History and Occulture

Biographies, history, and cultural criticism.

The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith Joyce

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The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith JoyceThe Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal: Abductions, Apparitions, ESP, Synchronicity, and More Unexplained Phenomena from Other Realms, by Judith Joyce
Weiser Books, 9781578634880, 210 pp. (incl. resource guide and index), 2011

Setting out to write a field guide to the paranormal is perhaps the definition of thankless task. There are bound to be quibbles with what one includes or doesn’t, and even terminology is certain to be contentious. Judith Joyce’s bravery is only matched by her handling of competing interpretations within the entries of this field guide, though the overwhelming impression in this particular book is one of editorial bias.

The “field guide” focuses very heavily on Victorian-era Spiritualism and UFOs instead of taking a broader view. With the American study of the paranormal so heavily influenced (and indeed, in the 19th century pretty much exclusively funded by) by Spiritualists, it was perhaps a legitimate choice, though not to my personal taste. In some cases (like the entry on Lily Dale) said emphasis threatens to choke the guide as a whole. A better title might have been “A Field Guide to Spiritualism and UFOs, with Some Other Cool Stuff Slid in Around the Edges.” Continue reading


Man-Made Monsters, by Dr Bob Curran

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Man-Made Monsters, by Dr Bob CurranMan-Made Monsters: A Field Guide to Golems, Patchwork Solders, Homunculi, and Other Created Creatures, by Dr Bob Curran, illustrated by Ian Daniels
New Page Books, 9781601631367, 184 pp. (incl. bibliography and index), 2011

Dr Bob Curran is a history teacher with several books to his name, all dealing with fantastic creatures: Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves, and Dark Fairies, among others. His latest is Man-Made Monsters, which explores possible origins for created creatures.

Curran begins with the quintessential man-made monster of modern times, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He looks at possible sources which may have inspired Shelley’s story, such as the experiments of Giovanni Aldini, Mr Pass, George Foster, Johann Konrad Dippel, and other stories of reanimation which she may have encountered. Continue reading


Victor Hugo’s Conversations with the Spirit World, by John Chambers

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Victor Hugo's Conversations with the Spirit World, by John ChambersVictor Hugo’s Conversations with the Spirit World: A Literary Genius’s Hidden Life, by John Chambers
Destiny Books, 1594771820, 372. pp, 1999, 2009

I’m sure that, at one time or another, many of us have played with a Ouija ™ board. And we may have gotten “messages from beyond.” Most of us, I am sure, tired quickly of it, or had serious doubts about the information coming through the board.

Well, Victor Hugo lived before the Ouija ™ board was created. He did, however, live during the time when Spiritualism was in its heyday. The use of small, lightweight, three-legged tables to tap out messages was commonplace in parlours across Europe. The uncommon aspects of M Hugo’s attempts were quite extraordinary, however. They included the people involved (writers, philosophers, and military men) as well as the “sources” of this information (living individuals [Napoleon III], concepts [Civilization], as well as the more common discarnate individuals). Continue reading


Thomas Berry, Dreamer of the Earth, edited by Ervin Laszlo and Allan Combs

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Thomas Barry, Dreamer of the Earth, edited by Ervin Laszlo and Allan CombsThomas Berry, Dreamer of the Earth: The Spiritual Ecology of the Father of Environmentalism, edited by Ervin Laszlo and Allan Combs
Inner Traditions, 9781594773952, 160 pp., 2011

Dreamer of the Earth is a collection of essays written by intellectuals and eco-activists regarding the impact of Berry’s writings on their lives and philosophies as well as a lengthy essay by Thomas Berry himself.  Thomas Berry was a Christian mystic, a student of Thomas Aquinas and Teilhard de Chardin his writings remain some of the most thoughtful commentary on the modern condition produced in the last 80 years.

Alan Combs’ introduction to the text is excellent, Continue reading


Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic, by Vere Chappell

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Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic, by Vere ChappellSexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic, by Vere ChappellSexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock, by Vere Chappell, with an introduction by Mary K. Greer
Weiser Books, 978157863476, 258 pp. (incl. appendix and references), 2010

Described as an anthology embedded in a biography, Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic contains most of Ida Craddock‘s published writings edited, annotated and placed in context by Vere Chappell.

Ida Craddock was a 19th century American sexologist, feminist, and mystic who was persecuted by Anthony Comstock’s Society for the Suppression of Vice. Her contribution to conventional sex reform, and her mystical writings on sex with spiritual beings are exceptional for the period. Continue reading


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