seen as possibly relating to UFO sightings, similar to the wave of humanoid reports in France in 1954. But no one has tried to stake out a taxonomy for the frog, claim it as part of some larger picture, or even suggest some Innsmouth folk moving out west. But this hasn't stopped the legend from growing into a festival, and a local football club.

I very briefly stopped in Loveland two years ago, in the area where the iconic sighting by Officer Ray Shockey (the second of the officers has since said he only saw an iguana) occurred.

Riverside Avenue, where the sighting took place

The Little Miami River in the area of Shockey's report

Spooky Dissertations Part 5: The Paranormal and Belief

This is the final installment of the Spooky Dissertations miniseries.

Part 1 introduces the series and covered cryptozoology
Part 2 explores the increasingly popular topic of UFO culture
Part 3 finishes off the UFO topic and included the larger context of Theosophy
Part 4 examines ghost culture and parapsychology
Part 5 covers paranormal culture

Finally in part 5, we conclude with a general overview and miscellaneous of paranormal culture, largely but not exclusively falling under the rubric of "the occult" (though as noted, I've been fairly limited in what goes here, so as not to replicate the vast literature on anthropology of magic and religion). We then have a number of belief-oriented more quantitative studies of belief in psychic powers, and general paranormal beliefs and thought processes.

I will add to this when any new dissertations and theses on any of these topics comes to my attention, and if you know of one, feel free to leave a comment.

Paranormal Culture

Libraries and the Occult – 2004 MA, Cecile Dubuis, University College London

Industrial light and magic: Popular science, technology, and the occult in the late Victorian period – 2003 PhD, Sylvia Amy Pamboukian, Indiana University

Spectral realities: Intersections of science and the occult in modern American literature – 2003 PhD, Stephanie Lee Hawkins, State University of New York at Buffalo

Faith by demonstration: The connection between the history of paranormal phenomena and a New Age spirituality – 2003 PhD, Sonja C. St. Amant, State University of New York at Albany

Rhetorics of darkness: Modern occultism and the popular imaginary - 2002 PhD, Joshua Gresham Gunn, University of Minnesota

Wonder shows: Science, religion, and magic on the American stage, 1845-2001 - 2002 PhD, Fred Robert Nadis, University of Texas – Austin

Multiple views of multiple realities: The rhetorical and social construction of the occult - 2000 PhD, John Dale Richards, Ohio University

H. Rider Haggard and the Victorian occult – 2000 PhD, Janet Elizabeth McIntire, Northeastern University

Avatars of the soul: Cultures of science, medicine, and the occult in modern Germany - 1999 PhD, Corinna Adele Treitel, Harvard University

The significance of the near-death experience in Western cultural traditions – 1999 MA, Alan J. Pew, California State University, Dominguez Hills (DASH)

Psychics, readers, visionaries and other paranormal personalities: A social movement analysis of “gifted” people in the metaphysical movement – 1999 PhD, Gary A. Steward, Jr., Oklahoma State University

Witchcraft and occult crime within a contemporary Canadian context – 1999 MA, Tracesandra Jade McDonald, University of Ottawa

The profession of brujeria on spiritual entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico – 1998 PhD, Raquel Romberg, University of Pennsylvania

Dark star rising: The emergence of modern occultism, 1800-1950 – 1997 PhD, Bradford J. M. Verter, Princeton University

Places of power: sacred sites, Gaia's pilgrims, and the politics of landscape. An interpretive study of the geographics of New Age and contemporary earth spirituality, with reference to Glastonbury, England, and Sedona, Arizona – 1997 PhD, Adrian Iwachiw, York University (Canada) (DASH)

Identifying the spiritual experience – 1996 PhD, Sara Horsfall, Texas A&M University

Belief, Explanation and Rhetoric in the Crop Circle Phenomenon of Southern England – 1991 MA, Bruce Lionel Mason, Memorial University of Newfoundland (PUFOI)

Mysticism: A comparative historical study – 1988 PhD, Jess Byron Hollenbeck, University of California, Los Angeles

Spiritism and science in Brazil: An anthropological interpretation of religion and ideology – 1987 PhD, David John Hess, Cornell University

Otherworld journeys: A comparative study of medieval Christian and contemporary accounts of near-death experience. (afterlife, visions, imagination) – 1984 PhD, Carol Goldsmith Zaleski, Harvard University

Irrationality in current American culture – 1983 PhD, Kathleen Ann Dempsey, Saint Louis University

The new transcendentalism in post-industrial society: life styles and the search for meaning in the New Age – 1980 PhD, Gloria Ann Young, The University of Texas at Austin

Belief and Psychology – General Paranormal

Development of an instrument to measure understanding of the nature of science as a process of inquiry in comparison to pseudoscience – 2008 MS, Brighton Oothoudt, California State University, Long Beach

From Bigfoot in the backyard to ghosts in the attic: Predictors of paranormal belief – 2010 MA, Jeff Tranguch, West Virginia University

Psychological processes in perceived paranormal phenomena- 2008 MA, Stephanie Ann Van Arsdall, California State University, Fresno (UFOs vs. Bigfoot)

Psychopathological symptoms and their relation to paranormal belief and illusory judgment – 2006 PhD, Michael P. Cofrin, University of New Hampshire

Attributional style and irrational beliefs as related to para-psychological belief – 2004 Psy.D, Jennifer I. Millman, Hofstra University

The relationship between paranormal beliefs and the personality trait Openness to Experience: A comparison of psychology majors with students in other disciplines- 2003 PhD, Eric Dogan Ozkan, Central Michigan University

Information seeking and interest in the paranormal: Towards a process model of information action – 2001 PhD, Jarkko Teuvo Johan Kari, Tampereen Teknillinen Korkeakoulu (Finland)

Paranormal beliefs: Developmental antecedents, perceived control, and defensive coping – 2001 PhD, Stefanie L. Perkins, Long Island University, the Brooklyn Center

Belief and reasoning: The effects of beliefs on syllogistic reasoning – 1999 PhD, Mary Merla-Ramos, Long Island University, The Brooklyn Center

The influence of religious affiliation and religious orientation on beliefs in science, religion and the paranormal – 1998 PhD, Brigham Young University

The relationship of ego identity status and ego development stage to a belief in paranormal phenomena in Puerto Rican females – 1993 PhD, Rosie Rodriguez, New York University

The structure and correlates of metaphysical beliefs among a sample of behaviorally committed participants – 1993 PhD, Richard Peter Kaczynski, Wayne State University

The pseudoscientific beliefs of high school students – 1992 Ed.D., Duane Starrett Nickell, Indiana University

A description of the paranormal beliefs of preservice teachers at Indiana University – 1991 PhD, Robert Martin Craig, Indiana University

The influence of undergraduate research methods and statistics courses on the transfer of reasoning skills to everyday events, and belief in the paranormal – 1990 MA, Davina Mill, Concordia University

The Relationships Among the Experience of the Dying, the Experience of Paranormal Events, and Creativity in Adults – 1987 PhD, Mary Dee McEvoy, New York University

An Investigation of the Empirical Relationships Among Beliefs in Science, Religion, and the Paranormal – 1985 PhD, Carl Ben Taylor, Brigham Young University

Beliefs in paranormal phenomena: Their relationship to involvement in esoteric practices and locus of control – 1979 PhD, James Joseph McGarry, Kent State University

Belief and Psychology – Psychic Powers

Paranormal belief, personality traits, and subjective well-being - 2010 PhD, Inga Simonian, Alliant International University

Illusory judgments under conditions of uncertainty: Reasoning errors related to paranormal and religious beliefs - 2008 PhD, Erin C. Goforth, University of New Hampshire

Critical Thinking Ability, Dogmatism, Ambiguity Tolerance and Belief in Paranormal – 1987 PhD, Michael James Nanko, United States International University

Childhood Development and Personality Functioning of the Psychic (Parapsychology, Hypnosis, Multiple) – 1985 PhD, Mark Howard Goldenthal, Georgia State University

Interrelationships among belief in psychic abilities, psychic experiences, and sensation-seeking – 1982 PhD, James Stephen Anthony, United States International University

Personality Variables Associated with Response in Dissonant Situations – 1981 PhD, Caren Rae Gertner, The University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spooky Dissertations Part 4: Ghost Culture and Parapsychology

Ongoing series on Spooky Dissertations

Part 1 introduces the series and covered cryptozoology
Part 2 explores the increasingly popular topic of UFO culture
Part 3 finishes off the UFO topic and included the larger context of Theosophy
Part 4 examines ghost culture and parapsychology
Part 5 covers paranormal culture

We've previously had bibliographies of dissertations and theses on cryptozoology, UFO culture, and a grab bag of other UFO topics with an emphasis on the past. Today we take a look at studies of ghost culture, spiritualism and parapsychology, and actual paranormal research. Tomorrow, we conclude with works on general belief in the paranormal.

Ghost Culture

Never Give Up the Ghost: An Analysis of Three Edinburgh Ghost Tour Companies - 2005 MA, Joy Fraser, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Gothic Realities: The Emergence of Cultural Forms through Representations of the Unreal - 2005 PhD, Lawrence Andrew Cooper, Jr, Princeton University

Visions of an unseen world': the production and consumption of English ghost stories, c.1660-1800 – PhD 2005, Sasha Handley, University of Warwick (DASH)

Possessions: The history and uses of haunting in the Hudson Valley – 2001 PhD, Judith Ann Richardson, Harvard University

Specters of war: An analysis of ghost stories and other stories of the occult set in the American Civil War – 1994 MA, Maureen Rush Bradley, University of Hawai’i

Aspects of supernatural belief, memorate and legend in a contemporary urban environment – 1985 PhD, Gillian Bennett, University of Sheffield


The commercialization of the afterlife: Spiritualism's supernatural economy, 1848—1900 – 2010 MA, Richard W. Fink, II

Ventriloquising the dead: representations of Victorian spiritualism and psychical research in selected nineteenth and late twentieth century fiction – 2006 PhD, Tatiana Kontou, University of Sussex (DASH)

Rei(g)ning mediums: Spiritualism and social controls in 19th-century American literature – 2006 PhD, Mitzi Schrag, University of Washington

Sacred conspiracies: Spiritualist and occult politics in Britain, 1843 – 1916 – 2005 PhD, William J. Dotson, The University of Chicago

Automatic writing: A history from Mesmer to Breton – 2004 PhD, Diane Dearmont, University of Washington

Materialisation Phenomena in British and French Spiritualism and Psychical Research – 2004 PhD, Corinne Montenon, University of Birmingham (DASH)

"I saw it with my own eyes": An ethnography of visions and other anomalous phenomena among participants in Candomble, Umbanda and Spiritism from Rio de Janeiro and Abadiania, Goias – 2002 PhD, Yves Marton, University of California, Los Angeles

Without crucible or scalpel: A sympathetic history of American Spiritualism - 2002 PhD, Robert Sayre Cox, University of Michigan

Feminine channeling: Technology, the occult, and women's mediation of communications, 1870—1915 – 2001 PhD, Jill Nicole Galvan, University of California, Los Angeles

'Fifty-cent sybils': Occult workers and the symbolic marketplace in the urban United States, 1850-1930, - 1998 PhD, Tammy Lee Stone-Gordon, Michigan State University

Soft murder by the camera eye: Photographic fears and the Victorian writer – 1992 PhD, Nancy Martha West, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Spiritualism and psychology in the works of Robert and Elizabeth Browning and Henry and William James – 1991 PhD, Charles Lloyd Meredith, University of Cambridge

Subversive spirit: women and nineteenth century spiritualism – 1987 PhD, A. Owen, University of Sussex

A harmony of worlds: spiritualism and the quest for community in nineteenth-century America – PhD 1981, Michael Anthony O’Sullivan, University of Southern California

Parapsychology and Science

To the Summerland: William James, psychical research and modernity – 2003 PhD, Krister Dylan Knapp, Boston College

"The coping stone on psycho-analysis": Freud, psychoanalysis, and the Society for Psychical Research – 2002 PhD, James P. Keeley, Columbia University

Fantasies of transmission: Psychical research and the mediation of intimacy, 1880 – 1916 – 1998 PhD, Pamela N. Thurschwell, Cornell University

Interpretations of quantum physics, the mystical and the paranormal: Einstein, Schroedinger, Bohr, Pauli and Jordan – 1989 PhD, Peter Anton Degen, Drew University

The penumbra of science: A sociological investigation of the debate between parapsychology and science – 1988 PhD, Catherine Boyd Withers, York University (Canada)

Deviant Science: The Case of Parapsychology – 1981 PhD, James Maris McClenon, University of Maryland College Park

Paranormal Research

Field notes from the light: An ethnographic study of the meaning and significance of "near-death experiences" – 2007 PhD, Laura Suzanne Gordon, University of Maryland, College Park (DASH)

Moments of transcendence: A psychospiritual interpretation of psychic, conversion, and mystical experiences – 1998 M.Ed., Marie H. Bousquet, Acadia University

Beyond the near-death experience: An investigation of the effects of near-death experiences – 1996 PsyD, Patricia H. Carr, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (DASH)

L'épreuve de la preuve. La photographie et le phénomène des ovnis - 1994 MA(?), Jean-Phillipe Dain, Université Paris VIII, UFR Arts - Dep. Image Photographique (EUROUFO)

Event horizons of the psyche: Synchronicity, psychedelics, and the metaphysics of consciousness – 1993 PhD, David Bruce Albert, Jr., University of California, Riverside

The social dialogue of the near-death experience – 1992 PhD, Liane Gail Pedersen-Gallegos, University of Colorado at Boulder

The Relevance of Philosophy to Psychical Research: A Critical Examination of Claims and Methods – 1988 PhD, John Anthony Lord, University of Surrey

Archaeology and parapsychology – 1976 MA, Constance C. Cameron, California State University, Fullerton

An Investigation of the relationship between paranormal phenomena and altered states of consciousness – 1975 PhD, Justin Donald Fair, United States International University

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spooky Dissertations Part 3: Ancient Aliens, Theosophy, and the Science of Belief

Ongoing series on Spooky Dissertations

Part 1 introduces the series and covered cryptozoology
Part 2 explores the increasingly popular topic of UFO culture
Part 3 finishes off the UFO topic and included the larger context of Theosophy
Part 4 examines ghost culture and parapsychology
Part 5 covers paranormal culture

Over the last two days we've had listings of dissertations and theses on cryptozoology, and on UFO culture. Today is a shorter list, combining several topics. Two of these explore the relationship between more mystical folkore and UFOs or ET's. Some of these topics are covered in the larger UFO culture bibliography yesterday, but these narrower works get their own listing here. The similarity between fairylore and UFO lore has been recognized for decades, whereas the recognition of roots of much of UFO-lore in theosophy and related beliefs has largely been ignored. Even obvious cases, such as the Shaver mysteries, end up getting more absorbed into the weird field of UFOs rather than suggesting UFOs are just an atomic age version of theosophy. But with the explosion in ancient astronaut beliefs, this becomes really apparent.

Also up today are sociological and psychological studies on the nature of UFO belief. In addition to this we have a persistent subfield looking at anomalous events or structures in the brain and anomalous experiences. While the results of this field of work have been used to suggest many different culturally-determined experiences may be the result of explainable temporal lobe or other activity, this has been particularly contentious when offered as a partial explanation for alien abduction accounts, and so I have put it here.

Over the next two days, we will conclude with cultural studies of ghost experiences and ghost stories, the history and conduct of parapsychology, spiritualism, and a slew of works on psychic powers and paranormal beliefs in general.

Fairy Folklore and UFO Lore

The otherworld vessel as metatraditional motif in northern European literature and folk narrative – 2009 PhD, Kimberly Ball, University of California, Irvine

Comparing stories of extraterrestrials with stories of fairies – 2003 MLA, David Harl Hinson, The University of North Carolina at Asheville

Shamanism and alien abductions: A comparative study – 2000 MA, Simon Brian Harvey-Wilson, Edith Cowan University (PUFOI)

L’irrationnel et ses habitants - A deux periodes distinctes de l’histoire: les OVNI au XXeme siecle et les fees, les lutins, le diable et la mort du XV au XVIIIeme siecle - 1992 MA(?), Christophe Campiglia, Université de Nantes (France) (EUROUFO)

Theosophy and Ancient Aliens

Constructions of Mythology: Mount Shasta, Atlantis, and the Ancient Lemurians - 2006 MA, Tiffany Darlene Strickland, California State University, Fullerton

A world according to Pana-Wave Laboratory: An extreme response to globalization in Japan – 2005 PhD, Salvador Jimenez Murguia, University of California, Santa Barbara

Theosophy, culture, and empire - 2000 PhD, Matthew Mulligan Goldstein, University of Texas – Austin

The SS-Ahnenerbe and the 1938/1939 German-Tibet expedition – 2000 MA, Mark Jonathan Rogers, Georgia State University

The urban gothic in British fantastic fiction, 1880—1930 – 1987 PhD, Kathleen Louise Spencer, University of California, Los Angeles

The archaeology and geoglyphs of Nazca, Peru, or, The extraterrestrial foundations of Andean civilization – 1985 PhD, Persis Banvard Clarkson, University of Calgary

Belief and Psychology – UFOs

Psychological correlates of the UFO abduction experience: The role of beliefs and indirect suggestions on abduction accounts obtained during hypnosis – 1998 PhD, Duncan Jon Andrew Day, Concordia University

Belief in UFOs and alien abduction phenomena as a function of paranormal beliefs, fantasy proneness, dissociative experience, and psychological adjustment – 1994 MA, Kevin M. Harkins, Bridgewater State University, Massachusetts (PUFOI)

Témoignage d'OVNI et psychologie de la perception - 1994 PhD, Manuel Jeménez, Université Paul Valery, Montpellier (France) (EUROUFO)

Factors influencing attitudes toward controversial research: Quantitatively disentangling the social from the scientific (consensus in science) – 1994 PhD, Mark John Rodeghier, The University of Illinois at Chicago

Personality Characteristics on the MMPI, 16PF, and ACL of Persons Who Claim UFO Experiences – 1986 PhD, June Parnell, University of Wyoming

The Relationship of Anomie and Externality to Strength of Belief in Unidentified Flying Objects - 1975 MA, Stephen P. Resta, Loyola College, Baltimore (PUFOI)

Neuroscience and the Paranormal

Numinous-like auras and spirituality in persons with focal seizures – 2008 PhD, Rima Dolgoff-Kaspar, City University of New York

Isolated sleep paralysis and its associations with anxiety sensitivity, history of trauma, paranormal beliefs, and life stress in a black sample – 2005 PhD, Holly Joy Ramsawh, Boston University

Volatile spirits: An ecopsychological perspective on experiences of paranormal assault in contemporary America - 2001 PhD, Tina Rae Fields, California Institute of Integral Studies

The prevalence of sleep paralysis and temporal lobe lability in persons who report alien abduction - 1995 PhD, Marcus Cox, University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom (EUROUFO)

Temporal lobe soft signs as indicators of fantasy proneness – 1993 MA, Scott Probst, Simon Fraser University

Differentiation of uncommon beliefs as a function of the proficiency of interhemispheric processing – 1992 MA, Ross J. Skirda, Laurentian University of Sudbury

An investigation of the relationship between subjective paranormal experience and temporal lobe symptomatology – 1979 M.Med., Vernon Michael Neppe, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Spooky Dissertations Part 2: UFO Culture

Ongoing series on Spooky Dissertations

Part 1 introduces the series and covered cryptozoology
Part 2 explores the increasingly popular topic of UFO culture
Part 3 finishes off the UFO topic and included the larger context of Theosophy
Part 4 examines ghost culture and parapsychology
Part 5 covers paranormal culture

Last time, after an introduction we had a bibliography of dissertations and theses concerned with the culture and psychology of cryptozoology and monsters, as well as a handful of works on supernatural narratives.

Today we have one of two posts on UFOs and aliens. This first is solely for studies of UFO culture, examining the communities and beliefs surrounding flying saucers and ETs. As before, if I was directed to a work by one of the other dissertation listings mentioned in the first post, I have noted this at the end of the entry.

Studies of UFO culture follow a certain trajectory, chronologically. With the exception of one early journalism master's thesis in the earliest years of the flying saucer era, academia has no interest in the topic for over 20 years. After the Condon report declares UFOs of no significant interest and the Air Force officially ends Blue Book and other interest in the topic, the floodgates open, and it is alright to study UFO organizations and beliefs from a sociological perspective or as folklore. More generally this is the time when it starts to become more acceptable to study more pop and other non-mainstream culture, and to examine Western culture with a more critical eye. Within ufology, this era has a decidedly Fortean bent, ending with the rise of crashed saucer legends at the end of the 1970s.

With the shift towards more conspiratorial in ufology, in the US at least, there is less academic interest. But with the 1990s, studies of UFO culture multiply dramatically. It seems likely that the success of Communion and the books of Bud Hopkins have something to do with that, as abduction becomes an extremely ripe cultural studies topic by the end of the decade, though it recedes in popularity by the middle of the 2000s. By this time, the academic approach is to either see the UFO as symbolic of millennial angst and the problematic transition at the end of the Cold War, or to examine the UFO as not a source of folklore or a scientific puzzle, but the font of new religions.

Tomorrow, a somewhat shorter list focusing on aliens and the past, as well as the biology of anomalous experiences.

UFO Culture

Dallas, Roswell, Area 51: A social history of American "conspiracy tourism" – 2010 PhD, Shelley E. McGinnis, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Flying Saucer Culture: An Historical Survey of American UFO Belief – 2006 PhD, Dean Bertram, University of Sydney (DASH)

How the alien invaded the American mind: a history of experts, entrepreneurs, story-tellers, and a love of the alien in modern American culture – 2006 PhD, Zoe Couacaud, University of Sydney (DASH)

Tensions, synthesis and spirituality in the Norwegian UFO movement, especially exemplified by the world outlook of the organization NETI - 2005 PhD, Jan Bertil Heilund, University of Bergen, Norway (EUROUFO)

The Flight of the Ordinary: Narrative, Poetics, Power and UFOs in the American Uncanny - 2005 PhD, Susan Lepselter, University of Texas – Austin

The "Rael" World. Narratives of the Raelian Movement - 2005 MA, Tayah L. Hanson, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon (EUROUFO)

Mon Dieu... un ovni...: du phénomène ovni à ses dérives religieuses, en France de 1950 à nos jours - 2005 MA, Jérémy Morel, Université Jean Moulin (Lyon, France) (EUROUFO)

UFO-Hysterie in den USA - Ein interdisziplinäres Phänomen zwischen Wissenschaft, Politik, Religion und Kommerz - 2005 MA, Sandra Kemerle, Institut für Amerikanistik, Universität Leipzig (EUROUFO)

Weather-Workers, Saucer Seekers, and Orthoscientists: Epistemic Authority in Central Mexico - 2004 PhD, Ryan Cook, University of Chicago

SETI science: Managing alien narratives – 2004 PhD, Arthur C. Fricke, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Controversias tecnocientíficas y medios de comunicación: el caso de la clonación humana y los raëlianos en El País - 2004 PhD, Miguel Alcíbar Cuello, Universidad de Sevilla, Spain (EUROUFO)

Valores, símbolos y representaciones en una experiencia de contacto extraterrestre: el Grupo Aztlán - 2003 PhD, Ignacio Cabria, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (EUROUFO)

An Alien in Roswell – 2002 MA, Kay Lang, University of Wyoming

Social Constructionist, Psychological, and Official Theories of UFOs - 2002 MA, Alan Greenhalgh, California State University, Dominguez Hills

UFO and Alien Encounter Narratives: A Cross-Cultural Analysis - 2002 MA, Ravi Ramkisoonsingh, Carleton University

Alien encounters: A close analysis of personal accounts of extraterrestrial experiences – 2002 MA, Krista Suhr Henriksen, Simon Fraser University

Taken: Constructions of 'Race', 'Biology' and Colonialism in Alien Abduction Narrative in the United States – 2001 PhD, Carol Suzanne Matthews, University of Kansas (PUFOI)

Biblical analysis of the UFO/Alien Abduction phenomenon with possible implications for end times deception - 2001 D. Min. - Robert C. Hendrix, Northwest Graduate School of the ministry, Redmond, Washington (EUROUFO)

The Terror is Real. The history and politics of alien abduction – 2001 PhD, Bridget M. Brown, New York University

Pop Culture and the UFO Narrative: Who's Buying it, Who's Selling it, and Who's not Telling it - 2001 MA, Kelly S. Rubbo, Utah State University

Approche sociologique complexe du charisme - Le Mouvement Raëlien et son prophète - 2001 PhD, Annie Chatelin, Université de Perpignan

A Confederacy of Faith and Fact: UFO Research and the Search for Other Worlds - 2000 PhD, Anne Boyle Cross, Yale University

Supposed Science, Alleged Fiction: Distortion Patterns in the Transmission, of Cultural Paradigms, in the Twentieth Century - 2000 PhD, Andres Zlotsky, State University of New York – Buffalo

UFOCRITIQUE: UFOs, Social Intelligence, and the Condon Committee – 2000 MS, Diana Palmer Hoyt, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

New Religious UFO Movements: Extraterrestrial Salvation in Contemporary America – 2000 MA, Stefan Isaakson, California State University, Fresno (GREENWOOD)

The myth of communion: A rhetorical analysis of the narratives of alien abductees – 1999 PhD, Stephanie M. Kelley, University of Kansas (PUFOI)

A dialética do real e do imaginário. Uma proposta de interpretação do Fenômeno OVNI – 1999 MA, Cláudio Tsuyoshi Suenaga, Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Assis, Brasil (PUFOI)

The Lure of the Edge: Science, Religion, and the Alien Abduction Movement - 1998 PhD, Brenda Denzler, Duke University

Shaman and Abductee: American Ufology as Cryptoscience and Countersociology - 1998 MA, Ryan Cook, University of Chicago (EUROUFO)

Heaven's Gate: A Sociological Perspective - 1998 MA, Patricia L. Goerman, University of Virginia (EUROUFO)

Pulp science: Race, gender, and prediction in contemporary American culture – 1997 PhD, Beth Anne Loffreda, Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick

"Alien abductees'" Reports of worldview reconstruction (assumptive world theory, coping) – 1997 PsyD, Mindy Sue Kopolow, Antioch University New England Graduate School (PUFOI)

Pasts and futures: Space, history, and Armenian identity, 1988 – 1994 – 1995 PhD, Stephanie Semple Platz, The University of Chicago

Brothers from the sky: Myth and reality in a flying saucer group (Unarius, cults, colllective behavior) – 1995 PhD, Diana Jean Tumminia, University of California, Los Angeles

Otherworld Journeys: UFO Abduction Narratives as Transformative Stories - 1995 MA, Carol Suzanne Matthews, University of Kansas (EUROUFO)

UFO Stories: The Poetics of Uncanny Encounters in a Counterpublic Discourse – 1994 MA, Susan Lepselter, University of Texas (PUFOI)

Gods from the Machines: On the Anthropology of Alien Abductions - 1994 MA, Michael Tracy Blair, Washington State University (EUROUFO)

A social psychological investigation of UFO sighters – 1992 MA, Patricia Ann Cross, Carleton University

Personality characteristics and self-identified experiences of individuals reporting possible abduction by unidentified flying objects (UFOs) – 1992 PhD, Jo Stone-Carmen, United States International University

Flying saucers and the new angelology: Mythic projection of the Cold War and the convergence of opposites – 1990 PhD, Robert Pearson Flaherty, University of California, Los Angeles

Une secte soucoupique : les raëliens - 1989 MA, F. Follmer, Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier III (EUROUFO)

OVNI : un tabou scientifique? - 1988 MA, Véronique Galzy, Montpellier III (EUROUFO)

The UFO debate: A study of a contemporary legend – 1988 PhD, Linda Jean Milligan, The Ohio State University

The UFO Movement: A Sociological Study of UFO Groups – 1985 MA, Shirley McIver, The University of York (United Kingdom) (DASH)

The Boundaries of Orthodoxy: A Folkloric Look at the “UFO Phenomenon” – 1984 PhD, Peter Michael Rojcewicz, University of Pennsylvania

Mysteries in the eye of the beholder: UFOs and their correlates as a folkloric theme past and present – 1982 PhD, Thomas Eddie Bullard, Indiana University

Politicking and Paradigm Shifting: James E. McDonald and the UFO Case Study – 1975 PhD, Paul Edward McCarthy, University of Hawaii (GREENWOOD)

Organizational Goals and Support-Seeking Behavior: A Comparative Study of Social Movement Organizations in the UFO (Flying Saucer Fields) – 1973 PhD, Michael K. Schutz, Northwestern University

The controversy over unidentified flying objects in America: 1896-1973 – 1973 PhD, David Michael Jacobs, The University of Wisconsin – Madison

The UFO Phenomenon: A Study in Public Relations – 1972 MA, David J. Shea, University of Denver, Colorado (GREENWOOD)

A survey of press coverage of unidentified flying objects, 1947 – 1966 – 1970 PhD, Herbert Joseph Strentz, Northwestern University (GREENWOOD)

Flying Saucers: Fact or Fiction? – 1950 MA, DeWayne B. Johnson, University of California, Los Angeles (GREENWOOD)

Spooky Dissertations Part 1: Supernatural Narrative and Cryptozoology

Ongoing series on Spooky Dissertations

Part 1 introduces the series and covered cryptozoology
Part 2 explores the increasingly popular topic of UFO culture
Part 3 finishes off the UFO topic and included the larger context of Theosophy
Part 4 examines ghost culture and parapsychology
Part 5 covers paranormal culture

I'm starting a multipart series this week, listing academic doctoral dissertations and master's theses on spooky topics. Doctoral dissertations are important research documents and sources, but they have limitations.

On the problematic side, research design may be limited by substantial funding issues, cooperation within a larger project, and time constraints of the graduate school. A research proposal is typically drafted when the researcher is fresh out of (or still in) graduate classes, and for the duration of the project, and due to the proposal structure, research design or scope may not be able to take full advantage of discoveries made during the research. And while dissertations are not copy-edited or otherwise worked over outside of the review process.

On the good side, dissertations often are the most complete version of methods, theory, findings, and especially data from scientific and scholarly research. Transcripts, data tables, and other sources of information may be in appendices taking up hundreds of pages, material that would almost never be published when the research is turned into a book, and certainly not found in journal articles.

Dissertations and theses are both more and less accessible than published materials. Mike Dash discusses several of the sources for these works. Some schools do not participate in online catalogs and services (the most important being ProQuest/UMI), but most in the United States and several other countries do. They will print a copy, or provide a pdf, of a dissertation or thesis for a moderate fee in comparison to academic books, but somewhat more than typical hardback mass market prices. University libraries may either own physical copies, or pay for access to these databases, allowing members to read electronic versions in pdf or other format. Some authors have recently taken to offering their dissertations or theses to the public for free via the internet, so it is worth searching if you are interested in a particular topic. And many of the dissertations will be turned into commercially published books, often in small runs mostly for university libraries and others in the same field, so look for the author's name.

These sources can provide substantial high-quality research into paranormal or other spooky topics. But many of these studies do not conform to the popular image of "paranormal investigation," and instead can be broken down into four basic groups

- Cultural and historical studies. By far the most common, these studies approach topics such as spiritualism or UFOs as they would kinship networks or religions, with the tools of anthropology, sociology, history, and other fields of the social sciences and humanities. Researchers may conduct ethnographic research, living or working for long periods of time with communities under study. Or they may examine historical documents, artifacts, and artwork to understand past ideas and social movements in regard to these topics. Sometimes the researcher is either an adherent to such ideas, or at least receptive to them. But in many cases, the silence on this issue signals a broad-based skepticism, or lack of concern on whether the beliefs have merit as more than cultural constructs. Two topics to be covered over the next few posts, UFOs and Spiritualism, have been particular foci of cultural and historical studies.

- Psychological belief studies. These works utilize the tools of sociology and psychology (surveys, interviews, psychological testing) for more quantitative study. They are also arguably or least more openly skeptical of paranormal claims, more willing to investigate causes such as social status, gender, ethnicity, as well as more specific psychological factors, as possible reasons. While both cultural and psychological studies often relate religion to paranormal beliefs, this is a more bedrock principle in psychological studies. Such studies very commonly mix and match spooky topics along with conspiracy theory, religious concepts, and other beliefs, but more focused studies have shown some particular interest in psychic abilities and alien abduction.

- Neuroscience experience studies. A subset of the previous category, there is a small but focused interest on explaining anomalous experiences as a result of temporal lobe or other effects in the human brain. This field has shown particular interest in alien abduction and other supernatural assault traditions.

- Direct paranormal investigation. This is by far the rarest category, with only a handful of examples. Most of them involve near death experiences, studying those who claim them. The NDE studies extend beyond neuroscience, and include interviews and other study methods, and are arguably a direct attempt to explain these experiences. Otherwise, academic research on direct "evidence" for paranormal claims beyond testimonies is extremely rare, especially at the graduate project level.

I am not the first to make such a list. Barry Greenwood, Mike Dash, EuroUFO, and Portuguese UFO Investigation have similar lists. For sources discovered in those lists, I have noted the secondary source. While this list is not comprehensive, and I welcome pointers to other sources, neither is it completely inclusive. I have examined either the works themselves, or at least the abstracts, for most on this list (on some occasions I am familiar with a later published work by the author that incorporates the doctoral work).

I have not included for the most part studies that are primarily focused on literature, film, or other art. If literature and art are being used alongside other information to explore historical and cultural context, this may be considered, but not studies focused primarily on fictional media as the end goal of the research. I have also at times passed over works from religiously, ideologically, or otherwise motivated institutions that would have substantial principles in conflict with a very basic materialist and deductive approach to scholarship and science. You can't please everyone.

Lastly, cultural studies of non-Western religious or magical topics, or pre-19th century such topics in Europe and the Americas, have largely not been listed. There are at least tens of thousands of studies in anthropology, history and related fields on religion, magic, and witchcraft. If one of these topics is investigated through the prism of beliefs more generally considered to be parapsychological in nature, or otherwise related to the spooky paradigm, they have been included. Likewise, studies of legendary and supernatural creatures and spirits have not been included unless they are explicitly tied to modern belief structures in the Western, industrial, or post-industrial worlds (ie., no studies of vampire folklore unless it is tied to modern beliefs in real vampires). While this may seem like something of a hedge, most people don't generally consider beliefs like, for example, Aztec blood sacrifice, as being in the same boat as psychic powers. Even if one is skeptical of both, there is usually not a concern with proving that the 16th century Aztec beliefs are not correct.

After that somewhat lengthy introduction, we'll begin with a short batch of material on several subjects. The following posts will be on much more academically popular subjects, with lengthier lists. All lists are not in a standard bibliographic format, but are instead chronologically ordered, as I believe certain intellectual trends do manifest themselves.

Supernatural and Narrative

These studies examine the structure and rhetoric of testimonies, beliefs, and tales of the paranormal and supernatural or legendary entities.

Narrative Theory and Fort Berthold’s Stories of the Paranormal or Supernatural – 2009 PhD, Waylon C. Baker, University of North Dakota

The search for generic possibility in discourses of the implausible: Creating space for believers in a skeptical world. – 2007 PhD, Matthew David Petrunia, University of New Mexico

(Telling) Tales of the Unexpected: A Sociological Analysis of Accounts of Paranormal Experiences – 1989 D.Phil., Robin Christopher Wooffitt, The University of York (United Kingdom)

Cryptozoology Culture

These works examine stories of monsters and other mystery animals as cultural phenomena. Apparently cryptozoology is of little interest to cultural studies, in comparison with the lists of UFO, Spiritualist, psychic, and other topics we will soon see. Interestingly, unlike these other topics, commercially published academic books on cryptozoology culture outnumber dissertations and theses, something not seen for the other topics.

Discovering Chessie: Waterfront, regional identity, and the Chesapeake Bay sea monster, 1960-2000 – 2007 PhD, Eric A. Cheezum, University of South Carolina (DASH)

The Honey Island Swamp Monster: The Development and Maintenance of a Folk and Commodified Belief Tradition - 2003 MA, Frances Leary, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Cryptozoology Research

An application of speech processing techniques to recordings of purported bigfoot vocalizations to estimate physical parameters – 1978 MS, Lasse Hertel, University of Wyoming

Belief and Psychology – Cryptozoology

Warren's 1980 study compares legendary monsters and religious figures in the belief of children, and unsurprisingly, finds that pre-adolescent boys are more likely to believe in Bigfoot and other monsters than in traditional religious figures.

Beliefs in and experiences with sasquatch and corresponding coping strategies – 2009 MA, Mark Banta, University of Central Oklahoma

An investigation of children's beliefs in transcendent figures – 1980 PhD, John Frank Warren, III – Duke University

Tomorrow, we will review the studies of UFOs

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and the Satanic Altar: A Follow Up on Fears of Occult Ritual Scenes

Previously, I have discussed the folk forensic archaeology of occult ritual scenes, the material culture of religious and cultural beliefs fearful of witchcraft and Satanism. Often stereotyped as being an 80s thing in America and the Anglophone media sphere, identifications and accusations have never really gone away, and keep popping up.

But this one is a blast from the past. This week, Tea Party supported US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell shocked the media and political establishment in a surprise primary victory. Even before, but certainly after, there has been much attention on the more extreme statements and background elements to this religion-invoking populist candidate.

This one caught my eye. Not unlike Ann Coulter, repeat guest appearances on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect back in the 1990s played a part in raising O'Donnell's public profile. In one appearance, O'Donnell states that she "dabbled" in witchcraft and Satanism (a common conflation on the religious right in particular), and had a date on a "Satanic altar." She is admitting this to back up her stance that Halloween is Satanic, again, a far right Christian hobby horse. Can't guarantee how long the video will be around

Wanna Buy England's Most Haunted House?

I have previously reviewed legal concerns and business practices regarding the sale of "haunted" property, and other sorts of ways in which paranormal beliefs and folklore intersect with the law.

While most of the concerns have been that a haunted reputation would damage property values, I've wondered if and when a haunting would be a plus. I need not wait anymore. In the current depressed real estate market, a house being "England's Most Haunted" is being used as a selling point. Digital Journal has the details on Wymering House, including television video of ghost hunting in the house, link to the Daily Mail story, and the actual listing itself.

It's an interesting paradox. On the one hand, stories attached to objects and structures should add extra cultural value. We've seen this with the fad a few years ago of selling "haunted" paintings and other objects on Ebay, where virtually the entire value was based on the purported history and supernatural aspects of the object. Museums are no strangers to notorious objects having an added cachet. As Phantom Limb from The Venture Brothers reminds us, the Mona Lisa is famous because it was stolen.

Never mind consumer capitalism. Historical and supernatural history is at the heart of prestige objects globally. Bronislaw Malinowski illustrated this in his classic groundbreaking ethnography Argonauts of the Western Pacific (read it at He describes the kula exchange of the Trobriand Islanders of the early 20th century, in which inter-island trade is organized through the exchange of shell jewelry. But these aren't just random items, they have individual names and legends, that is part of what makes them valuable.

At the same time, in regards to haunted houses, the stories of ghostly doings may have little positive, and great negative effect on saleability. Non-believers in such phenomena might find the stories charming, but will likely not be that effected by them (enough to pay extra). Believers, on the other hand, may not want anything to do with a house full of tormented and tormenting spirits.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Chinese UFO and Yeren Flaps - Not that Surprising

Mainstream media, never mind fringe topics blogs and sites, have been awash with stories in the last week of UFO sightings over China. The closing of an airport due to concerns over the UFOs seems to be the focal point when these stories grabbed hold in the global media. The coverage has been skeptical from the beginning, focusing on current social context or materialist explanations (much speculation about Chinese military activity). I guess distance allows for some distillation away of both the ridicule factor and the mystery mongering for clicks factor.

Forgetmori has an expose on the various images coming out of this wave.

Less high profile have been some recent reports and activity about the Yeren, China's wild man.

Especially in regards to the UFO wave/panic, there seems to be some element of viewing Chinese interest in fringe topics to be evidence of recent Westernization and affluence. But this view misses a lot of history and context. The concept of "anomalies," ranging from miracles to odd occurrences and phenomena, in Chinese natural and historical writing is quite old. Robert Ford Campany's Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China discusses the role of anomalies in views of the government and its relationship to nature, and how they were utilized by various religions.

More recently, both the topics of the yeren and the UFO have had complicated and contradictory relationships with the populace, science, and the Chinese government. Sigrid Schmalzer discusses the popular image of the yeren in her book The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China, those who have sought it, its intertwining with "Peking Man" fossils of Homo erectus and China's identity as both a scientific society and one with concern for ancestors, and changing government attitudes in the 20th century towards science and the benefits and dangers of "peoples'" organizations in society. Much ink has been spilled on North American attitudes towards its Bigfoot wild man and how it relates to populism, masculinity, attitudes towards nature, and so on, but arguably the story of the yeren is more complex. And unlike the case of Bigfoot, yeren researchers have had changing relationships with the government, ranging from regulation and control to sponsorship, as government officials have alternately not wanted to promote yeren stories because they are "superstition," to supporting research into the yeren to debunk superstition.

Likewise, the history of UFOs in China has a similar tension of government tacit support or at least lack of disapproval of UFO research groups. UFO Evidence has a solid collection of news articles from the last decade on UFOs in China, many discussing the issue of Chinese social and political attitudes towards the topic. UFO groups and researchers are not as politically worrying as other grassroots organizations that concern the government (such as religious groups like Falun Gong), and are seen as falling into the realm of science and scientific interest. For an urbanizing society pursuing high technology based manufacturing and a growing space program, such an emphasis is not surprising. It bears noting that the golden age of UFOs (as interpreted through the nuts and bolts Extraterrestrial Hypothesis, and apart from earlier theosophical or hollow earth concepts) in American culture dates to the formative years of its own space race, reaching a height as the Apollo program ramped up to lunar missions, and with the end of Apollo branching substantially into more esoteric and less "technology in the sky"-based topics as abduction, crash-retrieval conspiracies, ultraterrestrials, and paranormal viewpoints. Not completely ostracized from the government through either disinterest or active hostility in the vein of the Robertson's panel's suggestions and some of Blue Book's shoddier explanations, the more outre topics are not as welcome in a government-responsive Chinese ufology.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Occult Materials" Forbidden in Electronic Payment Terms of Service

Esoterica Occult Goods, 541 Rue Dumaine, New Orleans.
Image by Infrogmation at wikicommons

Warren Ellis has discovered that in the terms of service for a new form of electronic payment mechanism, the sale or purchase of "occult materials" are forbidden.

Apparently this is not unusual. Payment services at Google and Amazon both forbid such items, though Amazon, in particular noting that such materials may not just be those outlawed by states or localities, but things that "would generally be offensive to others."

Perhaps these companies are just using a boilerplate form, and isn't aware of what they're doing re: freedom of religion. But as I discussed in "Fear of Occult Ritual Scenes, a Folk Forensic Archaeology," we sometimes forget how deep religious paranoia and fantastical fears go in our society.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

FeeJee Mermaid: Teaser from the UCM Museum

I'll try to have a couple of posts springing from this. Until then, enjoy this little video teaser

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Explosion at the Mothman's Hunting Grounds

Excerpt below. Loren Coleman is invoking his Mothman curse in relation to a recent SyFy movie on the legend.

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A powerful explosion rocked the night sky over Mason County early Monday morning -- powerful because it was fueled by ammunition.

We’re talking about an underground bunker at what's commonly known as the old TNT site near Point Pleasant.

That area is famous for another reason -- it's where the legendary Mothman was supposedly spotted. But, while the circumstances surrounding this event are still puzzling, investigators are confident they'll solve this mystery sooner rather than later.

"It was so bright it turned night into day," Adam Frazier said. "I didn’t hear an explosion, but I saw the light."

He said he shot a light about a mile away from his home around 1 a.m. Monday.

"I shot it with my cell phone because I knew no one would believe me,” Frazier said.

An underground storage bunker was the source of the blast. Empty barrels and metal storage boxes were thrown everywhere, some landing as far as 100 feet away in a nearby swamp.

"The steel doors were thrown off, and the ceiling is made of 6-inch concrete that lifted up and then caved in," Gary Sharp with the Division of Natural Resources said. "The blast was pretty extensive."


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creationism, Hidden Codes, Reptilian UFOs, and the Texas School Standards

One of the major players in the recent and ongoing Texas educational standards saga is Don McLeroy, the outgoing Chair of the Texas State Board of Education. He endorses this book

Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences’ Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They’re Descended from Reptiles, by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.

You can download the book here

McElroy endorses the book here

In this book, Johnson lays out his belief that Greek myth and art are intertwined with the Book of Genesis, and in fact, require (as stated in this article), Genesis in order to understand them. And that all of this is encoded in the sculptures of the Parthenon and other Greek Art, to the point that Johnson specifically contrasts The DaVinci Code (fictional) and The Bible Code (bogus) with his The Parthenon Code.

I'm not the only one to notice the obsession with reptiles (an evolutionary biologist doesn't see what's so bad about reptiles, see also several of the comments at Dispatches from the Culture Wars). This mention of reptiles and serpents again and again got me wondering if there was any tie here to Reptilian UFO beliefs, such as David Icke's ideas about shapeshifting lizard people who secretly rule the Earth. While Mr. Johnson has done interviews on paranormal radio shows including Coast to Coast AM (August 11, 2004), I see nothing in Mr. Johnson's writings to suggest he is interested in or supports UFO Reptilian beliefs.

This has not stopped Reptilian believers from embracing these ideas, however.

This isn't surprising. As Michael Barkun in his excellent A Culture of Conspiracy, or Christopher Partridge in his article "Alien demonology: the Christian roots of the malevolent extraterrestrial in UFO religions and abduction spiritualities" (available here), point out, even though the Reptilian has its roots in the weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, this figure has flowed through both more "occult" writings as well as some versions of Christian theology, with the obvious parallels to the Garden of Eden and the Serpent. Barkun calls this improvisational millennialism, a theme throughout his book that fringe ideas cross-pollinate and show up in the most unexpected places, including regular fact-fiction boundary transgressions, where ideas from fiction become evidence for conspiracy theories or even the theories themselves.

There is no direct tie between any of these beliefs. Alternative art history need not be tied in with religious or conspiracy or UFO beliefs (despite von Daniken). Creationism is a widely held belief, whereas belief in Reptilian aliens or demons is not. And as Barkun notes in his book, while David Icke does court some from the extreme right in his writings and presentations, his larger spiritual message would probably not be very well-received by many Creationist Christians. But by being outside the mainstream (either in general numbers or in terms of institutions), we can see how these ideas flow from one genre to the next, often in less than predictable ways.

Crystal Head Vodka Update: Quest for the Bottle Banned in Ontario!

As you may remember, I was stunned by the ad campaign for this vodka, and blogged about it two years ago. ("Dan Ackroyd and the Kingdom of the Booze Bottles")

Since then, two updates, first the bad, then the good

The first is recent news. Ontario has banned Crystal Head Vodka. Why?

“The image of the human skull is the thing that’s really problematic for us,” said LCBO spokesman Chris Layton. “That’s an image that’s commonly associated with death. It’s especially problematic at a time when there are concerns around binge drinking by younger adults, which in some cases unfortunately has resulted in alcohol poisoning.”

So, I don't know if this is overzealous "what about the children" nanny state-ing, or if it is part of a Canadian version of Satanic Panic. But it is depressing.

So, lets talk the good. Last year, I was able to get my hands on a bottle. Since then, it's been relatively easy to find. But a year ago, when I was living in rural southern Illinois, I couldn't find it. I looked for months. Until I got a tip that some was in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. So off I went on a quest for the Crystal Skull ... liquor bottle.

I did obtain a copy, and it was pretty good stuff. I'm no expert, but to myself and those I shared it with at my going away party in Illinois last year, it was fairly smooth and tasty. So, for all those in Ontario, here's what you're missing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

UK Royal Navy: No Sea Serpent X-Files

Amazing Stories Volume 1, No. 3, June 1926. Source: Wikicommons

An unnamed marine biologist has requested the United Kingdom's Royal Navy provide documentation on

"abnormally large or dangerous sea monsters hundreds of metres under the sea"

but apparently the MoD doesn't centralize such reports, and the Freedom of Information office isn't going to seek out all such reports, for logistical reasons. (UK Press Association).

The real question is, who made the request, and what are they looking for? It's the Bloop, isn't it?

The contrast with the case of Loch Ness is notable. We have records of government discussions over how to protect Nessie legally, and that in the early years of the Nessie craze, local police believed in the existence of the creature, and worked with the national government to protect it.