Walking to utopia

The Land of Cockaigne, in an engraving after a 1567 painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Cockaigne was a peasant’s vision of paradise that tells us much about life in the medieval and early modern periods. A sure supply of rich food and plenty of rest were the chief aspirations of those who sang the praises of this idyllic land.

Men and women have always dreamed of paradise – and for many, in the years
before the world was fully explored, it was somewhere that might have a
physical existence in some distant corner of the earth. This week's Smithsonian essay takes
a look at what's been said about an earthly arcadia, from the medieval
Land of Cockaigne (a villein's playground that offered a mirror image of
life as it was led in this period, with plenty of rest, a ban on work,
and food that literally threw itself into the mouths of inhabitants) to
Russia's much more spiritual peasant paradise, Belovode, the "Kingdom of
White Waters." More intriguingly, it tracks some of the many very real
expeditions that set out over the years to locate these lands of dreams –

Review - CD: Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra: Theater of Evil

A Fortean at the Fringe Review

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra

Theater of Evil

Ok - the stuff you probably know - Amanda Palmer, former Dresden Doll, married to Neil Gaiman, first studio album in four years, crowd sourced from 25 000 people.  Interesting as all of that is - the big question is - what's the album like?

As a whole one thing that comes across is that this is an album screaming out to be performed live.  It's a grandiose mix of intimate songs and gut wrenching powerful attempts to break the piano!  The album was written over several years and this is seen in the range of songs both in terms of performance and subject matter.  One song - The Killing Type - had me beating out the rhythm as it went along at the first hearing.  I didn't want that song to end.  But it did.  But I didn't mourn The Killing Type for long.  Want it Back hit me with its familiarity from the first hearing - surely a glitch in the matrix!   If it is a case of a glitch then bring it on - I could listen to Want it Back all day, definitely a stand out in a brilliant album.

Review - Edinburgh Fringe: Ian D. Montfort - Unbelievable

Ian D. Montfort - Unbelievable

At Pleasance Courtyard 18.35 by Tom Binns / EdCom Productions

Ian D. Montfort is a medium.  But don't think Derek Acorah or any of those other mediums you see on the TV.  No, they only channel people you knew during your life.  And that's boring for the rest of us.  Montfort channels famous people, a veritable chat show for ghosts!  Who care if Auntie Ethel like what you've done to the house?  No, we want to hear that Elvis is looking after our departed pets.  That's where mediums should be taking us.  And that's exactly what Montfort does.

There were soem people waiting to go in saying they didn't want to see a mediuma nd why were they here once they glanced the poster above advertising the show.  Well glad you did your homework before buying a ticket.  But they need not have feared - this is unlike any other medium show you have ever seen.  Tom Binns in the personna of Ian D. Montfort is, as they say, comedy gold.  He has the mannerisms of several famous mediums down to a t and he has a wit to match.  There's audience participation for some with potential good natured embarassment for others.  Those who experienced that didn't seem to mind as they were finding it as funny as the rest of us.  Ian D. Montfort is not a medium, he's a comedium and his job as spokesperson for pseudoscience in the Science and Drama (think about it) department at Sunderland University couldn't be in better hands.  Bring back Most Haunted and have Montfort on!

Review - Edinburgh Fringe: Helen Keen: Robot Woman of Tomorrow

Helen Keen: Robot Woman of Tomorrow

At Pleasance Courtyard 15.30 by Avalon Promotions / Helen Keen

You may know Helen Keen from It is Rocket Science, various Radio 4 show's or even the Fortean Times UnConvention.  Two things you will know if you have encountered her before is that she is a geek and proud of it and also she is very, very funny.  Particularly if you are also a geek.  Which says something about me.

Just to give you an idea where Keen is coming from she was inspired by reading science fiction and by the following painting.

It's entitled Going to the Opera in the Year 2000 and was painted in 1882 by Albert Robida.  The flying cars we all knew would come in the 21st century but don't quite seem to have made it yet.  I can see how this painting can inspire.

So this show looks into the future.  Or at least how some people interepreted the future and  how some have genuinely brought it to life (as demonstrated by shadow puppets), and how some have subverteted it to their own ends.  Just seriously do not do a search for Roxxxy, let Keen tell you about her instead - it's less sad being told about it with a crowd of people around you than searching for it.  And who knows who might find the digital footprint you leave behind?  But back to the show, she's a geek, she's a Fortean, she's one of us, she's funny and she's well worth going to see.  See it now before you forget what the future could and indeed should have been.

Review - Edinburgh Fringe: Country Air - A Contemporary Ghost Story

Country Air - A Contemporary Ghost Story

At Paradise in The Vault 13.35, by Mere Anarchy

A new play by a new company and a new writer, all in the atmospheric cellar vaults of St Augustine's United Church.

The writer, Jack Goulder, acts as narrator too - initially emerging from below a sheet covering some furniture (don't worry it's not a ghost story with people running around with sheets over their head).  A quick prelude to let us know where we are - City banker, stressed with his job, wife with miscarriage, relocate to isolated house in Somerset to try to kickstart their lives.

So - a good setting for a  ghost story - and where do we go from there?  The young cast make a good job of the whole show and we are treated to some inoffensive postmodern breaking down of the fourth wall - removal men complaining they are poorly written and typecast as working class stereotypes, characters interacting with the narrator and so on. 

We have standard ghost story tropes - mysterious child glimpsed out of window, history constantly re-enacting itself as the events unfold and some great satire on middle class hypocrisy, mediocrity and desire for hummus. I won't say where the play ends up - I'll let you discover that for yourselves, I will say that there is one section that made the hairs on my arms stand up though!  Not a perfect play but a lot more enjoyable than some of the stuff on offer in the Fringe and a good start for this group.


Review - Edinburgh Fringe: Richard Wiseman: Psychobabble

Richard Wiseman: Psychobabble

At The Canons' Gait by Richard Wiseman / PBH’s Free Fringe 12.10 and 18.05, Wednesday's only

Richard Wiseman is a former professional magician and is now a professor in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of a number of books of a Fortean interest, most recently Rip it Up.

So we have - in a rather crowded basement bar - a mix of psychology, magic and good old Forteana.   The audience warmed to Richard instantly and were treated to an hour of laughter and insight.  They also learned one or two things which I guarantee a large proportion have since attempted themselves. 

I promise this is the only show on the whole Fringe that will teach you how to make a chicken out of a tea towel.  I kid you not. 

I don't want to list all of things that happen during the hour but you'll be amazed and amused in equal measure.  Richard's handling of an audience is excellent - if only all university professor's were like this! Catch it while you can, as they say.

Review - Edinburgh Fringe: My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver

My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver

At Gilded Balloon Teviot, 15.10, by Toby Hadoke - Festival Highlights

Toby Hadoke is a life long Dr Who fan.  If you needed convincing look at the picture above and check out his CV (writes for Dr Who Magazine, a previous Fringe show is Moths Ate My Dr Who Scarf and he chairs many of the audio commentaries on the Dr Who DVD releases).  So you might be expecting this to be a show about Dr Who.  And it is.  But it isn't.  There we are, that's a helpful and totally enlightening review.  But I may need to clairfy.

This show is a very personal journey for Toby about the estrangement from his father and then from his wife and how he is now remarried and how he is now a loving father to two sets of children.  And there's his psoriasis.  But as Dr Who is such a large part of his life (understatement) it's there all the time as well.  

Yes there are jokes that only Dr Who fans will get but there are plenty of funny moments for those who have never seen it, and for those who have a partner who is a fan they will realise they are not alone and all those funny little (i.e. frustrating) habits are the normal mode of behaviour of a Dr Who fan.  For those who are not too familiar with the perils of a Dr Who fan as a partner Toby admits to sending a text to a fomer girlfriend telling her that he liked her more than he liked The Seeds of Doom.  Praise indeed.

Review - Edinburgh Fringe: Morgan and West: Clockwork Miracles

Morgan and West: Clockwork Miracles

At Gilded Balloon Teviot, 16.30, by

Over the past few years Morgan and West have fast become enjoyable staples at the Edinburgh Fringe.  For those who don't know them they are a pair of deboniar, bewhiskered, time travelling magicians.

Mr Morgan

I've seen them several times over the years and their recent TV appearance on Penn and Teller's Fool Us has done them no harm - this is the biggest venue I've seen them play and it was a total sell out, and being the Gilded Balloon it wasn't one of those pokey, uncomfortable venues, good seating, good views and not like a Turkish sauna.

Mr West

They are magicans and they do use members of the audience so be careful where you sit.  But they are masters of misdirection - one effect I had seen them perform before and I still looked where they wanted me to at the crucial moment.  Damn.  We also have the first magic I have ever seen performed by a shadow puppet.  If you are an afficienado of magic then its true that you will have seen some of the effects before but quite frankly who cares - this time round they're wrapped in a bed of charm and inventiveness.  A must see and genuinely for all the family.

As well as this show the pair are appearing at the same venue in a midnight show called Morgan and West: Lying, Cheating Scoundrels.

Review - Edinburgh Fringe: The Good, The Bad and the Extraterrestrials

The Good, The Bad and the Extraterrestrials

At Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 14.45 and by

This show is part of the free fringe - what that means is that there are no tickets and when you leave if you have enjoyed the show you make a voluntary contribution.  After seeing this show I was more than happy to cough up.

The poster promised an interactive western / sci fi comedy - for some the phrase interactive may be a put off, but don't worry, in this show it's minimal.

So, what do we have - we do have a Western, we do have sci fi and we do have comedy.  The young actors company are all aged under 21 and are all full of enthusiasm.  And they're also all crammed into a very small room.  And there's a lot of them.  And then there's the audience too.  Pretty quickly the side room at the Espionage Club becomes full but over the course of the 45 minute long show it was never an issue.  I found myself totally involved with the show and ignoring any potential levels of discomfort.

All hail the Bezoar

Apparently the last Friday in April is national hairball day in America.  No me neither.

I have an ebay alert for bezoars and I recently received one pointing me to the following auction

And tucked in the middle of it is a piece cut and pasted from the internet

may feel that you know all you need to know about hairballs, but the
National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Washington, DC, unpacked what
curators described as the "myths and realities" of the objects in a
temporary exhibit this week, created in honor of National Hairball
Awareness Day. (The holiday fell on Monday, but I've been slow to
assimilate it into my calendar.)."

So I did a quick Google and sure enough - the last Friday in April.  I note it's not a national holiday which is a shame.  It actually has a serious purpose - the recognition and elimination of hair balls in cats.   But it got me thinking about bezoars - never a bad thing.    A bezoar is actually an indigestible mass found trapped (usually) in the stomach.  They can be made of different materials - one comprising of hair for example is a trychobezoar. 

Up until the end of the sixteenth century (and probably beyond to be honest) it was believed that a bezoar could be used to neutralise any poison - a universal antidote.  In 1567 or 1575 this was put to the test in a scientific manner (although you'd probably have trouble getting it past the ethics committee nowadays).   A French Royal Surgeon Ambroise Paré took advantage of the fact that a cook at the court of Charles IX or Henry III if the latter date is correct had been caught stealing silver cutlery. 


It was one of the most surreal - not to say tiring - couple of weeks of my life when I turned my cellar over to Team AFU, an

A small corner of my periodical shelving.

infamous  gang of marauding  Swedish archivists. To be fair, it was by arrangement and completely necessary... 

Over the years I have taken in a number valuable book and magazine collections - some orphaned by deceased owners, some no longer wanted and others from living Forteans donating to one of the our primary causes: the establishment of a national reference collection of printed Forteana. Since we have no funds with which to pay for a proper base - such as a weatherproof house where we could unpack, catalogue and shelve these books and magazines - my own home, which is blessed with a large cellar, was our only option for temporary storage.

However, this old house is more than a hundred years old and the cellar floor - made of compacted earth over which I had poured a thin layer of cement and levelling compound - could not stop the slow but steady seep of moisture from below. A dehumidifier running continuously down there extracted up to three litres of water a

Clipping files & boxes of books everywhere.

day ... not good news. It was a race to find a sound storage solution before the unique materials we were pledged to preserve were damaged by the encroaching damp. <!--break-->

Coming Soon - A Fortean at the Fringe

August in Edinburgh is what can only be described as a rather hectic time.  You can't shake a thylacine without hitting a festival!

For a number of years I have been covering material of a Fortean nature for the Fortean Times website.  This has mainly been from the Fringe Festival and the Book Festival.  After last years events had finished and everything had died down I copied the relevant reviews (and here, and here as well)over to this site and they seem to have gone down well.  And so, for the first time ever I shall now be putting the reviews up here first.

For those who don't know what this is all about the Fringe was established as an alternative to the Edinburgh Festival in 1947 and it has grown to what is now the world's largest arts festival.  This year there are 42 096 performances of of 2 695 shows in 279 venues.  814 of these shows are free.  In 2011 nearly 2 000 000 tickets were sold.  

Sale of Robin Hood's Grave

Recently, prestigious estate agents Strutt & Parker announced the sale of the historic Kirklees Estate, a seven-hundred-and-fifty acre property in West Yorkshire, for offers in excess of seven million pounds. In their brochure the property is described as “a unique agricultural, sporting and residential Estate with excellent opportunities for development” and there is extensive mention of its distinguished heritage, with the estate home to an Iron Age or Romano-British enclosure, the remains of a medieval nunnery and a number of Grade 1 Listed 16th Century buildings. However, rather less is made of what some might argue is the estate's most saleable asset: the scheduled ancient monument known as Robin Hood's Grave.

A narrow band of Green Belt land located between the Heavy Woolen District and the Calder Valley, with the M62 motorway scything across its western flank, Kirklees perhaps seems an incongruous place to boast the burial place of England's most legendary outlaw. However, the association between this area and Robin's death arguably predates more familiar aspects of the myth such as Sherwood Forest.

Phantom Black Dog in Denmark

The phantom black dog is a common folkloric motif and the most famous example is probably the black dog of Bungay.

The story took place in August 4th 1577  and it resulted in two people being killed in Bungay church where they were shelterting from a storm.  Damage was also done to the church, many were injured and the dog reappeared 12 miles away where it killed others.  This Suffolk based story is one of many from the UK and it is often said that the dog (Black Shuck as he is sometimes known) presages a death.

All very well and interesting but most black dog stories are old.  So imagine my delight when I received an email from Lars Munk Sørensen, telling of his own recent sighting.  I reproduce the email below:-

Fortean Careers - Out of Body Experiences

With the obvious exception of Ghostbuster, Cthulhu wrangler and exorcist there are very few jobs specifically in the Fortean world, more's the pity.  So how about this one for those suitably qualified?

Research Fellow in Cognitive Psychology / Neuroscience

Cortical Hyperexcitability and its Association with Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) in the Non-clinical Population

Working at the University of Birmingham this is a position for someone with a Phd in Psychology and an obvious interest in OBE's.

To quote the job advert:-


Full Time for 3 years.  Fixed term from 1st September 2012 - 31st August 2015

Starting salary is normally in the range £27,578 to £35,938.  With potential progression once in post to £38,140 a year.

A Research Fellowship is available in the School of Psychology,
University of Birmingham (UK), studying the role of cortical
hyperexcitability underlying susceptibility to visual hallucinations -
specifically out-of-body experiences in the non-clinical population. 
The project will involve taking psychophysiological measurements
(Electrodermal activity), will employ TDCS procedures of
brain-stimulation and is under the supervision of Dr Jason Braithwaite,
Lecturer, in the School of Psychology.  The project is funded by The
Leverhulme Trust.

I Talk to the Trees...

I've always been fascinated by the idea of plant sentience - whether it be in a fictional setting (such as in countless science fiction films and books) or in a claimed factual setting (e.g. Plant Response by Bose or The Secret Life of Plants by Tompkins and Bird).

As well as interests in Fortean studies I am also interested in the Biological side of things and have held a research fellowship at the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (specialising in fungi).  So one subject that combines these areas of my life is the above named possibility of plant sentience. One particular area that I've always wanted to have a try at is measuring the response to a stimulus by a plant but using a polygraph.  Knowing vaguely that polygraphs work on galvanic responses (amongst other things) I can see how changes in a plants reactions can trigger an observable reaction in a polygraph - for example a change in transpiration rate may be detectable.  But are these changes purely mechanical in nature or, as suggested in the above works, are they more exciting.  An example of this is the mareked level of stress supposedly shown by a plant when someone who harbours ill feelings towards it (e.g. they intend to pull off a leaf) walks into the room.

Plants don't have an observable nervous system but they do have hormonal communication within themselves - for example giberellic acid is used in the control of plant growth and through differential growth we can see a photo response to light - in other words due to hormonal response plants will grow towards the light.

An intersting article in the latest issue of New Scientist hints towards some hitherto unknown plant senses.   Specifically the ability of at least one plant species to potentially hear!  Without recongisable organs of hearing and without an obvious nervous system.

Fortean Property Portfolio - NOT for Sale

An unusual entry for the Fortean Property Portfolio - one that's not for sale!

The house is called Undershaw and it's a Grade II listed building and in 1977 it was listed as being of special architectural and historic interest because of its literary association. From 1897 to 1907 this was the home of Arthur Conan Doyle, he moved to nearby Crowborough shortly after the 1906 death of his first wife but he did not sell Undershaw until 1921.

Located near Haselmere in Surrey it eventually became a hotel until 2005 - from which point it has lain empty.  The current owners were granted permission to redevelop the property in 2010 - their plan was to split it up into flats - at least in all fairness they didn't ask to demolish it!

John Gibson set up the Undershaw Preservation Trust to fight the plans and now he has won - admittedly on a technicality in that there were legal flaws in the application to turn the house into eight separate dwellings.

John Gibson is reported in The Guardian as saying "This is a place which is steeped in history and should be treated with reverence. Conan Doyle's life and works are a fundamental part of British culture and arguably their stock has never been higher. We have been absolutely delighted to see enthusiasts from across the world get in touch and pledge their support to our efforts.  We are very hopeful that this decision will signal a sea change in attitude towards this historic property and that it will lead to it being rightly preserved as a single building – hopefully as a museum or centre where future generations can be inspired by the many stories which have been created within its walls".

ABC Spells Otter...

Over several years there have been numerous reports of a giant large black cat in the Moray area of North East Scotland. This non native species is referred to as an alien big cat, or ABC. For example STV – the
Scottish independent television channel - has reported on sightings in Forres, Lossiemouth, Lhanbryde, Aberlour, Dufftown, Duffus and Elgin.

The sightings include a large black cat seen from 200 yards away with footprints found in the spot afterwards, a sighting from a primary school which was subsequently investigated by the police and a number of large paw prints found by members of the Big Cats in Britain Group.


And now in mid May the news services are full of reports of a walker finding the body of a big cat in the area. John Robertson found the remains at Cullen and fortunately he had a camera with him. Robertson had been walking with his wife when he came across the remains which he described as "a seriously big cat ... at least twice the size of a large domestic cat ... with a tail about 18 inches long". The Big Cats in Britain group felt it was too small to be a proper ABC but it could be a cub. And when we look at the photographs the first does look cat like.

Until we look at the whole body.

The whole picture shows an animal that looks to all the world like an otter.

Fortean Property Portfolio - for free!

I've posted many entries under the heading of Fortean Property Portfolio but I appreciate some of them have been a little on the expensive side.  So here is one that everyone can afford because it's free!  I got the information for this from our good friend at Cryptomundo, Loren Coleman, and his original blog post on it can be found here.

The house in questionis being offered by the Fayetteville Freethinkers and is in Fayettevile, Arkansas.  In an affidavit they set out the conditions and the fact that the house will be in a liveable condition.

Basically to get the prize you have to present them with a Bigfoot- living or dead.

Now they are presumably doing this for a bit of publicity and a laugh, but how awesome woudl it be if soemone succesfully claimed on the prize!  Get hunting folks.



Fortean Events Reminder

Just a reminder to folks that we have the Fortean Events section which can be seen at the top of the page.

Any groups or individuals who have talks or meetings which may be of interest to readers of these blog pages are more than welcome to publicise them for free here, just email me the details and I'll put them up for you.

Thanks and the more info the Fortean Events has the more useful it will be - get sending!

The Monster of Glamis

Glamis Castle

“If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret,”
said Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore, “you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.”

That awful secret was once the talk of Europe. From perhaps the 1840s until 1905, the Earl’s ancestral seat at Glamis Castle, in the Scottish
lowlands, was home to a “mystery of mysteries”—an enigma that involved a
hidden room, a secret passage, solemn initiations, scandal, and shadowy
figures glimpsed by night on castle battlements.

The conundrum engaged two generations of high society until, soon after
1900, the secret itself was lost. One version of the story holds that it
was so terrible that the 13th Earl’s heir flatly refused to have it
revealed to him. Yet the mystery of Glamis (pronounced “Glarms”)
remains, kept alive by its association with royalty (the heir was
grandfather to Elizabeth II) and by the fact that at least some members
of the Bowes-Lyon family insisted it was real.

This celebrated historical mystery seems to be largely forgotten now, but as
late as the 1970s it was chilling new generations as a staple of
numerous ghost books. Come to think of it, paperback compilations of old
ghost stories seem to have gone the way of the dodo as well, but those
crumbly Armada books used to frighten me when I was young. Anyway, you
can read the unexpurgated story over at Past Imperfect.

A Fortean at the Fringe part 3 2011

The third and final part of my 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Review


The Dead

Young Actors Company

Laughing Horse @ Jekyll and Hyde

Crowded into the back of a pub and we're almost sitting on top of each other and just to add to matters there are zombies wandering around. Eventually the zombies all shuffle off to the front of the stage area and the show starts. And we're back to 1953 Whitby. Our heroes are travelling in their car to meet with friends for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. All well and good but something goes horribly wrong. Namely the zombie apocalypse arrives. The show is a witty look at how some normal people cope (or not) and how they interact with other survivors. It's full of energy (even from the zombies) and it proceeds at a cracking rate and if you're into zombies its guaranteed to entertain. But there is a slight warning to go with the show.
You may end up taking more back with you than you intended. I was bitten by a zombie. I'm now just waiting for the invertible...



Chris French - Meaning and Randomness: Seeing What Isn't There

Skeptics at the Fringe of Reason, The Banshee Labyrinth

A Fortean at the Fringe part 2 2011

A Fortean at the Fringe II


Richard Wiseman Unbound

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Fringe Festival is not the only one taking place in Edinburgh a the moment, there is also the Festival itself and then there is the Edinburgh International Book Festival. These later two events differ from the Fringe in that events here are one off rather than a series of performances. This particular event was indeed a one off. In 2010 the Book Festival experimented with a series of free events (always a good thing) featuring one author for two hours. The particular one I found myself at was that of psychologist and skeptic Richard Wiseman.
Wiseman has a new book out which is a must read for all Forteans - Paranormality. You may disagree with some of the conclusions but the journey is worth it. This particular show however was not specifically about the book, it was more in the nature of an autobiographical journey showing how various aspects of Wiseman's life impinge on his views on the paranormal. Starting off as a magician he became interested in optical illusions, studied psychology at London, Phd at Edinburgh and ultimately professor of the public understanding of psychology at Hertfordshire University. So we were treated to a few magic tricks and descriptions of experiments through the course of a very enjoyable evening. An entertaining speaker.


Edinburgh Secret Society

A Fortean At the Fringe Part 1 2011

A Fortean at the Fringe

For a number of years I have been reviewing vaguely Fortean shows for Fortean Times at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  The reviews have been up at the Fortean Times website so here's a chance to see them at this website as well, here is the first instalment from the 2011 Fringe.

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: The End is Nigh

After Dark Entertainment

At Zoo Southside

This is the third time visit to the Edinburgh Fringe for How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.
A one hour interactive seminar training the audience to survive the oncoming Zombie Apocalypse. As the publicity says this is the last time this show will be at Edinburgh. But it's also the third time here. Can there be anything new to teach us about how to survive? The answer is yes. Each version of the show has been different and each thoroughly watchable and entertaining.












Dr Dale Seslick leads us through scenarios on which the audience vote - get the answer right and you survive, get it wrong and you're worm food. But like all good zombie movies its a team effort so ultimately each nights audience is in competition not with themselves but with other audiences - the scores are placed online and the night I was there, well lets just say compared to others we're doing well.

The mystery of the five wounds

Padre Pio

On September 14, 1224, a Saturday, Francis of Assisi—noted ascetic and holy man, future saint—was preparing to enter the second month of a retreat with a few close companions on Monte La Verna, overlooking the River Arno in Tuscany. Francis had spent the previous few weeks in prolonged contemplation of the suffering Jesus Christ on the cross, and he may well have been weak from protracted fasting. As he knelt to pray in the first light of dawn (notes the Fioretti—the ‘Little flowers of St Francis of Assisi,’ a collection of legends and stories about the saint),

UnConvention 2011



Most of you will be aware that the 12th and 13th of November are the dates of the Fortean Times UnConvention in London.   It's a full weekend of interesting talks and there are some tickets left - it's likely there will be some on the door as well but they will be more expensive.   So you still have time to buy.  But if you can't make it I'll be taking photographs and they'll be appearing here in due course.   More tech savvy Stew Smith will also be offering live tweets so you need to folllow @CharlesHoyFort and he's using the hashtag #ftuncon

Whether you're there or not have a good weekend.

The wizard of Mauritius

Port Louis, Mauritius, in the first half of the nineteenth century

1782, an unknown French engineer offered his government an invention
better than radar: the ability to detect ships at distances of up to 700
miles. There were many who said that his ideas worked. But was Étienne
Bottineau a genius, a fantasist or a fraud?

Inside the Great Pyramid

Great Pyramid

No structure in the world is more mysterious than the Great Pyramid. But who first broke into its well-guarded interior, and when? And what did they find there?

A reinvestigation of a neglected mystery. Old Arab accounts say that it was the Caliph Ma’mun who first broke into the Great Pyramid in 820 AD – driving a new tunnel into the north face of the monument and, by an astounding coincidence, striking the interior network of passages at precisely the point where the hidden upper network of tunnels leading to the King’s Chamber branches off from the main descending passage.

How credible is this story? Why has every writer on the pyramids since the mid-nineteenth century misdated Ma’mun’s visit to Giza by more than a decade? And what exactly is the lost source for some of the most remarkable of the details given in traditional accounts?

Fresh research in medieval Muslim chronicles provides at least some of the answers… and you can read the full story here.


As I put together the Fortean Times obituary for William Corliss [1], it provided much food for thought: on comparisons between him and Fort, on his Sourcebook ‘mission' and his method, and on what lessons they may hold for today's Fortean researchers.

William Corliss in his study, 1993

On his ‘bizarre history' blog, ‘Dr Beachcombing' - who called Corliss "the world's greatest living anomalist" - made direct comparisons with Charles Fort. "It is not so much the similarities between the two men as the differences that matter. Fort was a visionary and, despite his denials, knew it. Corliss had a sense of humour that only the non-committed can enjoy. Fort took reports wherever he would find them. Corliss tended to restrict his searches to academically accredited works. Fort was on the soft end of the humanities with prose to match, Corliss was a scientist with remarkable range and a usefully bland style. Fort was a one man Punch and Judy show who published five books and attracted disciples: ‘Forteans swarmed to him like settlers, he became a land'. [2] Corliss created a system of anomaly collection that transcended him and that will hopefully survive his death. It would be absurd to talk of Corlissians." [3]

xxx Syndicate content