Collections of miscellaneous strange writings from around the web

Anonymous and the Trickster

Wired has a very interesting profile piece on the 'hacktivist' group Anonymous, in which the author uses the Trickster archetype to try and understand them better (with mentions of Robert Anton Wilson and Alan Moore to boot):

Hacker culture, and almost all of computer culture back in the day is shot through with the Discordian edge of 1960/1970s counter-culture and Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus. AnonymousSo from there it’s the yippies, Andy Kaufmann, and the Situationists we need to first comprehend. Or do we head back to early 20th century absurdists of Dada? Or maybe we venture all the way to that olde booke of epic trolling lulze, Tristram Shandy?

Like Alan Moore’s character V who inspired Anonymous to adopt the Guy Fawkes mask as an icon and fashion item, you’re never quite sure if Anonymous is the hero or antihero. The trickster is attracted to change and the need for change, and that’s where Anonymous goes. But they are not your personal army – that’s Rule 44 – yes, there are rules. And when they do something, it never goes quite as planned. The internet has no neat endings.

The trickster as myth proved so compelling that the network made it real. Anonymous, the net’s trickster, emerged like supernatural movie monster out of the misty realm of ideas and into the real world.

Previously on TDG:

Fortean Times UnCon 2011

Lovers of Forteana and high strangeness take note: the world-famous Fortean Times UnConvention will this year be held on the 12th and 13th of November, at the Camden Centre in London. Among the speakers confirmed thus far are Jon Ronson ("The Psychopath Test"), Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince ("The Forbidden Universe"), David Clarke ("Scared to Death") Richard Freeman ("All Ape-men Great and Small") and Gail Nina-Anderson ("A Popular History of the Mummy").

Fortean Times UnCon

After the huge success of last year’s event, UnConvention is back in 2011 to bring you a wonderful weekend of high strangeness and full-on fortean fun.

Once again, we’ll be presenting a wide-ranging, two-day programme of talks and events devoted to the odd, the intriguing and the inexplicable. We’ll be bringing you the world’s most exciting speakers and scholars from every realm of forteana, from cryptozoology and conspiracy to parapsychology and ufology – not to mention dog philosophers, cursed stones and a certain talking mongoose called Gef…

We’ll be holding UnCon 2011 in the Camden Centre, a central London location opposite King’s Cross station, ideally situated for transport links and providing a fully licensed bar and café.

Visit the UnCon page for links to the speaker list, ticketing information and more. And follow @ForteanTimes on Twitter for regular updates.

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Hilary Evans Obituary

The Guardian is carrying an obituary for Fortean pioneer Hilary Evans, whose passing I noted last week:

Most people who research paranormal phenomena choose a side in a war of competing beliefs and disputed evidence. Hilary chose instead the side of scholarship, backed up by the massive home library that he donated to the Hilary EvansArchives for UFO Research in Sweden – all 5.5 tonnes of it. His measured approach focused on social and cultural context and human psychology, as he believed that understanding extraordinary phenomena required understanding the person who experienced them. That is not to say he never drew conclusions. He was scathing about alien abductions, for example, a belief he (wrongly) predicted in the late 1980s would never take hold in Britain because people there were too sensible.

The range of his scholarship through time and across phenomena meant he was able to see connections no one else could. In books such as Intrusions: Society and the Paranormal (1982), Visions, Apparitions, Alien Visitors (1984) and Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardians (1987), he drew a direct line from, for example, folktales of fairies and leprechauns to modern-day accounts of extraterrestrial visitors. His later books included Outbreak! (2009), which examined cases of mass hysteria, and Sliders (2010), which covered street-light interference, the belief by some people that they turn off street lights as they pass by them. Failing eyesight prevented him from writing down his next book, which he had ready in his head.

The obituary is written by Wendy Grossman, founder of The Skeptic magazine. Note that John Rimmer has a really nice write-up of his memories of Hilary over at the Magonia blog as well.

Vale Hilary Evans

Both Cryptomundo and Magonia (latter recently updated with more complete post) are today reporting that Hilary Evans, a pioneer of Fortean studies, has passed away. Writes Loren Coleman at Cryptomundo:

Hilary Evans, who was born in 1929, passed away this morning, July 27, 2011. He was an intellectual British pictorial archivist, author, and researcher into cryptozoological, Fortean, ufological and other undiscovered phenomena.Hilary Evans

Evans was born in Shrewsbury, United Kingdom. In 1964 he and his wife Mary Evans founded the Mary Evans Picture Library, an archive of historical illustrations. In 1981 he co-founded the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena.

Evans was an exponent of the Psychosocial Hypothesis of UFOs as culturally shaped visionary experiences.

Mary Evans had herself just passed away last year. The passing of Hilary Evans comes on the back of the loss, earlier this month, of another pioneering anomalies investigator - William Corliss.

Strange Attractor Volume 4

The fourth instalment of the wonderful Strange Attractor, edited by our good friend Mark Pilkington, is now available for sale. As with previous releases, the topics and authors in Strange Attractor Four are enough to get any Grailer salivating:

From Haiti and Hong Kong to the fourth dimension and beyond: discover the secrets of madness in animals; voodoo soul and dub music; Strange Attractor Fourancient peacock deities; Chinese poisoning cults; the history of spider silk weaving; heathen mugwort magic; sentient lightning; Jesuit conspiracy theories; junkie explorers; Dali’s Atlantis; the resurgence of Pan (in London’s Crouch End); anarchist pirates on Madagascar; an ancient Greek Rip Van Winkle; French anatomical waxworks; Arthur Machen’s forgotten tales and the full text of Alan Moore’s unfinished John Dee opera.

Featuring written and visual contributions from

Richard Barnett, Mark Blacklock, John Cussans, Erik Davis, Paul Devereux, Roger Dobson, Joanna Ebenstein, Stephen Grasso, Gyrus, Ken Hollings, Mike Jay, Phil Legard, David Luke, Eleanor Morgan, Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Michael Neve, Andy Sharp, Robert Wallis, Sean Walsh.

You can pick up a copy of SA4 from Amazon UK or direct from the Strange Attractor website, which also has some sample PDFs showing off the full list of contents and the journal's always-wonderful presentation.

Jeff Kripal's "Psi-Fi: Popular Culture and the Paranormal"

Boing Boing has posted a fascinating feature article by Jeff Kripal (Authors of the Impossible) titled "Psi-Fi: Popular Culture and the Paranormal". It continues Jeff's exploration of the topic, bridging the gap between his current book (which discusses the work of researcher-writers such as Charles Fort and Jacques Vallee) and his upcoming book on "some of the extraordinary ways that the paranormal experiences of artists and authors have helped inspire pulp fiction, science fiction, and superhero comics."

These paranormal patterns were so strong in the 1950s and 60s that sci-fi fans began speaking of Psi-Fi. Think pulp editor Ray Palmer's use of his colorful clairvoyant dreams to write short stories. Psi-FiThink sci-fi master Philip K. Dick's mind-blowing experience of "Valis," that Vast Active Living Intelligence System that zapped him with its bright pink light in the winter of 1974 and led him to believe that his earlier novels were predicting, intuiting, leading up to this. Think legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby absorbed in the ancient astronaut theory and playfully predicting a Spider-Man cult in 2450 in the editorial pages of The Eternals. Or think the famous comic strip writer Alvin Schwartz writing two metaphysical memoirs that draw on Tibetan Buddhism to understand the synchronistic ways that Superman and Batman functioned in his life and work—like Tibetan tulpas, it turns out. With the Wat Rong Kuhn temple, we don't quite have Kirby's Spider-Man cult (but, hey, it's only 2011) or Schwartz's Buddhist Superman and Batman in Tibet, but we do have Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man in a Thai Buddhist temple.

Close enough.

And remember that we posted an article late last year from Jeff, excerpted from his current book: "Jacques Vallee: Author of the Impossible". There is also a documentary in the works for that book, which I'm really looking forward to seeing.

Previously on TDG:

Fortean Times Uncon 2010

My first experience of the Fortean Times Unconvention was sprung on me this last weekend after Greg offered me a press pass out of the blue. Once domestic leave was negotiated, I couldn't possibly refuse it - the central London venue of the University of Westminster being a mere hour's journey from my home counties base.

With simultaneous talks in two lecture theatres (one a little too big and the other a little too small), one was forced to make difficult choices at times. Thankfully though, having heard veteran researcher and Daily Grail blogger Paul Devereux speak earlier in the year, on the topic of 'Magical Mindscapes' - the investing of spiritual meaning in the landscape - a favourite topic of mine, mind you, and the subject of his latest book Sacred Geography: Deciphering Hidden Codes in the Landscape (Amazon US/UK), he was not too offended when I opted to attend Mark Pilkington's talk instead!

With the word 'Rendlesham' in the titles of no less than three of the weekend's talks, and another talk on the Berwyn Mountain UFO case, Mark, with his recently-published Mirage Men: An Adventure into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs (Amazon US/UK) , was hard put, in his talk on The Abuses of Enchantment - looking at the use of weapons of mass deception, to avoid the UFO topic in an effort to maintain some balance.

While it's good to see the results of quality research into UFO cases, and it's arguably not the fault of open-minded researchers (like mythbusting 'Rendlesham botherer' Ian Ridpath) if the ETH turns out to be largely unsupported by the evidence in the cases they study, the dominance of the UFO sceptic theme in this conference was somewhat unfortunate. Having said that, the individual presentations on this theme (that I attended) were all excellent.

Beyond the Ufological, Jan Bondeson's talk on the Bosom Serpent and its parasitic relatives, and Jeremy Harte's investigation into the trope of ghostly 'headlessness' were highly entertaining forays into the pre-scientific mind, both facilitated by the comic delivery of a moustachioed eccentric. I'd personally like to have seen more of an emphasis on how the symbolic significance of serpents and heads might lie at the root of these traditions though.

Charles Foster, speaking on the topic of his latest book Wired for God?: The Biology of Spiritual Experience (Amazon US/UK), gave a survey of attempts to explain away spiritual experience by reference to neurobiological research, before exposing the weakness of such reductionist arguments and concluding that correlations don't imply causes.

Gordon Rutter's talk on A History of Talking to the Dead did what it said on the tin, although largely focusing on the 19th century to the present day.

Feeling a bit under the weather on day 2, Ian Simmons' account of Fantastic (or is that bad taste) Taxidermy left me feeling rather worse for wear. Walter Potter kitten tableaux and Gunther von Hagens' plastinated bodies galore.

My powers of concentration impaired, I paid less attention to the Sunday afternoon offerings, although to be honest, they were of less personal interest to me than many of the other talks. Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham discussed their research into several cases of military and government interference in Hollywood. Authors Mark Chadbourn, Natasha Mostert and Adam Nevill discussed Forteana and Fiction, and Peter Brookesmith, David Clarke, Nick Pope, Ian Ridpath and Paul Devereux looked ahead to Ufology in the 21st Century.

While the Unconvention has not maintained a yearly presence, I look forward to the possibility of next year's event.

Chaplin's Time Traveler?

Grailer Nostradamus sends this cool video for all you anomaly-lovers out there: an alleged time traveler caught on film in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 movie The Circus:

Just let me bask in the Fortean glow for a few minutes before asking rational questions like "what cell-phone tower/network would they be using?". One of the top-rated comments over at YouTube suggests that the device is an early 20th century hearing-aid (such as this one), which seems the more likely explanation...although not sure why she would be chatting to herself like that. Also might be worth checking that it's not a modern addition, given that the person presenting the video is getting some pretty good publicity from this vid.

Mothman: Ambassador to Aliens?

Both Charles Fort and John Keel would have loved this one. Last weekend there were plenty of news headlines about the UN appointing an Earthly ambassador to alien civilisations:

Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, is set to be tasked with co-ordinating humanity’s response if and when extraterrestrials make contact. Aliens who landed on earth and asked: “Take me to your leader” would be directed to Mrs Othman.

She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week. The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.

Mrs Othman is currently head of the UN’s little known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa).

However, it seems someone got their wires crossed, as official bodies knew nothing about it when queried, and Mrs. Othman herself said that though the idea "sounds really cool...I have to deny it." Besides which, there already is a group, headed by a leading scientist, dedicated to this role.

Buy why would Keel and Fort have loved this story so much? Mazlan Othman. M.Othman. That would only be topped by someone named Indrid Cold taking on the job....

UnCon 2010

If you're in the UK, make sure you get along to the 2010 Fortean Times UnConvention, which is being held at the University of Westminster, London, on the weekend of the 23/24 October:

After a year off, we're back - and we'd like to invite you to join us for two weirdness-packed days of talks, workshops, experiments, music, comedy and lively discussion...

We'll be ranging far and wide across the world of strange phenomena - from conspiracy theory to cryptozoology, from magic to monsters, from religion to rocket science...

We'll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Rendlesham UFO encounter, going in search of the Blue Dogs of Texas and exploring the fortean themes of Doctor Who - not to mention enjoying bawdy ballads from the 17th century and investigating ghostly encounters of the sexual kind!

There will be fortean shopping opportunities galore with a wide range of dealers, full cafe facilities and (watch this space!) some surprise extra events!

Speakers include Dr David Clarke, discussing the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, and our good friend Paul Devereux on the 'magical mindscapes' of ancient people. For a full run-down of the speakers and topics on the agenda, head over to the FT website.