The Age of Infantilism: A Response to Brookesmith.
David Sivier

From Magonia 64, August 1998.

In issues 54, 56 and 63 of Magonia, that stalwart of ufological scepticism and scourge of the wooly-minded, Peter Brookesmith, presented his thesis that the imagery and symbolism of the UFO, and particularly the abduction phenomenon, had their roots in the semitic conception of god as mitigated by the ‘American Religion’, defined by Professor Harold Bloom as “a severely internalized Grail Quest whose goal is immortality

Brookesmith further adds that, “experience of that immortality is gained shamanistically – through direct revelation, without mediation, and in solitude. Immortality is already presumed or predicated in an underlying dualistic (Gnostic) belief that the individual harbours a remnant of divinity – the ‘divine spark’ within himself, which is older than creation; it is symbolized by the empty, post-Resurrection cross of American churches. Lying beyond this and informing it … is the motif of America as Eden.” (2)

Brookesmith is an elegant writer and possesses a singular, scathing wit which he has used to good effect against his opponents. His arguments are always pertinent and deserve attention, even if one does not accept them. In issue of 61 of this magazine I attempted to counter some of the more controversial of his statements in my essay, Crashed Cups. This was, however, before the last part of Brookesmith’s original essay appeared, which in turn raised several issues which merit closer examination.

The first is his definition of the American religion. There is much that is true in the above definition – Mormonism, as the quintessential American religion, in particular being replete in Gnostic ideas such as pre-existent souls – but these features are not confined solely to American Christianity. Shamanism itself predates Christianity, and although mysticism and charismatic phenomena – the gifts of the Holy Spirit – have formed a part of the Christian experience since the age of the early church, these phenomena have become less frequent, and often discouraged, except in the case of revivalist sects. We shall return to this theme later as it applies particularly to the Abductionists.

The most important thing to note here is that this shamanistic mystical faith which finds itself situated within a sacral landscape is not confined solely to America, but is also found thousands of miles away, at the eastern extremity of Europe in Russia. While America sees itself as an Eden, thanks to the frontier wilderness encountered by the first settlers, Russia views itself as the Third Rome, the successor to Byzantium through the marriage of Vladimir, the first Kievan Russian King, to Anna, the sister of the Byzantine emperor Basil II in the eleventh century, and the consequent conversion of Russia to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Although Russian Orthodoxy is strongly ritualistic, charismatic phenomena like those found in Mormonism and American Pentecostalism have their counterparts among indigenous Russian sects, such as the Old Believers and the Baptists. The glossalia of the Baptists in particular formed the basis of the ‘transrational’ language, Zaum, as invented by the Russian Futurist poet Alexei Kruchonykh. Similarly, Russian religious faith shows an intense discomfort with the physical body, especially sex. The celibacy of the Shakers has an even more extreme counterpart in the institutional castration of the Skoptzi. Even outside of this Christian milieu, ‘scientific’ cosmists such as the poet Aleksandr Gorsky could maintain that “death is not a law of life; it must be overcome. One must be chaste. Chastity is a precondition for the immortality of the flesh.” (3)

Gorsky himself remained chaste, even within his marriage, seeing the deaths of other people as an unworthy deed they had somehow committed. Paradoxically, this unease with reproduction can lead to libertinage. Its been alleged that the Gnostics of antiquity and the Albigensians of the Middle Ages held their orgies not to celebrate or indulge their sexuality, but to show their contempt for the flesh by giving it to the person next to them at the Sabbat, regardless of gender. Similarly, that quintessential epitome of Russian mysticism and sexual vice, Rasputin, whose very name means debauchee, came from a sect who believed their leader had a spark of the divinity within him, which his followers could only share through sexual union, a doctrine which Rasputin seems also to have applied to himself.

This discomfort with sexuality is not confined to Christianity, nor is Christianity alone in the Virgin birth of its central figure. The Dowayos of Cameroon, although leading healthily adulterous lives, are deeply prudish. They are therefore extremely careful to keep their reproductive organs covered, and sex takes place in the dark. Sex must not be indulged in before important activities like the hunt, while the firewalkers of Fiji had to abstain for about three weeks before walking lest they burned themselves. In recent times the pressures of commercial tourism has reduced this period of abstinence to three days, but the principle remains. Even Buddhism has its ascetic cast, and Buddhist monks are as abstinent as their counterparts in the West.

Chinese religion too has its Virgin births. The great hero Monkey was born from a rock, as old as creation, though one fertilised by the elements. As for supernatural abductions, like our fairies the Japanese oni carry off attractive members of the opposite sex. The Japanese heroes Momotaro, Yoshitsune and Benkei rescued young women who had been abducted by these demons. More recently, the Polish anthropologist Dionysiusz Czubala, has collected a number of contemporary legends in Mongolia in which the tradition of abducting wildmen, like the Yeti, is still very much alive. One of the offspring of such a union between a human woman and these apes is allegedly one of the country’s greatest actors at the national theatre. These countries did not, however, produce the UFO myth. Why not?

In the case of Africa, Polynesia and much of Asia, the answer is simple. The UFO is essentially a technological myth, and these parts of the planet are still largely traditional societies lacking the technological and industrial advances of the West. When anomalous flying objects are sighted, as Cynthia Hind in Zimbabwe has complained, they are likely to be subsumed into indigenous African beliefs concerning their gods or ancestors, and it can be assumed that this is, or has been, much the case with pre-industrial societies outside Africa as well. This does not explain why the UFO myth should not have appeared first in Europe, Russia or Japan besides America. All these areas were as developed scientifically as America, and shared the same scientistic preoccupations. Germany and Russia produced two of the first films dealing with spaceflight – Aelita, 1924, and Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon), 1929. Outside of America, Italy produced one of the very first SF comic strips, a space opera entitled Saturno Contra La Terra (Saturn Against Earth), which ran in the comic L’Awenturoso between 1937 and 1943.

Although Italy and Russia lagged behind the rest of Europe in industrialisation, the Futurist movements in both countries presented a vociferously and rabidly technophile artistic culture. Japan’s tastes in SF seem less preoccupied with space travel and more oriented towards cybernetics, as shown in the long tradition of films and comics featuring robot heroes, beginning with Masaki Sakamoto’s Tanku Tankuro strip of 1934. This seems as much the legacy of oriental fascination with the automata introduced to the East by European merchants as a continuation of Western literary exploration of such artificial creatures as Frankenstein’s monster. It would appear that while Western technological yearnings sought an additional symbol in space travel, the Japanese primarily concentrated on robotics, at least until very recently when it, too, took up the international trends towards space adventure.

Brookesmith partially qualifies his statement of the essentially Semitic religious nature of the UFO religion by stating that its successful export “may, for instance, be a symptom and a sign that a deracinated and relativistic Western culture has had to generate a new religious perspective to accomodate and resolve its own disturbing and destructive characteristics and their consequences.” (4)

This is essentially true, especially when one takes notes of the powerful fascination many of the earliest contactees had with Eastern philosophy. Adamski and George King are two such examples, not to mention the essentially Theosophical religious views permeating the ideas of William Dudley Pelley’s and Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s Church Universal and Triumphant. Western moral relativism, although widely perceived as a recent phenomenon, actually began in the 19th century and has its roots in the 18th, when Europeans became impressed with the religious traditions of their subject peoples.

It was this fascination with oriental religions which was successfully exported back to the West in the form of Theosophy. It was Theosophy in turn which seems to have permeated the Cosmist ideas promulgated by the Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovskii in the 1920s. Tsiolkovskii spent much of his life in the Russian provincial town of Kaluga, then one of the major centres of Russian Theosophy, and his idea that matter is permeated with a “conscious energy … striving for further development, perfection and happiness” represents “a peculiar synthesis of vitalism and monadology with Theosophical, Buddhist and pan-psychic thought”. (5) This synthesis of visionary science and an occultism tinged with oriental beliefs first appeared in Tsiolkovsky’s 1914 book, Nirvana, 33 years before Kenneth Arnold’s sighting over the Rockies. Other rocket scientists with a pronounced interest in occultism included the German pioneers Hermann Ganswindt and Hermann Oberth, and Max Valier.

This term ‘visionary’ is important. In science it tends to be applied to the great pioneering theorists of space travel and the colonisation of the cosmos. The planetary scientist, John S. Lewis, uses it in his book Mining the Sky to describe such thinkers, especially the great scientists, philosophers and writers J.D. Bernal, Olaf Stapledon and Arthur C. Clarke. (6) The term, with its mystical overtones, encapsulates the almost religious fervour felt by the supporters of space exploration. Tsiolkovkii and the other cosmists, as we have seen, subscribed to a set of beliefs which saw the task of humanity as perfecting itself, conquering death, and resurrecting the dead as well as the colonization of the universe.

These ideas seem to have entered the speculation of other leading scientific prophets independently of Tsiolkovskii’s influence. Thus, scientists and SF writers like David Langford and Brian Stableford in their book The Third Millenium, can forecast a genetically modified humanity with a vastly extended lifespan which expands out into the cosmos. Ian McDonald in his novel Necroville saw the route to immortality as submicroscopic nanorobots which restructured a person’s cells to resurrect them after death, which has its parallels in the belief of many Russians that Lenin’s body was preserved so that scientists could one day raise him from the dead. Even established reproductive technologies such as cloning have this mystical aspect, the religious desire to preserve and resurrect a lost loved one. Rael, remember, is trying to establish Clonaid, a charity which will offer parents the opportunity to clone their dead children. A Russian scientist has also declared that he now has the ability to raise Lenin from the grave using such techniques.

As for discomfort with the human body and its drives and limitations, this is also reflected in the hubristic theorizing of the Extropians and Downloaders, who wish to see human personalities transferred to computers and the human race eventually become a society of civilised machines. One of the leading theorists of the movement, Hans Moravec, sincerely wanted to be a machine at one point, and his predecessor in such strange ideas, Bob Truax, who was also active building his own, DIY passenger-carrying spacerocket, expressed his own dissatisfaction with the engineering limitations of the human body when he said, “What right-minded engineer would try to build any machine out of lime and jelly? Bone and protoplasm are extremely poor structural materials”. (7) Truax himself was utterly convinced that “the core of the human personality was not matter, but mind: ‘It has been called the `soul’, the ‘id’, or simply the ‘self or’identity.’ Certainly it is not the body.” (8)

This technological yearning for a superior, cybernetic man eventually threw up the bush robot, Moravec’s ultimate brain child, which looked like nothing so much as the offspring of a blighted union between a tree and a TV aerial. Nevertheless, its creator loved it, hailing it as a “marvel of surrealism to behold,” (9) and declaring that it would be “an almost omnipotent being … There’d be virtually no task, mental or physical, that it would be unable to accomplish … the laws of physics will seem to melt in the face of intention and will. As with no magician that ever was, impossible things will simply happen around a robot bush. Imagine inhabiting such a body”. (10) The ultimate modification of the human body would be an electron-positron plasma, created billions of years hence to survive the Heat Death of the Universe and the collapse of any survivingg protons.

This proposal is strikingly reminiscent of Tsiolkovskii’s proposal that the human body be adapted to life in space, and that the eventual, final form of the human species would be a kind of radiation, “immortal in time and infinite in space”. (11) Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke have both suggested that advanced civilisations, including our own, may evolve into robotic beings. Baxter expressed this idea in an article for the popular magazine Focus, while the clearest exposition of it in Clarke’s work is the novel of 2001: A Space Odyssey. These writers diverge, however, in their extrapolation of the next evolutionary stage. To Clarke, this is disembodied minds embossed directly onto the fabric of space itself, such as the entity which transforms the hero of 2001 into the Starchild, while Baxter merely suggests that human beings would subsume into programmes run on vast, planet-sized computers.

The imagery of 2001 is replete with religious metaphors of fall, redemption and rebirth. The paintings in the hotel bedroom created by the extraterrestrial supermind in the final scenes are all of the Madonna and Child, while the creature’s remodelling of the hero into the superhuman Starchild could be seen very much as an alien god sending out his spirit on a favourite son, with whom he is well-pleased. Clarke himself was certainly not unaware of the religious symbolism in the movie, and went about sniggering that it was “the greatest religious film ever made”, sentiments echoed in the Soviet film maker Tarkovsky’s statement that “we don’t have religious films any more. We have Science Fiction.”

There are even angels in SF and hard scientific speculation too. Tsiolkovskii believed there existed a class of ethereal, incorporeal sentient beings more perfect than humans who imparted messages to humanity using atmospheric and heavenly phenomena. Carl Sagan’s book, Contact, has an underlying subtext in which the universe is the product of intelligent design, and the aliens with whom humanity make contact hint at the hallmarks of this design contained in the structure of the universe itself. “Thus the aliens play the traditional role of angels, acting as intermediaries between mankind and God, cryptically indicating the way towards occult knowledge of the universe and human existence.” (12)

Furthermore, that long-standing scientific controversialist, Fred Hoyle, has suggested in his book The Intelligent Universe that the special conditions found in our cosmic neighbourhood for the creation of life are the conscious product of advanced intelligent beings. Indeed, he goes further and suggests that the universe is itself the product of a much more powerful superintelligence from the timeless vantage point of the infinite future. Like the ultimate observer in Baxter’s Timelike Infinity, this superintelligence is clearly fulfilling a role ascribed traditionally to God. Davies concludes from these and other examples that the search for alien beings can thus be seen as part of a long-standing religious quest as well as a scientific project.

It is only in this century that discussion of extraterrestrial beings has taken place in a context where a clear separation has been made between the scientific and religious aspects of the topic. But this separation is really only skin deep

This should not surprise us. Science began as an out-growth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists, and whether or not they believe in the existence of alien beings, accept an essentially theological worldview. It is only in this century that discussion of extraterrestrial beings has taken place in a context where a clear separation has been made between the scientific and religious aspects of the topic. But this separation is really only skin deep. (13)

Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality. attacked by CSICOP, among others, as pseudoscience, was merely an attempt to unite science with its ideological parent. Possibly that’s what angered Tipler’s critics: at some level, at least, he’d given the game away. Sometimes this close connection between science and religion proved particularly uncomfortable for the former. The first scientist to propose the Big Bang theory was a Belgian priest, Joseph Lemaitre, who published it in a 1929 paper. This seemed too close to Judaeo-Christian ideas of creation ex nihilo for Fred Hoyle, who scathingly asked what kind of scientific theory it was, “that had been proposed by a priest and endorsed by the Pope?” (14) Religion may stand dumb in the face of science, but science is itself rapidly taking on a religious, even mystical dimension. If religion is the opium of humanity, then science fiction, as C.S. Lewis once observed, is the only mind-expanding drug.

Does this mean that the ufological religion is based in the Semitic and American religions? Certainly, in some specific instances. Both Maxim Gorky and Nikolai Rozhkov, two of the Soviet state’s most prominent cosmists, had been adherents of God-building, which was an attempt by some Marxists to draw the peasants and workers to their beliefs through their religious piety. It declared that the creation of a Communist world order, a worker’s paradise, was the divine task of all true Christian people to build the body of Christ here on Earth. Tsiolkovsky himself published a positivistic exegesis of the canonical Gospels.

Quazgaa introduced Betty Andreasson to the voice of God, who exhorted her to turn to His son, Jesus Christ, after, significantly, accepting a Bible from her. Bill Ellis has convincingly demon-strated the roots of the Heaven’s Gate cult – some of whose members also castrated themselves – in peculiarly American forms of Christian evangelicalism. (15) This is really not surprising, considering that the sect’s leader, Marshall Applewhite, was the son of a Presbyterian minister. More recent ufological imports to America, such as Hon-Ming Chen’s True Way, have a more Buddhist religious orientation, although the Christian element in their beliefs is still prominent. (16)Apart from this, is the conception of an organising superintelligence permeating the works of certain visionary scientists and SF writers essentially Semitic in origin? Not necessarily. Davies draws a comparison between the aliens and superintelligence in Hoyle’s book The Intelligent Universe with Plato’s Demiurge and The Good, or God, and points out that Hoyle is “quick to concede the inspiration he has drawn from Greek, rather than Judaic, theology.” (17)

That ufology draws upon popular SF for its symbolism seems to me to be well-established. Ufology, however, seems to be remarkable for what it leaves out of its conceptual building blocks, as well as what it includes. Brookesmith notes that although the UFOs and their occupants have acquired some of the aspects of gods, they do not seem to have completely taken over the godlike technology of some of the entities in science fiction. Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe contains an entire artificial cosmos constructed specifically for Zaphod Beeblebrox. Beverley Crusher, one of Star Trek’s heroines, accidentally creates an entire personal universe for herself from a warp bubble created by her son during an experiment in the episode Remember Me? The Sidhe in Greg Bear’s Infinity Concerto are able to create artificial universes, like Sidhedark, through their sorcery, but Bear states in the sequel, The Serpent Mage, that in two centuries’ time humans will be capable of doing the same, though this time through natural science.

Clearly, ufology is lagging behind not only hard scientific speculation, but also its sources in SF. The human mind may conceive of the Visitors as angels and godlings, or at least as gnostic gods positioned halfway between humanity and the unknown God, but they shrink from portraying the aliens as full-scale creator gods them-selves. The Greys may have created humanity, but they are not the cosmos’ ultimate architects.

Scandinavia and Greece were the favoured locations of numerous reports of ghost rockets shortly after the War, and the first reported sexual encounter with an abducting alien was the Villas-Boas case in Brazil. Yet it’s true that “the UFO phenomenon was, at birth, exclusively American”. (18) Why, given that other European countries, including Russia, shared the same Semitic religious heritage, scientific and scientistic preoccupations with a occult subculture tinged with orientalism? The answer probably lies in the innately democratic nature of American society, and the peculiar complex of fears and neuroses surrounding it.

First of all, Germany and Russia were under the heel of totalitarian ideologies jealous of the grip other myths could exert on the minds of their citizens. Religion was severely repressed in Russia, and documents relating to pseudoscience or occultism were either suppressed or destroyed. The influence of pan-German occultism on Hitler was profound, yet he banned the neo-pagan sects when he came to power, fearing that they were sent by ‘dark forces’ to divide Germany. The V2 team at Peenemunde may have harboured secret hopes of space travel and a better use for their rockets, but these enthusiasms were not shared by their Nazi superiors. Von Braun himself was twice interrogated by the Gestapo because it was felt he was too interested in space travel, rather than his patriotic duty of destroying the Allies.

In Russia, many of the earlier rocket pioneers like Sergei Korolev found themselves in Stalin’s gulags, until the necessity of the War years forced the authorities to release them in order to channel their skills into the task of fighting the Germans. Even in the freer climate after Stalin’s death, those scientists in the Soviet Union interested in ufology had to tread extremely carefully, and official disfavour with its attendant penalties was always a major peril. In Italy and Russia the Futurists were effectively sidelined by the authorities, who sought an art with more obvious appeal to the masses. Marinetti did not shoot himself like Mayakovsky, but his influence was severely circumscribed. Besides, the Futurists’ main enthusiasm in both countries seems to have been conventional aviation, rather than spaceflight. After the War, continental Europe was chiefly preoccupied with the task of reconstruction, rather than inventing new myths of its own.

The chief difference between Russia and America, though, seems to have been in the availability of science fiction and occult literature. Before the massive industrialization of the Stalin era, 95 per cent of the Russian population were peasants and the country had an extremely high rate of illiteracy. America was far more advanced industrially, and possessed a large reading public. The readership of the pulps ran into millions. Martin Gardner and John Keel have convincingly proved that the development of the ETH was heavily dependent on the support given to the new phenomenon by Ray Palmer, who bequeathed to it the manichean dualism of the Shaver mystery. Fate, when it appeared, was a national news stand magazine, of a type unknown and impossible in Russia. The American public were primed to accept the ETH because for over half a century previously mass-circulation magazines had carried tales of extra-terrestrial derring-do.

Only one problem remains in this examination of the American origins of the saucer myth. That is the question of why the myth, with its attendant fears and paranoia, occurred at precisely the time when American international influence was at its strongest this century, and when confidence in the government was at its highest? The FBI and other government organizations received many letters from ordinary citizens denouncing ufologists as ‘communistic’ because they were vociferously sceptical of the government. Again, the key seems to be the external threat posed by Communism to democracy and the American way of life.

1947 saw the Communists take power in eastern Europe, and subsequent years saw the transformation of those countries into Soviet satellites. Democracy, and by identification, America, was threatened. Faced with the sudden expansion of a competing ideology vying with America for global influence, 1947 “found many Americans questioning the meaning of their nation and of life itself”. (19)

Sects are primarily protest movements, and the UFO myth has undoubtedly acted as a vehicle for the articulation of intense dissatisfaction with the government, first through a violent revolt against its perceived impotence in the face of the saucer threat, which was seen as deliberate disinformation, and then to its alleged conspiratorial nature as the myth darkened after the Kennedy assassination and Watergate. Many of the SF movies of the 50s use alien invasion as a metaphor for Communist infiltration, an idea that certainly has its counterpart in ufology, especially in early fears that the saucers were some new Soviet craft. Arguably, anti-Communism has been as powerful a force shaping ufology as its origins in formal religion, though perhaps more in the form of a prevailing sense of threat rather than in any expressed doctrines.

Then there is the problem of the alleged Gnosticism of the phenomenon. One of the first things that needs stating is that gnosticism was never an exclusively Christian movement. The ideological ingredients in Gnosticism were taken from Semitic, Platonic, and Zoroastrian and even Ancient Egyptian religious concepts. Although many of the sects were Christian, certain forms should be seen as separate religions in their own right, such as that of Mani of Babylon. Other non-Christian religions with a gnostic basis included the Druzes of Lebanon, whose origins in Shi’ah Islam have been extensively modified by the admixture of Gnostic ideas. Some sects were and are prechristian. These include the Mandaeans, the so-called ‘Christians of St. John’. They, however, are nothing of the sort. The central salvefic figure in their religion is St. John the Baptist, and they revile Christ as a false prophet. Some Gnostic texts, like the Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus, owe little or nothing to influences from the Semitic world. The Hermetic writings, which include gnostic material such as the above Poimandres, “not only are purely pagan but even lack polemical reference to either Judaism or Christianity”. (20)

The rejection of the material world in Gnosticism is essentially a reaction to the suffering inherent in material existence, and represents a Hellenized monotheism struggling to develop an effective theodicy to deal with the problem of evil. Western, and a very large part of Islamic, philosophy has its origins in ancient Greek thought, and although modern technological civilisation has superceded ancient ideas, philosophy as an intellectual culture still remains saturated with their influence. Some of this may simply be that the ancients were the first to frame many of the perennial problems of philosophy. A number of modern texts on cosmology, for example, refer to St Augustine, who wondered what God did before the Creation, a question raised still now when the universe’s origins are under discussion. It is entirely likely that even if the Roman Empire had not converted to Christianity, and bequeathed its Semitic heritage to the West, Western thought would still have had a gnostic cast through the asceticism in Hellenic philosophy.

The striking similarity between ancient Christian Gnosticism and later Jewish cabbalism is an interesting question which has never been satisfactorily explained. Brookesmith cites Karen Armstrong, saying that the Safed cabbalism of Isaac Luria “can fairly be described as Gnosticism without Christ”. (21) Earlier cabbalists also produced passages strikingly reminiscent of ancient esoteric Christian texts. Joseph Gikatila, a contemporary of the great 13th cabbalist and author of the Zohar, Moses de Leon, wrote an important text, The Mystery of the Serpent, which is strongly reminiscent of the beliefs of the Ophites, a Christian gnostic sect which venerated snakes. (22) The book Bahir which circulated in twelfth century Provence was strongly influenced by the vanished Raza Rabba, or Great Mystery, which itself held much gnostic speculation on the aeons or inferior demiurges. Much Gnostic speculation can, however, be reasonably traced to the same Jewish sources that inspired the cabbalah. The description of the divine throne in the Hypostasis of the Archons or the Book of Norea originated in Jewish speculation about the Merkaba or divine chariot, which was itself developed from the vision of Ezekiel.

It’s possible to conclude from this that Jewish mysticism was developed from Christian gnostic teaching, though it’s more likely that later Jewish mysticism was “so much in accord with other features of authentically Jewish thought which the Gnostics did not know – thought which, for its own part, is almost totally ignorant of any dualistic conception of the universe – that one is tempted to believe that it was the Gnostic sects who received a great part of their theories from Judaism.” (23) This is interesting, for it states that essentially monistic Jewish ideas, taken by ideologues and theologians widely separated in space and time, were independently elaborated into dualistic religious systems.

Inherent in this is the idea of the transvaluation of values, of different value systems superseding each other as society changes. One example of the impact of societal change on religious thought is the shift in emphasis from the preparation for death and the afterlife to the quest for the meaning of life. In the ancient world and Middle Ages, life was indeed, to use Thomas Hobbs’ phrase, ‘poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Most people could expect to live only until the age of 30. The high rate of early mortality meant that death was an omnipresent companion, and so religion acquired a morbid cast, even producing manuals to enable the faithful to breath their last in a suitable manner. The Art of Dying Well was a real book widely read in the 17th century. In the present century the standard of health care in the West has improved immeasurably, and individuals can now look forward to a long life of at least the three score years and ten promised by the Bible. The result has been that religion has increasingly turned away from the rewards of the afterlife, to concentrate on the existential condition of humanity here on Earth.

This existential despair has been an important part of the post-war intellectual climate, largely because of the horrors of the Second World War, such as the Holocaust and bombing of Nagasaki, among others. The other major factor has been the retreat of hu-manity’s place in the universe as mod-em science has revealed a vast cos-mos of immense spaces and nearly infinite time, quite heedless of the may-fly lives of the intelligent beings thrown up by evolution on the surface of an insignificant world. This intense pessimism over humanity’s now meaningless place in the cosmos has undoubtedly drawn certain Western scholars to Gnosticism.

Hans Jonas clearly states that he was drawn to the study of Gnosticism because of its parallels with modern existentialism. This existentialism can itself be broken down into two types – Christian existentialism, the intellectual product of Soren Kierkegaard, and the atheist existentialism of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s philosophical mentor, however, was Schopenhauer, and although he turned Schopenhauer on his head by stressing the joy in life, rather than despair, Schopenhauer’s influence may still be discerned.

Schopenhauer, however, was certainly no fan of the Semitic religions, and took his philosophical pessimism from Indian religious thought. The basis of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of the Will was elaborated from his reading of Plato and Kant, to which he added Anquetil Duperron’s Latin translation of a Persian version of the Upanishads and perhaps something from the great oriental scholar Friedrich Majer, the author of Brahma, or the Religion of the Hindus, whom he met in 1819. The effect of the Upanishads was to increase his pessimistic reading of Kant, so that it became “possible for him to employ the metaphysic of Kant in a sense remote from that in which Kant had employed it”. (24)

A good example of his promotion of a pessimistic orientalism over the Semitic religions can be found in Aphorism 9 in the above translation: “Brahma is supposed to have created the world by a kind of fall into sin, or by an error, and has to atone for this sin or error by remaining in it himself until he has redeemed himself out of it. Very good! … But that a god like Jehovah should create this world of want and misery animi causa and de gaiete de coeur and then go so far as to applaud himself for it, saying it is all very good: that is quite unacceptable.” (25)

Schopenhauer’s orientalism is important. Hollingdale considered that it was an important part of his eventual success, even though he met with a conspicuous lack of it in his own life time. While other German philosophers had used philosophy to justify Christianity’s fundamental assumptions, Shopenhauer recast Christianity “in a pessimistic sense, and then assimilated it to the religions of the East”. (26) It’s also important that Schopenhauer’s philosophy was fundamentally atheist. There’s no God in Schopenhauer, and so the problem of evil does not have to be reconciled to the existence of a benevolent deity. Most important, however, is Schopenhauer’s intense pessimism. In an age which has thrown off the optimism of the 19th century, and become increasingly sceptical of the benefits of modern technological civilisation, Schopenhauer’s pessimism is very attractive.

Modern ufological religions like the Aetherians, UNARIUS and the Church Universal and Triumphant are strongly permeated by Eastern religious conceptions, and it is by no means impossible that the antimaterial, ascetic, pessimistic streak in Buddhism and Hinduism has been exaggerated and more pronounced in the climate of Post-War existential despair. There are, of course, elements in Buddhism which undoubtedly have a gnostic cast, such as the belief that every being, or at least every human, has ‘Buddha nature’ – the capacity to gain enlightenment and enter nirvana like Gautama Buddha. There are a number of oriental religious festivals which celebrate this facet of human religious potential. In Nepal it is the festival of Mha Puja, when one greets one’s fellows with ‘I salute the god within you.’ (26) Something like this entered Science Fiction with the ‘grokking’ ceremonies in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Although all this certainly has links to the gnostic elements in the American religion, such as the pre-existent souls of Mormonism, within mainstream Christianity, at least, it remains an heretical doctrine.

There’s also a class aspect to the ufological religion to which is paid scant attention. In the typical analysis of class-related forms of worship, middle-class piety stresses discipline, reading and the quiet, bourgeois values. Working-class religion is orgiastic, the worshippers compensating for the harshness of their lives with a form of religious expression which stresses excitement. This is used to explain the charismaticism of Black Pentecostalism and various working-class White sects like the snake-handling cults of Alabama. At the top of the social ladder, aristocratic religious devotion emphasized mysticism, although this has largely vanished since the gentry have largely been absorbed into the upper middle-classes. Nevertheless, it is interesting how many leaders of ufological mysticism had pretensions to nobility. William Dudley Pelley tried to pass himself off as the Prince of Sumadjia, while George King enjoyed numerous chivalrous honours bestowed by the Venusians.

Many of these mystics came from background which, if not exactly bluecollar, were not glamorously middleclass either. Adamski, for all his pretensions of being an astronomer, ran a hamburger stall. George King was, before his sudden elevation to interplanetary parliament, a taxi driver. The popular joke that everyone in the American deep south is married to their sister and has seen a UFO, and that the most frequent victims of alien abduction are bored mid-Western housewives, take on a significance when one realises that the deep south is the most economically backward part of the USA. Clearly, working-class and upper-class spirituality are merging in the new ufological faith which compensates for frustrations and poverty in the here-and-now.

At the same time conventional society is being stripped of anything smacking of spontaneity – and remember, Weber believed that religion was one way society could try to recapture that spontaneity – religion itself is trying to strip itself of the mystical, or at least archaic, in order to appear relevant. The degradation of religious language, and Margaret Thatcher’s omission of the heroic, or human element in praising the soldiers of the Falkland’s War, is all part of the same process. The reaction to this new disenchantment could very well be the trance culture of the underground raves and burgeoning New Age mysticism.

In this analysis, therefore, the new religion of the UFO arises from the pressures and contradictions of modern scientific and industrial society acting on a primarily Semitic religious base, but one that is strongly alloyed with oriental esoterism as an integral part of it.

As for the similarities of Roswell to the quest for the Holy Grail, this seems more like an exercise in literary criticism than a sociological analysis, though it is intriguing

The defining elements are, however, modern science, which is slowly taking over religious discourses of eschatology and language, and post-industrial society which will develop any monistic thought, regardless of origin, into a form of dualism. As for the similarities of Roswell to the quest for the Holy Grail, this seems more like an exercise in literary criticism than a sociological analysis, though it is intriguing. The first thing to note is that many of the parallels with the Grail that Brookesmith cites are those taken from extra-Semitic sources, like the turning wheel of Buddha and Ixion. (28)

Brookesmith doubts that there will ever be a real Sir Perceval to find the ufological Holy Grail. Perhaps so, but there are no end of pretenders. Bob Lazar is one such, and the similarity between him and Perceval is striking. Perceval was blighted by his guilty love for Guinevere, Arthur’s wife, while good ol’ Bob is similarly blighted with sexual misdeeds – like working at an illegal brothel in Nevada.

As for the location of the Grail in a desert or wasteland, that has parallels in a number of non-Westem faiths. In the traditional tribal cultures of Africa, boys are sent into the bush before initiation (which often takes the form of circumcision, another form of genital mutilation) to isolate them from civilised society. Their liminal geographical location – a physical wilderness – is matched by their role in the social wilderness – neither child nor adult, boy nor man. Quite often this is done to protect society, especially women, from the potent mystical powers generated by this indeterminate state. That is why so many tribal cultures cover their boys in wickerwork ‘spaceman’ suits, of the type cited by Von Daniken. To this may be added that the Plains Indians also sent their young men out on vision quests, to seek their identity through a unique personal vision.

The aliens are dangerous beings, and so, like the gods and visions of pre-industrial cultures, are found only in the wilderness. If the abduction experience is a kind of cosmic initiation, a true coming of age in the Milky Way, then the pursuit of the Roswell Grail is not just a quest for a relic to prove the material existence of the entities, but a search of all ufological society for maturity and identity. Without this, and its ‘true name’, ufology will truly remain locked in its age of infantilism.



  1. Brookesmith, P., ‘Communion Cups and Crashed Saucers, Part Three, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch’, Magonia 63, p.3.
  2. Brookesmith, P., ibid, p. 3.
  3. Antsiferov, N.,’Iz Dum o Bylom: Vospominaniia’, quoted in Hagemeister, M., Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today, in Rosenthal, B.G., ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, Cornell University Press, 1997, p. 193.
  4. Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 3.
  5. Hagemeister, M., Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today, in Rosenthal, B.G., ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, p. 198.
  6. Lewis, J.S., Mining the Sky, Addison-Wesley, 1997, p. 26.
  7. Quoted in Regis, E., Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, Penguin, 1990, p. 153.
  8. Regis, E., ibid, p. 154.
  9. Regis, E., ibid, p. 170.
  10. Regis, E., p. 172.
  11. Chizhevsky, A.L., ‘Stranitsy Vospominanii o K.E. Tsiolkovskom, in Khimia i Zhizn’, 1977, quoted in Hagemeister, M., op. cit., p. 198.
  12. Davies, P., Are We Alone? Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life, Penguin, 1995, p. 89.
  13. Davies, P., ibid, pp. 90-91.
  14. Boslough, J., Masters of Time, J.M. Dent, 1992, p. 88.
  15. Ellis, B., ‘American Gothic’, in Fortean Times, no. 100, pp. 35-36.
  16. For a discussion of the beliefs of this particular ufological new religion, see Perkins, R., and Jackson, F., ‘Spirit in the Sky’, in Fortean Times no. 109, pp. 24-26.
  17. Davies, P., op. cit., p. 90.
  18. Spencer, J. and A., Fifty Years of UFOs, Boxtree, 1997, p. 14.
  19. Sounders, D.R., and Harkins, R.R., UFOs? Yes!, quoted in Spencer, J. and A., ibid., p. 16.
  20. Jonas, H. The Gnostic Religion, Routledge, p. 147.
  21. Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 4.
  22. See Doresse, J., The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, Hollis and Carter, 1960, pp. 292-293.
  23. Doresse, J., ibid, p. 295.
  24. Hollingdale, R.J., introduction to his translation of Schopenhauer, A., Essays and Aphorisms, Penguin, 1970, p. 31.
  25. Schopenhauer, A., and Hollingdale, R.J., trans., Essays and Aphorisms, p. 48.
  26. Hollingdale, R.J., op.cit., p. 34.
  27. Chadwick, D.H., ‘At the Crossroad of Kathmandu’, in National Geographic, vol. 172, no. 1, July 1987, p. 64.
  28. Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 10.


Who Taught God to Drive? The Origins of the Ancient Astronaut Myth.
Gareth Medway

Gareth Medway looks at the writers who developed the Ancient Astronaut concept, and why that belief system proved so popular. (From Magonia 57, September 1996)

R.L.Dione’s God Drives a Flying Saucer (Corgi, 1973; 1st ed. 1969) sneers at traditional metaphysics: “… no system of logic yet devised can resolve the inconsistencies and paradoxes inherent in the belief that man is inhabited by a mystical, supernatural and immortal something called a soul.”

Turning to the Bible, what is to be made of the miracles recorded there? Dione can find no reason to doubt the Bible’s accuracy: “…if it were not for the references to miracles, the Bible would stand unchallenged as a monumental achievement in historical reporting.”

The possibility of supernatural powers he finds absurd, therefore the only explanation is that flying saucer technology was at work. After that, everything becomes simple: Adam and Eve were created by genetic engineers working under the direction of God, who is the “leader of the master technologists”; angels were spacemen; Ezekiel’s vision was of flying saucers; as to the Immaculate Conception, it is “reasonably certain” that Gabriel was a “biological specialist” who artificially inseminated Mary with a hypodermic needle; and “it may well be that the sperm used was God’s making Jesus the Son of God just as the Bible teaches.”

Yet in the end Dione’s super-technological God is hardly different from the supernatural one of the Catholics. We don’t have souls, but technology can make our minds, which are electromagnetic in nature, immortal: “God will choose which of us will survive as angels in heaven … by analysing the references of our guardian angels and by studying the monitoring tapes which are at this moment recording our lives.”

Dione’s original background was evidently in the Roman church, since he gave a whole chapter to Fatima, and quoted the Bible in a revised version of the Douay translation. David F. McConnell, in his Flying Saucers of the Lord (Economy Printing Company, Miami, Horida, 1969) used the King James translation (and so was presumably brought up a Protestant), but his interpretations were very similar to Diane’s:

“Exodus 13:21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way,- and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night. This was a case of a flying saucer or saucers of the Lord leading the children of Israel through the wilderness of the Red Sea…. Psalm 97:3 A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. The flying saucers of the Lord with the angels go before the Lord and burn up his enemies.”

A Question of Faith

Up until about 1950 religion seemed to be everywhere in decline, whilst science and materialism increased, apparently in the direction of universal atheism. One of the standard objections to religion was that the Bible is full of miracles, which the progress of science had indicated to be impossible. The Book of Joshua records that God, at the request of Joshua, stopped the sun in its movement for the space of a whole day. In ancient times this did not seem odd; after Newton, it was difficult to believe.

1950 saw the publication of Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision. Though its author may not have consciously realised it, the intent of this book seems to have been a reconciliation of science and religion.

Velikovsky being Jewish, for him religion meant the Old Testament. He suggested that many of the Biblical wonders could be explained in wholly scientific terms as being catastrophes brought about by the wanderings of the planets Venus and Mars. He considered that Venus only came into existence a few thousand years ago, when it was blown out of Jupiter. About 1500 BC it came close to Earth, causing various dramatic gravitational effects such as the parting of the Red Sea, and the halting of the motion of the sun mentioned above. Eventually it reached its present orbit, which was then occupied by Mars. Venus settled in Mars’ orbit, and Mars was driven away from the sun, passing Earth during the middle of the period covered by the Biblical Book of Kings, causing various further apparent miracles.

Dr Velikovsky was a friend of both Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, and evidently expected that his name would one day stand alongside theirs. He was disappointed: though Worlds in Collision was first issued by the respected academic publishers Macmillan of New York, not only did scientific writers denounce it, but universities threatened to boycott Macmillan’s entire book list so long as Velikovsky’s work remained on it. So they transferred the rights to Doubleday, who did not have a textbook business, and despite all the criticism it sold well for decades. Though there were perfectly legitimate objections to Velikovsky’s theories on astronomical grounds, this excessive reaction leads one to suspect that his opponents were unconsciously aware of the book’s hidden religious agenda, and that was what they objected to.

The idea of Ancient Astronauts was toyed with as far back as 1919 by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned.

* * *

In a sense, Velikovsky was firmly within the Rabbinical tradition, which is that anything and everything can be found in the Torah (Law of God). In the 12th century, when Aristotelian philosophy became popular amongst the Jews, Rabbis claimed to find it all in their scriptures. Aristotle taught that there are three parts to the soul: the animal soul, the rational soul, and the divine soul. Now, the Biblical Hebrew word for ‘soul’ is nephesh, but once or twice ruach and neshamah, both of which mean ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ and are used in the sense ‘breath of life. (Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the neshamah of life; and Adam became a living nephesh.) So it was explained that nephesh was the animal soul, ruach the rational soul, and neshamah the divine soul. Having by such means discovered the whole of Aristotle’s system within their sacred books, they declared that Aristotle must have travelled to Jerusalem and learnt from the Jews.

The idea of Ancient Astronauts was toyed with as far back as 1919 by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned. It also become a regular theme in science fiction. Notably, in November 1947, Fantastic Stories had a short story ‘Son of the Sun’, in the form of a message from an extra-terrestrial, who tells the human race that the craft now being seen in the skies (this was a few months after the start of the first flying saucer wave) have visited the Earth long ago: their occupants were formerly confused with gods. They left behind “certain landmarks” in Egypt and elsewhere. The author of this piece, ‘Alexander Blade’, was none other than Brinsley le Poer Trench, subsequent author of a series of books on the theme, from The Sky People (Neville Spearman, 1960) onwards.

The first substantial treatment was by Desmond Leslie in Flying Saucers Have Landed, which appeared three years after Worlds in Collision. After some account of modern UFOs, Leslie suddenly jumped back thousands of years to Atlantis, In those days people flew around in machines called vimanas, of which it was written: “… their outside surface was apparently seamless and perfectly smooth, and they shone in the dark as if coated with luminous paint.” (FSHL, p.81, quoting W. Scott Elliott, The Story of Atlantis)

These were not the earliest flying saucers: in fact, human life was first brought to Earth from Venus by the Lords of the Flame, on whom Leslie, quoted from the Stanzas of Dzyan:

The Lords of the Flame arose and prepared themselves … the Great Lord of the Fourth Sphere (the Earth) awaited their oncoming. The lower (Earth) was prepared. The upper (Venus) was resigned …” Their arrival was described thus: “Then with the mighty roar of swift descent from incalculable heights, surrounded by blazing masses of fire which filled the sky with shooting tongues of flame, the vessel of the Lords of the flame flashed through the aerial spaces. It halted over the White Island which lay in the Gobi Sea, Green it was, and radiant with the first blossoms as Earth offered her fairest and best to welcome her King.” (FSHL, p.166, quoting Besant and Leadbeater, Man: How, Whence and Whither) Leslie commented: “In this fragment we have the first account of the landing of a great space ship or flying saucer … Incredible as it seems, there can be no other meaning to this passage,”

He dated this landing to the year 18,617,841 BC…

Helena BlavatskyIn view of the sensational conclusions, one might ask, just how reliable are the sources? This question did not seem to occur to Leslie, His main authorities are given as the Stanzas of Dzyan, along with the writings of Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater, W. Scott Elliott and Alice Bailey. The Stanzas of Dzyan were first published in Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, introduced with the description: “An archaic Manuscript – a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire and air, by some specific and unknown process – is before the writer’s eye.” Unfortunately, this book does not seem to have lain before the eye of anyone else, and Madame Blavatsky herself probably only saw it with clairvoyant vision. It can therefore be reasonably objected that it is a matter of faith, rather than historical record, to accept its account of the Lords of the Flame. Furthermore, the information given by Besant, Leadbeater, Scott Elliott and Bailey was also obtained by psychic investigation, (The date 18,617,841 was “according to the Brahmin Tables”.)

“As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles. Whose authority? The Old Testament? The New Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others .,. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a Bishop should be the husband of one wife.” (Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1950, p. 108)

Now, Leslie’s main authorities were Theosophical writers, and though the Theosophical Society might deny it, Theosophy is in effect a religion, with the writings of Blavatsky, Besant and  Co. as its scriptures. Desmond Leslie was evidently a Theosophist, and he was merely updating his Victorian religion to encompass the new phenomenon of flying saucers.

To be fair, he was also able to cite some unquestionably ancient books, notably the Mahabharata, which mentions flying ships and lethal armaments such as the “Brahma Weapon” described in terms comparable to a nuclear bomb. Yet the Mahabharata is itself a sacred book to the Hindus. Some years ago I met an Indian Guru who was on his way to California. He said his original home was a cave in the Himalayas, which was equipped with its own television set. He explained that they had to get one in order to see the dramatisation of the Mahabharata, as it was a religious duty to watch it.

For most westerners, of course, religion means Christianity and scripture the Bible. The 1956 appearance of Morris K. Jessup’s UFO and the Bible (Citadel Press, New York) was overdue: he began by saying: “Scarcely a week goes by without some alert reader sending me suggestions that I should expound on the Biblical references to UFO and related phenomena of a so-called miraculous type.”

Jessup started from the position: “I believe that it is time for Church and Science to bury their respective tomahawks and let the pipe of intellectual peace glow as both parties mellow around the camp fire of tolerant and objective inquiry.” As an example of the reconciliation of these two sides, take Kings 2:11: “And it come to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Jessup quoted a “skilled and thoughtful student of the Bible” a Mr H. Lawrence Crowell, as saying that “the Aramaic words ruach cearah should be translated ‘power blast’ instead of ‘whirlwind’.” He could thus offer a new version:

As they walked and talked there suddenly appeared a bright UFO, emitting electric sparks and blasts, and it parted them: Elijah was snatched up into the sky with a blast of power.”Having once hit on this principle of interpretation, other miracles are easily explained. Considering such passages as: “… and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17): “And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 18:10), Jessup commented: “No longer can we afford to laugh off these references as merely ‘quaint’ and allegoric, for they begin to sound more and more like accurate descriptions of the UFO.” 

Beyond Belief

Pertinent here is the furore, created by Honest to God (SCM Press, 1963), written by the Bishop of Woolwich, John A.T. Robinson, which proposed a mild revolution in theology. He began by asking if it made sense to speak of God “up there” in a Copernican universe. Though his argument was not set out clearly, he went on to propose displacing “supranaturalism” with “naturalistic” religion. This meant getting rid of miracles and such-like, which in the scientific age had become regarded as a bar to faith, though he was unsure with what they should be replaced.

The original print-run of Honest to God was for 6,000 copies, but before the end of the year more than 350,000 had been sold, showing that the questions it raised already bothered many people, Inevitably there was controversy and calls for the Bishop’s resignation, but it is significant that the critics did not agree among themselves. One man wrote to him “I have, and many thousands have, an image of God in the heavens. The parsons have always spoken of a God up there, but now the parsons ore contradicting everything they have said … These new beliefs will smash Christians in believing there is a God and it could be the Church in general will break up. The words of the creed will mean nothing. It is suddenly like telling a youngster who believes whole-heartedly in Father Xmas, ‘there isn’t a Father Xmas, it’s your Dad,’ The whole world would collapse beneath them.” (This quotation, and other comments from The Honest to God Debate, SCM,1963) C.S. Lewis, by contrast, thought that the Bishop was making a noise about nothing: “We have long abandoned belief in a God who sits on a throne in a localised heaven.”

Voices of praise were far more common: a vicar’s wife told the Bishop he had “made the Church seem alive again, when for years it has seemed so unbearably dead!” Letters expressing agreement came from priests, theologians, doctors, headmasters and businessmen, “A well-known politician” wrote: “Reading it, and hearing you speak it, has done more to make the basic validity of the Christian message seem relevant to me than all the sermons and services I have ever heard or attended.”

Until the debate on the ordination of women, this affair was the biggest religious controversy the Church of England had seen this century. It suggests that, generally speaking, the British felt unable to believe in a comforting God the Father ‘up there’, just as they could not believe in Father Christmas. Yet they did not simply turn to atheism (as most materialists expected they would) but felt the need for some new kind of religion or belief, something to replace the old supernatural God.Bishop Robinson remarked that he had never experienced “being born again” (Honest to God, p. 27). Since then, the most notable development within the Church has been the rise of “born-again” Christianity. A former “born-again” tells me that it is perfectly fair to say that born-again Christians are taught not to think. Instead they are meant to rely on the authority of the Bible, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For this growing section of the Church, there can be no conflict between science and religion, since they do not think about the question.

But for the rest of the ‘Body of Christ’ the problem has remained, and the conventional, non-born-again churches have continued to decline. And, so, the Space Gods have been able to manifest to help fill the vacuum left by the departure of God the Father from his throne in heaven

Return of the Gods.

A few years later appeared the most successful of the Ancient Astronaut books, Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? 1969 (1st ed. as Erinnerungen an die Zukunst, Econ-Verlog, 1968. The original title meant ‘Memories of the Future’). The first thing that would strike anyone familiar with the literature is this book’s lack of originality. Despite his continual references to ‘my theories’ (etc.), almost everything in his book had already been noticed by Desmond Leslie, Robert Charroux, Pauwels and Bergier, W. Raymond Drake and others. Indeed, van Daniken’s quotations from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are simply lifted from Flying Saucers Have Landed (he translated the 19th century English renditions into German, whence Michael Heron turned them back into English, so that the versions in Chariots of the Gods? have been translated thrice). Likewise, when van Daniken wrote: “Seen from the air, the clear-cut impression that the 37-mile-long Plain of Nazca made on me was that of an airfield!” (Chariots, p. 32), he was most likely influenced in this impression by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians (Mayflower, 1971, p.117; 1st ed. Paris, Editions Gallimard, 1960): “Photographs taken of the plain of Nazca remind one irresistibly of the ground-lighting of an airfield.” It would be tedious to analyse the whole book in this way, but nearly all of it had been said before.

So why did this book greatly outsell its predecessors? Part of the reason is no doubt that van Daniken wrote in a fluent and popular style (more than one can say of the average UFO author), he appeared (if only superficially) to be scientific, and he had actually bothered to visit many of the sites he wrote about.

Unlike Desmond Leslie and many of the others, his treatment was simple and unmystical. Readers of Brinsley le Poet Trench’s The Sky People, for instance, might have been able to take in the Garden of Eden (a Galactic cross-breed experiment carried out on Mars), Atlantis, Osiris and Isis, Abraham, Red Indian folklore, Sodom (destroyed by nuclear weapons), tektites, Jericho, the 1908 Siberian explosion, and the star of Bethlehem, but maybe it all got too confusing
when he added Madame Blavatsky, Kundalini, Gnosticism, etheric nature, mediumship, the significance of the cross, telepathic powers, and the “‘journey back to godhood’.

Perhaps the main cause was simply that he published at the right time and place to influence those who, like the disaffected readers of Honest to God, wanted a non-supernatural God ‘up there’. For instance, Darwin had made Christians uncomfortable about Genesis, and Bishop Robinson hardly bothered to defend it:

A hundred years ago the Church was forced to clarify whether it accepted the Adam story as history or as myth. Until then there had been many theologians (St Paul probably among them) who, if pressed, would not have thought the truth of the story depended upon Adam being an actual historical individual. But the point is that they were not pressed. There was no compelling need to distinguish between the categories of history and myth. But with the Darwinian controversy on evolution it became a vital necessity. It was imperative for Christian apologetic to be clear that Genesis was not a rival account of primitive anthropology. If the distinction had not been made it would have been virtually impossible to continue commending the Biblical faith to modern scientific man.

The Bishop himself settled for myth, regarding Adam and Eve as metaphors for Everyman and Everywoman, who are always subject to temptation (the Serpent). “Go back as far as you will, human nature has always been like that. That’s why in the myth they are put at the beginning.” (John A.T. Robinson, But that I can’t believe!, Fontana, 1967)

How much happier are those who can take a myth to be absolute truth! The born-agains, as always, adhere to the Bible on this question. Many of them suppose that the world was created in 4000 BC, hence that radioactive dating is all wrong, dinosaurs and Neanderthal man never existed, and Darwin is condemned to hell. Some even suggest that God created fossils, as they were found, with intent to deceive (“God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie”, 2 Thes.2:11) in order to test Christians’ faith in the scriptures.

Return to the Stars offered, again, a reconciliation of scripture and science: it took the Garden of Eden as an accurate record, not of the doings of a supernatural Lord God, but of genetic manipulation by which unknown cosmonauts created homo sapiens from ape-men. Even outlandish verses could thereby be believed in: And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof, and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. Von Dianiken: “Eve must have been produced in a retort. Now a number of cave drawings showing objects like retorts in the vicinity of primitive man have been preserved. Could foreign intelligences with a highly developed science and knowing about the immune biological reactions of bones have used Adam’s marrow as a cell culture and brought the sperm to development in it?”

It say so in the Bible

Miracles aside, the accuracy of the Bible has been a matter of dispute since the 18th century: until then, it had apparently never occurred to anyone to doubt it. Thomas Paine, author of The Age of Reason, objected to the Bible on the grounds that it often depicts God as a mad tyrant. He backed this up with critical arguments against the Bible’s supposed textual perfection: The Book of Kings (“little more than a history of assassinations, treachery, and wars”) actually contradicts itself: as to the Kings of Judah and Israel who were both called Joram, “one chapter (2 Kings 1:8) says that Joram of Judah began to reign in the second year of Joram of Israel; and the other chapter (8:16) says, that Joram of Israel began to reign in the fifth year of Jorom of Judah”. Such mistakes are enough to disprove the old contention that it is all the word of God, dictated by the Holy Spirit to scribes incapable even of ordinary clerical error. The born-again Christian response is that it is not possible to understand the Bible properly unless you are born again in Jesus; anyone who raises objections like the above is still under the influence of Satan.

UFO writers are divided on the issue. Some, like Dione, regard it as wholly accurat, and merely in need of scientific interpretation. By contrast W. Raymond Drake’s Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient East (Neville Spearman, 1968, Sphere, 1993), though happy with The Secret Doctrine, Sanskrit romances, Oahspe (produced through automatic typewriting by a New York dentist), the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, and the revelations of Aetherius through Dr George King, was dubious about the historical value of the Bible: “Egyptologists, Assyriologists, archaeologists of renown, men of science, who should know the facts, find no evidence whatever of the Exodus … no Egyptian text refers to the miraculous deliverance mentioned in the Bible … the Book of Exodus is not a factual, critical record of events, history as we write it today … With all due respect to the learned Moses, this hotch-potch of religious narrative in such turgid style does his great mind ill-justice; it is doubtful whether its literary merit would attract any publisher today.” (Mayflower ed., pp 157-8)

This attitude is understandable: anyone attempting a revolution in thought will tend to challenge the accepted standards they were brought up with, and if that included ‘The Bible is true’, the independent thinker grows up to question that. Ancient Eastern literature and modem inspirational works were not mentioned in childhood, so there is not the same motive to doubt them.
Howsowever, the texts he relied on were mostly religious works of one kind or another. The same is true of Robert Charroux, the cover of the original French edition of whose Le livres des Secrets Trahis (Robert Laffont, 1965) promises it is “from documents older than the Bible”. These are primarily The Book of Enoch and the Popol Vuh, Enoch treats of the “fallen angels”, who descended to earth, married human females, and taught various arts and sciences: this indicates “a colonisation of our world by cosmonauts” (p. 127); conventional scholarship, though, assigns the book to the intertestamental period. The Popol Vuh relates that a woman named Orejona descended to earth from Venus, and gave birth to the human race by mating with a tapir. Charroux apparently accepted this because it was in a book he supposed “older than the Bible”.

Gospel Truth

On the subject of the Virgin Birth, Bishop Robinson summarised the modern sceptics’ position thus: “But you can’t really believe that lot, can you? Stars hopping over cribs, angelic choirs lighting up the skies, God coming to earth as a man – like a visitor from outer space? You couldn’t really believe it today.” (But that I
can’t believe!

The Bishop’s response was vague, suggesting that the star and the angels and the Virgin mother were “poetry”, a way of saying “God is in all this”. Yet he unwittingly suggested the new solution of ‘a visitor from outer space’, that would be so enthusiastically adopted by some. “The only celestial object to appear suddenly close enough to the Earth to be visible within only a small radius, which moves guiding followers, then stands still, is an intelligently controlled Spaceship.” (W. Raymond Drake, Gods and Spacemen throughout History, Sphere, 1977, p. 184) “The arrival of the infant Christ on earth from a spaceship is less fantastic, more credible, logical and acceptable, than the ethereal dogma taught by the Christian Church.” (Robin Collyns, Did Spacemen Colonise the Earth?, Mayflower, 1975, p, 163) By 1976 W. Raymond Drake could declare: “Today the only persons prepared to accept those New Testament wonders as literally true appear to be our believers in Flying Saucers,” (Gods and Spacemen in Ancient Israel, Sphere, p. 11)

The question of the resurrection is a tricky one even for UFO writers, but it did not daunt Paul Thomas (Flying Saucers Through the Ages, Neville Spearman,1965; French ed., 1962, Thomas was actually Paul Misraki, a well-known French popular musician) who was a Catholic (like Dione he gave a chapter to Fatima), as was his English translator Gavin Gibbons. However, his interpretation of Jesus’ return from the dead would not have commended itself to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He suggested that Jesus Christ was a ‘biological mutation’ produced by alien genetic experimentation. In fact, the Astronaut Angels’ interest in the Children of Israel, from the time of Abraham, was as a gene pool from which to breed the first specimen of the next phase of evolution: humans who could die and then naturally come back to life, as was demonstrated after the crucifixion.

If this was true, one would expect that Jesus would have been encouraged to have as many offspring as possible: but, as Thomas/Misraki admits, he left the world childless (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail to the contrary); so it seems that for some reason the aliens decided on a delay before making the benefits of immortality generally available.

The life to come

The other key feature of a religion is its teaching on the future, in which, nearly always, present wrongs are to be set right in some way. Either there is a life after death in which rewards and punishments will be given out, or future lives assigned on the basis of past behaviour, or else there is to be a Second Coming, in which the Divine Kingdom will be brought to Earth, and (after the wicked have been thrown into the fiery pit which burns forever) universal peace and happiness will reign for eternity. One of the best-known prophecies to this latter effect is Mark 13:26-27: “And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.”

Morris K, Jessup produced his own version: 

 ”Shall we paraphrase it a bit?  (such as combining verses 26 and 27)

“The great shining and powerful mothership will appear among the clouds and the Master will dispatch his assistants in smaller craft, and will gather from all parts of the earth those who have survived the brunt of the cataclysm and have reached temporary places of safety, and particularly those whom the Shepherd Race deem suitable for the propagation and resurgence of humanity in a new racial generation, and these will be taken to live for a while in the celestial regions where are the homes of the UFO in space.

There isn t much more to say, is there?”

Some people would conclude from all this that there is no reason to believe in Gods or Astronauts. Actually all it proves is that people a have a very strong need for some kind of religion, and if one is taken away from them they will hasten to locate another. Even the most severe secularists would admit that the creed of the Astronaut Gods is harmless, as religions go: believers are not expected to obey every command of a priesthood, or burn heretics at the stake. Science might one day be able to provide a testable explanation for the religious impulse: until then, the frontier between science and religion must remain uncertain and disputed territory.

From the Pulpit

Barry H. Downing, a Presbyterian pastor in Endwell, New York, was one clergyman (probably speaking for many) who came out in  favour of such interpretations with The Bible and Flying Saucers (Sphere, 1973; 1st US ed., 1968). Downing was able to salvage a more traditional God from the work of Space Angels by means of the following construction: “Suppose that in five hundred years humans on earth should advance technologically in the space age to the point where we are able to travel to another world in a spaceship and discover intelligent beings who were scientifically primitive. Suppose that Christian missionaries were to travel in space to this planet to try to convert these primitive people to Christianity. How would these people talk about our missionaries? The Bible seems to suggest that angels are very much like missionaries from another world.”


 Strange Gods

The starting point of Robert Temple’s The Sirus Mystery was the Dogon, a Sudanese tribe whom French anthropologists learnt to have traditions about being visited by beings from Sirius.

Temple reproduced their findings, then tried to prove that the same information was known to the ancient Egyptian priests as a secret tradition, and later to various Greek philosophers who were initiated into their mysteries. Of course these traditions were never written down, and Temple had to guess at them from scattered clues. His main authorities were Wallis Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, the Mesopotamian epics, the Hermetic books, Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, Plutarch On Isis and Osiris, and the neo-Platonists. These are all either sacred writings of the Pagans, or modern summaries of such. At a guess, one would take Robert Temple to be a Pagan himself, particularly since he ignores the Bible altogether, and his only reference to Christianity is this: “The perversions of Christianity have always seemed to me to incorporate a perversion of the notion of ‘sin’ and the means by which ‘sin’ can be exploited as a means of temporal blackmail over other human beings.”



Drawing of an amphibious creature which, according to Temple, gave the Dogon information about the solar system.












The Victorian Charm of the Protong, part 2.
David Sivier

The Victorian Charm of the Protong – Part 2.

From Magonia  88, May 2005

Apart from the demonstrably erroneous nature of the claim that the Passion narrative represents human sacrifice in a real, historic lunar cult, is the highly questionable nature of the proof adduced for it. The theory takes as proof facts, or rather factoids, widely separated in space and time from the centre of the Passion narrative in first century Palestine. For example, there is the statement that Christ was crucified on Friday 13th. Friday has indeed always traditionally been the date of Christ’s crucifixion, and the belief that it occurred on the 13th is a common piece of contemporary folklore, though it probably arose to explain why Friday 13th is considered unlucky. It’s unlikely, however, that Christ was crucified on a 13th, as the Jewish Passover, during which the events of the Passion unfolded, begins on the 14th of Nisan. [34] Although Friday was declared a day of penance for Christians by the medieval church, and there was a concomitant fear that it was unlucky, the particular fear of Friday 13th is actually no older than the 20th century. In fact the superstition surrounding the supposedly unlucky nature of the number 13 dates only from the 17th century, when it was felt unlucky for 13 people to be present at a meal. [35] Similarly, Freya was a goddess worshipped by the ancient Germans, not Semites, and Friday and related terms such as Freitag were used only by the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe. To the Romans, the day was dies Veneris, Venus’ Day, while the Hebrew term was different again. Similarly, for Christians, Christ was resurrected on Sunday, not Monday, as the theory states, though because of its place as the day after Easter Day, Monday was declared a holiday by the medieval church.

As for the argument that the 13 disciples represented the 13 months of the lunar year, this, and the assertion that Christ’s Passion represented the death of the sun, is also reminiscent of yet another 19th century anthropological theory to account for the origins of religion, Max Muller’s Solar Mythology. Friedrich Max Muller was one of Victorian Britain’s most brilliant Sanskrit scholars and students of Indian religion. A trenchant critic of Tylor’s theory that fetishism was the origin of human religion and anthropological evolutionism, he considered instead that sun worship was the primal religion of humanity. He came to this view through his study of the Vedas, particularly of Agni, the god of fire, and tentatively applied his theory of religions origins in a solar cult to the other, savage, societies found elsewhere in the world. [36] 

Muller arrived at his theory of solar origins through his grounding in Sanskrit philology, and he attempted to explain the violent, sensual, ignoble and generally barbarous behaviour of the Greek gods through tracing their origins in the gods of the Vedas, the oldest literature of the Indo-European peoples. For Muller, the mythopoeic conceptions of the gods occurred before the rise of civilisation, before human language could convey abstract notions, so that Dyaus, the supreme god in the Veda, could be understood also as meaning sky, sun, air, dawn, light and brightness, while a number of other words, with different associations, could also indicate the sun. [37]

These linguistic associations led Muller to an allegorical interpretation of the Greek myths. For example, the story of Chronos, Zeus’ father, devouring his children before being forced to vomit the younger god’s siblings back up actually stood for the sky devouring and then releasing the clouds. [38] Nor was the solar cult confined to the Indo-European peoples. Muller later expanded his theory to various extra- European peoples, tracing the origin of various Indian, Polynesian and African peoples back to an alleged solar cult through an analysis of the languages of the tales themselves and the etymology of the terms used for the various gods. [39]

Muller’s pupil, Sir George William Cox, pushed the theory even further, viewing the Indo-European myths as allegories of the contest between sun and night, and comparing the Homeric epics thus interpreted with Christianity: ‘The story of the sun starting in weakness and ending in victory, waging a long warfare against darkness, clouds and storms, and scattering them all in the end, is the story of all patient self-sacrifice, of all Christian devotion.’ [40]

Unlike Gooch, however, he did not believe that there was ever a human reality at the heart of these myths, and viewed such heroes as Grettir, King Arthur, Sigurd, William Tell, Roland, Beowulf, Hamlet and the Biblical patriarch David as purely mythological figures representing the sun. [41]

Muller’s intellectual opponent with whom he carried on a lively controversy over the origins of human mythology was Andrew Lang, a former Oxford graduate and supporter of the ethnological, rather than philological, origins of mythology and folklore. Lang’s 1887 Myth, Ritual and Religion amassed considerable anthropological information to show that primitive peoples everywhere had similar myths, legends, and customs, and that elements of these had survived in modern peasant lore and the Classical Greek myths. [42] Lang never denied that solar, lunar and star cults and myths existed, but that they had independent origins in the animist stage of human culture. As for the bloody acts committed in fairy tales and legends, Lang viewed these purely as storytelling formulae: ‘It is almost as necessary for a young god or hero to slay monsters as for a young lady to be presented at court; and we may hesitate to explain all these legends of an useful feat of courage as nature myths.’ [43]

In the end, Lang’s view of the origins of religion and mythology prevailed, partly due to the immense influence of his Myth, Ritual and Religion but largely due to the establishment of the Folklore Society, whose members favoured and who wrote steadily and voluminously to support the evolutionary origin of myth. [44]

As for Christ and His disciples forming a coven of 13 , this is merely the reading back into Christianity of the religious perceptions that led to the view that witchcraft covens always had 13 members in the first place. In fact 13 , representing the total number of Christ and his 12 apostles was considered the ideal number of friars in a community, and the same model was adopted for the number of suffragans under archbishop and monks in a monastery. It has therefore been suggested that the choice of 13 for the number of witches in a coven was therefore made as a deliberate inversion of the Christian norm. [45] The Middle Ages viewed witchcraft as a satanic parody and inversion of God’s church and the natural order, and the reputed ideal membership of 13 for a coven was a further parody, in line with the blasphemies of the Black Mass, of the ideal membership of Christ’s fellowship with the Apostles and orthodox Christian religious communities.

fishyIn the case of the Grail legend and the Fisher King [left] , although some historians have suggested that the central motif of this story — a genitally wounded king — does indeed come from ancient myth, its ultimate source is Brythonic Celtic, not Semitic. If it does have a mythological origin, then it one from Celtic myth, which has been Christianised to fit the dominant religious culture of Europe at the time. Again, the legend is late, appearing in the 12th century with Chretien de Troyes, who was writing chivalrous fiction. Despite the religious elements, and the claims to be based in history, the legend of the Fisher King appeared 1200 years after the rise of Christianity and was never a part of the religion, however enormously influential it may have been as secular literature.

It is possible to go on and list more of the factual errors, inconsistencies and anachronisms in Gooch’s argument, though this would be missing the deeper, and more important point. At its heart is the assumption that modern folklore represents survivals of lore and knowledge of deep antiquity, and the related belief that humanity passes through a fixed stage of civilisation, inherited from Morgan and the other 1 9 th century anthropologists, of which contemporary primitive, or pre- industrial societies, are survivals.

This view was explicitly stated by Tylor himself in his Primitive Culture of 1871, in which he wrote,’Survivals are processes, customs, opinions, and so forth, which have been carried on by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home, and they thus remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out which the newer has been evolved.’ [46] The reliance on outmoded anthropological theories of mythology as sources for its view of the Neanderthals in City of Dreams was one of the major criticisms made of the book when it was reissued in 1996. [47]

In fact, Gooch is not the only contemporary writer to be convinced that contemporary myths and legends are the remnants of a much older, Stone Age religious system. Adrian Bailey in 1998 advanced the view in his book, Caves of the Sun: The Origin of Mythology, that the original prehistoric religion was a solar cult, which also influenced the Neanderthal cult of the bear through the sun’s apparent retreat in winter into caves in the earth. The book was again heavily dependent on 1 9 th century anthropology and dismissive of the psychological and  century interpretations of the origins of religion. [48] John Grigsby, in his Warriors of the Wasteland of 2003, advanced the theory that the original pre-Indo-European, Neolithic religion was that of a dying and rising man/god, which was usurped by the intrusive solar cult. Although Grigsby similarly brought a wealth of information to bear on his subject, his thesis was nevertheless criticised for its reliance on the 1 9 th century theories of Frazer, among others, for its conceptual framework. [49]

In fact, the notion that contemporary pre-industrial cultures are survivals from an ancient state of human culture has effectively been challenged by developments in anthropology during the  century.

Particularly instrumental in attacking the unidirectional development of cultures through specific phases were Boleslaw Malinowski and Franz Boas. Malinowski based his anthropological theories on his experience of fieldwork amongst the peoples of the Trobriand Islands. Here, he developed a functionalist view of society, considering that no matter how strange a custom or practice was, it survived because it fulfilled a contemporary purpose: ‘Savages aren’t half-rational or irrational, but do things because they work. Customs survive not as throwbacks but because they fulfil some function.’ [50] It’s a view that the probably the great majority of contemporary occultists and New Agers, sharing the belief in the efficacy of magic, would endorse. Nevertheless, it challenges the tendency in some circles to view extra-European cultures as irrational, in contrast to the post-Enlightenment rationalism of contemporary European culture. There are elements of this view in Surrealism, for example.

Although the Surrealists ardently championed the rights of indigenous and subordinate colonial people against the oppression of European imperialism in the Caribbean, French Indo-China and elsewhere, their espousal of the art of primitive, tribal cultures such as those of Black Africa was predicated by the notion that they were much in touch with their subconscious, and by implication, more irrational, than Europeans.

The greatest challenge to the unidirectional view of cultural progress, however, came from Franz Boas. Boas’ fieldwork amongst the Kwakiutl peoples of the American north-west coast led him to attack the doctrine that society moved from a matrilineal to a patrilineal organisation, and the theory of totemism as the origins of human religion. He believed that the positing of a uniform scheme of human development overlooked the uniqueness of individual human cultures. Instead of there being a general sequence of cultural stages amongst humanity, there was instead’a tendency of diverse customs and beliefs to converge towards similar forms, and a development of customs in divergent direction.’ [51]

As a German Jew, he was bitterly opposed to the biological reductionism of the Nazis and the racial interpretation of history, which he saw, along with eugenics, as irremediably dangerous. His book, The Mind of Primitive Man was burned in Nazi Germany and unpopular amongst supporters of apartheid and segregation in the United States because of its assertion that there were no pure races, that racial intermixing did not lead to degeneration, and that Blacks would be perfectly able to fulfil their duties as citizens alongside Whites if the legal restrictions against them were lifted. His views have thus been immensely influential in challenging the racist assumptions of White superiority towards other cultures characteristic of 19th century anthropology. While his anti-racism is praiseworthy, his emphasis on each culture’s autonomy, and demand that anthropologists should not make value judgements about the societies they studied, unfortunately has led to the extremes of postmodern cultural relativism in which practices or beliefs which are untrue or repellent are nevertheless defended and declared valid because of their part in a particular culture. Hence the postmodern view that relegates science to the position of only one of a number of possible interpretations of the universe, none more true than the others.

Attempts to posit totemism and shamanism as the origin of human religion have similar been questioned because of their coexistence with apparently more sophisticated forms of religious experience. Tylor himself recognised that primitive peoples, ‘alongside their magic, ghosts, totems, worshipful stones, have a very much better God than most races a good deal higher in civilisation.’ [52] It’s a sentiment with which many of today’s occultists would no doubt agree, contrasting the apparent benevolence of primitive religion with the cruelties of Western institutional faiths, particularly Christianity. Nevertheless, it does undermine the claim that totemism is somehow a more primitive, primal form of human religious experience.

The idea of Christ’s passion as a mythological treatment of real, primal human totemic sacrifice similarly becomes untenable. Although the consumption of Christ’s body and blood in the transubstantiated bread and wine of the mass certainly performs some of the functions of the consumption of a totemic sacrificial victim in promoting a social and spiritual solidarity amongst members of the congregation, this does not mean by any means that a real, human sacrifice was necessarily performed and consumed, beyond the theological view of Christ’s crucifixion as a paschal sacrifice before God, though this certainly would not have been the intention of the Roman and Judaean authorities responsible for it. Furthermore, people do adopt creatures and objects as symbols for themselves, as in mascots and on coats of arms, without these creatures ever being personally consumed by them. Muller himself pointed to his friend, Abeken, whose name meant ‘small ape’ and who therefore had a small ape on his coat of arms, as the possible possessor of a totemic ancestor. He joked, however, that although he had never actually seen him eating an ape, it was probably due to a matter of taste. [53]

Of course, attempts to shoehorn all forms of religion into the pattern of a solar myth, is also open to abuse. It was satirised even during its high point in the 19th century. Sabine Baring-Gould, for example, illustrated its excesses with an essay, originally produced by a French ecclesiastic, which mischievously attempted to prove that Napoleon was the sun god, citing linguistic, historical and figurative parallels with the myth of Apollo. [54]

Similarly, the arguments for the antiquity of shamanism have also been questioned, with scholars pointing out that the Palaeolithic cave paintings of dancing male figures with animal heads could equally be gods, and that the argument for the universality of shamanism across the globe is weakened by the fact that there is not even a commonly agreed definition of the term. [55] Furthermore, as with totemism, shamanism also exists alongside organised religion in some of the societies in which it is found. [56]

Modern anthropology’s rejection of the theory of a uniform, primitive Cro- Magnon culture based on communism, matriarchy and goddess- worship undoubtedly explains why Gooch has looked yet further back into the Palaeolithic, to the Neanderthals, for his utopia. The sheer scantiness of the evidence and its amibiguity makes them an ideal tabula rasa, on to which contemporary scholars can project their own views of their nature.


Modern anthropology’s rejection of the theory of a uniform, primitive Cro-Magnon culture based on communism, matriarchy and goddess-worship undoubtedly explains why Gooch has looked yet further back into the Palaeolithic, to the Neanderthals, for his utopia.

* * *

Much still remains conjectural and the subject of debate. For example, although there are finds of Neanderthal burials, complete with flowers and a sprinkling of red ochre on the dead, as well as jewellery of animal teeth, to suggest that they had a symbolic culture, and so were not the subhuman creatures of earlier views, this view is hotly contested. Its opponents argue that these practices only emerged after the Neanderthals came into contact with the Cro-Magnons, and so were simply copying their practices without truly understanding them, rather than inventing them for themselves. [57]

At present though, recent findings regarding the Neanderthals tend to disprove some of Gooch’s theories. For example, the greater muscular development on Neanderthal skeleton’s right arms suggests they were right, rather than left handed, using that arm to wield the spear in a stabbing motion suitable for hunting animals amongst woodland, rather than throwing them. [58] On the other hand, analysis of Palaeolithic handprints suggest that the Cro-Magnons, by contrast, had a far greater proportion of left- handers than today. Analysis of the chemical composition of Neanderthal bones similarly suggests that they were almost exclusively carnivorous. [59] If true, these findings prove the exact reverse of some of Gooch’s own view of the Neanderthals.

Aside from these specific points, most anthropologists and historians today, following Franz Boas, would baulk at seeing a racial, biological origin for political institutions, and it is mistaken to project distinctly  century political structures far back into prehistory, long before these political philosophies and social organisations had arisen. As for the specific examples of left- handers’ political inclinations today, there are serious problems with these.

(Although there is considerable interest in the apparently different cognitive and social skills developed by left and right handers, with the genetic differences between the two being wider than those of human races, it’s problematic whether any of the individuals Gooch cites as left-handers can be described as socialist. Radical Islam of the type promoted by Osama bin Laden strongly rejects the present world order and the dominance of America as an oppressive infidel power, but it also vehemently rejects atheist communism and secular socialism.

In Revolutionary Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini abolished political parties from a belief that they were divisive, and that’all Muslims should be brothers’. In some respects, particularly urban planning, the insistence on restricting legislation solely to what can be expressly supported by the Qu’ran has meant that some Iranian policies resemble the laissez-faire economic policies of the Victorian West, rather than the state interventionism of revolutionary Communist regimes. Supporters of the Iranian Revolution vehemently denounced comparisons of the revolutionary regime with Western political movements, particularly Fascism, and it’s almost certain that bin Laden and the others in al-Qaeda would also reject comparisons with Socialism, Communism or other Western philosophies for the same reason.

As for China being a Communist country, this is also problematic. Although China is a one-party state whose official ideology is revolutionary Marxism, in practice the country follows capitalist economics. As with the other countries of the former Communist bloc, it’s problematic whether Communism in China can outlive the increasingly aging members of the ruling party. In any case, most scholars would point to distinct, obvious political and social causes for the rise of Communism in China, such as the political and economic chaos and corruption of the Kuomintang, rather than crude biological determinism.

Beyond the errors and inadequacies of the theory of Christ’s Passion as the central ritual of a prehistoric lunar cult, rather more profound points can be made generally about fringe religious history and its methods of proof and investigation. The first point is that much fringe speculation, despite its wide ranging use of facts, rather than opening up new ground, really does little more than attempt to propound and defend earlier, discredited theories. Just as the above theory recapitulates elements of Victorian notions of the origins of human religion and society, so Ron Pearson’s theories of the subatomic origin of the spirit world relies on a rejection of Einstein’s theory of relativity in favour of a revived insistence of the existence of the ether. Secondly, global assumptions of a universal religious cult in antiquity are almost certainly wrong.

Any assumptions regarding the nature of a historical event, including its religion, requires as proof directly relevant facts to support it. In the case of the above theory of Christ’s passion, this would ideally be Roman, Greek or Jewish eyewitness reports that such a sacrifice did indeed occur, rather than inference from unrelated myths or legends recorded thousands of years later and further north. There also has to be an awareness of the wider history and origins of the events investigated, and a clear distinction between causes and effects. In the above example, this means an awareness that the belief that witches’ covens had a membership of 13 was based on the total number of Christ and His disciples, rather than vice versa. Furthermore, any allegorical interpretation of a myth or legend requires high standards of proof directly relevant to the subject of study.

It is immensely easy, simply by a judicious choice of numbers and mythology, to prove an allegorical meaning behind just about any subject one chooses, as Sabine Baring-Gould’s apparent proof that Napoleon was really Apollo clearly demonstrates. In general, unless there is direct evidence that the subject of study was considered allegorical at the time, or consciously used in such a context, allegorical interpretations of specific historical events are probably best avoided.

It also needs stating that when propounding a particular interpretation of history, the researcher needs to consider the academic history of the subject being discussed, and the origins and history of the ideas surrounding it. Professional academic historians, for example, consider previous treatments of their subject in their monographs, and history courses in higher education teach historiography — the theories and philosophies of historical interpretation, and how these have changed over time — as an integral part of the history course, as these may profoundly affect the treatment of a particular historical event or person, including the type of evidence accepted to support the historian’s view of their subject.

The most important point, however, is that biologistic assumptions of the origins of culture or political organisation and views are both wrong, and have been the basis of brutality, oppression and genocide. No matter how well meant, even by liberals keen to rescue their subjects from the images of savagery, like those, which have been characteristic of the treatment of the Neanderthals, such theories should be strenuously rejected.

The recent history of archaeology has shown how there is a place for fringe theorising, and that when this is done well it can make a valuable contribution to the understanding of its subjects. Archaeoastronomy, despite its origins in fringe archaeological speculation, is now academically respectable, and Paul Devereaux’s theories on the Stone Age use of sound to create altered states of consciousness amongst worshippers at sacred sites has similarly been well received, at least in some quarters of academia. To be accepted by academia, however, researchers in the mystical and occult fringe need to adhere to the same rigorous standards of proof and approach, some of whose characteristics are outlined above, that academics use to assess the value of their own views and theories. unfortunately, with the current furore over the Da Vinci Code spawning a plethora of ever wilder pseudo- historical religious speculation, we may have to wait a long time for that.



    • 35. ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ in J Simpson ans S. Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, OUP, 2000, p.61
    • 36. R. M. Dorson, ‘The Eclipse of Solar Mythology’, in A. Dundes, The Study of Folklore, University of California at Berkeley, Prentice Hall, 1965, p.61
    • 37. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.62-2
    • 38. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.64
    • 39. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.69
    • 40. G. W. Cox. An Introduction to the Science of Comparative Mythology and Folklore. 1881, cited in Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.72
    • 41. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.72-3
    • 42. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.61
    • 43. A. Lang. Myth, Ritual and Religion, vol.2, p.196, cited in Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.67
    • 44. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.83
    • 45. E. Rose. A Razor for a Goat, University of Toronto Press, 1989, p.158-9
    • 46. E. B. Tylor. Primitive Culture, cited in Bennett, op.cit., p.35
    • 47. Review of S. Gooch, City of Dreams, Aulis, London 1995, in Fortean Times  no. 85, Feb/Mar. 1996, p.61
    • 48. M. Jay, ‘Caves of the Sun, The Origin of Mythology’ in Fortean Times 117, December 1998, p.56
    • 49. N. Rooney, ‘Shadows from a Celtic Twilight’, in Fortean Times, 178, December 2003, p.60
    • 50. Bennet, op.cit., p.65
    • 51. Bennet, op.cit., p.71
    • 52. Bennet, op.cit., p.68
    • 53. Dorson, ‘Solar Mythology’, p.68
    • 54 S Baring-Gould, ‘A Satire on German Mythologists’, in p. Vansittart, Voices: 1870-1914, Jonathan Cape, 1983, p.126-9
    • 55. Hutton, The Shamans of Siberia. Isle of Avalon Press, Gastonbury, 1993, p. 14
    • 56 Hutton, op.cit., p.9
    • 57 S. Mithen, ‘Symbolic Humans Started here’, reviewing J. L. Arsuaga, Neanderthal’s Necklace, John Wiley & Sons, 2003, in Fortean Times,  170, May 2003, p.61.
    • 58. See, for example, the BBC Horizon programme broadcast January-February 2005 which attempted to reconstruct the Neanderthals and their lifestyle from fossil remains.
    • 59. See the BBC Horizon programme as above.

The Victorian Charm of the Protong, part 1.
David Sivier

From Magonia 88, May 2005

One of the strangest responses to the religious furore surrounding the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004 was that of veteran fringe writer, Stan Gooch. While other writers and academics feared that the graphic depiction of Christ’s suffering would provoke a further rise in violent anti-Semitism amid a resurgence of extreme Right wing political groups in Europe, and the renewed intifada in the Arab world, Gooch took the opportunity of the film’s release to expound his own, very personal theory that Christianity owed its origins to a secret lunar cult.

‘Why,’ he asked rather tetchily, ‘do people not understand that far from being what it is claimed to be, the story of Christ is simply a garbled version of the ancient Moon religion’s chief ceremony? In this ceremony, the Sun (the King for a Year) is sacrificed by the Moon on the last day of the year, his genitals are removed (hence the spear in the side) and the still clearer spear through both thighs of the Fisher King to turn him into a menstruating woman, the blood then drunk and the testicles eaten. (This, of course, is why Catholics eat the body of Christ and drink His blood during Mass.) However, the Moon graciously resurrects the Sun so that life on Earth may continue.’ [1]

As proof of this remarkable assertion, Gooch goes further and states that ‘the cross is the symbol for the Moon in all pre-Christian cultures worldwide and Christ dies on the cross on Friday 13th. Friday is the day of the Moon goddess, Freya.

‘And He is resurrected on Monday, which is again Moon-day. Christ and his 12 disciples constitute a coven of 13. The only 13 which exists in nature (or anywhere else) is the 13 New Moons/Full Moons that occur in each alternate year. The date of Easter (of the sacrifice and resurrection) is of course still today determined by the Moon, which is why Easter is a moveable feast.’ [2]


Of course the simple answer to why his theory is not accepted is because it is utter rubbish from start to finish!


Of course the simple answer to why his theory is not accepted is because it is utter rubbish from start to finish. While there were cults that practiced castration and allegations of human sacrifice committed by others in the ancient world, no cult that combined the two is recorded to have existed. The priests of Cybele castrated themselves, but did not do so as part of a cult of human sacrifice, and did not engage in cannibalism. Indeed, far from being intended to cause their deaths, the castration marked the worshippers’ entry into their new lives as the goddess’ priests. The allegation is even more incredible, and potentially dangerous, when applied to the 1st century Judaism out of which Christianity grew. Despite the weird and depraved sacrificial mixing of semen and menstrual blood by some libertarian Christian Gnostic sects, such as the Cainites, such acts were viewed as abominations in the wider Judaeo-Christian world. [3] It is true that some historians following the Christian apologist Justin Martyr have tentatively suggested that the Roman accusation of orgiastic sex and cannibalism directed at Christians may have come from the activities of some of these sects, such as the Marcionites. [4] Pliny, on the other hand, despite his willingness to execute Christians on the emperor’s orders, found that there was no substance behind the rumour, only ‘a depraved and immodest superstition’. [5]

Furthermore, the allegations of human sacrifice in Christianity at this time, before the religion was completely separate from Judaism, could be seen as substantiating the ‘Blood Libel’ rumours of the ritual sacrifice of gentiles which have produced so much vicious anti- Semitism ever since they first appeared at the court of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria c.125-96 B.C. [6] In the case of Christianity, most scholars believe that the allegations of cannibal’thyestean feasts’ arose through a Roman misunderstanding of the nature of Eucharist, with some Romans believing that the Christians dipped the host in the blood of sacrificed child. [7]

Despite being totally wrong historically, the theory of Christianity’s lunar origins nevertheless is a good example of the concerns of a certain part of the fringe archaeology/secret history movement, and in particular its origins in outmoded, Victorian views of the origins of religion. In fact, Gooch’s view of the origin of Christianity is part of his wider attempt to trace the origins of modern religious and political systems in the racial difference between Neanderthal and modern Homo Sapiens. In his 1989 book, Cities of Dreams: When Women Ruled the Earth, he stated his case that the Neanderthals were creative left-handed, pacifist, socialist, matriarchal vegetarians whose religion was centred around the worship of the Moon, in contrast with the Cro Magnons, who were patriarchal, violent, right-handed, destructive and capitalistic. Intermarriage between the two produced modern humanity, with the different political and religious beliefs being determined by the relative expression of the Neanderthal or Cro Magnon heritage in various individuals.

Thus, left-handers, according to Gooch, have more Neanderthal heritage, and are thus more likely to be anti-capitalist political leftists. As proof of this, he cites Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and Suleiman Abu Ghaith as prominent left-handers, as well as the statistic that left-handedness in China, which ‘just happens to be a Communist state’ is almost double that of Europe. Thus ‘the present world crisis, our political system itself, and the vast majority of our social problems all arise from the fact that we, modern humans, are an unstable hybrid cross between predominantly left-handed Neanderthal man and the right-handed Cro-Magnon, and all possess two sets of opposing instincts.’ [8]

Other fringe writers, such as Stanislaus Szukalsky, would have concurred. A Polish nationalist and founder of the ‘Horned Heart’ patriotic movement, Szukalsky similarly believed that an archaic, prehuman race from which modern humans were partially descended also shared communistic inclinations. Rather than the idealised paragons of antediluvian virtue envisaged by Gooch, however, these were subhuman creatures of violence and depravity. It was their racial heritage that was responsible for the cruelty and criminality in the modern human character. Szukalsky’s views, however, were no doubt moulded by his country’s experience during the post-War years. Newly liberated from both Germany and Russia, the country was nevertheless subject to political instability and armed incursions from its former eastern master after the Revolution when the nascent Soviet union attempted to spread Communism by force.

Similar views of the origin of Communist criminal depravity in a prehuman racial heritage informed the views of many of German Pagan sects whose vehement antisemitism made them precursors of the Nazis. Despite the substantial difference in outlook between Szukalsky and the leaders of the Volkisch neo-pagan sects in Wilhelmine Germany, his view of the Protong as the prehuman originator of evil is of a type with Lanz von Liebenfels’ Buhlzwerge, subhuman pygmies, which the ancients had reared for perverted sexual pleasure. For Liebenfels, Christ’s passion was a garbled account of attempts by these pygmies to rape and corrupt Him on the urging of Satanic bestiality cults devoted to racial interbreeding. [9] 

Liebenfels’ own political views were diametrically opposed to Gooch’s. A rabidly anti- Semitic German Nationalist, whose views may have exerted an influence on the young Adolf Hitler, Liebenfels was resolutely behind the hierarchical, capitalist world, which Communism sought to overthrow. Nevertheless, both Liebenfels and Gooch’s views of the Passion are similar, rejecting the literal meaning of the narrative in favour of an allegorical interpretation of sexual violence.

Liebenfels’ interpretation of the Passion narrative, however, lacks the cannibalism of Gooch’s. Yet this is also present in the 19th century attempt to establish the anthropological origin of religion, though this time in Freud’s discussion of the origin of religion in the Oedipal struggles of the early human community expressed in the murder of a Biblical figure, though this time Moses, rather than Christ. In his Autobiography, Freud declared that the ur-human paterfamilias had seized all the tribe’s women for himself. As a result, his sons banded together against him to kill and devour him. However, as their father was also their ideal, they were ridden with guilt, and so enacted rituals to expiate them of their sin. The result of this was the ritual murder, not of Jesus, but of Moses by his Jewish followers. [10]

Where Freud got this bizarre idea of Moses’ ritual murder is a mystery. The Bible makes no mention of a murder at all. In it, God simply summons Moses to die on Mt. Nebo, because he had broken faith with the Almighty and did not revere Him as holy in Meribathkadesh. [11] Moses complied, dying in full view of the Promised Land, which he was forbidden to enter. There is no mention of any killing by Moses followers, who, far from being filled with hate, spent thirty days in mourning for their prophet. [12]

The Talmud and extrabiblical Jewish legend also makes no mention of Moses being murdered either. There, the short Biblical account of the prophet’s death is supplemented with a longer account of his refusal to die, and the refusal of various angels sent by the Lord to take his soul, until at last the Lord lures his soul out of his body with a kiss. Again, Moses’ death is the cause for great mourning, not just of Israel, but also of the whole of creation. [13]

The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus too makes no mention of any murder, but describes instead Moses being called to die by God, and giving a lengthy sermon stressing the nation’s duty to God and describing the constitution and laws revealed to him by the Almighty before ascending the mountain where he was due to die. Again, rather than being murdered, Moses’ death is the subject of extreme sorrow for his people. Josephus’ account differs from that of the Bible and the Talmud in having the prophet disappearing from under a cloud, which settled over him while still in conversation with the patriarchs Eleazar and Joshua. [14] Freud thus appears to have confused Moses death with the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, which was a revolt against Moses and Aaron’s authority. [15] This ends not with Moses’ murder, however, but with Korah and the leaders of the revolt being swallowed alive by the earth down to Sheol, the Hebrew underworld, and their followers consumed by fire. The overwhelming impression by Freud’s account of Moses’ death as a ritual sacrifice by the people of Israel is of a deliberate misreading of the text in order to make it conform to his theory.

Unfortunately, this certainly was not the last time this was done.

Nor has the fascination with the murder of Biblical figures abated over the past 100 years. While Freud’s theory of the ritual murder of Moses has become one of the lesser-known and obscure parts of his psychoanalytical system, other writers on religion have since moved on to Hiram Abif, the architect of Solomon’s Temple in Masonic legend, who was similarly murdered by his followers, in this case, the other workmen. Such a work is Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas’ The Hiram Key of 1996, which similarly made spurious claims about the origins of religion, including the statement that the secret scrolls of Christ were buried under Roslyn Chapel, and claiming that the mummy of the pharaoh Seqenenre Tao II was the body of Hiram Abif himself. [16] Freud’s theory of the cause of Moses’ putative murder in the enactment of Oedipal conflicts with his people could also be applied to the story of the murder of Hiram Abif, though as yet it doesn’t appear that anyone has actually done so. Clearly religious murder and secret religious history continue to hold a lurid interest for modern, as well as Victorian readers.


Hiram Abif and King Solomon

Writers have since moved on to Hiram Abif, the architect of Solomon’s Temple in Masonic legend, who was murdered by his followers


Regardless of the precise theory anthropological or psychological theory underpinning Szukalski’s, Liebenfels’ and Gooch’s views of the nature of prehistoric humanity and the origins of religion and capitalism and Communism, all are strongly informed by the racial and anthropological theories of the 19th century. Although these have been discredited by later research carried out in the 20th century, they persisted long enough for their influence still to be felt in the modern occult and Fortean fringe. Even when these theories are presented from a liberal perspective, as in Gooch’s attempts to rescue the Neanderthals from their image of savage brutality, they still present considerable dangers because of their biologistic readings of historical and cultural events. Apart from challenging the racist basis of such theorising, it’s also instructive to analyse these theories to reveal just how far 19th century views of primitive humanity and its religion even in today’s far more liberal occult and fringe religious milieu.

Underpinning Freud’s theory of the psychological origin of religion, however, was the nascent anthropology of the Victorian era, which itself was informed by that age’s faith in progress from primitive barbarism to modern, technological, European civilisation. Freud was particularly influenced by studies such as W. Robertson Smith’s Lectures On the Religion of the Semites of 1898, which argued that sacred acts and cults were the essence of religion, rather than doctrines or beliefs. [17]

Liebenfels was similarly influenced by contemporary anthropology, with one article citing more than a hundred references to academic studies in anthropology, palaeontology and mythology. [18] The major influence on Liebenfels’ thinking, however, seems to have been a flagstone at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, where he had been a Cistercian monk, showing a nobleman trampling upon a strange monster, which Liebenfels interpreted as an allegorical representation of the struggle with the subhuman evil present in the world. [19]

Although Freud’s historical account of the origins of religion has been discredited, while Liebenfels, despite his erudition, was never more than an eccentric fringe thinker whose ideas have similarly been thoroughly discredited because of their genocidal racism, they nevertheless shared their basis in evolutionary theory with more mainstream anthropological speculation. The founders of sociology in France and Britain, Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, were firm believers in the progress of human civilisation from out of savagery. Indeed, it was Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest’ as a staunch supporter of Darwinism. [20] As a result, 19th century anthropology was infused from its birth with what Boleslaw Malinowski described as ‘enthusiastic evolutionism’. [21]

Both Comte and Spencer attempted to fit the development of religion into their schema of social and biological progress. For Comte, the earliest and most primitive form of religion was animism, when early humanity invested the natural world around them with supernatural presences and powers in order to explain it. For Spencer, this ur-religion was the belief in ghosts and ancestral spirits. The great Victorian anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, viewed by one modern scholar, Jacques Waardenburg, as ‘the actual founder of anthropology as the science of man and his culture’, [22] further refined this view so that the belief in a soul, rather than ghosts, was the origin of religion. It was Tylor who coined the term’animism’ to describe the belief that animals, plants and inanimate objects possessed souls as well humans.

William Robertson Smith, who influenced Freud’s theory of religion and who has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas as the real father of anthropology, [23] rather than Tylor, differed from his predecessors in viewing totemism as the origin of human religion. Smith’s views were influenced by his experiences when he visited the Bedouin in North Africa. In the totemic stage of society, he believed, each clan or savage kin-group considered itself related to its totem. Although the totem could be any creature or object, usually it was some kind of animal. When this sacred animal was sacrificed, its flesh and blood, if eaten, united the worshippers with the sacrificial victim. It was this totemism, which was at the heart of modern Christian Holy Communion. It is a view, which is clearly related, if not actually ancestral, to Gooch’s view that Christian Holy Communion is based on a real human sacrifice, whose body and blood was indeed eaten. [24]

These rationalist, evolutionary accounts of the origin of religion remained influential into the 20th century. An edition of Smith’s Religion of the Semites was published in 1927 , while Freud’s account of the psychological origins of religion, where ‘respect and fear of the Old Man and the emotional reaction of the primitive savage to older, protective women, exaggerated in dreams and enriched by mental play, formed a large part in the beginnings of primitive religion and in the conception of gods and goddesses’, was incorporated into H. G. Wells’ own account of the origin of religion. [25]

Later in the century shamanism, rather than animism or totemism, was viewed as the origin of religion, or at least the oldest religious system. Archaeological evidence suggested that it was at least 20,000 years old, meaning that it ‘was the world’s oldest profession and Shamans were probably the first storytellers, healers, priests, magicians, dramatists, and so on, who explained the world and related it to the cosmos.’ [26] In the view of some researchers, the transition to priesthood occurred when humanity found it increasingly difficult to enter the dissociative states necessary for the shamanic experience, and when the shamans’ powers were eroded as they came under the sway of the leaders of the emergent states. Thus, instead of the original, ecstatic experience, priests and diviners used set rituals and procedures instead to bring about the miracles and mystical communion with the gods or ancestors, or to produce religious phenomena and attitudes agreeable to their secular masters. [27] For many in the New Age milieu, it is the apparent extreme antiquity of shamanism, as well as the freedom it offers for direct mystical communion with the numinous, unmediated by the strictures of an organised, dogmatic priesthood or oppressive state structure, that validates shamanism as a contemporary religious path.

A similar attitude also underpins much of the current interest in ritual magic, with adherents and adepts similarly stressing the experience of communion with transcendent powers outside of the restrictions imposed by religion as an important element in its attraction. Although not stressed to the same extent as shamanism, magic has similarly been viewed as the ultimate origin of religion, most famously by Sir James George Frazer in his work The Golden Bough. Like Inglis, Frazer believed the transition to religion occurred when the magic failed to work, though as a rationalist he viewed this as the growing awareness of emerging civilisations that magic could not explain and control the world satisfactorily. [28] Frazer was influenced in his view of magic as the origin of religion by the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel.

Although Hegel’s theory of the emergence of the historical process through the dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is best known through the left-wing, materialist version propounded by Marx, Hegel himself was a practising Lutheran. The dialectical process of the human journey mirrored the operation of the divine mind. Magic and fetishism were the origins of human religion, a Naturreligion in which no duality was perceived between nature and spirit. This ur-religion had become obsolete in advanced societies, particularly those of Western Europe, through the process of antithesis, which separated spirit from its original, unformed self, so giving rise to Persian dualism. Eventually, however, the highest stage of the process, the synthesis, was achieved in revealed religion, particularly that of European Christianity. [29]

Hegelianism formed the conceptual basis of Marx’s concept of the progress of human society, though he also drew many of his ideas from anthropology. Particularly influential in this regard was Lewis Henry Morgan, whose study of the Iroquois Indians was published in 1851 and which has been hailed as ‘the first modern ethnographic study of a native people’. [30] It was Morgan, taking his lead from Spencer, who proposed that society developed from savagery, through barbarism to civilisation, and identified each stage with a particular technological or social advance. For many Marxist intellectuals, and those influenced by them, the earliest stage of human society was marked by a primitive communism which the growing diversity of function and division of labour and roles in more advanced societies had destroyed, but which would be restored again after the dialectical process had advanced through capitalism and its successor, socialism, to the idyllic true communism of the post- revolutionary world order.

Marxist anthropologists have paid particular attention to hunter-gatherer societies where no one is dependent on others for the weapons that are the sole means of production. [31] It is no accident that radical western socialists, such as London’s former mayor, Ken Livingstone, in an interview with the Sunday Express in the mid-80 s, hearkened back to the primitive communism of the Palaeolithic as a golden age. Despite the Soviet regime’s persecution of shamanism alongside other expressions of religious belief and practice incompatible with its militantly atheist ideology, and the view of Marxist anthropologists that magicians, by their specialist knowledge, make the workers dependent on them and so exploit them, [32] it is probably no accident that many of those interested in shamanism tend towards the political left in their beliefs, and have a similar nostalgia for the lost utopia of Stone Age society.

Such attitudes can be traced further back, of course, to Rousseau and Diderot’s idealisation of the Noble Savage, and especially Tahiti, as terrestrial paradises of primitive communism and sexual freedom, free from the repression, hypocrisy and corruption of aristocratic Europe. Although they too praised the natives as enjoying a natural religion in harmony with humanity’s own nature, the post-modern Neo-Pagan movement has as much in common with Hegel’s view of magic as it does with the Noble Savage of the philosophes. For Rousseau and Diderot, the natural religion was something like European deism, which posited a distant creator, but denied that He took any further action to interfere with His creation. It was an intellectual faith, which lacked the Romantic involvement with the miraculous, which is at the heart of a belief in magic.

Modern Neo-Paganism’s debt to 19th century anthropology is also demonstrated in its concern with ancient matriarchies, which worshipped goddesses, rather than male gods, and where the mediators of female divine power were queens and priestesses. Although in the  century this view of early global culture and religion has been most strongly propounded by Marija Gimbutas, of UCLA, whose book, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe has been particularly influential, the idea itself goes back to Johan Backhofen in the 19th century. Backhofen, a Swiss jurist, believed that all societies passed through a matriarchal phase, though he termed it Mutterrecht – mother-right — rather than matriarchy. It was an enormously influential view, being taken up, amongst others, by Sigmund Freud and the archaeologists V. Gorden Childe and Jacques Cauvin. [33] Hence Gooch’s theory of primitive Neanderthal matriarchy, and his statement that Christ’s Passion is a mythological treatment of human sacrifice performed by a lunar cult, identified in much modern Neo- Pagan literature, though not explicitly stated in Gooch’s account of Christ’s Passion, as the religion of a moon goddess.


Such attitudes can be traced to Rousseau and Diderot's idealisation of the Noble Savage, and especially Tahiti, as terrestrial paradises of primitive communism and sexual freedom, free from the repression, hypocrisy and corruption of aristocratic Europe


  1. Stan Gooch. ‘Moon Religion, Fortean Times, 185, July 2004, p.75
  2. Ibid.
  3. See for example, Christ’s condemnation of such practices acording to the Pistis Sophia, cited in ‘The Orgy’, in A. Nataf, The Occult, Chambers, Edinburgh 1991, p.70
  4. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, 1972, p.90
  5. T. Barnes, ‘Pagan Perceptions of Christianity’ in I. Hazlett, ed., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD600. SPCK, London 1991, p.90.
  6. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft, p.89
  7. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft, p.89
  8. Stan Gooch, ‘Sinister Sinstades’ in Fortean Times, 155, February 2002, p.54
  9. N. Goodrick-Clarke. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and their Influence on Nazi Ideology, I. B. Tauris, 1992.
  10. Alister McGrath. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. Rider, 2004, p.72-3
  11. Deuteronomy 32, 48-52
  12. Deuteronomy 34, 1-8
  13. A.S. Rappaport, Ancient Israel: Myths and Legends. The Mystic Press, London 1987, pp.343-362
  14. Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Wiston. Charles Griffin, pp. 95-103
  15. [to be confirmed]
  16. P. Henry, ‘The Hiram Key’, Fortean Times, 192, Novmber 1996, p.60
  17. Alister McGrath. op.cit., pp.72
  18. Goodrick-Clarke, op.cit., p.93.
  19. Goodrick-Clarke, op.cit., pp.91-2
  20. C. Bennett. In Search of the Sacred: Anthropology and the Study of Religions, Cassell, 1996, p29.
  21. Bennett, op.cit., p.36
  22. Bennett, op.cit., p.34
  23. Bennett, op.cit., p.41
  24. Bennett, op.cit., p.42
  25. H. G. Wells. A Short History of the World. Watts & Co., 1934, p37
  26. ‘Shamanism’ in R. E. Gulley, Harper’s Encyclopaedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. HarperCollins, New York, 1991, p.540
  27. B. Inglis. Natural and Supernatual: A History of the Paranormal from the Earliest Times to 1914. Prism, 1992. p.540.
  28. Bennett, op.cit., p.39
  29. Bennett, op.cit., p.25
  30. Bennett, op.cit., p.31
  31. ‘Marxist Anthroplogy’, in C. Cook, ed., Pears Cyclopaedia, 95th Edition, Pelham, london, 1986, p.F61
  32. Ibid., p.F61
  33. I. Hodder, ‘Women and Men at Catalhoyuk’, Scientific American Special edition:Mysteries of the Ancient ones, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, p36. J. F. White, A Brief History of Christian Worship, Abingdon Press, 1993, p.63.


Continue to Part Two >>>


Visions of Bowmen and Angels.
Kevin McClure



In August 1914, Brigadier-General John Charteris was one of the senior officers in the British Expeditionary Force in France. He was a staff officer to General Sir Douglas Haig, working with him at G.H.Q., and also a close personal friend.

During the earliest weeks of the Great War, he was an involved observer within the B.E.F. as the men retreated from Mons in the face of substantially superior German forces. He also sent home detailed and eloquent letters, a chronicle of that demanding and dramatic time. These were published some 17 years later (At G.H.Q., Cassell, 1931), apparently in their original form, certainly with no hint of rewriting or later addition. The entry for September 5th, 1914, includes the following passage: -

” Then there is the story of the ‘Angels of Mons’ going strong through the 2nd Corps, of how the angel of the Lord on the traditional white horse, and clad all in white with flaming sword, faced the advancing Germans at Mons and forbade their further progress. Men’s nerves and imagination play weird pranks in these strenuous times. All the same the angel at Mons interests me. I cannot find out how the legend arose.”

If a perceptive and open-minded Brigadier-General, knowing his men and the experiences they had been through could not get to the bottom of the stories of angels some ten days after the events are said to have happened, what hope do I have nearly 80 years on? I have plenty of written sources – though there are many more, the tales being told again and again – and the perspective of history in my favour. Yet I can make no promises as to what may have occurred, and cannot say with certainty that any particular, named individual, of perhaps 100,000 soldiers in the B.E.F. at that time, saw any one vision or another. But it is clear to me that the debunking that has in recent years been the only published context for the Mons material has been hopelessly inadequate, if not actually dishonest. It is time to present the contemporary sources – as close to the truth as we can come – however confusing they may be. Now we can evaluate this strange and wonderful story in a new and independent way.

In his marvellous study of wartime myths and legends, The Smoke and the Fire – Myths and Anti-Myths of War, 1861-1945 (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1980) historian John Terraine records that Private Frank Richards – later to be author of the Billy Bunter books – wrote of angels in the context of the retreat from Le Cateau, which was on August 26th, 1914. There are few specific references to dates, but it seems that the 26th or 27th are the most likely. Whatever happened, probably happened then.

On September 29th the Evening News published the Arthur Machen story The Bowmen for the first time: just 17 column inches on page 3 of a London evening paper. Unfortunately, copyright prevents me from reproducing this fine story in full, but Light magazine for 10.10.14 – always very literate for a specialist journal in the Spiritualist field – summarises it well: -

” The Evening News of the 29th ult. contains a remarkable piece of imaginative word-painting by Mr Arthur Machen, the novelist, entitled ‘The Bowmen’. Picturing one of the stands made by the allies early in the war against the overwhelming German host that was slowly pressing them back, he makes a British soldier with some knowledge of Latin recall the motto he had seen on the plates in a certain vegetarian restaurant. “Adsit Anglis Sanctus Georgius” – ” May Saint George be a present help to the English”. The man utters the invocation aloud, and at once the roar of battle seems to die down and in its place he hears a tumult of voices calling on St.George: ” Ha! Messire: Ha! sweet saint, grant us good deliverance! St.George for merry England! Harow! Harow! Monseigneur St.George, succour us.”

And as the soldier heard these voices he saw before him, beyond the trench, a long line of shapes, with a shining about them. They were like men who drew the bow, and with another shout their cloud of arrows flew singing and tingling through the air towards the German host. To their astonishment, the other men in the trench see the ranks of the enemy dissolving like mist, the foe falling not in dozens or hundreds, but in thousands. After the engagement the German general staff, finding no wounds on the bodies of the slain, decide that the English must have used Turpinite, but the soldier who knows Latin knows that St.George has brought his Agincourt bowmen to help the English!”

If you are not familiar with ‘The Bowmen’ then I would commend it to you most heartily, along with most of Machen’s other, marvellous fiction: quite possibly the finest writing on supernatural and horror themes of its period. Actually, this was not the first Evening News piece in which Machen had used legendary figures to make an encouraging and patriotic point. On 17.9.14, a piece of Machen’s appeared under the title ‘The Ceaseless Bugle Call’. Starting with observations on the huge training camps at Aldershot, it waxes lyrical about St.George, and concludes: -

Tuba mirum spargens sanum: wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth. It shall resound till it call up the spirits of the heroes to fight in the vanguard of our battle, till it summon King Arthur and all his chivalry forth from their magic sleep in Avalon: that they may strike one final shattering blow for the Isle of Britain against the heathen horde.”

I find The Ceaseless Bugle Call particularly interesting. It is virtually a trial run for The Bowmen, yet we hear nothing more of King Arthur playing any part in the course of the war. It was The Bowmen that caught the public interest, and the more respectable ‘occult’ and Spiritualist journals wrote to Machen after publication, to ask him what truth there was in the story, and how he had come by these marvellous facts. He responded that the story was entirely of his own making, written as his response to the horrors of the war, particularly the reports in the Weekly Dispatch of 30.8.14. Light and the Occult Review reported this response with little comment and there, for a time, the story rested.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of the way the Mons stories unfolded is the ‘missing link’. How the visions ceased to be reported in October 1914, having been given little or no credence, but then suddenly reappeared – in different forms, in different places – the following spring, over 6 months later. There had been many dramatic events during that time: hundreds of thousands of young men had marched willingly to war, and many of them had died or suffered appalling injuries. The British public had become all too familiar with the names of other places, other battles. Yet it was the few days of the retreat from Mons – a fortunate event, marked by great bravery, but hardly a memorable victory – involving smaller numbers of men, and lower casualties, that became the subject of tremendous attention throughout the summer of 1915. The first of the array of reports I have traced comes from Light magazine, 24.4.15., under the title The Invisible Allies: Strange Story from the Front: -

” In Light of October 10th last we referred, under the title of The Invisible Allies to a remarkable story by Mr Arthur Machen, the novelist, which appeared in the Evening News of a few days before, and which depicted our soldiers at the front as being aided by the spirits of the English soldiers of the past. The soldier about whom the story revolves sees a vision of the Agincourt bowmen and hears their voices. A short time ago we were asked by a well-known publisher if we could tell him anything of the origin of the story, as statements were being made that it was founded on fact. We replied that we thought it nothing more than an effort of that imagination of which Mr Machen’s stories are full. However, being curious on the point, and having a personal acquaintance with the author, we wrote to him asking the question, and were not surprised to receive his answer that the tale was merely a fanciful production of his own. He though it rather curious that any legend should have grown up around his story.

A few days ago, however, we received a visit from a military officer, who asked to see the issue of Light containing the article in question. He explained that, whether Mr Machen’s story was pure invention or not, it was certainly stated in some quarters that a curious phenomenon had been witnessed by several officers and men in connection with the retreat from Mons. It took the form of a strange cloud interposed between the Germans and the British. Other wonders were heard or seen in connection with this cloud which, it seems, had the effect of protecting the British against the overwhelming hordes of the enemy. We wonder what truth there is in the report. Legends spring up quickly, but so far as we have observed there is always some core of truth, however small, at the back of each. Even the ‘Russians in England’ rumour, we understand, was not entirely without foundation. But this legend of Mons is fascinating. We should like to hear more of it.”

This was a simple story. The effect – the protection of the British soldiers – is the same as in The Bowmen, but it occurs as the result of the presence of a mysterious cloud. Only six days later, on 30.4.15., the Roman Catholic newspaper, The Universe, published in London, carried a more detailed and rather different account, headed On A White Horse: St.George and Phantom Army: -

” An extraordinary story, which recalls an incident in the Crusades, reaches The Universe from an accredited correspondent who is, however, precluded from imparting the names of those concerned.

The story is told by a Catholic officer in a letter from the front, and is told with a simplicity which shows the narrator’s own conviction of its genuineness . . .

” A party of about thirty men and an officer was cut off in a trench, when the officer said to his men, ‘Look here, we must either stay here and be caught like rats in a trap, or make a sortie against the enemy. We haven’t much of a chance, but personally I don’t want to be caught here.’ The men all agreed with him, and with a yell of ‘St.George for England!’ they dashed out into the open. The officer tells how, as they ran on, he became aware of a large company of men with bows and arrows going along with them, and even leading them on against the enemy’s trenches, and afterwards when he was talking to a German prisoner, the man asked him who was the officer on a great white horse who led them, for although he was such a conspicuous figure, they had none of them been able to hit him. I must also add that the German dead appeared to have no wounds on them. The officer who told the story (adds the writer of the letter) was a friend of ours. He did not see St.George on the white horse, but he saw the Archers with his own eyes.”

I think we can safely regard this as the basic ‘bowmen’ legend, and it has undeniably close parallels to Machen’s story. Why it should suddenly appear in the respectable Roman Catholic press, apparently in a letter from the front in France, I cannot imagine.

It is not easy to work out a precise chronology, but it seems that the next item of importance to be published was a report in the All Saints,Clifton, Parish Magazine for May 1915. This version – which appears elsewhere, and which I assume to be a correct transcription – comes from the Church Family Newspaper, in its July 1915 issue. It was also reprinted in the same Parish Magazine, in its July 1915 issue. It has the title, An Angelic Guard – Strange Experiences.

” The following account is published in the current issue of the All Saints, Clifton, Parish Magazine: -

Last Sunday I met Miss M., daughter of the well-known Canon M., and she told me she knew two officers both of whom had themselves seen the angels who saved our left wing from the Germans when they came right upon them during the retreat from Mons.

They expected annihilation, as they were almost helpless, when to their amazement they stood like dazed men, never so much as touched their guns: nor stirred till we had turned round and escaped by some crossroads. One of Miss M’s friends, who was not a religious man, told her that he saw a troop of angels between us and the enemy. He has been a changed man ever since. The other man she met in London. She asked him if he had heard the wonderful stories of angels. He said he had seen them himself and under the following circumstances: -

While he and his company were retreating, they heard the German cavalry tearing after them. They saw a place where they thought a stand might be made, with sure hope of safety; but before they could reach it, the German cavalry were upon them. They therefore turned round and faced the enemy, expecting nothing but instant death, when to their wonder they saw, between them and the enemy, a whole troop of angels. The German horses turned round terrified and regularly stampeded. The men tugged at their bridles, while the poor beasts tore away in every direction from our men. This officer swore he saw the angels, which the horses saw plainly enough. This gave them time to reach the little fort, or whatever it was, and save themselves.”

Looking at the development of the accounts of the visions, this is a particularly important piece. It seems to represent the basic ‘angels’ legend, and it bears only a minimal resemblance to The Bowmen. In the ‘angels’ legend, there is no decision by the soldiers to take their chance, no invocation of St.George or any other figure, no foreknowledge of the words to use to call for assistance, such as those on the plate in the vegetarian restaurant. The ‘angels’ have neither leader nor weapons. Indeed, this version of intervention has more in common with the ‘strange cloud interposed between the Germans and the British’, than it does with The Bowmen. The claims of many commentators, and of Machen himself, that all the accounts of visions and interventions at Mons were generated by his brief column in the Evening News can, at times, seem very far-fetched.

Yet nothing in this investigation is straightforward or simple. To anticipate a little, the Society for Psychical Research, in its Journal for December 1915, published An Enquiry Concerning the Angels at Mons. This is an excellent piece of work, and I’ll refer to it again. The Society was swiftly off the mark in writing to Miss M. (actually Miss Marrable, daughter of Canon Marrable) on May 26, 1915

” . . the story is told on the authority of Miss M., who is said to have known personally the officers concerned. Accordingly we wrote to Miss M. to ask whether she could corroborate these stories, and received the following reply, dated 28.5.15.

‘I cannot give you the names of the men referred to in your letter of May 26, as the story I heard was quite anonymous, and I do not know who they were.”

I suspect that Miss Marrable had a busy few weeks answering enquiries about her alleged informants: there are reports of other publications also pursuing her.

Early May saw a fascinating mixture of accounts appearing in the ‘occult’ and Spiritualist press. In Light for 8.5.15, a feature appears headed Supernormal Phenomena at the Battle Front: -

” The following letter from ‘Scota’, a correspondent in Ireland, embodies statements some of which had already been received by us from other quarters: -

Sir, I am very glad that in the last issue of Light you had noticed the story about the intervention of spirit helpers at Mons, for the subject is well worth investigation. It has reached me through three different channels having no connection with each other.

A friend who was in London last autumn read in the Evening News the story of the vision and accompanying shout. She was much struck by it, but was inclined to question its credibility. A few days later, however, she met a young soldier, a private who had been wounded. Directly she heard he had been at Mons she asked, “Oh, did you see the vision, and hear the shout?” He answered, “I did not hear the shout, but I did see the vision and, he added very emphatically, the Germans saw it too, they couldn’t get their horses to come on!” He said that on comparing notes with his comrades afterwards they found that some had seen the vision, and some heard the shout, but very many had neither heard nor seen.

Shortly afterwards this same lady met a member of the family of an officer, General N., who also had been at Mons. He stated that in that rearguard action there was one specially critical moment. The German cavalry was rapidly advancing, and very much outnumbered our forces. Suddenly, he saw a sort of luminous cloud, or light interpose itself between the Germans and our forces. In the cloud there seemed to be bright objects moving: he could not say if they were figures or not, but they were moving and bright. The moment this cloud appeared the German onslaught seemed to receive a check; the horses could be seen rearing and plunging, and they ceased to advance. He said it was his opinion that if that check, whatever its cause, had not come, the whole force would have been annihilated in twenty minutes.

Since then another friend of mine has had a visit from a relative, a young officer home on short leave from the front. He, too, had been at Mons, and told her that the story, as she had heard it, was perfectly correct. He had seen the luminous cloud and the sudden check to the enemy’s cavalry, exactly as General N. had described it, and he said, “After what I saw that day, nothing will make me doubt for one moment but that we shall win in this war.”

The following week, Light published further accounts, from different sources: an interesting variation on the ‘vegetarian restaurant’, and a surprisingly Christian report in this Spiritualist context: -

” In a sermon preached by the Rev. Fielding Ould, vicar of St.Stephen’s, St.Alban’s, he is reported to have said -

I heard a story last week from three sources, and which I think may be true. A sergeant in our army had frequented a house of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and had seen there a picture of St.George slaying the dragon. He had been deeply impressed by it, and when, at the front, he found himself in an advanced and rather isolated trench, he told the story of St.George to his men – St.George, the patron saint of England, whose name the warriors have shouted as their war-cry in the carnage of Crecy, Poitiers, and on many another glorious field. When shortly afterwards a sudden charge of the grey-coated Germans in greatly superior numbers threatened the sergeant’s trench, he cried, “Remember St.George for England!” to his men as they advanced to meet the foe. A few moments afterwards the enemy hesitated, stopped, and finally fled, leaving some prisoners in our hands. One of the latter, who seemed dazed and astonished, demanded to be told who were “the horsemen in armour who led the charge. Surely they could not have been Belgians dressed in such a way!” There are many similar stories of supernatural intervention in the old battles of the world and I, for one, would hesitate to say that they had no basis of fact.”

Mrs F.H.Fitzgerald Beale, writing from Mountmellick, Ireland, says -

” You mention in Light of the 24th ult. that a strange cloud came down at Mons and hid the allies from the Germans. I am pleased to be able to tell you it is true. We have among other wounded soldiers home from the war a soldier of the Dublin Fusiliers who was injured at Mons. I told him of the story and asked him whether it was true. He said, “Yes, I saw it myself. A thick black cloud: it quite hid us from the enemy.” Indeed, all the other men have told me of the miraculous way that crucifixes were preserved. One soldier said that in a wood there was a mound with a large crucifix on top to mark the burial place of a number of soldiers killed in a former war. The trees were swept away by shell fire as if they had been cut down with a scythe, but the crucifix stood untouched. This preservation has been so very marked everywhere, he said, that even the Jews in the trenches were asking for crucifixes from Catholic soldiers, and people were embedding them in the walls of their houses. I hear this from every soldier who has returned.”

In Bladud, The Bath Society Paper of Wednesday, 9th June 1915, The Rev.M.P.Gilson, Vicar of All Saints, Clifton, told of his experiences since he published the earlier account of the ‘Angels’ . . .

” You will, I think, be no less surprised than I have been to find that our modest little parish magazine has suddenly sprung into almost world-wide notoriety; every post for the last three weeks has brought letters from all over the country, not asking merely for single copies, but for dozens of copies, enclosing a quite embarrassing number of stamps and postal orders, the more so since there were no more magazines to be had.”

He goes on to express surprise that everyone is so amazed that miracles should still be occurring, and prayers still being answered . . .

” Why should it seem more strange that a regiment of Prussian cavalry should be held up by a company of angels, and their horses stampeded, and our infantry delivered from a hopeless position, than that an angel with flaming sword should have withstood Balaam, or that St.Peter should have been delivered from the hand of Herod by the intervention of an Angel? Do they really relegate all such miracles to ‘Bible Days’, and believe that when the Church made up the Canon of Holy Scriptures she also brought to a close the age of miracles?”

Bladud also quotes some of the accounts sent to the Rev. Gilson, who passes comments on the developing stories – comments that seem quite perceptive to me. The accounts first . . .

” The first is an extract from an officer’s letter: “I myself saw the angels who saved our left wing from the Germans during the retreat from Mons. We heard the German cavalry tearing after us and ran for a place where we thought a stand could be made; we turned and faced the enemy expecting instant death. When to our wonder we saw between us and the enemy a whole troop of Angels; the horses of the Germans turned round frightened out of their senses; they regularly stampeded, the men tugging at their bridles, while the horses tore away in every direction from our men. Evidently the horses saw the Angels as plainly as we did, and the delay gave us time to reach a place of safety.”

” Another contribution comes from a more unexpected source. A captain in charge of German prisoners states that these men say it is no use to fight the English, for at Mons “there were people fighting for them”, that they saw angels above and in front of the lines, also that it is happening at Ypres.”

” From another source I heard that many prisoners were taken that day who surrendered when there was no call for it. At home it was suggested that they were underfed and did not want to fight. Some of these German prisoners were afterwards asked why they surrendered, ‘for there were many more of you than us; we were a mere handful,’ they looked amazed and replied, ‘but there were hosts and hosts of you.’ It was thought that the angels appeared to them as reinforcements of our ranks.

The St.George story is, I believe, a fiction. It has been enquired into, and apparently it is only based on a perversion of the story of the angels, and that I do believe. The only very astonishing part of it is that so many men were allowed to see them. (If other accounts of the visions agree with these, it is surely noteworthy, adds the Editor of the All Saints Magazine, that the angels appear to have taken no part in the killing: they defended our men, and caused the Germans to flee or to surrender).

Included in the same feature is a report of a sermon given in St.Martin’s Church, Worcester: -

” He told”, says the writer describing his sermon, “about this vision of angels, which had been seen by so many of our soldiers, on that Saturday in August, when the situation looked so hopeless that the Times correspondent wired that the British army ‘had been annihilated’, and the Sunday papers all published it, and if it had not been for the angels there would have been no contradiction of it in Monday’s papers.”

” In particular he spoke of twelve men in a quarry, who all saw the angels, and among the mass of the army some saw and some did not. Two colonels, he spoke of, who said they had seen them, one of whom had until then been an unbeliever. But all saw the unlooked for salvation of the remnant of the army.”

An interesting point there – that the vision was in some way selective. This is not the only time this element is mentioned, and it is not an uncommon phenomenon in reports of paranormal experience.

Another sermon, reported in various church and secular newspapers had considerable influence, presumably due to the status of the preacher. It received wide publicity, and introduced some new elements to the apparent role of the supernatural in the course of the war, in addition to the ‘legions of angels’ version of the retreat from Mons: -

” In a recent sermon at Manchester, Dr R.F.Horton, the well known Congregational minister, told how, in the Dardanelles, the airships of the enemy came over a troopship and dropped bombs. The captain, who was a devout man, gave the order to his crew to pray. “They knelt on the deck, and the Lord delivered them. The eighteen bombs which seemed to be falling from overhead fell harmlessly into the sea.

Dr.Horton then mentioned the story of the ‘Comrade in White’, which was dealt with recently in Light, and passed on to a consideration of the ‘company of angels’ which intervened to save our soldiers in the retreat from Mons. He referred to it as ‘a story repeated by so many witnesses that if anything can be established by contemporary evidence it is established.”

I haven’t found any fuller version of the story of the troopship in the Dardanelles, but this seems to be a good point at which to consider the matter of the ‘Comrade in White’ – or ‘White Helper’ – a figure that moves surely through the battlefields and hospitals of the early part of the war, without any real specifics of places or dates. The first account is from Dr Horton again -

” Now and again a wounded man on the field is conscious of a comrade in white coming with help and even delivering him. One of our men who had heard of this story again and again, and has put it down to hysterical excitement, had an experience. His division had advanced and was not adequately protected by the artillery. It was cut to pieces, and he himself fell. He tried to hide in a hollow of the ground, and as he lay helpless, not daring to lift his head under the hail of fire, he saw One in White coming to him. For a moment he though it must be a hospital attendant or a stretcher-bearer, but no, it could not be; the bullets were flying all around. The White-robed came near and bent over him. The man lost consciousness for a moment, and when he came round he seemed to be out of danger.

The White-robed still stood by him, and the man, looking at his hand, said, ‘You are wounded in your hand.’ There was a wound in the palm. He answered, ‘Yes, that is an old wound that has opened again lately.’ The soldier says that in spite of the peril and his wounds he felt a joy he had never experienced in his life before.”

Then there was . . .

” A letter from Miss Stoughton, whose sister was a nurse in the hospital at Tekleton. ‘There is a wonderful story,’ she writes, ‘of the man called by the soldiers, ‘A Comrade In White’, who is going about at the front, helping the wounded. A man told my sister that, though he had not seen Him himself, he knew many soldiers who had. He was supposed to be ‘The Angel of the Covenant’ – our Lord himself. He has been seen at different places.”

This isn’t exactly first-hand testimony – the writer is the sister of a nurse who spoke to a soldier who knew some others who said they had seen the figure! But it’s interesting to note that there are much more modern cases where similar figures have been involved inguiding or rescuing lost travellers in times of severe danger.

Quite moving is the story of the dramatic rescue of a young boy during battle, supposedly told by a nurse who had served in France (this may have been Phyllis Campbell, who we will discuss later): -

” How did you manage to pick up the child under the German guns? I asked. He shifted a little uncomfortably, then looked bravely into my eyes. “It’s a bit of a queer thing I’m going to say – but it’s true,” he said. “It was a kind of golden cloud between us and the Germans, and a man in it on a big horse – and then I saw the child in the dust on the roadside, and I picked it up.” “Yes, Sister,” he added, “Lots of other chaps saw it too.” There was a murmur of confirmation. “The minute I saw it,” he continued, “I knew we were going to win. It fair bucked me up.”

You can see the sort of structure these accounts have. The following – from Life and Work magazine for June 1915 – is a particularly detailed one, from which I have taken extracts. It is, apparently, from a letter from an unnamed soldier: -

” Strange tales reached us in the trenches. Rumours raced up and down that three-hundred mile line from Switzerland to the sea. We knew neither the source of them nor the truth of them. They came quickly, and they went quickly. Yet somehow I remember the very hour when George Casey turned to me with a queer look in his blue eyes and asked if I had seen the Friend of the Wounded.

And then he told me all he knew. After many a hot engagement a man in white had been seen bending over the wounded. Snipers sniped at him. Shells fell all around. Nothing had power to touch him. He was either heroic beyond all heroes, or he was something greater still. This mysterious one, whom the French called the Comrade In White, seemed to be everywhere at once. At Nancy, in the Argonne, at Soissons and Ypres, everywhere men were talking of him with hushed voices.”

The writer continues, explaining that he expected no such help should he be injured in battle. Then, in an advance on the facing trenches, he was shot in both legs, and lay in a sheell-hole till after dark,

” The night fell, and soon I heard a step, but quiet and firm, as if neither darkness nor death could check those untroubled feet. So little did I guess what was coming that, even when I saw the gleam of white in the darkness. I thought it was a peasant in a white smock, or perhaps a woman deranged. Suddenly. with a little shiver of joy or fear, I don’t know which, I guessed that it was the Comrade in White. And at that very moment the German rifles began to shoot. The bullets could scarcely miss such a target, for he flung his arms out as though in entreaty, and then drew them back till he stood like one of those wayside crosses that we saw so often as we marched through France.

And he spoke. The words sounded familiar, but all I remember was the beginning, “If thou hadst known,” and the ending, “but now they are hid from thine eyes.” And then he stopped and ushered me into his arms – me, the biggest man in the regiment – and carried me as if I had been a child.

I must have fainted again, for I woke to consciousness in a little cave by the stream, and the Comrade in White was washing my wounds and binding them up. It seems foolish to say it, for I was in terrible pain, but I was happier at that moment than ever I remember to have been in all my life before. I can’t explain it, but it seemed as if all my days I had been waiting for this without knowing it. As long as that hand touched me and those eyes pitied me, I did not seem to care any more about sickness or health, about life or death. And while he swiftly removed every trace of blood or mire, I felt as if my whole nature were being washed, as if all the grime and soil of sin were going, and as if I were once more a little child.

I suppose I slept, for when I awoke this feeling was gone, I was a man, and I wanted to know what I could do for my friend to help him or to serve him. He was looking towards the stream, and his hands were clasped in prayer: and then I saw that he, too, had been wounded. I could see, as it were, a shot-wound in his hand, and as he prayed a drop of blood gathered and fell to the ground. I cried out. I could not help it, for that wound of his seemed to be a more awful thing than any that bitter war had shown me. “You are wounded, too”, I said faintly. Perhaps he heard me, perhaps it was the look on my face, but he answered gently: “This is an old wound, but it has troubled me of late.” And then I noticed sorrowfully that the same cruel mark was on his feet. You will wonder that I did not know sooner. I wonder myself. But it was only when I saw his feet that I knew him.”

The identification of the figure with Jesus Christ was not an uncommon one, but I am rather intrigued by the ‘transformation’ of personality mentioned above. Whatever we call these accounts – wishful thinking, imagination, hallucination, spirit or divine intervention, or whatever – they are perhaps closer to traditional forms of religious experience than the visions involving interventions by non-human figures in military battles. They made popular reading, and no doubt brought hope and some comfort to those at the front in France, and to those at home

Before we return to the continuing development of the stories of angels and bowmen as they emerged in August and September of 1915, a little time should be spent with Phyllis Campbell, a lady who was, apparently, a nurse at front-line hospitals in France.

Over the past ten years or so, I have managed to find most of the important books and references relating to Mons, but one item has eluded me – Miss Campbell’s booklet Back of the Front, published by George Newnes Ltd in 1915. I gather that even the British Museum Library doesn’t have a copy, and apart from some extracts, all I have seen is a flyer showing the front cover! However, she received a lot of publicity, particularly via Ralph Shirley, editor of the Occult Review, and played her part in the growth of some of the more extreme legends.

In this particular instance, I tend to concur with the opinion of the sceptical writer, Melvin Harris, and I am unwilling to accept her unsupported testimony. Her work had appeared in the Occult Review before the war, and it is clear from her accounts of atrocities supposedly committed by the advancing Germans that she was prone to believing what she wanted to believe. I don’t suppose she was alone in that publicising the horrendous practises of the Bosch did wonders for Army recruitment. Anyway, some excerpts from her writing will convey her approach – bearing in mind that the content was, in 1914 and 1915, quite acceptable to many of her readers. From Light, 7.8.15 -

” The Occult Review for August publishes an article by Miss Phyllis Campbell, a nurse who was in the Mons retreat. She tells of a great outburst of pious enthusiasm on the part of the French wounded, some of whom were in a state of great exaltation of mind. They clamoured for ‘holy pictures’ – the little prints of saints and angels so common in Catholic countries – but were unanimous in selecting St Michael or Joan of Arc. A wounded English soldier – a Lancashire Fusilier – asked for ‘a picture or medal of St.George because he had seen the saint on a white horse leading the

British at Vitry-le-Francois when the allies turned.’ An RFA man, wounded in the leg, claimed to have seen a man with yellow hair, wearing golden armour and riding on a white horse with his sword upraised. He endorsed the account given by the fusilier that the phantom cavalier led the British troops. The French troops maintained that the figure seen was that of St Michael. Many of them professed also to have seen Joan of Arc.

That night (writes Miss Campbell) we heard the tale again, from the lips of a priest this time, two officers, and three men of the Irish Guard. These three men were mortally wounded; they asked for the sacrament before death, and before dying told the same story to the old abbe who confessed them.

In the Occult Review article – The Angelic Leaders – she stresses that she had written to its Editor about the stories of visions before the publication of The Bowmen in the Evening News. There is no confirmation of this; it would have been remarkable had a field nurse been able to stop and send out a letter amidst the havoc of retreat, and even more remarkable had the astute Ralph Shirley not used such a report if it had been offered him. The following piece is apparently taken from Back of the Front, reporting on how she was moving around France with the Army hospital, and recounting what soldiers had supposedly said to her, in her own, gory style . . .

” For forty-eight hours no food, no drink, under a tropical sun, choked with dust, harried by shell, and marching, marching, marching, till even the pursuing Germans gave it up, and at Vitry-le-Francois the Allies fell in their tracks and slept for three hours – horse, foot and guns – while the exhausted pursuers slept behind them.

Then came the trumpet call, and each man sprang to his arms to find himself made anew. One man said, “I felt as if I had just come out of the sea after a swim. Fit, just grand. I never felt so fit in my life, and every man of us the same. The Germans were coming on just the same as ever, when suddenly the advance sounded, and I saw the luminous mist and the great man on the white horse, and I knew the Boches would never get Paris, for God was fighting on our side.

Poor Dix, when he came into hospital with only a bleeding gap where his mouth had been, and a splintered hand and arm, he ought to have been prostrate and unconscious, but he made no moan, his pain had vanished in contemplation of the wonderful things he had seen – saints and angels fighting on this common earth, with common mortal men, against one devilish foe to all humanity. A strange and dreadful thing, that the veil that hangs between us and the world of Immortality should be so rent and shrivelled by suffering and agony that human eyes can look on the angels and not be blinded. The cries of mothers and little children – the suffering of crucified fathers and carbonized sons and brothers, the tortures of nuns and virgins, and violated wives and daughters, have all gone up in torment and dragged at the Ruler of the Universe for aid – and aid has come.”

The Society for Psychical Research was also interested in Miss Campbell’s reports. As part of their enquiry they reported that,

” We wrote some time ago to Miss Campbell asking whether she could give us any further information or put us in touch with the soldiers to whom these experiences had come, but we have not heard from her.” So far as I can establish, she made no further claims, and it was left to others to eagerly back her accounts when they could be used in support of their own contentions. But even so, if anyone comes across a copy of Back of the Front, I’d still be delighted to own one!

Miss Campbell’s contributions aside, by July 1915 the initial impetus of the reports had slowed down. Even the religious press only printed versions of earlier accounts – often set in the context of religious events in history – and many commentators began to wonder at the lack of witness testimony for which a witness could actually be identified. August saw two apparently promising testimonies in the Daily Mail. The first appeared on the 12th, and was a report of an interview with a ‘wounded lance-corporal’.

” I was with my battalion in the retreat from Mons on or about August 28th. The German cavalry were expected to make a charge, and we were waiting to fire and scatter them . .

The weather was very hot and clear, and between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, I was standing with a party of nine other men on duty, and some distance on either side there were parties of ten on guard . . An officer suddenly came up to us in a state of great anxiety and asked us if we had seen anything startling . . He hurried away from my ten to the next party of ten. At the time we thought that the officer must be expecting a surprise attack.

Immediately afterwards the officer came back, and taking me and some others a few yards away showed us the sky. I could see quite plainly in mid-air a strange light which seemed to be quite distinctly outlined and was not a reflection of the moon, nor were there any clouds in the neighbour hood. The light became brighter and I could distinctly see three shapes, one in the centre having what looked like outspread wings; the other two were not so large, but were quite plainly distinct from the centre one. They appeared to have a long, loose-hanging garment of a golden tint, and they were above the German line facing us.

We stood watching them for about three quarters of an hour. All the men with me saw them, and other men came up from other groups who also told us they had seen the same thing.

I remember the day because it was a day of terrible anxiety for us. That morning the Munsters had a bad time on our right, and so had the Scots Guards. We managed to get to the wood . . . Later on, the Uhlans attacked us, and we drove them back with heavy loss. It was after this engagement, when we were dog-tired, that the vision appeared to us.”

The Society for Psychical Research wrote to the Lady Superintendent of the hospital at which the man had been treated, to whom he was said to have told his experience before it was published, and asked her if she could give details of his whereabouts. She replied on 28.10.15:

” The man about whom you enquire has left here and has failed to answer my letter and postcard. I do not therefore know his present whereabouts. When I hear from him again I will write to you.”

There is nothing to suggest that the witness was ever located, but nor was the report disproved; this was a time of high casualties in France. The situation was a happier one than the Mail found itself in later in the month. The SPR enquiry tells the story well: -

” One other piece of alleged evidence in support of the ‘Angels of Mons’ may be briefly dismissed. In the Daily Mail for August 24, 1915, there appeared a communication from G.S.Hazlehurst stating that a certain Private Robert Cleaver, 1st Cheshire Regiment, had signed an affidavit in his presence to the effect that he “personally was at Mons and saw the Vision of Angels with (his) own eyes.” Speaking of his interview with Private Cleaver, Mr Hazlehurst said:

” When I saw Private Cleaver, who struck me as being a very sound, intelligent man, he at once volunteered his statement and had no objection to signing an affidavit before me that he had seen the Angels of Mons. He said that things were at the blackest with our troops, and if it had not been for the supernatural intervention they would have been annihilated. The men were in retreat, and lying down behind small tufts of grass for cover. Suddenly, the vision came between them and the German cavalry. He described it as a ‘flash’ . . The cavalry horses rushed in all directions and were disorganised”.

In the Daily Mail for September 2, 1915, there appeared a further communication from Mr Hazlehurst to the effect that in consequence of a rumour that Private Cleaver was not present at the Battle of Mons, he had written to the headquarters at Salisbury for information as to his movements, and received the following reply:

” From – Records Office, Cheshire Regiment. 10515 R.Cleaver.

With regard to your enquiries concerning the above man, the following are the particulars concerning him. He mobilised at Chester on August 22, 1914. He was posted out to the 1st Battalion, Expeditionary Force, France, with a draft on September 6, 1914. He returned to England on December 14, sick.”

Mr Hazlehurst concludes:

The battle of Mons was in August, 1914, and readers will draw their own conclusions. Information sworn on oath is usually regarded as sufficiently trustworthy for publication, but apparently not in this case.”

Much more intriguing is a letter sent to Arthur Machen by a Lieutenant-Colonel whose identity was apparently known to the Daily Mail, and who was present at the Retreat from Mons. It appeared in the issue dated September 14th, and seems never to have been refuted. It is worth mentioning that some historians have placed the publication of this account a year earlier, which would render it as vital evidence for a pre-Bowmen provenance for the stories. However, it definitely appeared over a year after the events that it reports. Nonetheless, its simplicity, and lack of specific identification of individualssomehow lend it a credibility not possessed by some other reports: -

” On August 26, 1914, was fought the battle of Le Cateau. We came into action at dawn, and fought till dusk. We were heavily shelled by the German artillery during the day, and in common with the rest of our division had a bad time of it.

Our division, however, retired in good order. We were on the march all night of the 26th and on the 27th, with only about two hours’ rest. The brigade to which I belonged was rearguard to the division, and during the 27th we were all absolutely worn out with fatigue – both bodily and mental fatigue.

No doubt we also suffered to a certain extent from shock; but the retirement still continued in excellent order, and I feel sure that our mental faculties were still . . . in good working condition.

On the night of the 27th I was riding along in the column with two other officers. We had been talking and doing our best to keep from falling asleep on our horses. As we rode along I became conscious of the fact that, in the fields on both sides of the road along which we were marching, I could see a very large body of horsemen. These horsemen had the appearance of squadrons of cavalry, and they seemed to be riding across the fields and going in the same direction as we were going, and keeping level with us . . .

I did not say a word about it at first, but I watched them for about twenty minutes. The other two officers had stopped talking. At last one of them asked me if I saw anything in the fields. I then told him what I had seen. The third officer then confessed that he too had been watching these horsemen for the past twenty minutes. So convinced were we that they were real cavalry that, at the next halt, one of the officers took a party of men out to reconnoitre, and found no one there. The night then grew darker, and we saw no more.

The same phenomenon was seen by many men in our column. Of course, we were all dog-tired and overtaxed, but it is an extraordinary thing that the same phenomenon should be witnessed by so many different people. I myself am absolutely convinced that I saw these horsemen, and I feel sure that they did not exist only in my imagination . .”

Quite rightly, the SPR Enquiry juxtaposes the above with this letter from Lance-Corporal A.Johnstone, late of the Royal Engineers, which was published in the Evening News of 11.8.15: -

” We had almost reached the end of the retreat, and after marching a whole day and night with but one half-hour’s rest in between, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Langy, near Paris, just at dawn, and as the day broke we saw in front of us large bodies of cavalry, all formed up into squadrons – fine, big men, on massive chargers. I remember turning to my chums in the ranks and saying: “Thank God! We are not far off Paris now. Look at the French cavalry.” They, too, saw them quite plainly, but on getting closer, to our surprise the horsemen vanished and gave place to banks of white mist, with clumps of trees and bushes dimly showing through them . . .

When I tell you that hardened soldiers who had been through many a campaign were marching quite mechanically along the road and babbling all sorts of nonsense in sheer delirium, you can well believe we were in a fit state to take a row of beanstalks for all the saints in the calendar.”

The summer of 1915 saw the publication of several books and booklets dealing with Bowmen, Angels and related issues. They included a fair amount of debate, and not a little name-calling. As I’m trying to stick to source material here, rather than the minutiae of opinions and attitudes, I won’t detail the comings and goings of the various writers; but I will summarise the best-sellers among them.

The first to appear was a 15-page booklet, gloriously titled The Angel Warriors at Mons, Including Numerous Confirmatory Testimonies, Evidence of the Wounded and Certain Curious Historical Parallels, An Authentic Record by Ralph Shirley, Editor of the Occult Review. It was published by the Newspaper Publicity Co., 61, Fleet Street, London, E.C. It covers the basic ‘Angels’ stories, and includes a number of excerpts from the vivid writings of Phyllis Campbell, as well as some interesting accounts of other battlefield visions: the Virgin Mary at Suwalki, and the Battle of Edge Hill.

The next to be published – on 10.8.15 – was The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War by Arthur Machen himself, published by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton Kent & Co. This appeared in two separate editions, the second being the better value as in addition to reprinting The Bowmen itself, it also includes five further short stories in a similar vein: The Soldier’s Rest: The Monstrance: The Dazzling Light: The Little Nations and The Men From Troy. Some of these are, in my hopelessly biased opinion, quite beautiful. Why they are described as ‘Other Legends of the War’ I cannot say – so far as I’m aware, they are all completely original.

The controversial part of Machen’s book is the 51-page Introduction, which tells the story of the development of The Bowmen as the author himself saw it: his point of view being that he was its author, not its historian. He fairly quotes evidence from both sides of the ‘event’ hypothesis – vision vs. hallucination – but still stays with his belief that there was no ‘event’ at all. This Introduction is beautifully crafted, and well worth reading in its entirety.

There were, of course, many who believed in the legends, and their views found a popular outlet in On the Side of the Angels – the Story of the Angels at Mons – an Answer to ‘The Bowmen’, by Harold Begbie. I understand that Mr Begbie was quite a notable author at the time, but his writing displays limited critical faculties. His contention is that whether the visions occurred or not, it was not Machen who originated them. Begbie marshalls most of the ‘pro-event’ material, from the fairly reputable down to the worst of the vague and rewritten, but actually adds little to the canon of stories with which the public was already familiar. Nonetheless, it was clearly influential at the time.

Various other publications appeared in 1915 and 1916, while the various stories and opinions held the public imagination to a remarkable degree. Few of them made contributions of any great originality, but an honourable mention must go to a skilful and elaborate parody, Find the Angels – The Showmen – A Legend of the War, by T.W.H.Crosland, published by T.Werner Laurie, 1915. This exquisitely parodies Machen’s Introduction, includes The Showmen itself, and various appendices taking shots at Machen, Begbie and the rest, and ending with some verses parodying Kipling in ‘The White Feather Legion’. I do admire Mr.Crosland’s skill!

One way and another, I think I have presented most – if not all – of the relevant material that appeared in Britain between the retreat from Mons itself, at the end of August 1914, and Christmas 1915. Other than these, there were opinions a-plenty, many quite critical, considered and convincing. Were I playing sceptic – as I often do when commenting on strange events and phenomena – I would weigh those comments heavily in the balance. But that isn’t my aim in compiling this account. To round oof this collection of evidence – and not-quite evidence – there are some other, later reports that deserve a hearing . . .

There is a little-known report in the Grays and Tilbury Gazette for 25.8.17., of angels on the home front: actually, at Grays Thurrock, a place not famed for drama, romance or mystery, situated on the Thames in Essex. Here, at a relatively optimistic stage of the war, were seen the ‘Peace Angels’.

” All Argent Street was out after them”, said one speaker. “They appeared over the Exmouth, two of them sitting on two rainbows with ‘Peace’ in between. Then they faded away, leaving only the rainbow.” Another observer said that the angels had, “roses wreathed in their hair.” It seems that children, in particular, were taken with this attractive story.

Moving on some years, on 17.2.1930 the Daily News published the following strange tale: -

” The British really saw in 1914 what they called the Angels of Mons, if a story by a former member of the Imperial German Intelligence Service is to be believed. This officer, Colonel Friedrich Herzenwirth, whose narrative is published in a newspaper in New York, says:

‘ The Angels of Mons were motion pictures thrown upon ‘screens’ of foggy white cloudbanks in Flanders by cinematographic projecting machines mounted on German aeroplanes which hovered above the British lines.’

The reports of British troops during the retreat from Mons on August 24th, 1914 – that they had seen ‘angels the size of men’, which appeared to be in the rearguard of the retreating army – were attributed by psychologists to mass hypnotism and hallucination. Colonel Herzenwirth says the object of the Germans responsible for these scientific ‘visions’ was to create superstitious terror in the allied ranks, calculated to produce panic and a refusal to fight an enemy which appeared to enjoy special supernatural protection. But the Germans miscalculated.

‘ What we had not figured on’, adds the Colonel, ‘was that the English should turn the vision to their own benefit. This was a magnificent bit of counter-propaganda, for some of the English must have been fully aware of the mechanism of our trick. Their method of interpreting our angels as protectors of their own troops turned the scales completely upon us. Had the British command contented itself with simply issuing an Army order unmasking our trickery it would not have been half as effective.’

The next day, in the same newspaper, the following appeared:

” Following is a message received yesterday from our Berlin correspondent.

‘ A prominent member of the War Intelligence Department in the present German Ministry declares that the story is a hoax, Herzenwirth himself a myth or, if existing, a liar. It is officially stated that there is no such person.’

Mr Arthur Machen, the author, told the Daily News yesterday that the whole story of the apparitions was a legend invented by himself. It arose, Mr Machen said, from a story called The Bowmen, which he wrote and which was published on September 29, 1914.

” The story told how, during the retreat from Mons, some English soldiers in the trenches saw the advancing Germans dropping down by whole regiments. That, they supposed, was due to the fact that one of them said, half in a joke, ‘May St. George be a present help to the English!’

The tale is that St.George came along bringing with him the ghosts of the bowmen of the old days, and the Germans were supposed to be pierced by ghostly arrows. Nothing particular happened for the next few months, but some time in 1915 it was pointed out that people were taking the story as true. Then they began to turn the bowmen into angels. They elaborated the story and changed it about in all sorts of ways.”

The next, very peculiar tale comes from Fate magazine for May 1968. It is taken from a letter from a Rev.Albert H.Baller of Clinton, Mass. who was apparently lecturing on Unidentified Flying Objects to a group of engineers in New Britain, Conn. in 1955 or 1956, when one of the engineers gave him this report: -

” He said that he was in the trenches near Ypres in August, 1915, when the Germans launched the first gas attack. Since it was the very first, neither he nor any of his buddies knew what it meant when they looked out over no-man’s-land and saw a strange grey cloud rolling towards them. When it struck, pandemonium broke out. Men dropped all around him and the trench was in an uproar. Then, he said, a strange thing happened. Out of the mist, walking across no-mam’s land, came a figure. He seemed to be without special protection and he wore the uniform of the Royal Medical Corps. The engineer remembered that the stranger spoke English with what seemed to be a French accent.

On his belt the stranger from the poison cloud had a series of small hooks on which were suspended tin cups. In his hand he carried a bucket of what looked like water. As he slid down into the trench he began removing the cups, dipping them into the bucket and passing them out to the soldiers, telling them to drink quickly. The engineer was among those who received the potion. He said it was extremely salty, almost too salty to swallow. But all of the soldiers who were given the liquid did drink it, and not one of them suffered lasting effects from the gas.

When the gas cloud had blown over and things calmed down the unusual visitor was not to be found. No explanation for his visit could be given by the Royal Medical Corps – but the fact remained that thousands of soldiers died or suffered lasting effects from that grim attack, but not a single soldier who took the cup from the stranger was among the casualties.

It is certainly not to my credit that I have not remembered the engineer’s name. I do recall that on later enquiry that evening I discovered he was a man of some standing in his profession, known for his complete honesty and integrity.”

This story, with its vague provenance, has all the trappings of an ‘urban legend’ or ‘foaftale’, but I have not encountered it elsewhere. I am intrigued by the similarities to the ‘Comrade In White’ accounts, and as there is clearly some awareness of World War 1 legends in the USA, I wonder if any reader may have come across others?

The final original account I think worth presenting is this quiet, unassuming, and at least signed letter to The Spectator, which published it on 19.10.1918, some three weeks before the Armistice. It is not the first report to claim that some particular element of an event was seen only by the Germans: -

” Sir – Much has been said at various times about alleged superhuman interventions in our favour when, in ‘that dire autumn’ of 1914, our heroic ‘Contemptibles’ were in retreat, pressed hard by overwhelming forces. To myself nothing has come in the way of evidence on that subject with such a claim on attention and, I think, on credence as what I heard not many weeks ago from my friend (he allows the mention of his name) the Rev.W.Elliott Bradley, Vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick, a reporter whose accurate memory and sober sense I entirely trust.

He got a practically identical account of a certain incident of that crisis from each of three soldiers, old Contemptibles, to whom he talked on three separate occasions. The first two men were, at different times, in a V.A.D. hospital near Ulverston, where the Rev.Bradley was rector between three and four years ago. The third man was seen not many months ago working on a farm near Keswick after discharge from the Army. Mr.Bradley asked in each case whether the soldiers recalled ‘anything unusual’ at the crises of the retreat. And each man without hesitation gave this answer. The Germans were coming on in massed formation, and the men of the thin British line were preparing to sell their lives dear: it was the only thing to do; the Teuton host could not help walking over them on the way to Paris. Suddenly the grey masses halted; even the horses of the cavalry jibbed and reared; and the collision did not take place. German prisoners, taken a little later, were asked why they failed to attack on such an advantage.

The answer was straight and simple: they saw strong British reinforcements coming up. Such was the story told, without leading or prompting as to detail, by these three isolated witnesses at first hand. Two, if not three, added quietly the comment, “It was God that did it.”

As my friend pointed out to me, the incident was the more impressive because all the men agreed that our soldiers saw nothing. The vision was not given to them, though their nerves might well be strained to an imaginative exaltation by their tremendous position. It was the Germans, in the full consciousness of their overmastering force and seeming easy certainty of victory, whose “eyes were opened”. I may add that what was seen was of a kind to suggest fact rather than subjective phantasm. The delivering host appeared not as ‘winged squadrons of the sky’ but as British soldiers, neither less nor more. At this hour of mighty victories, let us not forget the Supreme Disposer who, as I for one humbly believe, intervened in mystery and mercy then. (signed) Handley Dunelm, Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland.”

The best contemporary investigation was – as has so often been the case – that conducted by the Society for Psychical Research. There is much to be said for a comprehensive knowledge of the field, an open mind, and the persistent application of common-sense. Here are some excerpts from the conclusions of the SPR Enquiry: -

” Summing up the evidence at our disposal, the following conclusions may be drawn:

a. Many of the stories which have been current during the past year concerning ‘visions’ on the battlefield prove on investigation to be founded on mere rumour, and cannot be traced to any authoritative source.

b. After we have discounted these rumours, we are left with a small residue of evidence, which seems to indicate that a certain number of men who took part in the retreat from Mons honestly believe themselves to have had at that time supernormal experiences of a remarkable character . .

In the main, the result of our enquiry is negative, at least as regards the question of whether any apparitions were seen on the battlefield, either at Mons or elsewhere. Of first-hand testimony we have received none at all, and of testimony at second-hand we have none that would justify us in assuming the occurrence of any supernormal phenomenon. For we cannot make this assumption until we have established at least a strong probability that the observed effects are such as only a supernormal phenomenon could produce, and in the present instance, as I have tried to show, all our efforts to obtain the detailed evidence upon which an enquiry of this kind must be based have proved unavailing.”

I cannot disagree with those conclusions, but I hope that, still, there may be further evidence still to come to light. Should it do so, I will be happy to rewrite this account accordingly. In the meantime, it is most important of all to remember that the legends we are discussing come from a time and place of tremendous courage, and dreadful suffering: almost impossible for us, now, to imagine. Any quality or worth this account may have is dedicated entirely to those who then fought on our behalf. If there really was some element of divine intervention, they had earned that, and more besides.

I still don’t know what happened during the Retreat from Mons: I doubt that I ever will. Perhaps the most vital point of dispute is whether Arthur Machen’s story The Bowmen was responsible, as Machen himself believed, for all the stories and legends of supernatural intervention that appeared from March 1915 onwards. My personal view is that there was rather more to it than that, and I concur with the opinion of the SPR in effectively suggesting that the men of the B.E.F. – or a number of them, anyway – were aware of reports of a ‘cloud’ or of ‘angels’ before the publication of The Bowmen on 29th September 1914. It would be helpful to know what flow of private correspondence there was between the B.E.F. and home that September: whatever there was seems not to have yielded any relevant reports. On the other hand, I doubt that Machen, among the many writers covering the war, alone received a secret tip-off, unknown to the rest of the press. I am sure that he genuinely believed that all the legends sprang from his own.

He may have been right, but there do seem to be two separate stories of intervention – the ‘Bowmen’ and the ‘Angels’- though there are certainly later accounts in which both appear, the two forms having apparently been amalgamated. Anyone familiar with the development of folklore will be aware of how easily such changes occur. But the initial formats and characteristics of each story are quite different, and it is hard to see how the one could have emanated from the other. There is no written record of any sort of ‘intermediate’ version, bridging the two.

I have, earlier, made the point that if one does not accept Machen’s explanation, and decides instead that there was either an event, or a belief in an event, then there are physical factors to be taken into account. There are strong arguments put involving the hallucinatory effects of extreme fatigue. I must agree with those who suggest that a combination of tiredness, discomfort and fear, prolonged over an excessive period, can effectively trigger an ASC (altered state of consciousness) of one type or another. This effect would be heightened among an interactive group, though oddly enough the ‘angel’ reports refer consistently to the sudden, almost surprise nature of the phenomenon. It is the ‘Bowmen’ reports, presumably of fictional origin, that stress the positive decision to seek supernatural intervention.

In the end, we all have our own thresholds of belief and acceptance, and responses to the Mons material will continue to vary, as they have already done for many years. So long as any conclusions are drawn on the basis of the breadth of the available source material, which I hope I’ve been able to present, I will have no strong reason to disagree with any of them.


I’ve included a good many references to newspapers and periodicals in the text, but I think it may be useful to collate details of books, booklets and pamphlets to which I’ve either referred while writing this account, or which I know exist, and are relevant, even though I’ve never seen them. I am indebted to the Imperial War Museum’s Booklist No. 1256A: The Angels of Mons, for several of these references, though even they have few of them in their library. I’ve marked with an asterisk the titles that I haven’t actually been able to find.

  • Altsheler, J.A. The Hosts of the Air: the story of a quest in the Great War. Appleton, London. 1915. *
  • Begbie, H. On the Side of the Angels. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1915.
  • Campbell, P. Back of the Front. Newnes, London. 1915. *
  • Charteris, J. At G.H.Q. Cassell. 1931.
  • Churchwoman, A. The Chariots of God. Stockwell, London. 1915.
  • Corbett-Smith, A. The Retreat from Mons – by one who shared in it. Cassell. 1917. (An early personal account, which makes no mention of any strange or supernatural event).
  • Crosland, T.W.H. The Showmen: A Legend of the War. Laurie, London. 1915.
  • Garnier, Col. The Visions of Mons and Ypres: their meaning and purpose. R.Banks, London. 1915. *
  • Machen, A. The Bowmen and other Legends of the war. Simpkin Marshall, London. 1915.
  • Pearson, J.J. The Rationale of the Angel Warriors at Mons during the retreat and the apparitions at the battles of the Marne and the Aisne. Christian Globe, London. 1915. *
  • Phillips, A.F. and Thurston Hopkins, R. War and the Weird. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., London. 1916.
  • Shirley, R. Angel Warriors at Mons: an Authentic Record. Newspaper Publishing Co., London. 1915.
  • Stuart, R. Dreams and Visions of the War. Pearson, London. 1917. *
  • Taylor, I.E.  Angels, Saints and Bowmen at Mons. Theosophical Publishing Society. 1916.
  • Terraine, J. Mons. Pan. 1962.
  • Terraine, J. The Smoke and the Fire. Sidgwick & Jackson. 1980.
  • Warr, C.L. The Unseen Host – Stories of the Great War. Alexander Gardner, Paisley. 1916.

Thanks . . . are long overdue to many friends and fellow writers, who have contributed to this account in one way or another: particularly by remembering to send me the cuttings and references that have added so much to the variety of sources I have been able to provide. There are many others, but I must mention Michael Goss, Granville Oldroyd, Hilary Evans, Mark Valentine, Andy Roberts, Bob Skinner, Robert Rickard, and Eleanor O’Keeffe and the SPR. Most of them have probably forgotten just how much help they gave!

Kevin McClure 1994


Click on the cover images to order these books from Amazon

Venus With Her Trousers Down!
Nigel Watson and Granville Oldroyd

From Magonia 17, October 1984

WHILST researching newspaper files for reports of phantom airship sightings made between 1909 and 1913 some interesting incidental material has been collected. In particular we have noticed that the rumoured activities of German secret agents were very much linked in the public mind with the airship sightings [1,2]. This kind of link, and other stories recorded during these periods appears to be very similar to some of the more bizarre aspects of the contemporary UFO scene. For instance, Carl Grove has noted the case of two ‘foreign’ strangers who observed the home of an airship witness for several hours [3]. Also, we have revealed how a stranger who took an interest in chickens during the 1909 airship flap might easily be compared to some entities who were seen exploring chicken runs in a Puerto Rican yard during 1980 [4].

For some people the obvious conclusion to be made is that what were thought to be inquisitive strangers or German agents were in fact MIB. As most readers of this account will be aware, the MIB are regarded by the more credulous members of the UFO fraternity as terrestrial agents of the UFO forces, who are either aliens who disguise themselves in order to infiltrate human society, or they are ‘brainwashed’ humans who are controlled by the aliens.

An example of a MIB-type event which is worthy of mention, since it can easily be compared to a contemporary event, was exposed in the 11th March edition of the [Hull] Daily Mail. The report tells of how a stranger was given a room for the night at a Newport Inn, on Sunday 9th March. Apparently:

He had not been long in the house, when he bolted to the canal with no covering but his shirt. His host got him back to the house, and again
 made him comfortable on the couch for the night. No sooner was his benefactor asleep than he made off again, leaving all his clothes but his shirt behind. Information of the missing man was given to PC Jewett, who searched for the missing one until 6 o’clock on Monday morning. In the early hours of the morning he had knocked at the doors of several cottages in the North Cave district and asked for a pair of trousers. Temporary clothes were provided him and he was escorted by PC Jewett to Newport, where he again donned his own clothes, and as he had broken no law, he was allowed to go on his way.

North Cave is situated to the west of Hull. Over at Wavertree, Liverpool, in the spring of 1977, a woman called Mrs Lilian Owens saw a man with the same peculiar predilection for requesting trousers. It was 8.30 am when she saw the stranger at her kitchen doorway:

He wore brand new clothes, a small green check suit, white shirt and green tie, and had blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes. His skin had a deep tan (despite it being only spring). He said “Have you got any trousers?” a question Mrs Owens thought odd. She said “No”, and went to shut the door but he blocked it with a shiny new black shoe with a steel toecap. She said she would call her son (who was not in) and he left. She shut the door but on looking through the window he was not in sight [5]

Later, the same man suddenly appeared in her living room and asked her for a drink of water. As she went to telephone the police the stranger disappeared. In the summer of the same year Mrs Owens saw a UFO in the early hours of the morning.

Two reports in the Occult Review [6] relate to sightings of MIB which were seen in the early 1900s. The first involved a 13 year-old girl who was trimming a hat one Saturday night when:

As the clock struck twelve, the front door opened, then the parlour door, and a man entered and sat down in a chair opposite to me. He was rather short, very thin, dressed in black, with extremely pale face, and hands with very long thin fingers. He had a high silk hat on his head, and in one hand he held an old-fashioned, large silver snuff-box. He gazed at me and said three times, slowly and distinctly, “I’ve come to tell you.” He then vanished, and I noted that the door was shut as before.

Two years later a visitor to the girl’s home was given the same room to sleep in. At exactly the same hour he saw the same vision, and we are told that he had never heard of the girls earlier experience. A few years later the house was demolished and a skeleton with a silver snuff box was found beneath the room where the MIB had roamed.

These experiences, and those of Mrs Owens do not permit us to easily identify the stimulus for them. However, like the case of the North Cave trouserless stranger, the following incident was probably caused by a flesh-and-blood person rather than a ghoul from the Twilight Zone:

It was late at night. A deeply religious 23-year-old headmistress of a private school for girls was marking papers when a man called at her door. She said: He was well dressed, in black, and I thought he had probably come about placing a pupil with me. We began to talk about the school and my aims and methods. There was something about him that drew me out.

Recalling her troubles and anxieties to this quiet stranger cheered her up to such an extent that after he left she believed that he was the Lord Jesus Christ; consequently every time she prayed she visualised the mysterious stranger in her mind’s eye. Some time later she felt that her opinion regarding the identity of the man was confirmed when during a dream she said that her eyes:

were attracted to a place of glory, and there seated upon a throne was the man who had visited me and whom I had been praying to as the Lord Jesus Christ.

If this encounter happened today we might speculate that a young woman would interpret her visitor as a space brother whom she would later see inside a flying saucer in classic contactee fashion.

Just as modern-day ufologists have acknowledged the importance of ‘bedroom visitors’ [7,8] in perpetuating today’s UFO stories, we can make reference to several historical bedroom visitations.

The first, and most intriguing reports of such visitors are mentioned by the vicar of Weston, Yorkshire, Charles Lakeman Tweedale. In a book titled Man’s Survival After Death or the Other Side of Life [9a] he detailed the many bedroom visitations that were seen mainly by his wife at the vicarage. The first occurrence of this type was on the night of 19th December 1907. After being woken by a strong, cold breeze she perceived a shaft of cloudy white light at the foot of their bed which reached to the ceiling and illuminated the bed coverlet. The vicar noted that:

She described the light to me when I awoke as like a column of muslin wrapped in spiritual swathes, with a strong electric light in the midst and shining through it.

The sight of this phenomenon induced her to hide her head under the bedclothes until after a long period of time when she had the courage to look round the room again and discover the sight had vanished.

Approximately half an hour before dawn on the 7th April 1908, Mrs Tweedale woke and saw a light the size of a large orange on or enclosing the brass rail at the foot of the bed. It was positioned on her husband’s side of the bed. Over a period of a minute the light expanded to a height of 3 feet, and the width of a man’s body. Terrified at the sight of this bright light she shook her husband until he awoke. At that instant the light collapsed like a camera bellows and vanished from view. On searching the room the Rev. Tweedale could find nothing to account for the phenomenon.
The most dramatic incident happened at 5.30 am on the 8th November 1908. It began when Mrs Tweedale was woken by a blow delivered to the underneath or top of the bed. Thus alerted she sat up and saw at the foot of the bed:

The figure of a man dressed in black with a calm, grave face, his clenched hand resting upon the brass rail as if he had just struck it. [9b]

This apparition gave off a light which illuminated the room, and not surprisingly Mrs Tweedale quickly woke her husband. As before the phenomenon made its exit when he awoke. She saw the head and then the trunk of the figure resolve themselves into a luminous cloud which floated up to the ceiling and disappeared. But this time the Rev. Tweedale did wake soon enough to see the last part of this act. He claimed that on awakening:

At the bed’s foot was a beautiful cloud of phosphorescent light about four feet in diameter, suspended in the middle of the room. It was close to me, not more than five feet away. Even as my eyes rested upon it, it began to ascend just like a small balloon. With a steady motion it seemed to go straight up and right through the ceiling.

The vision reminds us of the man in black seen on three successive nights in her bedroom by a young woman. Her experience was associated with the 1904-05 Welsh Religious Revival when lights in the sky, a few MIB, and even a black dog were seen. [101


A "Spirit photograph" taken by the Crewe Circle, and the known paranormal hoaxer William Hope. Taken between world war I and II, this picture purportedly shows Reverend Charles L Tweedale, his wife, and the spirit of her deceased father.

Just before the British 1909 phantom airship panic reached its height, Mrs Tweedale on the 15th March 1909 saw the figure of a man standing next to her husband as he slept soundly beside her. On waking him the figure disappeared in a flash of light. After the airship panic on the 22nd June 1909, the Rev. Tweedale reported what looked like a man with a light brighter than a normal lamp in his hand, was seen in the passage of the vicarage at 11 pm.

Yet another apparition was seen when the Tweedales were in London on the night of 2nd June 1912. In their bedroom Mrs Tweedale saw star-like lights and a tall white form. Later, in the night, she told her husband she could see the lights again, and that “there is someone by the side of the bed trying to attract attention”. Looking round he was able to see what he detailed as “a bright, elongated light at the foot of the bed, but no distinct form”.

At other times, most notably on 10th December 1911 in front of seven witnesses, and on 4th October 1917 in front of two witnesses, strange bright lights were seen in the vicar’s study.

As the title of the reverend gentleman’s book suggests, he tended to regard these kinds of manifestations as proof that we can survive after death. In this state our spiritual bodies are able to materialise from a radiance of light into a solid, tangible being, and can return to a small point of light and disappear and disappear to whence they came.

To reinforce this view he mentions several incidents involving other people who saw lights in their bedroom which transformed into figures who had the appearance of dead or unconscious relatives. In two cases he claims that a luminous light was seen hovering over a person at night, who in the morning reported having met (or vividly dreamt of meeting) a dead relative. These were quoted from the Proceedings of the SPR, and from private contacts.

We should also add that not only lights and MIB were seen at the Weston vicarage: a whole variety of events were said to have occurred. Too many to recount here, but an idea of the type of events experienced may be gained from the statement:

…messages, consolations, warnings by the direct voice and unsought; things moving of themselves, marvellous singing and amazing manifestations at the moment of the ‘death’ of a relation of whose sickness we did not even know; sounds of beautiful music, instruments hanging high up on the walls playing by themselves; scores of articles thrown; hands melting in the grip when seized were just some of the things which presented themselves month after month. (11]

Not surprisingly the vicar was not too popular with his parishioners, who were not charmed by the reports of all these strange events, or by the fact that he was a convert to Spiritualism.

Another type of bedroom encounter was experienced by 32-year-old Samuel Flecknoe. He suffered from a paralysis of the legs for four-and-a-half years until the morning of Sunday, 19th January 1913. When he awoke in his Nottingham home: “Something seemed to tell me, ‘get up and walk downstairs’. So I did” [12,13] He walked for several days until the Friday evening, when he collapsed going to bed, though his doctors hoped he might walk again. [14, 15]

The power of belief can also be seen in a couple of stories from France at this period. When a woman went to clean a statue of the Virgin at the old cemetery in Beziers, it came alive. It return for the act of kindness the statue blessed the woman’s handkerchief. When she got home she placed it on the bed of her sick child who had been paralysed for several years; instantly her daughter got out of bed and walked. [16, 17] (Coincidentally, this happened the day before Flecknow arose from his bed).

What was called mystical madness caused the death of a woman during 1909 at St Julien, near Chalon-sur-Saone. After hearing a sermon about Jeanne d’Arc, she locked herself in a disused chapel, doused herself with inflammable spirit, and set fire to herself. Neighbours found her kneeling, praying amid the flames, but even their aid was unable to save her from an agonising death. [18]

Interestingly, the 1913 cases come at a time when another religious revival was said to have erupted in Wales. Miraculous cures were claimed, and an inspired message told an evangelist to hold meetings in Penylont, Radnorshire. [19, 20, 21]

If we make the mistake of lumping these cases together with the phantom airship sightings as a way of ‘proving’ that our contemporary knowledge of the UFO situation is accurate, we become the victims of our own biases. Instead, we prefer to highlight these cases in order to show that making order out of a chaos of disparate stories is very easily done, but is due to factors other than a grand UFO masterplan for manipulating humanity.

A case that could easily be connected with the phantom airship sighting of 1909, occurred on the morning of 22nd June. In a quiet part of Owder Lane, Canton, near Worksop, PC Swain found a young man. He was aged about 18 and was well-dressed. The policeman was unable to get any sense out of this person, whose ‘manner was very

 strange’. At Worksop Police Station he was examined by a doctor; apparently the man had lost his memory. No name or address was found on him and the police could only speculate that he came from the Sheffield or Doncaster region. He was consigned to the local workhouse.
If we accept the UFO manipulation theory, we might propose that this Yorkshire Kaspar Hauser could have been delivered to Earth by a UFO disguised as an airship – who would ever suspect that he was an alien up to no good!

Finally, a young person who did not mind being regarded as an alien was a three year old girl who was found in Willesden, London. She told the police that her name was Venus. When her parents claimed her as their own daughter it was revealed that her name was Mary Brown. [23] It is anticlimactic to discover she was not the Venus responsible for most of the British 1909 and 1913 phantom airship sightings!


1. WATSON, Nigel. ‘Airships and Invaders’, Magonia 3.
2. LOWE, Charles. ‘About German Spies’, Contemporary Review, Jan. 1910, pp.42-56.
3. GROVE, Carl, ‘The Airship Wave of 1909′, FSR, 16, 6.
4. WATSON, Nigel, ‘Are the Ufonauts Fowl Plotters?’, FSR, 28,1.
5. CHEVEAU, Danny, ‘A New MIB Encounter?’, Northern Ufology, 75.
6. Occult Review, March 1918, pp.129-31.
7. ROGERSON, Peter, and RIMMER, John, ‘Visions of the Night’, MUFOB, ns 4.
8. BASTERFIELD, Keith, ‘Strange Awakenings’, MUFOB, ns 13.
9a. TWEEDALE, Rev. Chas. Lakeman, Man’s Survival After Death, or the Other Side of Life (3rd Ed.) Grant Richards, London 1925, pp.235-42. The two earlier editions appeared in October 1909, and January 1920.
9b. See also Sunday Chronicle 30/3/1913.
10. McCLURE, Kevin and Sue, Stars and Rumours of Stars, privately published, pp.25-6.
11. The Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 4 Apr. 1913, p.7.
12. Bradford Daily Argus, 24 Jan. 1913.
13. Nottingham Daily Express, 24 Jan 1913.
14. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
15. Ibid, 28 Jan 1913.
16. Sunday Chronicle, 26 Jan 1913.
17. Bradford Daily Telegraph, 21 Jan. 1913.
18. Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser, 29 May 1909.
19. Bradford Daily Argus, 11 Jan. 1913.
20. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
21. Nottingham Daily Express, 25 Feb. 1913.
22. Retford, Worksop, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News, 25 June 1909.
23. Hull Daily Mail, Hull Packet and East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Courier, 28 May 1909.


Ghost Writers; A Brief Overview. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 11, 1982


Ghosts are making a belated academic comeback, with officially sponsored volumes by the Folklore Society (1) and the Society for Psychical Research (3), and a detailed social history (2). So I take this opportunity also to review some volumes which fell through my fingers first time round.

That academics and journalists are both fascinated by ghosts is good testimony to their continued presence in our minds. As Finucane shows, ghosts have a pedigree going back to Greek and Roman times, a point also made by W M S Russell in the Folklore Society symposium. Russell suggests that a culture’s perception of its ghosts depends on its funeral customs; people who bury the dead portray concrete ghosts – ‘raw head and bloody bones’. An excellent Icelandic example of this is provided by Hilda Ellis Davidson, in which the revenant comes from the grave to claim person after person to join the legion of ghosts, as in east European vampire legends. This is symbolic of plague and other epidemics claiming victim after victim. Those who burn the dead envisage smoky, hazy spirits who drift across consciousness.

Finucane traces the evolution of the ghost through various stages of Christian theology. In medieval Christianity, ghosts were far from the marginal entities they are today. They were integral parts of society, enforcing its codes, demanding that justice be done, that debts be paid, that remains be buried properly and that harmony prevail among surviving relatives. Fear of ghosts’ wrath enforced proper respect for the helpless aged. Ghosts could give evidence in court. Most importantly, they enforced the correct theological line, with graphic descriptions of purgatory, heaven and hell. Living and dead were part of an organic unity: Church Militant, Church Suffering and Church Triumphant. (R H Bowyer, in (1), p. 190)

The Reformation abolished purgatory and literally damned all ghosts to hell; spectres refusing to stay there were clearly demons. This theological doctrine clashed with traditional belief and posed the awful dilemma: ‘Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned?’ Hamlet’s ghost may well be reinforcing social mores, but in doing so it leads to demonic tragedy.

The religious persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries created a great crop of ghost stories. The trauma of the shattering of the old order created a vast number of ghostly monks; expressions of grief and guilt, and Civil War, tore the nation apart; the ghostly Roundheads and Cavaliers, crimes magnified by the legion of rival pamphleteers, haunted on. History’s wounds were unforgotten and unforgiven, held in thrall by generations of local gossip and tradition. It should be remembered that in the nineteenth century there were still districts where families voted Liberal or Conservative, depending on which side their ancestors had fought in the Civil War.

The Reformation had damned ghosts, partly because it was trying to escape tradition. A society which perceives the world in fairly stable terms might be able to come to terms with its ‘history’ walking around; a society seeing itself in dynamic terms needed to jettison history – it was now necessary to dispose of traditional customs, producing the tensions which also gave rise to increased witch belief. (8)

There were other effects of the Civil War. The farmers and artisans who joined the Parliamentary armies were exposed to the ferment of new ideas, questioning the whole basis of traditional society. Conversely, the gentry and aristocracy, repelled by ‘the mob’, withdrew physically and intellectually to an unprecedented degree. Both sections of society began to reject ghost stories and traditional religion, while the Anglican Church, re-established and protected by penal legislation, looked on in apathy.

In these conditions Puritans like Richard Baxter, who 60 years ago would have considered ghosts as damnable, now began to use them to conduct the campaign against the modern Sadducees. (cf. (9)) Though the intellectual and literate elite may have despised ghosts, the vast majority of their fellow countrymen probably continued to hold traditional beliefs.

These traditional beliefs were taken into the rapidly growing industrial towns by the masses coming in from the country. Finucane does not cover the ideas of the working classes during this period, but some background can be gleaned from studies by Thomas (10) and Hamson (11).

By the mid-nineteenth century the ghost shad receded into a dim figure on the margins of consciousness. The only message that it had to give was the message of survival itself. Ghosts receded from society. From Mackenzie (3) emerges a nice picture of the typical Victorian ghost. The Despard ghost was a widow in black – like the maiden aunt or the widowed sister an embarrassing add-ition to the family.

The anonymous Victorian ghost flitting through the house reflected the breakup of the traditional home held for generations. The Victorian family, drifting from one leased house to another, were strangers in their own residences. The servants often had far more intimate connection with the house than their masters; they were part of the local community and its repository of folk history. As Claire Russell points out in the Folklore Society symposium, ghosts are about the living. In the Victorian period houses tended to become haunted because the local community decided that some fundamental vio-lation of the social mores had occurred.

This could range from anything between murder and leaving the house vacant too long. In many cases, ghosts were the expression of the community’s hostility to new tenants, and the tenants’ alienation from their res-idence. Significantly, many modern haunted houses are council houses or rented properties.

Haunts were not the only ghosts: death-bed apparitions, crisis apparitions, fetches and warnings, testified to the uncertainties of Victorian life – the separation of rel-ations sent abroad to colonial fever spots, the rampant infant mortality. Many of the people who became the centre of crisis apparitions had broken social mores in some way. One suspects that many ‘old and dear friends’ from the colonies who appeared to married women, were lovers sent away in disgrace.

Finucane notes the rigid social distinctions that operated in Victorian psychical research: that the middle classes never lied, that servants were timid and unreliable, and that the ‘peasantry’ were unthinking brutes. This led to some embarrassing situations, as in the case of poor Judge Horby, who found he either had to admit to lying or to sleeping with his wife before they were married.

If the psychical researchers turned their backs on the peasantry and their beliefs, the folklorists put them on pedestals. Romantics, rejecting the industrial revolution, dreamed up a fairytale past of noble peasants in little thatched cottages in a green and pleasant land. Such folklorists as the Dane, Evart Tang Kristensen could take seriously any ghost. These included revolving fiery wheels, or the wagon with three wheels which had the power to paralyse other wagons on the road, like modern UFOs. The folklorists and romantics created a market for Gothic horror stories and gibbering spectres.

The traditional Victorian ghost story reflected a sense of the horror beneath the placid surface of everyday life. They were reminders of the thin veneer of Victorian rationalism. It is hardly surprising that, as Julia Briggs points out, the ghost story as an art form fell when that veneer was wiped away in the trenches.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the heyday of the ‘true’ ghost story lay in the period before the First World War. It is significant that more than half the accounts in Mackenzie’s book refer to the period before the War. If ghosts are products of the human imagination’s response to real or imaginary outrages, then how can they be generated by the truly unimaginable outrage?

The modern ghost may well be more extrovert than his Victorian predecessor. Randy spectres fondling young ladies in council houses are all right in the pages of the Sun or the National Voyeur, but are hardly the right sort of company for the SPR. Modern ghosts are often drained of terror completely. The once-grim messengers are now reduced to competition with space-invader machines as tourist attractions in pubs. No longer even dim messengers of survival, perhaps memories of a lost history.

The poltergeist is the truly contemporary ghost, in its element in the age of the vandal. The poltergeist becomes a symbol of the shattering of society’s rules, the voice of the voiceless. The horror of contemporary fiction is now the super polt, heavy with fantasies of omnipotent destructive power. The quiet, old-fashioned ghost, like the spectre of little Johnny Minty, as described by Mackenzie, weeping endlessly for his mother, may pull at our heart-strings; the polts, evoked by Gauld and Cornell (4) or Rogo (6) can still give us the horrors. The emotion evoked by an attack by a poltergeist is the same as that of an attack by burglars or vandals, one of violation. It is this sense of violation of the home as a bastion against the forces of the wilderness outside, the overthrow of the safe rational world of everyday reason and common sense.

It must be said that the pre-poltergeist worlds of many of the victims do not seem especially safe or rational. The family discussed by Playfair (5) were already under the attention of social workers, and other polt families have had pretty severe problems. It is hardly surprising that both ‘normal’ and ‘paranormal’ trickery take place together; they are perhaps different means of expressing the same crisis.

Gauld and Cornell also describe place-centred polts, places which seem to be hostile. The old term ‘boggart’ seems aptly to describe this centre which generates confused multiform hallucinations and strange noises. Once again, is it not to the neighbours and the local community that we should look for reasons why a place becomes labelled ‘off-limits’? The only ‘message’ here seems to be: ‘Fear, fear’; ‘Get out’; ‘Boggart off!’

Ghosts are on the retreat, their role as dispensers of justice replaced by a modern police, their power to communicate across distances replaced by the telephone and television. Perhaps they have now faded forever beyond the reach of psychical researchers; soon the vandals will drive the polts away. Yet if their disappearance marks the end of our capacity for outrage, then we are in deep trouble. Maybe the ghosts of Belsen, of Hiroshima and of Kampuchea should
 howl and gibber and cry out for vengeance.


1. ELLIS-DAVIDSON, Hilda R and RUSSELL, W M S (Editors), The Folklore of Ghosts. Cambridge, D S Brewer, for the Folklore Society, 1981.
2. FINUCANE, R C, Appearances of the Dead: A Cultural History of Ghosts. London, Junction Books, 1982.
3. MACKENZIE, Andrew, Hauntings and Apparitions. London, Heinemann, for the Society for Psychical Research, 1982.
4. GAULD, Alan and CORNELL, A O, Poltergeists. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul,1979. E9.95
5. PLAYFAIR, Guy Lyon, This House is Haunted: An Enfield Poltergeist. London, Souvenir Press, 1979. E6.95.
6. ROGO, D Scott, The Poltergeist Experience. Penguin, 1979.
7. RHINE, Louisa, The Invisible Picture – A Studuy of Psychic Experiences
8. MACFARLANE, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964
9. WALKER, D. P. The Decline of Hell, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964
10. THOMAS, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Penguin, 1973
11. HAMSON, J.F.C. The Second Coming; Popular Millenarianism 1780-1856. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
12. BRIGGS, Julia. Night Visitors; the Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story. Faber, 1977


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The Sun Maiden. Peter Rogerson

An examination of some mythological traditions, with relevance to contemporary ufology

From MUFOB volume 4, number 2, June 1971

Since the publication of Vallée’s Passport to Magonia there has been a growing awareness that the UFO phenomenon belongs to a wider context of events, that possess a deep mythological significance for the human species.

This myth may be summarised as a belief in a fabulous land inhabited by supernatural beings, who can and do intervene in the affairs of men. They may ‘take’ men and women to their land, as either mates or servants or to perform a special tasks. They may live among men for a time, but are eventually called back to their homeland, They can take an interest in the affairs of individuals, families or nations, either to aid or to harm. Above all they are powerful:

We could out off half the human race, but would not… for we are expecting salvation

a member of the gentry tells an Irish seer (1). For this reason they must be held in respect; one should not conduct oneself in an unseemly manner in their presence or in the places sacred to them. A belief which persists to this day:

I favour the idea that the watchers have to be somehow in tune with whatever controls UFOs before they will appear… preferably a small harmonious group should sit quietly and think about UFOs

writes Janet Gregory in Pegasus magazines in a recent discussion on skywatches (2) feeling that the general chit-chat and blaring transistor radios are an affront to the inhabitants of Magonia.

There are many intriguing strands of belief connected with the general myth of Fairyland, as John Rimmer has pointed out. (3) In many respects one of the most important of these myths is that of the divine maid, who can seduce men and take them to the unknown country, or as in the tales we shall explore in this article can impart to them messages of great import. This maiden is simultaneously a mermaid-nereid figure and a sun goddess. The sun is the origin of the archetype of the Mandala, (The radiance of the sun is seen as a symbol of spiritual wholeness) with which the UFO is so identified as is the Grail legend. (4) In this way we can trace a mythological line of profound importance.

In South Uist in the haunted Western Isles, tradition has it that on Easter Day from the peak of Ben More the sun can be seen to dance, to celebrate the Resurrection, according to the Christianised version of the legend, which in fact is far older, and must date from the days of sun worship. One Easter day a widow climbed the mountain to see for herself:

She said the sun came above the horizon a dazzling blaze of gold, and when it reached the crest of the great hills… it began to change colour green it became, then purple and red, a deep blood red and white, clear intense white, and at last white-gold, like the Glory of God Himself. And it was dancing, dancing up and down, stepping it from peak to peak, from hilltop to hilltop.

The price of this mystic vision, as with that extracted from those who see the enchanted secrets of Fairyland, is blindness


From this we are impelled towards the Fatima story (4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Here three peasant children [above] encountered in the Cova da Iria, a large creek, a celestial woman. It was the 13th of May, 1917 when, tending sheep, they saw a bright flash of light. then, near an oak tree a woman materialised in a globe of fire. According to the children:

“The wonderful lady looked young, Her dress white as snow and, tied to her neck with a gold band, wholly covered her body. A white cloak with a golden edge covered her head. Near her hands was a rosary of pearly grains. The face was circled by a golden halo.” (8)

The lady delivered a message, then departed in the luminous globe. Again on the 13th of June, 13th July and 13th September the lady reappeared to the children. By the 13th September a good crowd had gathered but only the children saw the lady, Some (but by no means all) saw an ‘aeroplane of light’ coming from and returning to the sun in the east, with strange flakes which dissolved when touched, dropped from the sky. The following month, the cumulation of this fantastic vision came the famous Dance of the Sun. At midday the sun came through the clouds, glowing with a clear brilliance. Suddenly it seemed to spin wildly, and as it did so it changed colour, yellow, green, blue, then deep blood-red, falling towards the earth, the temperature rising. Then suddenly the spell was broken, the sun was back in a cloudless sky. While this spectacle was taking place the lady again appeared to the children, giving them messages they had to deliver to the great ones of the world.

Only the children saw the lady; not all the crowd even saw the dance of the sun. (10) Something Which those who attribute the phenomena to electromagnetic spaceships have failed to account for. About this event Michell writes:

There is a sort of fairy-tale atmosphere about the whole story. The lady appears to have been one of those supernatural figures like the attendant of the Holy Grail who can appear to one person and be invisible to another. She revealed herself above or by a tree like the angels who visited Joan of Arc or like the legendary local goddesses of pre-Christian Portugal. (4)

It is well to bear these views in mind, for such visions occur outside the traditional religious setting. Two centuries before Fatima a strange rumour circulated in the France of Louis XIV. It concerned a wonderful apparition perceived by a Marechal Ferraut (12, 13). Riding home one evening through a dark forest in Provence, he passed a blasted oak. There he saw a strange light.

Between this tree and a sapling, the intervening space consisting of about a dozen yards, stood a tall figure absolutely still and apparently inanimate. It seemed at first to be shaped out of transparent cloud… However, rapidly becoming more and more substantial, It soon developed into a very beautiful woman. She was dressed in white, the most splendid jewels glittered on her arms and breasts and something like a tiara upon her lovely golden hair… (12)

A strange paralysis, such as that which affects UFO percipients, gripped him. The strange figure announced that it was the spirit of the King’s late wife. It commanded him to take a message to the King, This consisted in part of a message about an apparition the King himself had seen in the same forest thirty years before. He promised to deliver the message, under the most terrible threats. Yet Ferrault had greater fear of the King, and he was to encounter the apparition twice again before he carried out the mission. The King, it was said, paid him highly to keep his silence as to the full nature of the message.

The reader will already have seen the parallels with Fatima and other visions of Mary — the tree, the woman of awesome beauty the secret to the leaders. The differences too — the vision of the children is one of quiet beauty, that of the old warrior, awesome and possessing of a terrible power.

Midway in time between these two stories, there occurred in a Maine coastal village near Machiasport a strange vision which seems to create a link between the legends such as Fatima and those of modern psychic research, (14,15). Towards the end of August 1799 a strange voice was heard in the house of a sea captain, Paul Blaisdell, followed a few months later (in January 1800) by an apparition of a beautiful woman clad in brilliant white raiment, who floated’ just above the ground, claiming to be a Mrs George Butler (deceased) and summoned her ‘husband’ and ‘father’ to prove the point. The purpose of the visitations was to force George Butler to marry the captain’s daughter Lydia, a purpose which was eventually accomplished.

The descriptions of what happened during the period are incredible. The apparition herded large numbers of people into the Blaisdell’s cellar (On one occasion there were more than two hundred present,) and delivered sermons, interspersed with prophecies, all of which eventually came to pass. There is a description of one of these lectures. The writer, a young woman guest was awoken by knocks on the door and went to the cellar, where twenty people were already assembled:

“Then I heard a voice speaking… it was shrill, but mild and pleasant.” Then there appeared a shapeless mass of light, growing into the figure of a woman, which then passed between the ranks of the spectators, talking all the time. At last it became shapeless, “expanded everywhere” and then vanished in a moment. The Rev. Abraham Cummings, who published the case, (14) had an even more curious experience. Told of the apparition he was sceptical and went to see for himself:

About twelve rods ahead of him there was a slight knoll or rise in the ground, and he could see a group of white rocks on the slope, showing dimly against the dark turf… Two or three minutes later he looked up… One of those white rocks had risen off the ground, and had now taken the shape of a globe of light with a rosy tinge. As he went towards it ho kept his eye on it for fear it might disappears but he had not gone more than five paces when the glowing mass flashed right to where he was (and) resolved itself into the shape and dress of a woman, but small, the size of a child of seven. He thought, “You are not tall enough for the woman who has been appearing among us.” Immediately the figure expanded to normal size… and now she appeared glorious, with rays of light shining from her head all about, and reaching to the ground. (15)

Struck dumb by joy mingled with terror Cummings stood silent, the figure then faded. The world seemed dull, commonplace, compared to its glory, he later recorded.

The inhabitants of Magonia can change their shape at will: “They are shape changers, they can grow small or grow large; they can take what shape they may choose.” (16) There are parallels to these stories. The Waterdales, Northfleet, Kent, for example, where, in a bedroom, the ghostly figure of a small girl growing to the size of a woman was seen. (17) Again there is Warminster, a maelstrom of embryo mythologies where a member of Shuttlewood’s investigating team was ‘taken’ by tiny beings who grew to normal size, then reduced him, with themselves. (18) (The Sidhe take people body and soul thus transforming them into one of their own.) They returned him but he was never the same again, and began to waste away. In other days it would have been said he was a ‘changeling’, for the Sidhe never give up those they have taken.

Those who are taken go to Magonia itself, the enchanted world, located according to various cultures under the earth, or sea, in the sky, or on strange other worlds, Always it is the Shangri-La, just over the horizon, so near and yet so far Few will go willingly into this paradise, for once entered there is no return. So ‘they’ will take men by force, especially those who have offended against their code, or who have disturbed their secret places. One such tale of attempted kidnapping is told by

Elliot O’Donnell the well-known ghost hunter. (19) A relative of O’Donnell (Mr B.) was driving in his side-car once night along a road from Hospital to Ballynanty in Limerick, a route notorious as a haunt of the Sidhe. He had fallen drowsy when he was suddenly awakened by his driver-servant clutching hold of him:

The horse had come to a dead stop, and was standing still, shivering, whilst the roadside was crowded with a number of tiny shadowy figures that were surging round the car trying to drag the unfortunate drivers who was quite frantic with terror, from his seat. Mr B, however, concluding that what he saw could only be the fairies, of whose existence he had hitherto been very sceptlcal, seized the reins and urged the horse forward. Meanwhile his servant seemed to be still paralysed with fright, and it was not until they were well out of sight that the man found himself once again in possession of his tongue and normal faculties… Then he described what had befallen him… He was driving along quite all right, till the horse suddenly stopped, and when he looked down to see what was the cause of it, he perceived a crowd of fairies, who rushed at him, and tried to drag him off the car. He said their touch was so cold it benumbed him, but by praying hard he held on. The cause of the attack was apparent…

“It was all because we came on them, sir, when they were dancing. They won’t be disturbed when they are at their revels and enjoying themselves. Had they got me down into the road maybe I should have lost my sight or my hearing or the use of my limbs, and in any case my soul.” (19)

Had such a story been told today there would be no doubt that it would be interpreted as a ufonaut kidnapping attempt. It is equally true of course that in earlier times the adventure of Gustafsson and Rydberg for example (20) would have been seen as an attempt by the trolls or watermen to take humans to their underground home.

It is clear that the supposedly simple UFO phenomenon is in fact incalculably complex. Whatever pretty little theory we care to dream up never covers the whole spectrum of events. Pieces of the jigsaw do fall into place; it is evident for example, that the modern UFO legend is an integral part of an immensely old mythological tradition. some facets of which we have presented here. We may in fact regard the UFO as an archetypical symbol derived from the sun at one level of ‘reality’.

However this certainly is not the whole meaning behind the myth or the reality. Can we interpret the phenomenon as subjective? If so, can the human sub-conscious create such a complex hallucination, or would it have to be implanted by some extra-mundane intelligence, and what kind of mind could accomplish that, and for what purpose? If the phenomenon is objective even more questions seem to be raised, among the simplest being: how could any objective phenomenon be visible to only a limited number of people contiguous to one another. Certainly if the phenomenon is a result of the activities of an extra-mundane intelligence it is operating at a far more complex and subtle level than most exponents of the ETH are prepared to concede.



  1.  Evans-Wentz, W.Y. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, quoted in Jacques Vallée, Passport to Magonia, 1969.
  2.  Gregory, Janet. Letter to the Editor, Pegasus, vol.2, no.8.
  3.  Rimmer, John. ‘On the conceptual connection between fairies and UFO entities’, MUFOB, vol. 2, no.1.
  4.  Michell, John. Flying Saucer Vision, 1967, especially chapters 4, 5 and 6. The quotations are from chapter 5.
  5.  Swire, Otto F. The Outer Hebrides and Their Legends, 1966. Quotation from chapter 7.
  6.  Vallée, Jacques. Anatomy of a Phenomenon, 1966.
  7.  Thomas, Paul (i.e. Paul Misraki) Flying Saucers Through the Ages, 1965.
  8.  Ribera, Antonio. ‘What happened at Fatima?’, Flying Saucer Review, vol.10, no.2.
  9.  Inglefield, Gilbert. ‘Fatima: the three alternatives’, Flying Saucer Review, vol.10, no.3.
  10.  Paris, S. A. ‘Fatima again’, Flying Saucer Review, vol.12, no.1, letter to the editor,
  11.  Stearn, Jesse. The Door to the Future, 1964
  12.  O’Donnell, Elliot. Family Ghosts, 1965
  13.  O’Donnell, Elliot, Ghosts With a Purpose, 1963.
  14.  Cummins, Abraham, Immortality proved by Testimony of Sense, 1859. Quoted in:
  15.  Stevens, William, Oliver, Unbidden Guests, 1949
  16.  Gregory, Lady Augusta, Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, 1920; quoted in ‘The UFO is alive and well and living in fairyland’, MUFOB, vol.3, no.6.
  17.  Sims, Victor, and George Owen. ‘the case of the haunted council house’, Sunday Mirror, November 20, 1961.
  18.  Shuttlewood, Arthur. Warnings from Flying Friends, 1968
  19.  O’Donnell, Elliot. Ghostland, 1925
  20.  Steiger, Brad. Strangers from the Skies, 1966

For a review of a more recent discussion of the Fatima phenomenon see: 

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Nightmares, Sex and Abductions. Manfred Cassirer

From Magonia 31, November 1989


Demonologists of the Renaissance – generally much less enlightened or humane than one would have expected – subtly distinguish the male incubus from his female counterpart (succubus). The former derives etymologically from Incubate (‘to lie down’), while the latter is a derivation of succubare (‘to lie under’).

The advantage of using the term ‘nightmare is that it is so familiar. It is however misleading in this context since it implies sleep, when in fact the experiences under discussion are always stated to involve full consciousness of one’s surroundings, e.g. of a light shining through a door in one of my cases. In Hufford’s words: “The victims are awake and … hear and see and feel odd-sounding things” [2]

Confusion has been created by Freudian interpretations arbitrarily forced on the data. Hufford, evidently ill at ease in this Procrustean bed, has cleared the air by explaining there are “at least three types of nocturnal experiences: a variety of dreams [of the REM-type], sexual encounters with ‘supernaturals’ … and attacks of the Old Hag type without any obvious sexuality.” [2] It is the latter which are akin to and ‘readily assimilated to witchcraft beliefs’.

As Old Hag attacks have attracted less attention than, say, nightmares, I shall start by summarising a typical example. It is of additional interest in incorporating elements suggestive of UFOs and the paranormal in general.

It commenced with the sighting of “a light across the Bay” in Canada. ‘John’, the experient, regards this episode with ill-deserved contempt and practically dismisses it as of no importance. His account meanwhile contains “all four of the primary Old Hag features”, including awareness of being awake, immobility with some possible sensation of pressure, and normal perception of the surroundings. Paranormal footsteps (standard features of haunted houses) are incorporated; a self-luminous figure glows in the dark.

Historically by 1100, Christian dogma concerning the gross double-act of demonic molestation and assault was “solidly established as an article of learned faith throughout Western Europe”‘. Oddly enough, recent study has established a similar syndrome on a more solidly investigated foundation as still flourishing in Newfoundland and elsewhere. Alleged violations of the human body by obscure and sinister entities is said to be all the rage, even if unconnected with black magic rituals. However:

“The precise distinctions which were made … between voluptuous sleep-related experiences and attacks of the Old Hag type are difficult to determine.”

As recorded by Cotton Mather [7], paralysis and fear were are induced through spectral visitation to one Richard Coman, the occult agency working through a New England sorceress being blamed. the attack was nocturnal, the subject – as in some poltergeist cases – was thrown out of bed, or almost so. It is an above average example of ‘spectral evidence’ brought before the courts.According to Persona (1328-1421) an unusual incubus-like creature flourished in Germany in the house of a certain “renowned knight”, attracted by his beautiful sister. Numerous as the creature’s accomplishments were, they did not include visibility, but the hands “slender and soft” were much in evidence, and it is a fact that ‘spirit hands’, detached from the body and often of a pleasant appearance, are amply attested in the mediumistic literature.

If we can believe Guazzo, females enslaved by the power of darkness were rewarded with an incubus in the form of a “rank goat” – an animal then most unjustly despised. Caietano, who wrote on witchcraft [4] knew of “a woman in love whom the devil anointed naked, promising that he would take her to her lover”. In an unconscious state she imagined that she was with him, but it was only a delusion.

According to Johann Meyfarth (1635) not only hundreds of women, but (he regretfully admits) even men, confessed to having had sex with demons. This however was dismissed as an illusion by no less a scholar than Thummius on account of the anatomical shortcomings of the spirits. Basically a fallen angel, Satan is incorporeal, but can shape a body for himself from a corpse. Having done so he is free to copulate, but first he must collect the semen. Brooding in the solitude of their cells, the undefiled godly brethren gave vent to their limited imagination, in which one is none too pleasantly reminded of abduction scenarios and rape by semi-human monsters described by Hopkins and Strieber, whether of heaven or earth [10].

At one time dismissed by Mother Church as salacious dreams, this sort of thing came to be taken deadly seriously, but by the time of Louis XV it was considered a huge joke. Incubi and the like were now considered as at best figments of the imagination, leading the way to the ultimate disinterpretation of the phenomenon as such. Still it could serve a useful purpose as a convenient alibi:

“To conceal sin, a woman, a girl, a nun in name only, a debauchee, who affects the appearance of virtue, will palm off her lover for an incubus spirit which haunts her.” [7]

As a cloak for concupiscence it served Bishop Sylvanus, whose physical form was assumed by a certain Sister’s incubus, undeterred apparently by the still distant prospects of the jibes of the Elizabethan Regina Scot and, no doubt, of other unsung more contemporary puritanical sceptics.

In a similar vein is Sinistrari’s moral tale about the religious who locked herself in after dinner. An inquisitive Sister bored a hole through the wall of her cell, when all was revealed: an all-too-earthly lover was masquerading as a spirit from the deep. On the other hand was it a genuine specimen notorious, it is said, for singing “the most dirty songs” (no examples being given) in which his modest virgin victim refused to join?

For once there is a happy ending, for the girl’s prayers and tears drove away the Evil One, and thus Margaret of Cortona was left in peace. When it comes to the question of the sex act, there is a marked lack of consensus of learned opinion among prelates, who had not as yet learned to confine their attention to matters political. Some had felt confident to assert that it gratified the demons themselves, but this is not the considered opinion of Thomas Aquinas, a man of superior authority in all matters relating to witchcraft and demonology.

“Heretofore… Incubus was fain to ravish women against their will”. However, after what seems a rather arbitrary watershed in 1400 there was an unexplained change so that now: “Witches consent willingly to their desire”

A similar unresolved dilemma relates to the victims of lewd demonic attention: at times it would be presented as almost rapturous, but at others the very reverse, and Scot quotes Nider to the effect that: “Heretofore… Incubus was fain to ravish women against their will”. However, after what seems a rather arbitrary watershed in 1400 there was an unexplained change so that now: “Witches consent willingly to their desire” [8]

If Nider was right – and his authority is perhaps too great to be successfully challenged – and morals were no longer what they were before that critical date, it may seem strange that there are nowadays once more so many reported cases of forced intercourse with the demons. Meanwhile, Nider gains support from stories such as that of the seventeenth century girl who, pursued by a fiendish spirit “seemed almost afraid of being delivered from the devil.” [7] Worse is to come – a nubile German witch was so depraved that she actually summoned her incubus!

What then of the offered pleasures of the Striatum or Witches’ Sabbath, those secret nocturnal gatherings promising prospects of every indulgence of the flesh? Retrospectively they seem very inviting from almost every point of view. Exceptionally, Petrus Valderma in 1617 depicts the participants sitting at “tables served… with the most delicious dishes and exquisite wines”, for those who were not too particular since the very waiters were demons – an experience to which some of us have occasionally been subjected. As if to soften the blow of the sinister catering service,

the refreshments were followed by alluring “sound of the most charming music” (no suggestive ditties here) and, the lights having been put out, the ample gratification of one’s every desire. [3]. But Valderma tactfully omits to mention that this “marvellous food” (as it is described elsewhere) could really consist of sickening bits of grass and worms as in the case of the fairy banquets laid on for abductees. [9] The Devil being allergic to the cleansing properties of salt, the goodies were habitually serve unseasoned.The long catalogue of crimes attributed to witches includes ligatures to cause impotence at weddings and other occasions. Christian Stridtbeckh, in his Van den Hexen (1723) describes five different ways of achieving this for the over-curious, some apparently too indelicate to narrate. [3], so that for once I can spare your blushes. However, lest you should think that theology is a dry-as-dust affair, I shall quote the eminent divine Adam Tenner who in 1617 published his illuminating Tractatus Theologicus dealing with, amongst other matter, the deadly perversions of witchcraft and similar associated enormities.

Tanner “calls attention to the assemblies held of both sexes, sometimes by day and sometime by night, in which every kind of sexual excess occurs. These may be called true schools of the Devil and seminaries of witches of both sexes, all the more injurious that no-one disapproves of or attaches blame to them. Recently, when a Jesuit happened upon one of these gatherings and reproved it, he scarcely escaped without bodily injury and when another sought to abolish them he Was told that they were the ancient customs of the land” [4]

The phenomenology of the paranormal has an uncanny way of adapting to new developments in culture and philosophy, and of fooling us in the process. Those who study the data of folklore, psychical research and ufology in isolation deprive themselves effectively of all hope of obtaining any profound measure of understanding of the underlying causes of these strange anomalies. None is more obscure and inscrutable than the Incubus/Succubus syndrome, and – in the update of the day – the Old Hag survival, taken with the more unpalatable aspects of the so-called UFO abductions, which retain all the vitality, as well as the mystery, of ancient occult lore.

A recent, and less extreme, example is what happened to Elsa, a young Englishwoman. Some years back she was living in a London hostel. One night in 1973 she awoke to find a girl “pacing up and down”. A light was shining through the door of the hall, but Elsa was very scared, especially when the figure lifted the cover of her bed to get in. In her written report Elsa says:

“I then saw the body bearing down on me and at the same time my head crashed back on the pillow very quickly as if it had been pushed. I heard a loud cracking sound as my head hit the pillow and I was unconscious.”Similar cases are numerous, and Scott Rogo cites a recent one of psychological orientation stressing the ‘sexual influence’ exerted on a middle-aged man by a nocturnal apparition in which Rogo detects overtones of feelings of guilt and

MacKenzie has just published something that happened to the late Dr Dewsbury, under the general heading ‘Something Under the Bed’ [5]: at three o’clock in the morning this psychiatrist and SPR council member had also encountered a ‘bedroom invader’ when he was “violently roused by the mattress being pushed from underneath as if by someone under the bed”.You may say that paranormal interference with beds is old hat; if so I shall be the last to argue with you. As usual, there was nothing to account for the disturbance, any more than for the rocking motion complained of to Hubbard, or in what Professor Kittredge has christened the ‘bedclothes trick’, in which the covers are pulled off the unwary sleeper, whether by goblins or by marginally more respectable poltergeists.

Andrew MacKenzie, once more, discusses the phenomenon of ‘a stranger in the bed’, so graphically described by my friend Elsa. This time the location is the French capital. Mrs Bourget and her husband were staying in a Paris hotel in 1962. Suddenly she woke to the “impression of being between two persons”. She became oppressed by a sensation of evil, which she stoutly refused to dismiss as a nightmare. Mrs Hellstroem of the Swedish Society for Psychical Research fared no better when two successive nocturnal phantoms invaded the privacy of a large double-bed.It may well be argued that prejudice too hastily dismisses ancient records as the worthless superstitions of credulous folk engulfed in an age of unreason in which man’s critical faculties were as yet insufficiently evolved; the more so when in one form or an other the beliefs reflected by them have survived in basic substance the shock of intel-lectual revision of cultural change, and modern obsession with technological advances.

An exceptionally knowledgeable writer has recently suggested that acceptance of UFO reports may be as baseless as those of witchcraft. Before this conclusion becomes part of accepted fact, one must consolidate the

validity of statements on the lines that the whole black magic syndrome can be adequately explained away as “a plausible fantasy created by the Church … and accepted by the common people”, it being in actual fact nothing more than “a combination of social and psychological forces” [9, p 376].

Wearied with the rehearsal of so many lecheries most horrible and very filthy and fabulous actions and passions … together with spirit Incubus, I will end

Fashions change, and not only in clothes, though the emperor’s are perennial. At one time it was assumed with confidence that the Reformation had done away with ghosts and apparitions. Few people nowadays think of disarranged beds as pointing towards the mischievous activities of goblins, since goblins are rightly unpopular at the moment. At the same time, it is not considered absurd in certain quarters to envisage the existence of entities hailing from ever-expanding distances of outer space that fly about in preposterous machines for the purpose of impregnating us for reasons best known to themselves. They are no longer the Biblical ‘giants’ of old, but equally implausible specimens of an assumed advanced state of more fashionable science.

Meanwhile, let us admit that we are indeed faced with mysteries in many ways beyond our powers of comprehension, but on which psychology, and its more recent parameter’ parasychology, can throw much light. It is in the direction of their arcane castramentation that we must look for enlightenment, For the present though, being (like Squire Scot) “wearied with the rehearsal of so many lecheries most horrible and very filthy and fabulous actions and passions… together with spirit Incubus, I will end”.


  1. HOPKINS, Budd, Missing Time, Marek, N, Y,, 1981.
  2. KITTREDGE, G. L, Witchcraft in Old and New England Harvard, 1928.
  3. LEA, H, L, Materials Toward a History of (3 Vols) Witchcraft, Yoseloff, N, Y,, 1951.
  4. STRIEBER, W. Communion: A True Story, Arrow, 1988.