Posts Tagged ‘Fairies’

Black Earthling Boy Meets White Alien in New John Lewis Christmas Ad

November 4, 2021

John Lewis have just launched their Christmas. This follows their failed advert for insurance, in which a White boy in makeup dances around the family home wrecking it and spraying glitter and paint everywhere. That was widely criticised for promoting the trans ideology amongst children and for false advertising, as apparently the insurance policy being sold didn’t cover deliberate damage. In the new advert, a cute Black little boy sees an alien spacecraft fall out of the sky. He follows the contrail into the woods, where he sees a crashed alien spaceship and its humanoid pilot. The alien is White with white hair and rather feminine. The lad offers her some mince pies. The alien accepts them, and the two becomes friends. While fixing her craft the alien sets the electrics working so that the Christmas lights on a neighbour’s house suddenly come on, much to the neighbour’s annoyance. Having repaired her spacecraft, the alien gives the lad a peck on the cheek in farewell and flies off. The lad goes home to join his family for a festive meal, while looking into the sky. The sound track for the ad is a cover version of Phil Oakey’s ‘Electric Dreams’. I found this video of it put up on YouTube by the Guardian.

Alex Belfield has already posted a rant about it. He rightly points out that it doesn’t contain much in the way of Christmas imagery. There’s no Santa Claus, although it’s possibly a pine forest so there might be Christmas trees. There also isn’t much in the way of specifically Christian imagery either. I might be wrong, but there’s no nativity scene. It’s a very secular interpretation of Christmas. A decade ago there was controversy over what the Daily Mail and other right-wing papers and organisations described as a ‘war on Christmas’. They were angry because some local councils appeared to be deliberately omitting or playing down any mention of Christmas because they were somehow afraid it would offend non-Christian minorities. Birmingham council was particularly attacked for its reinterpretation of the festive season as ‘Winterval’. I’ve heard instead that, rather than replace Christmas, ‘Winterval’ was dreamed up as a marketing initiative by Brum’s council to create an inclusive festive season that would also cover the festivals of other faiths near Christmas, like Hanukka and Diwali. Also, from what I saw, most if not all of the calls for the removal of any public celebration of Christmas came not from the members of non-Christian religions, but from atheists and secularists like the National Humanist Society. The framed their arguments on behalf of religious minorities, while I think they were far more motivated by the rise of a much more militant atheism following the publication of Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I also think that the advert is secular simply from the sheer mechanism of capitalism, although John Lewis is organised as a partnership with its workers more like a cooperative. Capitalism and private industry exist to maximise profits. One way of doing this is seeking out new markets to you can sell your product to more people. About 15 per cent of the British population is Black and Asian, and many of the latter are non-Christians, like Hindus, Muslims and so on. Christians are now a minority in the general population. Hence John Lewis and many of the other firms advertising play down Christmas as a religious festival in order to appeal to a broader section of customers.

But Belfield also criticised the advert because he thinks that the alien in it is ‘ambivilacious’, his term for anything that is gay, non-binary, trans or generally sexually ambiguous. I can see what he means, though it seems to me that the alien is more like a pre-adolescent girl rather than anything more exotic and controversial. I might be reading it wrong, but it seems more like a tale of Earth boy meets alien girl in an innocent Christmastide romance.

Behind all this, I think the advert’s been strongly influenced by a number of pop songs and seasonal films. It reminds me more than a little of the Chris de Burgh song about a visiting spaceman at Christmas, which really is a Christian metaphor. ET with its friendship between a human child, Elliot, and a cute extraterrestrial, is another one, although it also has its differences. The most significant of which is, in my opinion, ET was definitely nonhuman and alien, while the alien in this very humanoid except for her suit and the colouring of her hair. It also reminds me of the seasonal children’s film, A Christmas Martian, a Canadian film that the Beeb screened one festive season over here when I was a sprog. Mercifully, the advert doesn’t seem to have been inspired by the truly dreadful Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which was screened over here one Christmas in the early ’80s as part of Michael Medved’s season of terrible movies, The Worst of Hollywood, on Channel 4. But if the alien is sexually ambiguous, I suspect it might be due more to the influence of David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust than the trans movement.

Or it might come from certain aspects of the UFO phenomenon itself. Among the various aliens supposedly visiting Earth and abducting people are the ‘Nordics’. These are tall, blonde aliens, like Nordic White Europeans, hence the name. They are also sometimes described as having long hair and a feminine appearance. One of the early UFO contactees, Frank E. Strange, provides a picture of one in his book A Stranger in the Pentagon. Strange claimed that the US government has made a treaty with aliens from Venus. These aliens could provide us with a method of producing cheap, clean energy, but had been prevented from doing so by ‘certain interests’. If nothing else, this shows that people were looking for alternative energy as long ago as the ’50s and ’60s, and the ‘certain interests’ sounds very much like a veiled reference to the oil industry. The ‘alien’ in the photo to me simply looks like a blonde, glamorous woman and not like anyone who arrived here from Venus, or anywhere else. The veteran Fortean, John Keel, author of the books The Mothman Prophecies, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Disneyland of the Gods, stated that the Nordics were so feminine in appearance he wondered if they were gay. You can certainly wonder what was going on in Buck Nelson’s encounter with the Nordics on his farm. He was going out to his barn one morning when a group of four of them, all with long hair, came out of his barn, stark naked. They told him they from Venus, and explained the nudity by saying that they wore no clothes in order to show him that they were as human as he was. Well, they might have been Venusians, but it seems to me they may also have been a group of ordinary men. They may have been gay, and looking for a quiet place for their activities because of the legal prohibition of homosexuality in America at the time. Or they may have been pranksters playing a joke.

It also reminds me of a supposedly true UFO encounter that happened in the 1970s at Christmas. A woman was in her kitchen baking cakes when a groups of small, winged aliens came in. They greeted her and asked for some of the cakes, which she gave to them. They made a few more remarks before finally departing. This is one of the stranger UFO cases which makes me definitely wonder if the UFO phenomenon isn’t a more modern version of the ancient fairy phenomenon rather than anything genuinely extraterrestrial. This does not, however, mean that it isn’t still paranormal, as Keel and Jacques Vallee have argued in their books.

Back to the advert, it looks innocuous enough. While I can’t say that I like it’s secularism, this seems to be a response to the changes in British society rather than an ideologically motivated attempt to foster such changes. And the values it embraces seem wholesome enough. Black and White people come together across the gulfs of space and the Black lad is shown at home enjoying a family meal. This is, in my view, definitely good, as the breakdown in the British and western family has done immense harm to both Whites and Blacks.

If I have a criticism, it’s about the background music. The original song ‘Electric Dreams’ is a jolly, upbeat piece. It was, I believe, used in the 1980s SF film, Weird Science, about two teenage boys who create their idea of the perfect woman on their computer, who then materialises before them. Sort of like Beavis and Butthead meet Tron. And the perfect woman, clad only in bra and panties, says to them ‘What would you little maniacs like to do next?’ The version used here turns it instead into a plaintive ballad until the final few bars, more an expression of sorrow and loss than joy. But it seems to follow a general trend of reinterpretations of classic tracks. At the Commonwealth Games held in Scotland a few years ago the opening ceremony included a version of the Proclaimers’ ‘I Would Walk Five Hundred Miles’. This song is another upbeat hit in something very much like classic march time. But instead it was performed as another plaintive, soulful wail. I’m probably showing my age here, but is contemporary youth so depressed that they can only listen to depressing versions of great old songs? Or is it that the middle aged producers of adverts like John Lewis’ are so depressed, that they can only listen to depressing versions of upbeat hits and so are unintentional contributing to the psychological and spiritual anguish of the rising generation. A generation that has enough problems of its own.

Anyway, even if the advert is intended to sell people stuff rather than anything deeper, it’s a fun piece of trash culture with a bit of kinship to some genuine Ufological high strangeness. And that’s always good for a festive tale of the paranormal.

And here’s the trailer for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which I found on the DTFFmaryville channel on YouTube. In its way, truly a cinematic classic!

The First Science Fictional UFO Crash: Le Philosophe sans pretention

October 21, 2021

Ufology is full of stories of crashed alien spaceships. The best known is the Roswell UFO crash of 1947, in which the US air force under Hector Quintillana picked up the remains of a flying disc, complete with alien bodies, which came down on Mac Brazel’s ranch. The air force subsequently reversed their statement a day or so later, claiming that what had been recovered was merely a weather balloon, and released a photograph of Major Quintillana with something that certainly looked like the remains of one and not an alien spaceship. Many UFO investigators believe that a real alien spacecraft was recovered, though the late John Keel believed that it was probably a Mogul spy balloon used to gather information on Soviet nuclear tests. There are also stories that a secret autopsy was performed on the alien bodies. This was the basis for the notorious 1990s fake alien autopsy film released by Ray Santilli, and which in turn became the basis for the comedy Alien Autopsy starring Ant and Dec and Omid Djalili, amongst others. But long before the rise of the modern UFO phenomenon, earlier proto-Science Fiction writers were already penning tales of aliens travelling to Earth. One of these was Micromegalas, written by the French philosopher Voltaire. Another French writer, Louis Guillaume de La Follie wrote a similar tale about a scientist from Mercury who invents a spacecraft. This, however, is used by a colleague of the scientist to travel across space before finally crashing on Earth. I found this brief precis of the tale in Frederick I. Ordway’s and Randy Lieberman’s Blueprint for Space: Science Fiction to Science Fact (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press 1992). This is a collection of papers tracing the development of space travel from the ancient world, through the rise of Science Fiction, including the pulp magazines, space art to the development of the rocket and real space vehicles. The passage reads

Some of the characteristics of the modern science fiction novel appeared in a 1775 French workk by Louis Guillaume de La Follie, Le philosophe sans pretention. A strange tale unfolds of Mercurian who arrives on Earth and relates his adventures to one Nadir, an Oriental. It seems that on the planet Mercury an inventor named Scintilla had created a marvelous flying chariot powered by electricity. Amid scorn and ridicule, he proved that his invention would work in an amazing test flight witnessed by members of the Academy. This unleashes a series of events that leads to Mercury’s first spaceflight. Though doubting the practicality of the invention, a colleague named Ormisais nevertheless tries it out and, to his great surprise, the device functions after all. So he flies away to Earth in Scintilla’s electric chariot and, after a fairly standard trip, crash-lands on our world.

There’s also an illustration from the book of the flying chariot, and a caption giving its full title and its English translation: Le philosophe sans pretension ou l’homme rare – The Unpretentious Philosopher or the Unusual Man.

One of the aspects of the UFO phenomenon I find particularly intriguing is the way so much of its resembles Science Fiction and traditional fairy and other supernatural lore. I’m strongly inclined towards the psychosocial view of the phenomenon, which states that it’s an internal, psychological event which uses the imagery and narratives of the wider culture. Thus, while once encounters with the supernatural/ cosmic took the form of the fairies, angels or demons, as society has become more scientific and secular so the experience now has the imagery of aliens and spacecraft. However, John Keel believed that there was a real force outside of our perceptions behind both the fairy and UFO phenomena, which might be using them as a control system for us. See his UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Disneyland of the Gods.

Even if the book and its narrative have absolutely no connection to the development of the UFO phenomenon – I doubt outside of a few SF aficionados and literature experts many people have heard of the book, let alone the people who actually witness UFOs – it is a fascinating example of how surprisingly modern the writers of past centuries were in their speculations about space and the inhabitants of other worlds.

Two Fairy Sightings from 20th Century Britain

June 7, 2021

My last blog post was about a video I found on YouTube from Irish television in 1966. They were covering the attempt by an Irish docker, Tim Hayes, to spend 101 hours buried underground near a fairy fort in order to disprove the existence of the ‘Gentlemen’ or ‘Good People’. The film included a brief interview with a local man, who said he would definitely not want to interfere with the fairy fort, and would be extremely upset if anyone else were to do so or interfere with the field in which it lay. The film testifies to the continuing power of real belief in the fairies, despite the onward march of rationalism.

But it isn’t only in Ireland or the Celtic countries that belief in the fairies still persists. People are also still seeing them in England too. I found these two accounts from the 20th century in Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, (London: Reader’s Digest 1973), p. 121.

All dressed in green

‘… When we were on holiday in Cornwall, my daughter and I came down a winding lane, and all of a sudden there was a small green man – all in green with a pointed hood and ears. We both saw him … we were cold with terror and ran for the ferry below.’ A 20th century description by a man from Shropshire.

A fairy guide

‘… It was on the Berkshire Downs, and we’d lost our way, and didn’t know what track to take. When I looked round, there was small man in green standing at my elbow. “You’ll be all right,” he said, “You take that one; you’ll be all right.” Then he didn’t disappear, but he just wasn’t there any more’. Described in 1962 by a Somerset farmer’s wife.

And sightings continue to the present day. I went to a folklore/ paranormal conference a few years ago here in Bristol on the fairies, which included people who very firmly believed in them. And when I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol university, I went to a seminar on fairies presented by the epic Ron Hutton. Hutton opened by singing the theme to the Southern vampire TV series, Tru Blood, before describing a sighting of a fairy one evening by a young man and a women in Glastonbury. Well, where else? The couple saw this strange light bouncing along the ground. One of them asked the other what on earth it could be, and got the reply ‘It’s a fairy. What else could it be?’

Having said that, you have to be careful of jokers. My mother had an old friend from college down in Cornwall. She went down there one year to visit her. They were out on a trip somewhere, and she, the friend, my father and the friend’s mother went on to wherever they were going, leaving the friend’s father behind to have a sit down and rest. When they returned they found that he’d been talking to an American woman. This was at a time when there was a spate of fairy sightings. The American had asked the old fellow if he’d seen any. Oh yes, he replied, he certainly had. They were at the bottom of his garden. That wasn’t remotely true, and when they challenged him on it, he replied, ‘Well, it’s what she wanted to hear.’ Sometimes that smiling old rustic telling you of his supernatural encounters may not be the naive, horny-handed son of toil in touch with the supernatural you believe him to be.

But in the spirit of this post, here’s another video I found on YouTube. It’s the folk-rock band Steeleye Span playing ‘Wee Wee Man’ about a fairy from the 1970s.

Irish Docker Is Buried Alive in a Fairy Fort to Prove There Are No Fairies

June 7, 2021

I found this remarkable piece of news film on the channel CR’s Video Vaults on YouTube. It’s from 1966, and is about a dock worker, Tim Hayes, from Wexford, who spent 101 hours underground in a fairy fort to disprove the existence of the wee folk. His stunt was to open the village fete at Ballymore, but the other villagers didn’t want to dig his grave. The video begins with an old man telling the interviewer that he would definitely not wish to dig into or disturb a fairy fort, and he would be greatly upset if anyone else were to do so, or disturb the field in which it’s situated.

Then it goes to the docker himself at his work place, who explains he’s determined to show that there are no such things as fairies. He describes as ‘a yarn’ a letter he received from a woman in Douglas, who said she saw a fairy 30 years ago and hasn’t had any luck since. He was buried underground in a coffin with a ventilation tube to allow him to breathe, as well as telephone to speak to people outside. He also took a couple of books down there to read, one of which was Dracula. He also tells the interviewer that he’s spent much of his time thinking about people who’ve died – well, you would, wouldn’t you? – and when asked about toilet facilities, states that there’s no problem at all in that department. The film also shows him being dug up, and the men rescuing him putting warm woollies on to protect him from the colder air above ground.

His mother is one of the onlookers. When asked how she feels about her son, she tells the interviewer that she’s ‘died a thousand deaths since he went into the ground’ but that ‘he’s marvelous’ and she’s very proud of him.

When asked if he’s worried about others trying to outdo him, he has the attitude that they can try and last 100 hours underground and that he’ll come back and do it again.

I think this comes from a time when these kinds of endurance feats were all the rage. There have been Indian yogis, who’ve had themselves buried alive. I think one lasted for two weeks underground – an impressive feat, if true. Back in the late 1970s-early 80s the Fortean Times reported crowds gathering in one of the African countries after the return of an African holy man from a sojourn buried alive. He did so to prove the truth of indigenous African religion, and the crowd believed he had actually returned from the dead. More recently, in calls to mind the antics of David Blaine in the 90s, which was sent up on Jonathan Creek. In that episode, Klaus, Creek’s slimey partner, has himself buried alive. But there’s a passage down to a glass plate in the coffin so that people can see him. Unfortunately, Klaus has to be dug up and face the beak because the vibrations from the underground trains cause him to judder and twitch himself. Two women visitors saw him do this, and have accused him of, er, pleasuring himself.

Belief in the fairies always has been strong amongst the Irish and the other Celtic peoples. A century ago the American anthropologist and Theosophist, Evans-Wentz, wrote his classic study, The Fairy Faith in the Celtic Countries. Although Ireland is now as rationalist and secular as any other western country, or almost so, the fairy faith still remains strong amongst some Irish people. Way back in the 1980s, when DeLorean wanted to open a car factory in Northern Ireland, they wanted to pull down a fairy tree growing on the site. The workers refused and threatened to go on strike if the tree or bush was disturbed. The company had to back down.

A decade later in the 1990s one of the British papers – I think it must have been the Daily Heil – reported that a Sinn Fein councillor in one of the Ulster villages had asked an archaeologist if he could investigate the local fairy fort, as some of his constituents had seen things.

I read years ago that the fairy forts are in reality early medieval Danish forts left over from the period of the Viking invasions. However, the word rath means an ancient enclosed farmstead. These commonly consist of a circular raised bank, which have held a fence or palisade, inside which were the houses and other buildings of the occupier. They can date from as far back as the Bronze Age, but most date from the early Christian period 300 AD to 1100. They’re not scheduled, as there are about 30 – 40,000 of them in the island of Ireland.

I do wonder how delicately the archaeologist phrased his reply. Archaeology as a science can’t prove the supernatural, though I don’t believe it’s within its competence to disprove it either. All it can do is uncover the remains of past ritual and religious belief, which may include magical objects and practises. See books such as The Materiality of Magic, edited by Ceri Houlbrook and Natalie Armitage (Oxford: Oxbow 2015). I wonder how the archaeologist told the good councillor that if he did excavate – which could be illegal if it was scheduled ancient monument – all he would be able to say was that it was a monument of a particular type, probably dating from such and such a period, and that he probably wouldn’t find any trace of the Little People.

It also struck me that if this had happened over this side of the Irish Sea, it would have been excellent material for the type of comedies Ealing was pumping out at the time. These were about small communities faced with some kind of bizarre threat or other event, frequently at odds with modernity. Or later in the 1980s with the great Scots film, Local Hero. Perhaps here’s a suitable subject for the Irish film industry. It would make a break from all the episodes over here of Mrs Brown’s Boys.

‘I’ Review of Book on the Alma Fielding Poltergeist Case

October 12, 2020

Last Friday, 9th October 2020, the ‘I’ published a review by Fiona Sturges of the book, The Haunting of Alma Fielding, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury, £18.99). Fielding was a woman from Croydon, who in 1938 found herself and her husband haunted by a poltergeist, the type of spirit which supposedly throws objects around and generally makes itself unpleasant. The review states that she was investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, in particular Nandor Fodor. Summerscale came across the case while going through the Society’s files.

I’m putting up Sturges’ review as I’ve friends, who are members of the Society and very involved in paranormal research, as are a few of the great peeps, who comment on this blog. Ghost hunting is also very big at the moment, and there are any number of programmes on the satellite and cable channels, as well as a multitude of ghost hunting groups across the UK, America and other countries. Despite its popularity, there’s a big difference between serious paranormal investigation of the type done by the SPR and ASSAP and the majority of ghost hunting groups. The SPR and ASSAP contain professional scientists as well as ordinary peeps from more mundane professions, and try to investigate the paranormal using strict scientific methodology. They contain sceptics as well as believers, and are interested in finding the truth about specific events, whether they are really paranormal or have a rational explanation. They look down on some of the ghost-hunting groups, because these tend to be composed entirely of believers seeking to confirm their belief in the paranormal and collect what they see as evidence. If someone points out that the evidence they show on their videos actually is no such thing – for example, most researchers believe orbs aren’t the souls of the dead, but lens artefacts created by floating dust moats – then the die-hard ghost hunters tend to react by decrying their critics as ‘haters’. Many of the accounts of their encounters with the supernatural by the ghost hunters are extremely dramatic. They’ll describe how members got possessed or were chased by the spirits on their home. I’m not saying such events don’t happen at all. I do know people, who have apparently been possessed by spirits during investigations. But the stories of such supernatural events put up by the ghost-hunters seem more likely the result of powerful imaginations and hysteria than genuine manifestations by the dead.

Academic historians are also interested in spiritualism and supernatural belief in the past because of what they reveal about our ancestors worldview and the profound changes this underwent during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Psychical research emerged in the 19th century at the same time as spiritualism, and was founded partly to investigate the latter. Both can be seen as attempts to provide concrete, scientifically valid proof of the survival of the soul after death at the time science was itself just taking shape and religious belief was under attack from scientific materialism. As the review says, spiritualism and psychic research were particularly popular in the aftermath of the First World War, as bereaved relatives turned to it for comfort that their loved ones still lived on in a blessed afterlife. One famous example of this is Conan Doyle, the creator of the arch-rationalist detective, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a spiritualist, who helped, amongst other things, popularise the Cottingley Fairies in his book, The Coming of the Fairies. Another of his books in this area was Raymond, an account of his contact with the spirit of his son, who was one of those killed in that terrible conflict.

But the history of spiritualism is also interesting because of what it also reveals about gender roles and sexuality, topics also touched on in the review. Mediums stereotypically tend to be women or gay men. At the same time, historians have also suggested that there was an erotic element to seances and investigations. More intimate physical contact between the sexes was permitted in the darkness of the séance room that may otherwise have been permitted in strictly respectable Victorian society. At the same time, there is to modern viewers a perverse aspect to the investigation of the mediums themselves. In order to rule out fraud, particularly with the physical mediums who claimed to produce ectoplasm from their bodies, mediums were tied up, stripped naked and examined physically, including in their intimate parts. Emetics could be administered to make sure that their stomachs were empty and not containing material, like cheesecloth, which could be used to fake ectoplasm.

The review, ‘Strange but true?’, runs

In February 1938, there was a commotion at a terraced house in Croydon. Alma and Les Fielding were asleep when tumblers began launching themselves at walls; a wind whipped up in their bedroom, lifting their eiderdown into the air; and a pot of face cream flew across the room. The next morning, as Alma prepared breakfast, eggs exploded and saucers snapped.

Over the next few days, visiting journalists witnessed lumps of coal rising from the fireplace and barrelling through the air, glasses escaping from locked cabinets and a capsizing wardrobe. As far as they could tell, the Fieldings were not responsible for the phenomena. One report told of a “malevolent, ghostly force”. The problem, it was decided, was a poltergeist.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the writer Kate Summerscale, best known for the award-winning The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, was in the Society for Psychical Research Archive in Cambridge looking for references to Nandor Fodor, a Hungarian émigré and pioneer of supernatural study, who investigated the fielding case.

She found a dossier of papers related to Alma, compiled by Fodor, containing interviews, séance transcripts, X-rays, lab reports, scribbled notes and photographs. The file was, says Summerscale, “a documentary account of fictional and magical events, a historical record of the imagination.”

The Haunting of Alma Fielding is a detective novel, a ghost yarn and a historical record rolled into one. Blending fact and fiction it is an electrifying reconstruction of the reported events surrounding the Fieldings, all the while placing them in a wider context.

The narrative centres of Fodor, who at the time was losing faith in spiritualism – the mediums he had met were all fakes, and the hauntings he had investigated were obvious hoaxes. He was increasing convinced that supernatural occurrences were caused “not by the shades of the dead but by the unconscious minds of the living”.

But he was intrigued by Alma, who now experiencing “apports” – the transference of objects from one place to another. Rare stones and fossils would appear in her hands and flowers under her arms. Beetles started to scuttle out from her clothes and a terrapin appeared in her lap. She would later claim to be able to astrally project herself and give herself over to possession by spirits.

Summerscale resists the temptation to mine the more comic aspects of the story. She weaves in analysis on class, female emancipation and sexuality, and the collective angst of a nation. At the time, spiritualism was big business in Britain, which was still suffering the shocks of mass death from the First World War and Spanish flu. Seances to reach the departed were as common as cocktail parties. There was dread in the air, too, as another conflict in Europe loomed.

Alma became a local celebrity, released from domestic dreariness into the gaze of mostly male journalists, mediums and psychiatrists. Chaperoned by Fodor, she made frequent visits to the Institute of Psychical Research, where she submitted to lengthy and often invasive examinations.

We come to understand how Fodor stood to benefit from the cases, both in furthering his career and restoring his faith in the possibility of an afterlife. You feel his pain, along with Alma’s, as the true story is revealed.

It sounds very much from that last paragraph that the haunting was a hoax. There have been, unfortunately, all too many fake mediums and hoaxers keen to exploit those seeking the comfort of making contact once again with deceased relatives and friends. There was even a company selling a catalogue of gadgets to allow someone to take a séance. But I don’t believe for a single moment that all mediums are frauds. There is a psychological explanation, based on anthropologists study of the zar spirit possession cult of one of the African peoples. This is a very patriarchal culture, but possession by the zar spirits allows women to circumvent some of the restrictions of women. For example, they may be given rings and other objects while possessed through the spirits asking, or apparently asking, through them. It’s been suggested that zar possessions are a form of hysteria, in which women, who are frustrated by societal restrictions, are able to get around them. The same explanation has also been suggested for western mediumship and alien abductions. Many of the women, who became mediums and who experience abductions by aliens, may do so subconsciously as these offer an escape from stifling normal reality.

I also believe that some supernatural events may well be genuine. This view was staunchly defended by the late Brian Inglis in his history of ghosts and psychical research, Natural and Supernatural, in the 1990s. As an Anglican, I would also caution anyone considering getting involved in psychical research to take care. There’s fraud and hoaxing, of course, as well as misperception, while some paranormal phenomena may be the result of poorly understood fringe mental states. But I also believe that some of the supposed entities contacting us from the astral realms, if they exist, are deliberately trying to mislead us. The great UFO researchers, John Keel and Jacques Vallee, came to the same conclusion about the UFO entities. One of Keel’s books was entitled, Messengers of Deception. There’s also the book, Hungry Ghosts, again written from a non-Christian perspective, which also argues that some of the spirits contacting people are malevolent and trying to deceive humanity for their own purposes.

If you are interested in psychical research, therefore do it properly using scientific methodology. And be aware of the possibility of deception, both natural and supernatural.

The Painter of Cyberspace: The Art of Jurgen Ziewe

January 20, 2018

Earlier this week there was a piece in the press announcing that the Turner Prize Committee had decided to go public early about which artworks and artist they were considering. I have strong feeling, like many people, about the Turner Prize. Many of the works seem simply designed to shock, with nothing more substantial underneath. Those that aren’t, are simply banal. It’s highbrow kitsch, which says nothing while claiming that it actually does. And I think modern fine art has reached a dead end. it’s anti-art, which constantly raves about Duchamps’ urinal nailed to a piece of canvas. Duchamps did it to make the point that whatever the artist claimed to be art, was art. It’s over a century old, and the joke’s well past it’s sell-by date. It was always an adolescent, childish prank anyway. To some of these art experts, it’s a hallowed artistic statement that must not be blasphemed in any way. You remember those Chinese guys, who were arrested when they jumped up and down on Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’? The same two were planning to urinate in Duchamps’ urinal. Which I feel is in keeping with the piece itself, but the mere thought horrified the keepers of official art.

The real artistic boundaries are being pushed, in my opinion, not by the fine artists, or at least, not by those fine artists currently pushed by the very small clique that defines what ‘official’ art is, like Nicholas Serota. Rather, they’re being pushed by commercial artists and film makers, often inspired by the worlds of Fantasy and SF, using computer graphics. One of the foremost of these, in my opinion, is the German artist Jurgen Ziewe. Ziewe lives over here, and has an English wife. And we are fortunate to have such a talented artist. I do wonder what will happen to other talented EU migrants like him after Brexit, who can’t stay in this country because they aren’t married. We’re going to lose a lot of very talented people.

Ziewe uses computer graphics, including Virtual models of humans and objects, and fractals, to create prismatic, Virtual, interior worlds full of robots, strange creatures, synthetic humans, fairies, wizards, witches, priestesses and temples. He started out making cards showing dolphins under cosmic skies. He’s a very spiritual guy, in a New Age-y sense, and his work is inspired by concepts from Theosophy and C.G. Jung. Here’s some of the picture from Nigel Suckling’s book about his art, New Territories: The Computer Visions of Jurgen Ziewe (Paper Tiger, 1997).

The Fairy Queen

Picnic In Cyberspace

Journey of a Virtual Traveller

Apart from Ziewe, other artists working in film and television have also been using the concepts of computer graphics. One of the features of the BBC TV version of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that most impressed me in the late ’70s or early 1980s were the, ahem, computer graphics for the pieces of information provided by the Book. In fact, they were hand drawn, because the computers at the time simply weren’t up to the task of creating pictures that detailed. But the art produced as ‘computer graphics’, was superb, and those, who watched the show were deeply impressed. As an example, here’s a piece from YouTube of the Book describing Vogon poetry.

Further examples can be seen in pop videos. Like this one from the American electro-pop band, Information Society, which uses scrolling alphanumerics to suggest passage through cyberspace in a computer game, made for their track, ‘The Prize’.

Other artistic explorations of medically or cybernetically enhanced vision can be seen in the films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick and the last of trilogy, entitled simply Riddick. Richard Riddick, the anti-hero in these movies, is a violent criminal, a murderer, who somehow ends up doing the right thing. While in slam for his crimes, he paid the prison doctor 20 menthol cigarettes to have his eyes surgically altered, ‘polished’, so that he could see in the dark. In these flicks, we so bits of the action through his eyes. The scene in Pitch Black, where he sees the predatory aliens pouring out of their underground lairs after the marooned crew of a crashed colony spacecraft, is awesomely beautiful. This is the trailer for the movie.

And this is the trailer for The Chronicles of Riddick.

In this movie, the Necromongers use visioners, cybernetically adapted humans, to seek and visually examine areas that are difficult or impossible for normal human eyes to see clearly. And the brief scenes, in which the audience is shown what they see, are also stunning.

But this is low, commercial art, and so unlikely to find any praise by the High Art people, no matter how popular it is, or how technically sophisticated and visually inspired. The best comment on this kind of artistic snobbery comes from the American SF/Fantasy artist and book illustrator, Bob Eggleton.

Being a commercial artist is itself a kind of pigeonhole in the art world, but it is not a label that troubles him. ‘Commercialism for the sake of commercialism is not a sin. What I hate is commercialism packaged as fine art. That’s what Abstract Expressionism about, you’re buying into a trend much of the time. There’s nothing wrong with any kind of art, provided the artist believes in what they’re doing.’

From Nigel Suckling, with introduction by Gregory Benford, Alien Horizons: The Fantastic Art of Bob Eggleton (Paper Tiger, 1995) page 83.

And the YBAs, such as Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin and Chris Offili, were very commercial, as was Salvador Dali long before them. This was pointed out on a programme on the great surrealist on Radio 4 several years ago by Malcolm MacLaren, the genius – well, he obviously thought he was – behind the Sex Pistols.

And here’s Eggleton’s picture of Great Cthulhu, painted for Weird Tales magazine, for all the Lovecraft fans out there.

I realised I’ve digressed a little way from the central topic of this post, the fantastic computer art of Jurgen Ziewe. But these are related issues, showing the way computers, robots, space and high technology – the stuff of Science Fiction – is pushing artistic boundaries in ways that the official fine art of Conceptualism really isn’t doing. I’m also exploring a few ideas here for a much longer article, or series of articles, I intend to do on this sometime.