Tag Archives: Paranormal

Review: This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair

In This House is Haunted, author Guy Lyon Playfair documents a famous British poltergeist incident from the 1970s. Playfair experienced the haunting firsthand as one of two outside investigators who became directly involved with the proceedings.

I have to admit that while I enjoy a variety of paranormal topics, I’m not typically drawn to ghost stories. Hauntings, however one chooses to explain them, tend to defy a lot of generally accepted science. By comparison, extraterrestrials may or may not exist, but interstellar beings are entirely scientifically plausible. The same goes for many cryptozoological mysteries. While the evidence tends to be circumstantial, one can reasonably keep an open mind toward such things without having to disregard the basic rules of the universe. Poltergeists and the behaviors ascribed to them, on the other hand, are substantially more outlandish. Their blatantly inexplicable nature means that a much greater leap of faith is required just to reach the point where we can even consider them a possibility. As Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

In some manifestations of the paranormal, consistency of experience across a diverse population can also lend to the intrigue. Why do so many unrelated people tend to have such similar bizarre experiences? Part of what makes the Sasquatch mythos so curious is the way the stories remain relatively uniform over decades, cultures, and widespread geography. Alas, this is rarely so with hauntings. While we could certainly point to some “core” elements that make up a classic spook story, typical experiences rarely come across as fundamentally consistent or predictable. People see, hear, and feel things differently in each case, and most incidents are rarely verifiably repeated. Ghosts are so ethereal that they effectively become a catchall for anything and everything odd and inexplicable. This lack of overarching definition hardly helps in granting the viewer a strong conviction towards the evidence.

So, is all hope lost? On the contrary, This House is Haunted is my new standard for what a poltergeist study should be. Here we have a prolonged event witnessed both by a consistent group of dedicated observers as well as a variety of independent third parties over an extended period of time (months). It even appears to have yielded a bit of physical evidence, although what became of this in the years that followed is somewhat unclear. While it may not meet the bar of incontrovertible proof, the incident contains enough depth to stand firmly on its own; an apparent anomaly in reality as we know it.

The book was developed from the author’s own notes and recordings, and in my view it was very well presented. The text was nicely paced, to the point, and not over dramatic. The majority of the 300-odd pages are a recounting of the events as they happened, with commentary and speculation generally kept to a minimum. The major participants are portrayed in satisfying depth, and come across as both interesting and sympathetic. Fairplay also injects an occasional subtle wit that helps keep the retelling fresh and lively.

Rather than feeling dismissive, I found myself drawn in. Could such a wild incident really be true? Of course, little in the way of explanation is forthcoming. It all ends rather abruptly, as such events and the stories based on them are prone to do. What remains, if we can allow ourselves to consider it, is a rather cracking mystery; one which lends an air of legitimacy to the all too ethereal world of the poltergeist.

Highly recommended for fans of the paranormal.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Encounters With Star People by Ardy Sixkiller Clarke

Encounters with Star People gives the UFO phenomenon a fresh new treatment, focusing exclusively on the experiences of modern American Indian people. Author Ardy Sixkiller Clarke, herself of Indian heritage, has personally collected and curated these stories. They are all presented here for the first time, having previously been held in strict confidence, known only to the experiencers, or other close members of their communities.

The 20-plus chapters each introduce a separate story, most of which focus on one or two specific individuals being interviewed by the author. She relates her experiences with each unique personality, and manages to portray a lot of character in her contacts in a relatively short amount of space. The nature of the events documented ranges from basic sightings of unidentified craft to alien encounters and abductions.

The skeptical reader will likely take solace in pointing out the myriad minor (or major) inconsistencies between the experiences related here. Inexplicable variation tends to be the rule in ufology, and the same apparently holds true within this community. Despite this, viewing the breadth of these accounts through the lens of a shared culture gives the whole thing a rather unique air of consistency. The believer may even find that the stories aren’t quite so wildly inconsistent after all, and that there seem to be at least a few themes which appear to underlie these otherwise independent events. It’s worth noting that some of the book’s later accounts take on a decidedly dark tone, and I admit to finding the cumulative effect of so many, not entirely dissimilar, experiences a bit disturbing.

My one substantial complaint with Encounters with Star People is that all accounts have been made anonymous. This is a point the author is very clear about, and we’re told, rather understandably, that it was a hard and fast condition of being able to publish much of the information she was given. I certainly understand why someone would desire not to be openly associated with fringe topics which could easily be used to threaten their job, relationships, or general quality of life. Having said that, as a reader one is forced to recognize that an anonymous account is also an unverifiable account, and as such provides zero evidentiary value. Some of the stories here are fantastic, but for the skeptically minded, they may as well be out right fiction. Assuming many of the items here are true, at least in some quantity – as human experiences if nothing else – then it’s a shame that such great material will likely be diminished and overlooked for the lack of a name. Even just one such story, backed up by confirmed and credible sources, might carry more weight than dozens that can never be traced beyond these pages.

With that in mind, if you can look past the anonymity and appreciate the material at face value, then Encounters with Star People is undoubtedly a ufological gold mine. Dr. Clarke should be commended for the effort she has put into this research over the years, and for bringing the culture of the star people to the general public. This work has added more new reports to the canon of ufology than possibly any other in recent years, if not decades. At times amusing, confusing, and even alarming, it was a hard book to put down.

 

Rating: 4/5

Review: Britain’s X-traordinary Files by David Clarke

It’s hard to rate Britain’s X-traordinary Files poorly based on execution. The book is well edited, thoroughly referenced, and easily readable. It’s also, frankly, a bit dull. With a title clearly playing on the intrigue of the hit X-Files science fiction series, one might be forgiven for expecting an exciting revelation or two hidden somewhere in the mix. The driving force behind research into, and entertainment based on, government secrecy is all about the prospect of uncovering the mythical smoking gun; the proof that the government knows the “truth” behind extraterrestrials, Loch Ness, and many other of the world’s curiosities. It’s the foundation of countless books, websites, and documentaries, as well as conspiracy theories and works of fiction.

In the context of this book, “X-traordinary” may translate more accurately as “something a bit unusual”… and being a little off-kilter doesn’t necessarily equate to being new and interesting. The concluding chapter on the Loch Ness monster is a prime example. Nessie is arguably Great Britain’s most widely known and beloved mystery, and most people know at least a little something about the case. It’s been around for decades now, and is well ingrained in popular culture. So what does the British government think of the situation? To sum up: a few believers who find it compelling, a bunch of non-believers who don’t, and the general consensus that even if it probably doesn’t exist, it’s great for tourism, so why mess with it? In other words, exactly what most people probably would have assumed, without twenty-odd pages of evidence extracted from notes, letters, and official documents.

Cutting a bit deeper, one may ask why we bother reading up on these fortean topics at all? For some of us at least, the answer is that a good mystery is exciting. It’s knowing that even if the monster isn’t real, a mystery persists in how so many people can experience it. It’s the love of a good ghost story if nothing else. But the X-traordinary Files isn’t necessarily a book about the mysteries themselves. It’s a book about how governmental entities saw and responded to these events. The author isn’t presenting and analyzing Nessie so much as he’s presenting and analyzing the records of people who were in power at the time. It’s a discussion of people discussing a mystery. Which more often than not, boils down to being just that much less thrilling than addressing the topic head-on. There are no shocking revelations; in fact there doesn’t even seem to be much new material at all. In most instances the official documents do little more than reiterate and corroborate what was already the official story, which I expect most of the general public already knows.

Author David Clarke addresses a variety of subjects, including ghosts, angels, psychic powers, phantom helicopters, and more. Even the Bermuda Triangle makes an appearance, despite being nowhere near Great Britain. There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to how the material was selected, and the level of detail given any one item is rarely more than what you would expect from a cable TV special on the same. Again, the focus here being more the official documents on the subjects than the subjects themselves.

Rating this book fairly has proven a challenge. In truth, I think the author executed the material well, it’s just that the content is not, to my mind, nearly as interesting as the book jacket would have you believe. There is almost no new or revelatory information; just confirmation of what was already publicly known, or at least suspected. And so, I’m not sure what audience I would recommend it for: A beginner would be better served by a book that approaches the subject matter more directly, while paranormal veterans may prefer something with more focus or fresher content.

Rating: 3/5