This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books
Book: Intermediate States: A Nonfiction Anthology
Authors: Various, edited by Patrick Huyghe and Dennis Stacy
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s an edition (13th, interestingly enough) of articles from The Anomalist, a website that features a largely Fortean collection of weirdness. I discovered this particular edition during a search on Nick Redfern, who is both quite bald and a British examiner of the odd. I loved his book Three Men Seeking Monsters and felt his presence in this book would be an omen of the oddness within and I was proven correct.
Availability: Published by Anomalist Books in 2007, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Despite the fact that I clearly am a denizen of cyberspace, I am old enough and my eyes cranky enough to prefer not to read long, involved stories using a computer interface. This persnickety nature puts me at a disadvantage because I miss out on a lot of really interesting topics but it’s never fun when my eyeballs begin to spasm so I live with it. As someone who loves the weird as much as I do, it is almost shameful to admit I had no idea the The Anomalist website existed. Since I fancy myself a person who, if not an expert on the weird, is at least very familiar with most elements of oddness in the world, it was shocking and gratifying not only to find so much on the site I had never read before (my left eye is twitching, thanks for asking), but also to find a lot of content in this book wholly new to me. I really did order it blind, simply using Nick Redfern as sort of Fortean dowsing stick.
Sadly, Redfern’s article, “The Flying Saucer That Never Was,” was not a huge hit with me, though that is hardly Redfern’s fault. I often do not find the topic of UFOs to be particularly interesting, though that is certainly open for qualification. In his article, Redfern examines an old, evidently cheesy UFO movie and how director and actor Mikel Conrad’s claims of having seen a UFO and the film itself caused the US government to investigate closely Conrad’s claims. Though UFOs and much of the conspiracy around them doesn’t really capture my imagination, weird-wise (in that I can’t recall a single UFO case, like Roswell, causing me to fall off the deep end and read every book on the topic), the article was still amusing.
There were some definite winners in this collection. John Repion’s “Suspension of Disbelief” discussed the legend of a clown in a tub pulled by geese and how it supposedly caused the Yarmouth Bridge disaster of 1845. This research was right up my alley, investigating a small bit of history and determining if it is made of truth or fable. “The Black Flash of Cape Cod: True Heir of Spring-Heeled Jack” by Theo Paijams was entirely new to me. I had not before read of an entity similar to Springheeled Jack terrorizing New England as late as 1945. His research and speculation on who or what the creature may have been were interesting indeed, including the appendix to the article that outlined similar sightings across the United States. Loren Coleman, whose work in cryptozoology made him known to before reading him in this collection, penned “Between Worlds: The Three Nephites,” and while I like Coleman’s work in other places, this article was sort of doomed with me because I tend to find attempts to prove through history points of religious faith tiresome. Even so, it was still an interesting read.
There were some articles that left me largely as soon as I read them. “They Dine Among Us” by Cliff Willett, which was about the eating habits of fairies, did not have much resonance with me. Nor did “Bioanomalistics: A Proposal” by David Hricenak. That is not to say these articles were not interesting or well-written. It’s just that I think that with the paranormal and the Fortean, people tend to have specific areas of interest and topics that deviate too much or dwell on elements that are not relevant to one’s interests will not appeal. For instance, I love tales of Bigfoot and Yetis but sea serpents, not so much. Therefore, “Sargon’s Sea Serpent: The First Sighting in Cryptozoology” by Ulrich Magin just didn’t do it for me, and that reason lies with me, not with the author.
Only one article annoyed me. “In Touch With Other Worlds” by Mark Macy strayed into that area of the paranormal that I like to call “squick.” I label anything squick that in any manner can prey on human emotion in such a way to encourage belief in something that whether true or untrue will not wholly benefit them and may, in fact, lead them down a path of utter delusion. Evidently a man named George Meek invented a “science” called Instrumental Tran-Communication in order to talk to the dead and a device called a Spiricom aids in this end. Voices through white noise on the radio, spirit groups using improbable technology to talk to the dead – none of this is new, yet all of it is deeply horrible to me because not only does the science never make an ounce of sense, but it is so very, very easy to manipulate the sick and recently bereaved into believing all kinds of hokum. Even if there is no profit motive, luring people can be an ego trip so there is always a motive behind this sort of nonsense.
Then it descends into utter madness with a new approach to spirit photography wherein one examines in extremely magnified detail a photograph. According to this article, one can see people in these photographs. In one photo, the extreme closeup of what appears to be a woman’s lower face yields half the head of a different man, according to the author. There is no way to describe how ridiculous this is in words – you have to see these claims in order fully to understand how ludicrous they are. If I magnified a picture of one of my cats’ behinds I am certain you could, if you tried hard enough, find an image of the lost city of Atlantis, a play by Shakespeare or an image of Penn Jillette shitting blood at the ridiculousness of it all.
There is a fine line between wacky research and outright advocacy and no other article but Macy’s crossed that line. And to people more open to these sorts of things, maybe it would be interesting. Me? I’m closed and I hope any person facing or having faced terrible personal loss will not get sucked into this false science promising faith in the unknowable.
Now that I have my complaint out of the way, let me share the article that strangely enough had the most resonance for me. As an atheist American, it stands to reason that I have little interest in my spiritual being. Also, as a person prone to excessive complaining and genuine laziness, I avoid anything that causes me nausea or requires lots of fasting. Therefore it was surprising to me how much I liked and absorbed “Medieval Mysticism and Its Empirical Kinship to Ayahuasca” by Victoria Alexander. Meticulously researched, from both the historical records and Alexander’s own experience, it is a fascinating look at common threads between Catholic mysticism and users of a violent, purgative hallucinogen. It was utterly fascinating to me. My reluctance towards the mystical runs hard and deep, starting from an early age, but I love reading books about the lives of the saints and how some mortified their flesh with self-lashing or starved themselves into states of mental ecstasy. This combination of knowledge I already had with completely new ideas on the similarities of achieving a spiritual state in the presence of one’s god made this a fine article for me, indeed.
Alexander explained her own path for spirituality as she used ayahuasca with a shaman, and the very stringent routine she followed beforehand. Though I know I could never do such a thing, even the nausea, extreme caloric restriction and, frankly, the potential of bad hallucinations seemed worth the discomfort. (And my god, because I am a complete philistine, I could not help but remember the scene from the “Viva Los Muertos” episode of The Venture Brothers when Brock Samson and the Order of the Triad take ayahuasca to interesting results. There was also much barfing, which is always amusing to someone like me.)
All in all, eleven articles and only one I can say I had absolutely no use for. I suspect every lover of the strange, unusual, hidden or just plain whacked-out will find something to love in this collection. I recommend it and plan to buy more of these anthologies in the future.