20.3.17

ESP at War

Annie Jacobsen. Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception. Little, Brown, US (30 March)

From the publisher's website: For more than forty years, the U.S. government, through various military and intelligence agencies, has invested millions in classified programs that study the role of mental telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP) as a means of intelligence collection for military and defence purposes. Now, for the first time, New York Times bestselling author Annie Jacobsen will tell the story of these programs, using interviews with the core group of individuals--including former Defence Department scientists, military officers, CIA analysts and researchers, an Apollo 14 astronaut, government psychics, and members of the Aviary--who ran these phenomena programs at the highest level of government. Phenomena will be a quest narrative - a story about how far man will journey in search of improbable and mysterious things - with documentation showing which of these improbable things might actually exist.

18.3.17

Early Northern Echoes

Jon Karl Helgason. Echoes of Valhalla: The Afterlife of the Eddas and Sagas. Reaktion Books. (13 March 2017)

Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf, Wagner’s Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Marvel’s superhero the Mighty Thor and the Vikings heading for Valhalla in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’: these are just a few examples of how Icelandic medieval literature has shaped the human imagination during the past 150 years. Echoes of Valhalla is a unique account of modern adaptations of the Icelandic eddas (poems of Norse mythology) and sagas (ancient prose accounts of Viking history, voyages and battles).

Jón Karl Helgason looks at comic books, plays, music and films, exploring reincarnations of the Nordic gods Thor and Odin and the saga characters Hallgerd Long-legs, Gunnar of Hlidarendi and Leif the Lucky, as well as the works of the medieval writer Snorri Sturluson. He looks at Scandinavian, British and American cases, as well as German, Italian and Japanese adaptions. Examples include the cartoonists Jack Kirby and Peter Madsen, playwrights Henrik Ibsen and Gordon Bottomley, travellers Frederick Metcalfe and Poul Vad, composers Richard Wagner and Edward Elgar, rock musicians Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and film directors Roy William Neill and Richard Fleischer. Echoes of Valhalla shows how disparate, age-old poems and prose from medieval rural Iceland have become a part of our shared cultural experience today – how the eddas and sagas themselves live on. The book will appeal to the wide audience interested in Viking mythology and history, as well as films, books, music, and graphic novels.

15.3.17

Science and Imagination

David N. Stamos. Edgar Allan Poe, Eureka, and Scientific Imagination.  State University of New York Press (1 Mar. 2017)

In 1848, almost a year and a half before Edgar Allan Poe died at the age of forty, his book Eureka was published. In it, he weaved together his scientific speculations about the universe with his own literary theory, theology, and philosophy of science. Although Poe himself considered it to be his magnum opus, Eureka has mostly been overlooked or underappreciated, sometimes even to the point of being thought an elaborate hoax. Remarkably, however, in Eureka Poe anticipated at least nine major theories and developments in twentieth-century science, including the Big Bang theory, multiverse theory, and the solution to Olbers paradox.

In this book the first devoted specifically to Poe's science side David N. Stamos, a philosopher of science, combines scientific background with analysis of Poe's life and work to highlight the creative and scientific achievements of this text. He examines Poe s literary theory, theology, and intellectual development, and then compares Poe's understanding of science with that of scientists and philosophers from his own time to the present. Next, Stamos pieces together and clarifies Poe's theory of scientific imagination, which he then attempts to update and defend by providing numerous case studies of eureka moments in modern science and by seeking insights from comparative biography and psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and evolution.

12.3.17

Political Paranormalism

Wladimir Velminski. Homo Sovieticus: Brain Waves, Mind Control, and Telepathic Destiny. MIT Press (3 Mar. 2017)

In October 1989, as the Cold War was ending and the Berlin Wall about to crumble, television viewers in the Soviet Union tuned in to the first of a series of unusual broadcasts. "Relax, let your thoughts wander free..." intoned the host, the physician and clinical psychotherapist Anatoly Mikhailovich Kashpirovsky. Moscow's Channel One was attempting mass hypnosis over television, a therapeutic session aimed at reassuring citizens panicked over the ongoing political upheaval--and aimed at taking control of their responses to it. 

Incredibly enough, this last-ditch effort to rally the citizenry was the culmination of decades of official telepathic research, cybernetic simulations, and coded messages undertaken to reinforce ideological conformity. In Homo Sovieticus, the art and media scholar Wladimir Velminski explores these scientific and pseudoscientific efforts at mind control. In a fascinating series of anecdotes, Velminski describes such phenomena as the conflation of mental energy and electromagnetism; the investigation of aura fields through the "Aurathron"; a laboratory that practised mind control methods on dogs; and attempts to calibrate the thought processes of labourers. "Scientific" diagrams from the period accompany the text. In all of the experimental methods for implanting thoughts into a brain, Velminski finds political and metaphorical contaminations. These apparently technological experiments in telepathy and telekinesis were deployed for purely political purposes.

7.3.17

The Little People

Robert Curran. The Truth About Leprechauns. The O'Brien Press. (6 Mar. 2017)

From the origins of this hero of Irish lore to his habits, occupations and characteristics. This book offers enlightenment on little-known aspects of the wider fairy world, as well as turning the spotlight on the real leprechaun. Every country has its own myths about fairies and ‘wee folk’, but the Irish leprechaun is the undisputed king. To some, he is an impish figure full of harmless mischief, forever guarding his elusive crock of gold. To others, he is an evil gnome bent on disrupting the lives of mortals with his black magic and malevolent acts. Historian and folklorist Bob Curran looks at the origins of this hero of Irish lore – fallen angel, diminished god or son of fairies – and at his habits, occupations and characteristics. He explores the superstitions surrounding the leprechaun and his enduring place in popular culture, and turns the spotlight on the ‘real’ leprechaun – mysterious, complex and contradictory.

4.3.17

The Hidden City

The Secret Lore of London. Forward by Iain Sinclair. Coronet (24 March 2017)

London is an ancient city, whose foundation dates back literally thousands of years into the legendary prehistory of these islands. Not surprisingly it has accumulated a large number of stories, both historic and mythical, during this period, many of which, though faithfully recorded at the time, have lain almost forgotten in dusty libraries throughout the city. The Secret Lore of London is a guide to the legends, including a discussion of their importance as part of the oral tradition of Britain, combining Prehistoric, Celtic, Arthurian, Roman, Saxon and Norman levels - each of which has contributed to the many-layered life of the city.

The first part contains a unique selection of essays (some printed here for the first time) by experts in their fields, each of whom possesses a unique interest in the legends of these islands, and who have written widely on associated themes. The second part of the book will consist of a Gazetteer of the sites mentioned which are still in existence, together with various other sites of associated interest, compiled by the Editor, the contributors, and members of the London Earth Mysteries Group.


The Rumour Machine

Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska. Folklore in the Digital Age - Collected Essays. Columbia University Press (28 Feb. 2017)

Folklore in the Digital Age shows how digital folklore transcends the boundaries of cyberspace and has very real effect on our everyday life in today's interconnected global world. Online and digital cultures are perhaps the most vivid aspects of globalisation and while global multimedia culture may on the one hand endanger traditional folklore, there is no doubt that it creates new folklore as well. Collecting essays from Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska's 15 years of e-folklore research, this book is an illustration of the range of modern folklore studies. While these essays cover the most serious political issues of the day, such as the 9/11 attacks, the Arab Spring and global epidemic threats such as the HIV virus, the book also touches on more lighthearted topics, such as online dating and food culture.