Taken to the Limits, Part 2. Peter Rogerson

Taken to the Limits – Part Two (Magonia 23, July 1986, pp. 3 – 12.

The new ‘folk devil’ of the dope fiend or the glue-sniffer carries on the tradition of the demonaic – the addict is ‘possessed’ by the drug and thence radically marginalised; he becomes the embodiment of all those anti-structural indecipherable aspects of the human, which we do not publicly display. The dope-fiend/demoniac is in Turner’s terms in a state of chronic hyper-liminality and closely associated, in many people’s eyes, is the stereotyped ‘brainwashed’, zombie cult member.

J. Gordon Melton has described the conversion and often superficially bizarre behaviour of cult members in terms of liminality [11]. The image of the cult member has been compared with that of the demoniac and ascribed distinguishing marks such as glassy eyes, Moonie Rash, Moonie Odour, ‘thousand mile smile’, monotone voice, reduction of peripheral vision, and in one case “a beam of red light shot out of her eyes”. To rid them of such stigmata, deprogrammers imprison cult members, keeping them away from other family members lest they pollute them, lock doors and windows lest they be enchanted away into wilderness. The return to the cult thus signifies a withdrawal from the psychological habitat of relatives and friends.

The haunted house reverses the stereotype of the home as the bastion of order: the ‘Englishman’s Castle’ keeping the wilderness at bay by powerful psychological and cultural moats and drawbridges. This reversal reminds one of the Fipa notion that the interior of the hut partakes something of the character of the wilderness: a domain of what is private, dark and obscure, cut off from conscious knowledge and control – a region of “women, sexuality and death” and the “secret anti-intellectual life of lawless passions” [2]. The Fipa realise that all too often castles have dungeons. To them there is in the secret heart of every habitat and every person, an interior wilderness.

To understand the full import of the image of the haunted house as a ‘disorderly house’ on the sort of people who corresponded with the early SPR, we must remember that the house as secure habitat was the sign of respectability, of emergence from the wilderness of the rough masses, from whose cheerless habitations escape was to the gin shop and music hall. The ghost, the insistent voice of ‘history’ refusing to remain buried, threatened a reversal of the historical, progressive habitat-creating process, and a reversion to the wilderness of the unacknowledged ancestors.


Mediums like Daniel Home,
halfway along the road from shaman to super-star,
were themselves examples of the chronically liminal

The Victorian seance was an occasion of liminality. Mediums like Daniel Home, halfway along the road from shaman to super-star, were themselves examples of the chronically liminal. Home himself is an excellent example: a strange sick childhood, a history of visions and wild talents, ambiguous sexuality and for much of his life a nomadic, permanent house-guest existence. He floated between the interfaces of Victorian society, occupying the court-jester’s role of confidant and trickster-in-chief to the royal and famous. From his position of chronic liminality, Home became the ‘medium’ between the living and dead.

But for the Victorians all too often the dead came from the secret world of the wilderness, not from the celestial Mechanics’ Institutes. In the seance room the ancestors reanimated the pantomime of the village wakes, rough bawdy and boisterousness. They banged tambourines and hit people on the head with trumpets, in fact played the sorts of jokes that the ancestors as they really were played – not how the bowdlerised Family Bible lists told it. In the liminality of the seance room the boundaries between living/dead, reality/hallucination, possible/impossible, even the boundaries of physical and psychological individuality were blurred, and sometimes fell. The bounds were broken in a sort of carnival in which the living and the dead were joined together. It is hardly surprising that under the enchantment of liminality even sceptics like Sir David Brewster reported signs and wonders – only for them to fall beneath the disenchanting dawn of daylight reason, common sense and structure, when the shipboard romance with the dead was over.

The descriptions of deprogrammers holding the ‘brainwashed’ cult members in sealed cabins where the cult/wilderness cannot seduce them, is more than reminiscent of the procedures used to capture and hold those enchanted by the fairies. It will be remembered that Turner described communitas as nature in dialogue with structure”: our encounter with the wilderness requires mediating figures.

Fairies make excellent mediators. They mediate between matter and spirit, in that whilst they are insubstantial shape changers, they are mortal, give birth and eventually fade away.

They mediate between habitat and wilderness, structure and communitas. They reside either in the wilderness or parts of habitat that have fallen back into the wilderness, such as raths, deserted churches, etc. However, they possess a structured society of their own, often inverted to the ‘normal’ – nocturnal and matriarchal – and maintain an interest in human affairs. They mediate between the polarities of good and evil, encapsulated in the tradition that they are fallen angels, too bad for heaven, too good for hell.

They mediate between the human and divine, as both elevated ancestors (the ghosts of the prehistoric dead) and fallen gods.

The fairies fall into two broad types: the trooping, who maintain their own counter-structure deep in the wilderness; and the solitary, who have little society and can be domesticated by humans.

The fairies take people who are in a state of liminality, at “the time between time”, “between night and day when the Fairy King has power”, people who happen to have strayed into places where the fences between wilderness and civilization are particularly weak. The fairies abduct mortals to Tir-Na-Nog – Magonia – the dreamtime of timeless liminality and communitas – a sort of endless end-of-term party. Magonia seduces men, such as the legendary Fianna of Ireland, from martial duty, and women from housewifely and maternal duty. From the perspective of the society from which they are taken they are either physically or socially dead (‘not the person I knew’: the complaint made by the parents of cult victims). They become wild, wanton, feral, unkempt: they have joined what the Greeks called the ‘exotika’, those from ‘out there’ [25] In our society such people may be called ‘mad’ or depressed, but is this not just the substitution of the vocabulary of one culture for another? In some psychologies, such as Laing’s, madness itself is seen as a creative process, a necessary period of liminality.

The ritual for the recapture of the ‘taken’ (whether in rural Ireland or by modern ‘deprogrammers’ is a reorientation into the world of structure and societas, ensuring that the ‘victim’ returns to his (or more usually her) appointed social role. Of course, given the conditions of the people when the fairy faith flourished it may be doubted if the victim was always happy about such a ‘rescue’! The dream of being taken by fairies, gypsies or demon lovers may have played the role in peasant societies that soap-operas and Mills and Boon romances do in ours: that of a romantic liberation from the drudgeries and routine of a life of structure.

Magonia itself was an ambiguous place. From the enchanted perspective of liminality and communitas it was a golden palace of great aristocrats; from the disenchanted perspective of structure and ‘daylight reason and commonsense’ it was often portrayed as a dank cave or the grave. But the fairy tradition could never agree as to which was the ‘really true’ picture. That would have meant a truly intolerable plumping for either communitas or societas. [29.30]

The descriptions of being taken, the often discontented, half-fey, behaviour of those who are (forced to?) return is extremely reminiscent of the Near Death Experience. Death is the supreme moment of marginality and liminality. The entry into the realm of the dead, down a long tunnel, is a sort of initiation ceremony, a symbolic re-birth. The land of the dead in the majority of these accounts too is clearly Magonia, the land of idealised, happy ancestors, the place of perfect communitas.

The Near Death Experience (NDE) straddles the fence between the world of the living and the dead. The experient has entered the ‘second world’ and on returning gains shamanic powers.

In the traditional, static society, the shaman alone gains power, and is a transformed individual in a static world. In the dynamic, transforming world the returning shaman often becomes a prophet preaching ‘the world turned upside-down’ in transforming liminality in which the rich, powerful, urban and corrupt are swept away, and the saving remnant will establish on Earth the communitas of Magonia.

The ‘solitary fairy’ represents the mirror image of this: it can be domesticated, though will always display tell-tale signs of wilderness, which manifest in secret. For example, the fairy wife may have goat’s legs or a fish’s tale, only visible at certain times when her husband is not allowed to pry. It is his violation of this ‘secret heart of things’ which sends her back into the wilderness.

The sasquatch exists in the liminal zone between socially constructed rational reality and the ‘goblin universe’ of wild anomalies

This solitary fairy is close to the ‘wild-man’, l’homme sauvage, the apeman or Bigfoot. The American Bigfoot is yet another excellent mediating symbol between humankind and wild nature or reality and non-reality. For Marjorie Halpin the sasquatch exists in the liminal zone between socially constructed rational reality and the ‘goblin universe’ of wild anomalies. It is part of the ‘uncanny’ which crashes in on us in marginal situations such as twilight (when the Elfin King holds power), and sensory deprivation. Sasquatch straddles and incorporates boundaries such as being/not-being and mind/matter. A creature of the mind which leaves a huge footprint, a message of man’s animal nature on the ground. [33] Monsters exist in the liminal regions between habitat and the wilderness, mountain peaks, water, and fissures in the ground through which power emerges. Monsters are associated with liminal regions because both constitute ruptures in the fabric of ordinary classification [34].

Monsters manifest their marginal quality by their ‘other-worldly’ elusiveness. In this they mediate between the natural and spiritual – the primitive, hairy, asocial character of the ‘manimal’ signifies the ‘regression’ to brute strength, ‘gross animality’ of man gone to the wilderness, yet the elusive, semi-magical quality hints at the ethereal wilderness of the dark spirits. [35,36]. Bigfoot lives in the ‘waste places’ of the earth, the forests and high mountains. Yet in much folkore he is coming into town, like the urban fox, trading the wilderness.

The central appeal of the mystery animal is the survival of wilderness – the reminder that there really are savage and unexplored places, holes in the maps which claim the whole world for habitat [37]. In the secret heart of Africa, where even python and pangolin fear to go there are beast of the prehistoric, cousins of the saurians of the watery depths [37,38,39]. Even in England’s green and pleasant land pumas stalk the tidy gardens of Surrey, that most archetypically suburban of counties.

The sea-serpent and the lake monster derive their power in the imagination from their presumed prehistoric survival. Paul Lester and Roger Grimshaw point out that the Loch Ness Monster’s huge body and small head points to an excess of instinct over reason, desire over restraint – heightened by the long, phallic neck [40]. The very existence of such a prehistoric survival in defiance of the scientific establishment challenges the complacency of our view of the world [41].

Yet there is something else about lake monsters which is always overlooked. In the old tradition they were water horses or kelpies which, like the Great Selchie of Sule Skerne, were a beast on the waters but a man upon the land, capable of begetting a child on a human girl. In the traditional tales just such a child – mediator between humankind and the natural world – is killed by a ‘gunner true’, an excellent symbol of structure, habitat, daylight reason and common sense. This murder is a sort of ‘cosmic catastrophe’ which sunders man from the natural world, which regresses into something utterly inhuman, prehistoric and saurian – the protean beast of the waters of the first chaos. Thus alienated from the natural world, humanity sees it as something hostile, alien and ‘other’; to be exorcised as at Loch Ness.

We can draw a table to represent this progressive descent into the wilderness of the past:


Personal past  – Spirits of séance, ‘Ruth’
Remembered Past  – Ghosts
Unremembered Past  – Fairies
Presocietal Past  — Alma, wildman, demons, poltergeist
Prehuman past   – Manimals, Bigfoot. ABS
Premammalian past – Sea serpents, Loch Ness monster

Perhaps, somewhere in the category where we assigned the fairies lie the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other religious personages. The BVM is not only a mediator between God and man, but as William Christian [42] points out, she mediates between the local society and the forces of nature, both in terms of weather, devastation and disease, and in terms of the natural round of birth and death. The image of the mother and child is a symbol of the power of nature on the human body.

The Virgin is encountered, or her image found, at liminal spots, such as trees and mountains which connect with the sky; or caves and springs which link to the underworld. In these threshold places energy is exchanged between the supernatural world and the world of man. Most of the supernaturally found images were discovered by domestic animals, a part of nature built in to culture; the overwhelming number of human intermediaries were herdsmen, the most ‘wild’ of humans.

Much of these insights clearly applies to modern visions of the BVM, witnesses often being children of the rural lumpenproletariat, partly wild and close to nature. As in the early Spanish cases, the image of the BVM is only distinguished from the local ghosts and fairies by the adult structure of the church [43]. The Virgin preaches a message of submission to the liminality of poverty, chastity and obedience; as well as the overthrow of the current structure in a period of millenial liminality.

At first sight it appears difficult to fit the UFO into this scheme. After all, as a super-machine it appears to be the epitome of structure and habitat. One could agree with the late F. W. Halliday that the UFO/disc is the natural antithesis to the dragon/sea-serpent:

From the Sky
From the far future
Ufonauts heve big heads, small bodies, representing an excess of reason

Sea Serpent:
From the deep water
from the distant past
Small heads, large bodies, instinct over reason

The iconography on which Holliday based much of his argument represents the struggle of the solar-god against the primal dragon of chaos, the supreme symbol of the struggle of light, reason, order and habitat against darkness, instinct, chaos and wilderness.

But readers of Magonia know that there is much of the wilderness in the UFO. Above all the UFO ‘comes from space’, the ‘final frontier’, the ultimate absolute wilderness. The UFO is therefore the grand mediator between absolute habitat and absolute wilderness, past and future.

Though the UFO represents a technology, it is increasingly observed as part of the wilderness. Humanity is no longer seen as fashioning machines, but machines are seen as fashioning mankind. Modern cities are described as urban jungles. The machine and the urban jungle become the artificial wilderness, which needs mediators. Furthermore, UFOs are super-technology, their silence, ambiguous quality, selectivity and elusiveness speak of the supernatural.

If UFOs are seen as coming from outer-space, they are also seen as coming from such interior locations as the human mind or the hollow-earth; they mediate between outer and inner wilderness, between mind and matter, between dream and reality; between being and not-being.

The car’s habitat role is ambiguous: the sexual activity of courting couples or the aggressive impulses of the lone driver can convert it into every bit as much a zone of interior wilderness as a Fipa’s hut

The typical UFO experience takes place in the liminal time between night and day, either in the wild places, or in the liminal boundary between habitat and wilderness. One chief theme is the night car journey: the car represents a fragment of habitat penetrating the wilderness. As transitions from one place to another, journeys themselves are episodes of liminality. As Rogan Taylor points out [13] all travel tales are recapitulations of the shamans journey to the underworld and back. The Romance of the Open Road, wherein ghosts and ghoulies are met [45] is a secularised version of this heroic journey, phantom hitch-hikers the shaman’s spirit guide or even spirit wife. Furthermore, the car’s habitat role is ambiguous: the sexual activity of courting couples or the aggressive impulses of the lone driver can convert it into every bit as much a zone of interior wilderness as a Fipa’s hut. The car represents a perpetual liminal zone.

There are slower ways habitat can venture out into the wilderness: building developments which encroach on wild nature, such as the Benilee Estate in Staffordshire [46] or Runcorn New Town, or the trailer parks which mark the outer limits of many American cities, prominent in much ufological lore.

Many witnesses in European and South American cases seem to fit Christians’ description of ‘those closest to the wilderness’ – a hallmark of the ‘sincere’ UFO witness being illiteracy and lack of urban sophistication. An excellent example is the French witness discussed by Bertrand Meheust and Thierry Pinvidic [47], who was described as an orphaned outsider living with adoptive parents, barely literate, almost ‘simple’, but wise in the ways of nature and animal tracks, a true homme sauvage like Victor, the ‘wild boy’ of Aveyron, and a shaman-to-be. His UFO encounter takes place while gathering mushrooms in a wild place halfway up a mountain – afterwards he develops shamanic powers.

The UFO experience, let us interpret it as ‘radical misperception’, itself throws the percipient into a state of liminality, sometimes described as conceptual rape. The ‘misperception’ breaks down the fences of socially determined consensus reality, projecting the percipient into the wilderness where they are dramatically confronted with the fact that there is ‘an outside’, a numinous, powerful domain beyond the exorcising power of scientists and newspaper headlines.

It is not surprising that this should lead to spontaneous experiences of classical liminality which are called ‘UFO abductions’ [48]. Remember how Turner described classical initiatory liminality as bing ground down, stripped of rank and possession, subject to the absolute will of an initiation master. It is in the UFO abduction, rather than the saccharine Near Death Experience, where this classic initiation is best represented, and where in our western society we come closest to extreme liminality, as an anomalous, passive patient in an authoritarian medical examination. And where are these liminal experiences recovered? – in a ‘hypnotic trance’ where social expectation reduces the the hypnotised to a state of extreme liminality, passive instrument of the master hypnotist.

The real medical examination is a sort of ritual ordeal, after which the patient is returned to structure having changed states from ‘ill’ to ‘well’, his ‘well being’ proclaimed to the guardians of status and structure.

The abductee is a shaman-initiate, in transition to a new state of consciousness: the one who has been ‘outside’ so as to truly know what it means to be ‘inside’.
One can speculate further on the connections between nuts-and-bolts ufology and structure, as contrasted with the ‘New Ufology’ as communitas. In static periods of retrenchment such as the 1950′s or 1980′s the UFO is seen as a concrete, mechanical force; in liminal periods such as the 1960′s it is seen as diffuse and ‘supernatural’.

Much of what Clark and Coleman in their classic The Unidentified ascribed to the unconscious can btter be seen as expressions of liminality, communitas, and wilderness. The authors took the romantic road, lamenting over society’s failure to acknowledge the secret, Dionysian heart of our own life: we stand in peril, the unacknowledged wilderness may crash in on us so hard that it will sweep all aside.

Fortean phenomena and paranormal experiences, then, are the necessary anomalies which remind us of the limits of the known. They emerge in twilight, marginal situations when either individual or collective crises open up gaps in the fences of social reality to a domain of wilderness. We can slip through the gap, and hopefully return transformed, or power from the outside can ‘crash-in’ and transform our lives. We may react in terror, sensing a threat to the integrity of the rational world, or we may react with joy, believing that we see what is really real, and dream of re-enacting that reality in the world of habitat.

If Fortean phenomena belong to the world of wilderness or to the liminal zone between habitat and wilderness, they are not going to be explained or proven. We can either exorcise them so as to tidy up habitat, try to capture them with ‘explanations’ and ‘proof’ and drag them into habitat where they will loose much of their power, or we can stand wondering facing the breeze from beyond the limits in our face, perhaps trembling at the though of what lies within the interior and exterior wilderness impinging upon the torus of habitat.

Even Charles Fort never thought of that: rationality as a cosmic donut.



1. DUERR, Hans Peter. Dreamtime; concerning the boundaries between wilderness and civilization, Oxford, Blackwell 1985.
2. WILLIS, Roy. Man and Beast, Hart-Davis, Mac-Gibbon, 1971.
3. For these general topics see also any social and economic history; of special interest are: STORCH, Robert D. (Ed.) Popular Culture and Custom in Nineteenth Century England, Croome Helm, 1982 and CUNNINGHAM, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, Croome Helm, 1980.
4. Some of these themes are discussed in: DUDLEY, Edward and NOVAK, Maximillian E. The Wildman Within, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.
5. BERGER Peter. The Sacred Canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion, Doubleday, 1969.
7. CARRINGTON, Hereward. True Ghost Stories. Werner Laurie, 1916.
8. GUIDHAM, Arthur. Obsession, Spearman, 1972.
9. DE MARTINO, Ernest. Magic, Primitive and Modern, Stacey, 1972.
10. Derived from the account of Bergerian thought in: MARTIN, Bernice. A Sociology of Contemporary Cultural Change, Blackwell, 1983.
11. TURNER, Victor W. The Ritual Processes, Routledge, 1969.
12 This account of liminality was compiled from references 10 and 11, and from MELTON, J Gordon and MOORE, Robert L. The Cult Experience, Pilgrim Press, 1982.
13. TAYLOR, Rogan P. The Death and Resurrection Show; from shaman to super-star, Blond, 1985.
14. ERIKSON, Karl. Wayward Puritans Wiley, 1966.
15. COHEN, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics, MacGibbon & Kee, 1972.
16. CHIBNALL, Steve. Law and Order News, Tavistock, 1977.
17. WALLIS, Roy Salvation and Protest, F. Pincer, 1979.
18. ZURCHER, Louis A and KIRKPATRICK, R George. Citizens for Decency Univ. of Texas Press, 1976.
19. CONDON, Edward U. ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ in Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969.
20. FORT, Charles. Book of the Damned.
21. PEARSON, Geoffrey. Hooligan; a history of respectable fears, Macmillan, 1983.
22. GAUL D, Alan and CORNELL, A. D. Poltergeists RKP, 1979.
23. OWEN, George, Can We Explain the Poltergeist?, Helix Press, 1964.
24. ROLL, William G. The Poltergeist, Star, 1976.
25. CRAMER, Mark, The Devil Within, W H Allen, 1979.
26. GOODMAN, Felicitas D. The Exorcism of Annelise Michel, Doubleday, 1981.
27. SHUPE, Anson D. The New Vigilantes; deprogrammers, anti-cultists and the new religion sects, Sage, 1980.
28. BLUM, Richard and Eva, The Dangerous Hour, Chatto, 1970
29. BRIGGS, Katharine, The Vanishing People, Batsford, 1978.
30. GREGORY, Lady. Vision and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Colin Smyth, 1970.
31. RING, Kenneth, Heading Towards Omega, Morrow, 1984.
32 GREY, Margaret, Return from the Dead, Arkana, 1985.
33. HALPIN, Marjorie M. and AMES. Michael (Eds.) ‘Investigating the Goblin Universe’ in Manlike Monsters on Trial, Univ. of British Columbia Press, 1980.
34. BUCKLEY, Thomas. ‘Monsters and the Quest for Balance in Native Northwest California’ in 33.
35. SLATE, B. A. and BERRY, Alan, Bigfoot, Bantam, 1976.
36. CLARK, Jerome and COLEMAN, Loren. Creatures of the Outer Edge, Warner, 1978.
37. HEUVELMANS, B. On the Track of Unknown Animals, Paladin, 1970.
38. The python was a sacred animal of the Fipa, the pangolin of the Lele.
39. MACKAL, Roy. Searching for Hidden Animals, Codogan, 1983.
40. GRIMSHAW, Roger and LESTER, Paul, The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Univ. of Birmingham, 1976.
41. LESTER, Paul, The Great Sea Serpent Controversy, Protean Pub., 1984.
42 CHRISTIAN, William A. Jnr. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Spain, Princton U. Press, 1981.
43. McCLURE, Kevin, The Evidence for Apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Aquarian, 1983.
44. HOLIDAY, F.W. The Dragon and the Disc, Sidgewick & Jackson, 1973.
45. GOSS, Michael,The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-hikers. Aquarian, 1984.
46. STANWAY, Antony and PACE, Roger, Unidentified, Undeniable, BUFORA, 1971
47. MEHEUST, Bertrand and PINVIDIC, Thierry. Presentation to the 1986 Anglo-French UFO Colloquium.
48. RIMMER, John. The Evidence for Alien Abductions, Aquarian, 1983.
49. CLARK, Jerome and COLEMAN, Loren, The Unidentified, Warner, 1973.
50. GINZBURG, Carlo. The Night Battles, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.


Taken to the Limits, Part 1. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia New Series 23, July 1986, pp. 3 – 12.

The origins of this study go back to the beginnings of my association with MUFOB, as an attempt to understand the emotional power behind the extreme scepticism of authors such as Patrick Moore. It is perhaps also a meditation on my own childhood night terrors.

In analysing human societies, anthropologists have often found it useful to study the interaction between human beings and wild nature. They have chosen to call these two realms ‘habitat’ and ‘wilderness’. A term such as ‘habitat’ implies far more than a geographical settlement: it is the ‘fenced in’ [1] zone of rational, ordered life; the domain under the control of human reason and ingenuity – the known, the familiar, the ordered and tame. It is the world of “daylight reason and commonsense”. ‘Wilderness’ therefore is the opposition to the rational, ordered world. It is the world of untamed nature outside the boundaries of habitation, the domain of the unknown, of passion and sexuality, of ‘the unconscious’, the secret heart of things, chaos, disorder and the ‘supernatural’.

Habitat is forged out of wilderness and chaos by a sustained effort. The attitude of the Fipa of Tanzania is typical of many agricultural societies, traditional Christendom, and much contemporary rationalism. The world is divided into the principles of open rationality, symbolised by the head, and secret sexuality, symbolised by the loins. The ideal of the community is the subduing of the forces of nature: this task is delegated to specialist ‘doctors’.

However, the community is haunted by fear of the apostate doctor, who will ally himself with those natural forces he is supposed to subdue. He is black-hearted, carried about upside-down by his wife while working evil in the village, can assume the shape of wild beasts such as leopard or hyena, and commands the bush creatures to invade the huts of his victim. [2]. Powers such as these were later attributed to Dracula.

The fear that the special guardians of a culture are secretly in league with the forces destroying it, and are guilty of violating society’s most sacred taboos is still a very present one. Thus members of the State Department were accused of being communists by McCarthy; doctors and clergymen (guardians of our bodies and souls) are accused in Parliament of being child-molesters. (An excellent example of the ambiguous nature of the ‘doctors’ who guard habitat against wilderness is provided by the ‘benandante’ or ‘good-walkers’ of 16th-17th century Fruili in Italy. These were people born with a caul, who when summoned by an angelic bedroom-visitor, went out in OOBE form to defend the crops against bands of witches. The inquisition finally turned the benandante themselves into witches).

The Victorians held similar attitudes to the Fipa. The task of civilisation was to subdue ‘animality’ by ‘reason’. The 18th century enclosures of ‘wilderness’ common spaces was speeded up; habitat in the form of canals and railways thrust deeper into the wilderness; the internal proletariat was subdued by Methodism, temperance, sabbatarianism, factory discipline, the new borough and county police forces; bull baiting, ale-house brawls, etc. were to be replaced by ‘rational recreations’ such as lectures on steam-hammers at the Mechanics Institute, Public Libraries, and vicarage tea-parties with lantern-slides of the Holy Land. Imperialism and missionary activity subdued the ‘dark continent’. Both the aboriginal inhabitants of the colonial territories and the urban poor were ascribed sub-human, ‘animal’ status, and were seen as savage beasts to be tamed. Darkest Africa was paralleled by darkest England [3 a,b, 4].

The scientist was one of the leaders pushing habitat progressively out into the wilderness. However, in the eyes of many some scientists, Darwin particularly, and later Freud, played the role of ‘traitor’, reminding humankind of its essential physical and psychological wildness. The evil scientist was to replace the witch as the ‘dark doctor’ of the imagination.

The sociologist and theologian Peter Berger has discussed this precarious habitat. His habitat is the whole cosmos of ordered, meaningful, socially constructed reality, which he calls the nomos. He argues that

“[In] marginal situations [such as] commonly occur in dreams and fantasy [there] may appear on the horizon of consciousness haunting suspicions that the world may have another aspect than its normal one; that is that previously accepted definitions of reality may be fragile or even fraudulent. Such suspicions extend to the identity of self and others. Every socially defined reality must face the constant possibility of collapse into anomie. The marginal situations, paramount amongst them death, reveal the innate precariousness of all social worlds. Every nomos is an area of meaning carved out of a vast mass of meaninglessness, a small clearing in a formless dark, always ominous jungle. [From] the perspective of the individual the nomos represents the bright ‘day-side’ of life tenuously held onto against the sinister shadow of the ‘night’. Every nomos is a edifice erected in the face of potent and alien forces of chaos [which] must be kept away at all costs. To ensure this every society develops procedures to assist its members to remain ‘reality-orientated’” [5]

To Berger the primary act of ‘reality-orientating’ is the parental reassurance that “everything is all right”, that there really are no terrors in the night, or at least that they do not hold power, and that the world is ultimately rational, orderly and even comforting. That such a reassurance can be give at all in good faith is for Berger evidence of a transcendent meaning to the universe – a ‘rumour of angels’. Much of the power of the supernatural in both ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ lies in the apprehension that the reassurance is fraudulent and that:

“… the terror of the dark which we all have, more or less, from which every child suffers [and] which is, to a certain extent, shared by animals, even by insects [is sustained by] in every truth, a terrible reality … that evil and horrible things lurk about us in the still, weird hours of the night, that there are truly ‘powers and principalities’, a true tyranny of the dark.” [7]

The defence against these ‘evil and horrible things’ from the internal and external wilderness can take extreme forms. There are the obsessive rituals described by Arthur Guirdham as being carried out by patients who felt they were being threatened by objective evil. [8] As Ernest de Martino argues [9] what is at stake in marginal situations is our very sense of being-in-the-world and the very foundations of reality. In tribal societies the ‘promise’ in the world is maintained through the shaman’s ritual. In modern, Western societies it is perhaps guaranteed by parents, priests, scientists, doctors and the whole of bureaucratic education. In our highly structured, literate world we at least have the partial illusion of having a secure reality. For those in cultures where much of day-to-day life is insecure, reality may be more fluid, allowing magic and miracles or occur.

In tribal societies the ‘promise’ in the world is maintained through the shaman’s ritual; in modern, Western societies it is perhaps guaranteed by parents, priests, scientists, doctors and the whole of bureaucratic education

In the Berger/de Martino viewpoint the chaos is literally awe-full, and humankind erects boundaries between itself and the chaos. Nomoi are dikes against infinity and ultimate chaos [10]. It is hard to resist Bernice Martin’s critique that Berger is almost wholly negative [10]; indeed there is an equally important tradition that sees the wilderness as the ‘true’ reality, that of habitat as somehow fake.

This is the view of another East African tribe, the Lele [1]. The Lele are hunters who live in villages that are hot and dusty in the dry season, unpleasantly hot in the wet. They view the village life, with its complex game of social relationships, as inauthentic and subordinate to the forest, the source of all good things, and the zone of  “the secret anarchic heart of man in relation to his fellows” and the “hidden, communal side of man’s nature”. (Or at least Lele men feel this, for the forest is the preserve of men, and to hunt in the forest is a penetration of a secret, feminine place). For the Lele, human affairs are controlled by mysterious forces in the non-human realm of the forest; mediated by the minghe, the spirits that live in the deepest part of the forest farthest from human habitation, or by the sacred pangolin.

Parallels in our own history include medieval Christendom where ‘this world’ is but a poor reflection of the transcendent world of Heaven and Hell; or the Romantic vision of the free, natural man, bound by the chains of society.

A central theme of many cultures is the need to enter the wilderness to gain wisdom and return to the zone of habitat. As Duerr puts it: “In order to live within the order… in order to be consciously tame and domesticated, one had to have lived in the wilderness. One could only know what inside meant if one had been outside ” [1].

In order to explore this theme further an extremely useful guide will be the anthropologist Victor Turner’s concept of liminality. Turner derives his thesis from Arnold von Geunep’s study of rites of passage. In such a rite there are three stages:

1. Separation from the ordinary world
2. Margin – stripping of the previous identity and ritual grinding down of individual differences
3. Aggregation – period of reintegration.

Turner calls the central marginal phrase the liminal period (from Latin, limen – a margin or threshold). The liminal period is a betwixt and between time, the ‘time between time’, a period of flux and transition.

During liminality the neophyte is ground down, made anew, granted special powers. Liminality is often compared with death, being in the womb, invisibility, darkness, bisexuality, wilderness, and eclipse of the sun and moon. In contrast to the outside world of hierarchy, status and structure, those in the liminal period experience society and social interaction as spontaneous, immediate, relative and undifferentiated, and reflecting the deep generic bond between individuals. This experience Turner labels communitas as opposed to the outside world of status or societas.

Turner lists a set of features separating liminality from status society:


  1. Transition
  2. Totality
  3. Communitas
  4. Equality
  5. Anonymity
  6. Absense of property and status
  7. Nakedness or uniform clothing
  8. Sexual continence or orgy
  9. Total obedience
  10. Sacredness


  1. State
  2. Partiality
  3. Structure
  4. Inequality
  5. System of nomenclature
  6. Presence of property and status
  7. Distinction of clothing
  8. Nuclear sexuality
  9. Obedience only to superior rank
  10. Secularity

Pure communitas, experienced as sacred sharing and total community, cannot be planned, it is spontaneous, ‘magical’. Attempts prolong it by creative ‘nomative’ or ‘ideological’ communitas tend to lead into a ‘fall’ into ‘structure’, which tends either to fall apart ‘when prophecy fails’, or to become rigid, highly authoritarian structures.

By now of course the reader will realise that the wilderness, the ‘dark secret heart of things’ the source of man’s ‘hidden communal being’, is the place of communitas.

In today’s society, liminality is diffuse, and will usually only display limited aspects of itself as defined above. Thus recent historical examples of liminality can be seen in such apparently polar opposites as conscripted military service and hippie communes. Most liminality occurs spontaneously, as in courtship, bereavement and reactions to traumatic and marginalising situations.

In the contemporary world liminality may affect the whole of society. Martin argued that the nineteen-sixties were a period of collective liminality: indeed as liminality is the zone of flux and transformation, the whole of our ever-changing society can be regarded as liminal. Being even bolder we might argue that what T. S. Kuhn calls revolutionary science is a prime example of liminality.In the liminal state individuals are either ecstatically expelled from the socially constructed world of status, structure and commonsense into the wilderness to be transformed or bring back power from outside; or the fences of habitat are breached to let the power in. There must be creative balance between societas and communitas, as Turner argues:

“Spontaneous communitas has something ‘magical’ about it [but] it is no substitute for lucid thought and sustained will. On the other hand, structured action swiftly becomes arid and mechanical if not if those involved are not periodically immersed in the regenerative abyss of communitas… Societas is not merely the chains in which man everywhere is bound, but the very cultural means that preserve the dignity and liberty as well as the bodily existence of every man woman and child. From the beginning of man in prehistory it is the very mark of man. That is not to say that spontaneous communitas is merely ‘nature’ [it] is nature in dialogue with structure, married to it as a woman is married to a man” [11]

Liminality therefore is both dangerous as well as addictive, as well as liberating and creative [12].

It seems to me that Turner and his commentators have not emphasised some points. Liminality is usually – if not always – associated with altered states of consciousness, often in traditional societies pharmacologically induced. The similarities between classical liminality and the hypnotic state are obvious. Spontaneous liminality in our culture is best associated with drunkenness. Liminality is often associated with a heightened sense of reality – either an ascent into ecstatic heights or a plunge into abysmal depths: the experience is “more real than real”. In positive communitas the participant feels immense euphoria, power: “great was it that morn to be alive”. Positive communitas seems associated with the ‘crash’ of the wilderness into societas, negative communitas associated with pre-planned ritual.

Turner and commentators also point out that there are, within society, those who are more or less permanently marginal – despised minorities, outcasts, fools, jesters, deviants, and above all, the shaman. Bernice Martin sees the rock star as the major liminal figure of our time, an inheritor of a tradition, according to Rogan Taylor [13], going right back to the shaman. As we have seen the shaman is precisely the ‘doctor’ who guards the borderlines of habitat, who has established a rapport with the incomprehensible, disease bringing forces of nature. He is the one who ventures out into the transforming wilderness of the underworld to guide those who are experiencing spontaneous liminality, and in his seances brings liminality and communitas into the structured habitat.

The shaman is often regarded as a deviant personality, a marginal figure – the outsider, dreamer and visionary, who “must go to another world to live in this one” [13]. It is clear that the shaman blends into the neccessary deviant who “draws people together in a common posture of anger and indignation to express anger and bear witness against the deviant” [14]. The rituals by which the deviant is judged and the places to which he or she is confined contain many features of liminality – courts are places of ordeal and examination, prisons and asylums enforce liminal features such as uniformity of dress and deprivation of will and property. The denunciation of the deviant creates an open declaration of the bounds and values of habitat. The deviant must enter the wilderness so that those left behind will appreciate the benefits of habitat, and control the dark, wild side of their own nature, lest they too be cast out.

Because rapid social change is itself a form of liminality [10, 13] it is profoundly disturbing: “to defenders of ‘structure’ all sustained manifestations of communitas will appear dangerous, anarchical and must be hedged around with prescriptions and prohibitions” [11) Under these circumstances certain kinds of deviant individuals and behaviour become symbolic demonic witch figures, whose very existence poses a threat to the integrity of habitat. They become 'folk devils', the incarnation of society's ills, hounded by the press [15,16]

Those with a high stake in the maintenance of structure are liable to launch moral crusades which often seek to maintain the traditional cultural values of society [17]. Such movements will often appeal to those sections of the community who see their economic or cultural status declining. The victories of the moral crusaders are often symbolic ones: for example it was sufficient for the Yankee puritans who sponsored the Prohibition amendment that “[they] had been successful in getting their law against the challengers publicly proclaimed, and it was their law the ‘drunk’ and ‘such people’ had to avoid.” [18]

The reader will immediately perceive that the Condon Enquiry and CSICOP are moral crusades.

Moral crusaders such as temperance reformers or anti-pornography campaigners see themselves as defending core cultural habitat values such as order, sobriety, rational-ity, self-restraint and respect for traditional values, against the forces of antinomian chaos. The reader will immediately perceive that the Condon Enquiry and CSICOP are moral crusades.

The Condon Enquiry was set up at a time of major student protests in the United States, and at a time when the status of the scientific community was suffering rapid decline. Condon explicitly linked his critique of ufology and pseudoscience with a rejection of permissive educational values:

“A related problem to which we wish to direct public attention is the miseducation in our schools which arises from the fact that many children are being allowed, if not actively encouraged, to devote their science study time to the reading of [sensationalised] UFO books and magazine articles … we feel that children are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous material … not merely because of the erroneous nature of the material itself, but also because such study retards the development of a critical faculty with regard to scientific evidence, which to some degree ought to be part of the education of every American … Therefore we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from giving students credit for school work based on the presently available UFO books and magazine articles.” [19]

By the time CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal – now known as CSI, Comitttee for Scientific Enquiry) was set up ten years later the status of the scientific community had fallen even further. CSICOP was in effect an association of the elite constructors and guardians of the socially constructed habitat of status society, which looking back at the quote from Turner, we can see was uniting against the encroaching forces of anti-nomian communitas symbolised by the ‘occult’ rivals to scientific orthodoxy, and the threatening nature of the anomalies themselves.

The anomalies challenged by CSICOP and other ‘sceptics’ are not the kind of technical anomalies with which scientists regularly deal, and with which they maintain an exclusive understanding. No, they are major ‘existential’ anomalies which share a common explicit or implicit denominator, in that they challenge the whole scientific-historical process active in the West since the seventeenth century. This is essentially a process of progressive ‘tidying-up’, enclosing and disenchanting the natural world. These anomalies also challenge the associated metaphysic of ‘possessive individualism’, which asserts the autonomy and power of the individual against the forces of wilderness. They are phenomena which the linear historicism of the Judeo-Christian tradition had already condemned as ‘pagan’ – pertaining to the wild world outside the gates of the celestial city. Both the rationalist sceptics and the romantic believers derive the motional power of their arguments from this rage of the anomaly as the disruptive but creative outsider.
Charles Fort equated his damned and excluded phenomena with the damned, excluded, marginalised, permanently liminal underclass of society, who have the licence to mock the rich, powerful and respectable.

The carnival dance of the marginalised lumpenproletariat, the successors of the shamans [23] is compared to the ‘Furious Horde’ of the dead visiting the community at certain seasons. For Fort, these damned data are what is excluded as habitat forges itself out of chaos. They are part of the primal messiness and are constant reminders of the temporariness, partiality and precariousness of this habitat of fixed structures. At any moment they may gatecrash our reality party bringing reminders of the wild world beyond the walls.

There are a range of terrors which our community half-recognises as the wild forces come in from the bush. Take the continuum hooligan/vandal [21] — poltergeist [22,24] — demonic possession [25, 26], in which the forces of wilderness invade, in turn, the city streets and outer habitat, the interior of the home, and lastly the inner sanctum of the personality.

The hooligan or vandal is frequently called an ‘animal’, their behaviour ‘mindless’ or ‘savage’. The hooligan threatens ordered society and mocks its structure; they break property, symbols of human ingenuity and creativity. So do poltergeists, whose activities are seen as a savage rampage in which the orderly world of the household is overturned. The demoniac represents the most frightening image of all, for the demoniac is wholly taken over by the forces of wild nature and is reduced to a pre-human, even pre-mammalian level, and becomes a ‘break in the fence’ by which the forces of the wild insinuate themselves into the community.

To understand the full import of the image of the haunted house as a ‘disorderly house’ on the sort of people who corresponded with the early SPR, we must remember that the house as secure habitat was the sign of respectability, of emergence from the wilderness of the rough masses, from whose cheerless habitations escape was to the gin shop and music hall. The ghost, the insistent voice of ‘history’ refusing to remain buried, threatened a reversal of the historical, progressive habitat-creating process, and a reversion to the wilderness of the unacknowledged ancestors.

Continue to Part Two >>>


1. DUERR, Hans Peter. Dreamtime; concerning the boundaries between wilderness and civilization, Oxford, Blackwell 1985.
2. WILLIS, Roy. Man and Beast, Hart-Davis, Mac-Gibbon, 1971.
3. For these general topics see also any social and economic history; of special interest are: STORCH, Robert D. (Ed.) Popular Culture and Custom in Nineteenth Century England, Croome Helm, 1982 and CUNNINGHAM, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, Croome Helm, 1980.
4. Some of these themes are discussed in: DUDLEY, Edward and NOVAK, Maximillian E. The Wildman Within, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.
5. BERGER Peter. The Sacred Canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion, Doubleday, 1969.
7. CARRINGTON, Hereward. True Ghost Stories. Werner Laurie, 1916.
8. GUIDHAM, Arthur. Obsession, Spearman, 1972.
9. DE MARTINO, Ernest. Magic, Primitive and Modern, Stacey, 1972.
10. Derived from the account of Bergerian thought in: MARTIN, Bernice. A Sociology of Contemporary Cultural Change, Blackwell, 1983.
11. TURNER, Victor W. The Ritual Processes, Routledge, 1969.
12 This account of liminality was compiled from references 10 and 11, and from MELTON, J Gordon and MOORE, Robert L. The Cult Experience, Pilgrim Press, 1982.
13. TAYLOR, Rogan P. The Death and Resurrection Show; from shaman to super-star, Blond, 1985.
14. ERIKSON, Karl. Wayward Puritans Wiley, 1966.
15. COHEN, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics, MacGibbon & Kee, 1972.
16. CHIBNALL, Steve. Law and Order News, Tavistock, 1977.
17. WALLIS, Roy Salvation and Protest, F. Pincer, 1979.
18. ZURCHER, Louis A and KIRKPATRICK, R George. Citizens for Decency Univ. of Texas Press, 1976.
19. CONDON, Edward U. ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ in Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969.
20. FORT, Charles. Book of the Damned.
21. PEARSON, Geoffrey. Hooligan; a history of respectable fears, Macmillan, 1983.
22. GAUL D, Alan and CORNELL, A. D. Poltergeists RKP, 1979.
23. OWEN, George, Can We Explain the Poltergeist?, Helix Press, 1964.
24. ROLL, William G. The Poltergeist, Star, 1976.
25. CRAMER, Mark, The Devil Within, W H Allen, 1979.
26. GOODMAN, Felicitas D. The Exorcism of Annelise Michel, Doubleday, 1981.


The Scientist and the Fantastic. Peter Rogerson

Two anomalous phenomena and their challenge to science

From MUFOB Volume 5, number 6, 1973

coverRecently there have been published two books in which scientists discuss “fantastic” events which are generally relegated to the province of “silly season” stories, These are J Allen Hynek’s The UFO Experience (1) and John Napier’s Bigfoot, (2) Both these authors are concerned with the scientific reaction to anomalous events, a reaction which is often misunderstood.

Both UFOs and ABSMs have many features in common; they are elusive, there exists no hard evidence (in the form of body parts corpses, etc.) of their existence; they are primarily known through eyewitness accounts; their removal to the realm of pure folklore is prevented in the major part, by the existence of ground traces (the burnt circles said to be generated by UFOs, the footprints allegedly generated by ABSMs) ambiguous photographs are produced, superficially convincing but often containing curious contradictions.

Not surprisingly, the scientific community has refused to take the phenomena. seriously. As Napier comments about Bigfoot: “If we confine ourselves rigidly to what most scientists would regard as hard evidence, then the answer is loud and clear: Bigfoot does not exist. There is no scrap of hard evidence that such creatures roaming the snows of the Himalayan or the woods of the coastal ranges of the American North West today …There are no skulls, captive animaals … photographs or cine-films of unquestionable probity. What possible justification is there for intelligent people to countenance such a wraith?”

One need hardly remark that these arguments apply with even greater force to UFOs.

But two highly intelligent men have seen fit to investigate such wraiths. Hynek is an astronomer of international repute,  Napier a first class anthropologist and anatomist. Both see the weight of eye-witness testimony as the evidence from which a case can be made out for such study. Individual eye-witness reports are valueless, hence the dangers of trying to build up “the perfect UFO report”; the sceptic can say “lies” and leave it at that. What is impressive is the existence of a large number of reports, all essentially similar, with a consensus description from a random census of the percipients. Both authors examine this experience in depth.

Few readers of MUFOB will need to be told what the UFO experience is, but Hynek gives far more direct eye-witness testimony than is usual in such works. Hynek tends to approach the subject ‘internally’ by means of eye-witness description thus complementing Vallée who in Anatomy of a Phenomenon and Challenge to Science approached the problem by means of statistical studies of classes of reports. All of us involved in ufology will gain some further insight into the subject by studying The UFO Experience, and will perhaps know more of the elements to look for when investigating reports. The UFO experience is puzzling and distressing to the percipients; descriptions tend to be vague, the phenomena being barely describable in current vocabularies.

Hynek recognises six categories of UFO experience, nocturnal lights, daylight discs, radar-visual, close encounters, close encounters with various physical effects, close encounters with occupants. Perhaps because of its rarity in America he appears to have overlooked a seventh category, the giant cloud cigar. Examples of eyewitness testimony are given to illustrate these categories, wherever practicable from Hynek’s own files.

There has been a certain amount of criticism to the effect that the work lacks sophisticated scientific studies; however Hynek is writing primarily for the scientist with little previous knowledge of the subject, rather than the experienced UFO researcher.

The subject matter of Napier’s book may be new to some (but not many) ufologists. ‘Bigfoot’ is the generic name given to the various ‘hairy giants” reported mainly in the Himalayas and the wooded
areas of western North America. Napier excludes certain other “semi-humans”, such as the ‘almas’ and the ‘Orang Pendek’, as there is no concrete evidence that these are anything but culturally primitive  human tribes. Napier concludes the evidence for the Himalayan  Yeti is almost negligible. The Sherpas’ tales are difficult to separate from the general body of folklore and reports by European travellers are singularly ambiguous. Only the Shipton footprint photographs remain puzzling. The same cannot be said for the Sasquatch of western North America. Here there are plenty of eyewitness reports, and in addition, two kinds of footprints have been found.

It is with these two varieties of footprints that troubles starts for it is inconceivable that two separate genera of ABSMs could inhabit the same areas which is what these footprints mean if taken at their face value. Yet both show evidence of authenticity. If they are faked, it would require a ‘Mafia’ with members in dozens of small communities. But this is only the beginning, for in numerous small but important details the contradictory they just don’t add up to a real large creature. For one thing the habitat seems inadequate to support a population of large carnivorous creatures during the winter months. It is on the description of the creatures’ diet that the famous Albert Osman kidnapping story falls down.

Some other famous pieces of evidence are  easily disposed of. The notorious Minnesota “Iceman” was a crude fake. The much publicised Patterson cine film is internally inconsistent; the figure appears to be a female, but the gait is masculine. It resembles very much an actor in a monkey skin overacting for emphasis. Was Patterson the hoaxer or the hoaxed? It is difficult to credit either.

The ABSM exists as a mythological figure in both Asian and Amerindian communities. It fulfils a role similar to the ‘little people’ of European legend. Napier argues that myths have an important role to play in the evolution of human communities, and even argues the existence of a genetic element in myths. The Bigfoot is a scapegoat onto which our less pleasant qualities can be projected, a bugbear used to enforce social discipline, and a focus for community tradition. Because they fulfil basic social needs monster myths are to be found in all cultures. Napier suggests that both the Yeti and the Sasquatch are cultural traditions of the orang-utan, which was once widespread in Central Asia. These traditions could have been brought to America by the Amerindian migrants. Napier’s dilemma, which he cannot resolve is that this hypothesis cannot explain the footprints. His hypotheses, however, are of great interest to ufologists, for if tradition can be so modified, can it provide the basis for the descriptions of UFO occupants. After reading Bigfoot one is tempted to agree with Keel, that monsters can hardly have a ‘real’ existence at all. Both Napier and Hynek critically examine the role of the professional scientists in the investigation of anomalous phenomena.

In this context, Hynek provides some amusing anecdotes about the US Air Force Project Blue Book and the Condon investigations. The last head of the former was Hector Quintanilla, an inordinately pompous man, a fact borne out by his interrogation of UFO witness Dale Spaur:

SPAUR: Well, wait a minutes let me speak.

QUINTANILLA: You used the wrong word.

S: OK, well…Q: I’m an officer in the United States Air Force…

S: Right, you definitely are

Q : And I don’t call anyone nuts … And treat me with the same respect that I treat you.

Other Blue Book heads included: “…Captain Harding (who had ambitions to be a stock broker)… Captain Gregory (to whom promotion was the be all and end all of existence….”Blue Book was far too incompetent to have covered up cases in the way UFO buffs suggest, and was permanently understaffed. Hynek castigates the Condon committee for a number of scientific sins including poor selection of data, identification of the UFO problem with the ETH, inadequate and ill-thought out procedure, and the bias of Condon himself, which he seems to have picked up to some extent from his wife. In any case the committee was set an almost impossible task.

Napier suggests that one of the major reasons why the scientific community is reluctant to study anomalous phenomena is the desire to avoid problems which appear to be insoluble and do not provide financial security. This is coupled with a fear of ridicule, if they fail to solve the problems. Hynek quotes the science historian Goudge, to the effect that establishments reject observations which challenge the prevailing world view. This lack of scientific interest has led to the virtual take over of the involvement in these subjects by cranks, which has only served to make the scientific community more wary than ever. However Napier rejects the suggestion often put out by “buffs” that scientists conspire to hide evidence; scientists are too garrulous to make good conspirators.

Both authors have suggestions for the better study of anomalous phenomena. Hynek suggests a UNESCO sponsored project to co-ordinate the efforts of the various UFO groups and the use of full tine investigators. This seems to be rather wishful thinking. Few UFO groups are as competent as APRO and NICAP, and few ‘ufologists’ are interested in research.

Napier suggests that: “It is up to the grant-giving foundations and research councils … to devote a proportion of their budgets to students … who wish to investigate the insoluble the outrageous and the offbeat.”

Not that UFO research is necessarily ‘outrageous’ or the problem insoluble, nevertheless the idea is worth examining. The best solution would seem to be a private international body devoted to the study of the whole range of anomalous phenomena. This would greatly increase the cross-fertilization of ideas and information between workers in the various fields. It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that some wealthy individuals or some institution, might be prepared to finance such a project.

The publication of these two works is to be greatly welcomed. Both will serve to stimulate scientific interest in the two phenomena,  and should go a lomg way towards clarifying a number of problems in these areas.


1. Hynek, J. Allen. The UFO Experience, a Scientific Enquiry. Abelard-Schuman, 1972.
2. Napier, John. Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in myth and reality.ship


The Monster as Metaphor. Roger Sandell

From MUFOB, new series 5, Winter 1976/7

Many of those interested in UFOs are also interested in other branches of fringe knowledge, so it is not very surprising that there have been so many theories, such as those about the Bermuda Triangle and Ancient Astronauts, that link UFOs with other mysterious phenomena. For some years ideas of this nature have been circulating regarding UFOs and ‘mystery animals’. At first these ideas were propounded by those who believed UFOs were interplanetary probes, and took the form of suggestions such as that the Bigfoot of the North American forests was a robot released from a UFO, or that the mysterious puma-like animals reported from various parts of England in recent years were part of a biological experiment by aliens. In the case of Bigfoot these ideas seem to have entered the American popular consciousness sufficiently for them to have formed the basis for one episode of the TV series Six Million Dollar Man. The latest development in this field, according to a press report, is a claim that the Loch Ness monster in an underwater extraterrestrial probe – an idea which was also featured in BBC TV’s Dr Who a year or so back.

Naively mechanistic as such ideas may be, there is no denying the existence of an overlap between the UFO and the mystery animals; the most obvious similarity is the sociological one. The ‘Nottinghamshire Lion’ reports of last summer [1976] followed a progress identical to many UFO waves. A sighting of a lion by two milk roundsmen, seen at close quarters in an open field, was considered sufficiently impressive for press and TV to give it wide coverage, and for the police to be issued with firearms, even though no lion was reported missing. This original report was followed by more dubious claims, including suggestions that patches of flattened vegetation – which in other circumstances would be claimed as UFO landing traces – were places where the lion had rested. Finally, when an alleged rearview sighting of the lion turned out to be a piece of sacking caught on a branch, the whole affair was discredited, even though the original sighting remains mysterious.

The sociological side of one mystery animal is examined in The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster, by Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester, a pamphlet published by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, a group of radical sociologists. [1] The role of the scientist and the independent researcher are analyzed in terms equally applicable to the UFO field. The increasing interest in such fringe beliefs by scientists is seen as a result of increasing controversy about the political role of science, brought about by the ecological movement and protests against the involvement of scientists in war research. In this climate, when science becomes a matter of political controversy and general discussion, many scientists no longer maintain an Olympian detachment from the man in the street. They do not look down on phenomena largely reported by non-scientists, and often reported by the more sensational press, but consider them reasonable subjects for investigation. The independent researchers, or ‘monster entrepreneurs’ as the authors describe them, are seen as often strongly individualistic people seeking a field of study in which knowledge is not the possession of an anonymous bureaucracy can be extended by the efforts of the individual. (It should be made clear that the use of the term ‘entrepreneur’ refers solely to their individuality, and is not intended to imply that researchers are ‘in it for the money’.)

One matter that is not explored by the authors is the equivocal relationship between fringe entrepreneur and the established scientist. The entrepreneur is often uncertain whether he hopes to solve the mysteries of his chosen field himself, or act as a semi-political pressure group to persuade scientists to investigate the matter in question themselves In the UFO field this has led to suggestions that some researchers have censored some of their ‘high strangeness’ data to make reports acceptable to the scientists they wish to impress.

Finally, the pamphlet examines the mechanisms of belief and scepticism. Their conclusions will not be new to [Magonia] readers:

We see in the phenomena of Loch Ness a focussing of a belief in some mysterious force just beyond human control, teasing human comprehension, subject to casual and unpredictable sighting. Just as flying saucers are a space-conquering product of a higher technology, always flying beyond man’s reach, so the creature is felt to be a time-conquering of prehistory, swimming for the most part beneath man’s threshold of vision. An image of magical power presented by the creature as it eludes the grasp of man, the dominant animal on the planet, but so powerless here. Its simple and harmonious relationship with its environment renders it invulnerable and secure … As long as it is a mystery it will symbolise freedom and security for all that is natural and will cast doubt on the omnipotence of an artificial civilization.

However, the belief that the monster is a ‘tourist stunt’ or a ‘silly-season story’ is equally sustained by irrational considerations:

Indulgent contemplation of the phenomenon is countered by hardheaded scepticism – a particular element of an attitude of mind of an urban working-class … resistant to claims of the supernatural or supernormal that would contradict [their] realistic, commonsensical understanding of the world and [their] own urban survival mechanism … Popular superstition on one hand and scepticism on the other are by no means mutually exclusive attitudes.. They often uneasily inhabit the same people, since the urban dweller, no matter how certain he is of commonsense realities that surround him, is still aware however dimly and obliquely, that there are forces inside, and for that matter outside society that lie beyond his control or comprehension … Fantasy and scepticism about the monster sustain one another in the double bond of dependence and incomprehension.

Although the authors confine their analysis to the Loch Ness Monster their observations apply if anything more strongly to the reports and rumours of abominable-snowman type creatures in the USA. An extra dimension is given to these reports by the semi-human appearance of the creatures. Taken as symbols they can be seen as a myth appropriate to modern ecological consciousness; a dream of humanity freed from the constraints of civilization, once again living by instinct in a natural environment. In this they recall other mythic inhabitants of the forest, such as the Greek god Pan whose worship was attended by orgiastic rites; Robin Hood, representative of an older, pre-feudal England who emerges from his forest to strike terror into the hearts of the leaders of organised society; and Puck, who in A Midsummer Night’s Dream submits those who wander into the woods to a night in which their sexuality becomes uncontrolled and focussed on what they would normally despise.

Another recent publication, Bigfoot, by Anne Slate and Allan Berry [2], contains data that supports this analysis by strongly suggesting that rather more is involved than a simple hunt for an unknown animal. Some items included will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of UFO contactee stories. Witnesses encounter Bigfoot after being drawn into the forest by impulses they are unable to explain. One witness submitted to hypnosis to elicit details of his experience, and claimed while in a trance to be in telepathic contact with Bigfoot, and delivered a warning that “we are ruining the planet”. Another witness, when interviewed by researchers uttered animal-like noise and delivered an incoherent prophecy of the doom of America before the Bicentennial.

Weirder still, there are cases in this book which if accurately reported suggest that Bigfoot sightings, unlike most Loch Ness Monster reports, have an apparition-like air to them. There are cases where a particular individual or family seems to have been singled out for attention over a long period. There are other cases where a creature seem to have vanished after the sighting in circumstances where it was hard to imagine any large animal disappearing. In one case a witness after his sighting is visited by a mysterious Man-in-Black figure who asks for money for a telephone call. When passing over the money the witness is unable to feel his visitor’s hand.

Most striking of all are the cases where the Bigfoot witnesses state that even before the creature was encountered the whole forest landscape seemed somehow wrong and unsettling, and without the normal forest sounds. This detail is similar to the experiences of witnesses in apparition cases and has led to the suggestion that in these cases the witness is hallucinating not merely the apparition, but his whole field of vision. [4]
As always, one is faced with the problem of how seriously or literally to take these reports. In the authors’ forward it must be said that they themselves seem for the most part puzzled by the odd and inconvenient nature of many of their cases. In any event, the fact that such stories are circulating is eloquent testimony that for some people the Bigfoot mystery has taken on overtones very far removed from the mere hunt for a mystery animal. When we read of people propelled by strange impulses to a weird, silent part of the forest to meet a monster, we are surely not in the realms of natural history but in the magic forest of a fairytale inhabited by supernatural beings, such as in Keats’ Belle Dame Sans Merci:

Oh, what can ail the knights at arms
So pale and loitering?
The sedge hath withered from the seeds
And no birds sing.

If some at least of the Bigfoot sightings belong to the realm of apparition, such a phenomenon would not be unprecedented. The ghostlore of Britain has many examples of apparitions such as Demon Dogs and the giant, shadowy ‘Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui’ in Scotland, descriptions of which are strikingly similar to some Bigfoot reports.

In the 1950s when reports of the Himalayan Abominable Snowman were appearing in the press, the dramatist Nigel Kneale (creator of Quatermass) wrote a play about an expedition to hunt down the animal. When a hunter closes in on the creature it turns to look at him, and its face is seen to be identical to his own. In their very different ways the two books reviewed here show that however they may be explained, mystery animal reports tell us much about the way we perceive reality, react to it, and transmit it to others.


1. Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester. The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1976.
2. Anne Slate and Allen Berry, Bigfoot. Bantam, 1976.
3. This case is detailed in ‘Bersek’, by Dr. Berthold Schwarz. FSR.
4. Celia Green and Charles McCreery. Apparitions, Hamish Hamilton, 1975.