Of giant eels

Bridge at Ballynahinch Castle

The thing about lake monsters, I think it's generally agreed, is that they really ought to be seen a lot more often than they are. Take even a reasonably substantial body of water, one the size of Loch Ness, for instance, add a self-sustaining monster population (25 animals? 40? Nobody really knows, but it'd have to be a decent number), and the brain begins to boggle slightly at the sheer implausibility of all those creatures paddling about the centre of the Highlands, within a few yards of a major road, and yet being spotted and reported perhaps three times a year.

The real problem, of course, is that virtually all of the usual suspects – the plesiosaurs and long-necked seals and, god help us, giant prehistoric whales (if there's one LM candidate that combines the worst aspects of every conceivable theory in one utterly unlikely package, the zeuglodon is it) – are air-breathers. And you don't have to spend too long at Loch Ness, just 22 miles long and only one mile wide, to realise how preposterous the idea of air-breathing lake monsters is. Seals, which do get into the loch occasionally, are quite regularly spotted and identified, so there's simply no reason to suppose larger animals would go unnoticed. That's why I long ago converted to the idea that the solution to this mystery more likely lay in the realms of witness perception, human psychology and cultural expectation than it did in cryptozoology. But, even so, I still suspect that one type of animal does play a central role in some lake monster sightings: fish.

The Veil of Veronica

Ok it's Easter. I have a Cabinet of Curiosities and one of my prized items in it is a Veil of Veronica.
Those two things together seem like a good enough reason to talk about the Veil.

For those who don't know the Veil of Veronica is supposedly a piece of cloth that was used to wipe the
face of Jesus on his way to his crucifixion. The piece of cloth was then imprinted with the likeness of Jesus. This would make it a first class relic (in the absence of a body of Jesus anything relating to the Passion is a first class relic). The Veronica (as it is commonly known) is an example of acheiropoieta – an image not made by human hand. The Veronica is also know as the Sudarim and the word Veronica can be translated as "true image".

The tale of the imprinting is not in the Biblical Gospel stories but it is represented on the 6th of the
Stations of the Cross. The Veronica is said to be able to cure thirst, blindness and death.


Mike Dash has, in these blogs, extolled the joys of historical research. I concur and share with you a little adventure I had recently while processing images of some 18th century woodcuts for inclusion in my picture library. [1] 

Witch ducking - chapbook frontispiece.

I was particularly puzzled about this one (pictured right). According to John Ashton's Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century (1882), the full title it illustrates is quite a mouthful: A Strange and Wonderful Relation of the Old Woman who was drowned at Ratcliffe Highway a Fortnight Ago, to which is added The Old Woman's Dream, a Little after her Death. Contemporary illustrations of ‘witch ducking' or ‘swimming' are rare and I wanted to know more about this event, where and when it took place and the identity of the Old Woman (if the victim was indeed she).

Nova Scotia's Phantom of Parker Road

The Parker Road Phantom makes a brief appearance in Steve Vernon's Maritime Monsters. Illustration by Jeff Solway.

Beginning of April, 1969, the little town of Berwick, Nova Scotia, was plagued by a series of sightings of a weird entity. It was variously described as 18 feet tall and a 'tall, very dark form', that ran around the area with an estimated speed of 'about twenty miles per hour'.  

Ever since having read about the sightings of a mysterious giant creature said to have roamed the environs of Berwick in John Keel's 'Strange Creatures From Time And Space', this became one of those puzzling accounts that I periodically returned to, trying to get some answers. Even today, the Phantom of Parker Road is remembered locally, now in the form of "a man about 7 feet tall. He wore a trenchcoat with a wide brimmed hat. No one ever saw his face long enough to describe him. They only saw him at night and the hat was always pulled down to hide his face. Sometimes he would ring the doorbells, knock on doors to get their attention. As soon as they saw him, he seemed to dissappear into thin air. People were scared because they couldn't catch him, but he never hurt anyone."

Pocketbook edition of John keel's Strange Creatures From Time And Space. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

Wonderful, terrific and eccentric magazines

The Wonderful Magazine frontispieceI love history and I love research: always have done, to a degree other people find – well, let's just say 'unusual'. To give you an idea of what I mean, let me take you back to the summer of 1982, and the last term of my first year at university. Now, first years at most Cambridge colleges sit their Prelims in that term – that's preliminary exams, the sort that don't count towards your degree but do count when it comes to ruining one's summer. By sheer dumb luck, however, I had gone up to Peterhouse, the oldest and most eccentric of colleges, and Peterhouse scorned Prelims. This meant that I spent the eight weeks of that term bombarding my bemused supervisor with 5,000 word essays and still had a lot of spare time on my hands; most of my friends, the ones at other colleges, were feverishly revising, and there wasn't a great deal going on. My fellow Petreans took advantage of this freedom to do a lot of drinking, punting, and garden partying, but even aged 19, I have to admit, my idea of a good time was more to head to the University Library and read.

I wasn't quite swot enough, in truth, to spend the time reading stuff that might have helped me academically. What I actually did was to retreat to the dusty pastures of North Front 6, where it was always cool and dark and the smell of ancient books was overpowering. Nobody ever seemed to go North Front 6, which had tiny windows and no natural light, and was, and probably still is, a sort of elephants' graveyard where old, moribund and essentially useless periodicals went to die. It was paradise for me, though, and it was up there, that term, that I first chanced upon a run of one of the magazines that I want to talk about today.

You what?

A 13 inch Torah scroll yesterday

A few months ago, I created a spin-off from this blog, featuring only the better-researched posts, for various arcane reasons that I won't trouble you with here. [Clue: they're not unconnected with's determination to rope in authors in its relentless trudge towards world domination.]

One unexpected spin-off of this decision is that I suddenly find myself with access to the wide variety of search terms visitors are using to stumble across my stuff. This is actually a little disconcerting, in part because it can be a bit of a stretch to work out how some of the wackier ones actually drive people to my work, but mainly because it's something of an eye-opener to see the sort of off-the-wall searches that are going on out there.

I can only hope the people searching hopefully for the following nuggets of information weren't too disapointed with what they actually found. I would imagine, however, that they were. Especially the guy (and you just know it's a guy) with a thing for giant prehistoric crocodiles.

• how to get superhuman strength naturally

• erotic executions by electric chair

• extremely crucified female slaves

• making miniature coffins

• giant penis of prehistoric crocodile

• birth defects of the earls of strathmore

• fortean trench warfare decapitations

• mystery heavenly body discovered washing

• 1900s casket shaped devices

• the devil is the father of deviation

• a medieval coffin like device one is put in

• ottersleben wind speed

Natives of the Red Dragon

Red dragonToday is St David's Day, the national day of Wales, and it seems an appropriate moment to post what remains my very favourite story among all the thousands of strange tales that have featured in Fortean Times over the years. That is a large claim – the complete set of FT must run to several million words by now – but even after all these years I still find what follows so surreal and so magical, in its combination of the gentle, the mundane and the extraordinary, that for me each reading is like immersing myself in a warm bath. All right, it's pretty hard to credit that it's literally 'true'; it helps that it's a Welsh story, and that I'm a proud Welshman – and that the tale remains all but unknown; the account first appeared in print in 1928, and so far as I can tell has never made it onto the Internet. The Fortean Times version of the story is by Paul Sieveking, and it was published in FT48:32 (Spring 1987). The names of the characters involved are so common that it would be extremely difficult to check if they were actually real or not; Radnor Forest, though, is real – and is, according to local legend, the place where the last Welsh dragon still lies sleeping (Daniel Parry-Jones, A Country Parson. London: Batsford, 1975). The strange stamps you're about to read of apparently did exist. No other comment is possible – but then perhaps none is necessary. The best thing to do is simply to sit back and enjoy.

Natives of the Red Dragon

The strange tale of the Warsaw basilisk

BasiliskFew creatures have struck more terror into more hearts for longer than the basilisk: a crested snake, hatched from a cock's egg, that was widely believed to wither landscapes with its breath and kill with a glare. The example at right comes from a German bestiary, but the earliest description that we have was given by Pliny the Elder, who described the basilisk in his pioneering Natural History (79AD) – the 37 volumes of which he completed shortly before being suffocated by the sulphurous fumes of Vesuvius while investigating the eruption that consumed Pompeii. According to the Roman savant, it was a small animal, "not more than 12 fingers in length," but astoundingly deadly nonetheless. "He does not impel his body, like other serpents, by a multiplied flexion," Pliny wrote, "but advances loftily and upright" – a description that accords with the popular notion that the basilisk is the king of serpents – and "kills the shrubs, not only by contact, but by breathing on them, and splits rocks, such power of evil is there in him." The basilisk was native to Libya, it was said, and the Romans believed that the Sahara had been fertile land until an infestation of basilisks turned it into a desert.

Ghost Girl at Haunted Castle is really a witch

On the 15th of Feb UK Tabloid newspaper The Sun published the following story

A quick precis is that Company boss Kevin Horkin took the photo at Gwrych Castle in Abergele, North
Wales, but only saw the ghostly figure when he downloaded his pictures later.

And today in a follow up story

they ask if the ghost is in fact Winifred, Countess of Dundonald.

Spring-heeled Jack and the terrified child

Spring-heeled Jack

Spring-heeled Jack cut such a fearsome figure in his prime that it is no surprise that he has been blamed, over the years, for causing a number of fatalities. On at least one occasion he is supposed to have actually murdered his victim, but in most cases he is said to have polished them off using that old bogeyman's stand-by, the ability to frighten an unfortunate witness to death.

The most notorious of Jack's killings, of course, is his alleged murder of a 13-year-old London prostitute named Maria Davis. She is said, by a good number of secondary sources, to have been flung into the foetid waters of Folly Ditch, in Jacob's Island, in November 1845 and left there to drown. The Davis killing is, however, a fake; it was first mentioned by the notoriously unreliable Peter Haining in his The Legend and Bizarre Crimes of Spring-heeled Jack, pp.84-5, and an examination of the surviving London coroner's records and death certificates shows that no such incident ever occurred.

The horrible history of the Ostrich Inn

Ostrich Inn, ColnbrookThe new issue of Fortean Times contains an interesting essay on haunted inns by Alan Murdie which discusses, among several gory stories, the supposedly spook-infested Ostrich Inn in Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire – where ‘a past landlord named Jarman is supposed to have murdered up to 60 guests on the premises, in either the 16th or 18th century’ [FT259:17]. The pub's unusual name rang a bell, and after a short hunt I turned up a story about the same place that I clipped from the Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1989:

In the shadow of one of London’s ghastliest locations, one of England’s oldest pubs is on the market – together with a ghastly history.

The Ostrich Inn, a Grade II listed freehouse near Heathrow Airport, is said to date back to 1106 and was the scene of 60 grisly murders committed by 12th century landlord John Jarman and his wife.

After inviting wealthy travellers to sleep on a specially-made hinged bed, Jarman would say to his wife, "There is now a fat pig to be had if you want one." She would answer: "I pray you put him in the hogsty till tomorrow." The victim would then fall through a trapdoor into a vat of boiling water.

Will the real Hand of Glory please stand up?

Whitby Museum have one, Walsall Museum do and so do I and that’s about it as far as I know.  Does anyone else have one?  And is there any conclusive proof that they were actually used as described?
For those who don’t know a hand of glory is the hand of an executed criminal which has been turned into a candle.  When the candle is placed in a house all the occupants will remain asleep whilst the candle burns.  Cue the burglars who come in and make away with everything.  At least that’s one version of the story – variants include it petrifies whoever it is handed to and it has the power to open all locked doors.
Supposedly the use of the Hand of Glory dates from 1440 although the name does not crop up until the 18th century where it appears to have been borrowed from an old description of Mandragora root.  If you’ve not been to Whitby, Walsall or my house you may not have seen one – possibly the easiest one to see is in the good version of the film The Wicker Man – that’s the one with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee just in case there is any doubt.
Lets have a look at these three Hands of Glory.  The Walsall one is unusual in that it is actually an entire arm.  

Bottomless lakes and the world-ocean

Bodensee (Lake Constance)

My recent post on the folklore of 'bottomless lakes' such as the Bodensee (Lake Constance – above) brought an extremely interesting email from an old friend, the Dutch historian Dr Henk Looijesteijn. The Dutch being a people whose history is inextricably bound up with water – both as a trading nation and a country literally built on land reclaimed from the sea – Henk's own research has often put him in contact with local folklore, and his comments are pretty revealing. They strike me as well worth posting here.

'Your blog on bottomless lakes brought something to memory,' Henk writes,

'The lake that has no bottom...'

Loch nam Breac Dearga

Loch nam Breac Dearga really isn't much to look at: a puddle on the western slopes of Meal Fuar-mhonaidh (2,284 ft/696m) in the Highlands of Scotland. Yet once upon a time the little mountain lochan (above) possessed a fearsome reputation. Sir John Murray, the great oceanographer who devoted more than a decade of his life to a comprehensive survey of Scottish lakes, was told that "this loch was locally reputed to be of great depth, or even supposed to be bottomless."

Aliens built Woolworths...

Many of us are aware of the subject and theories of Sacred Geometry, ley lines etc and hot on the heels of a new book on the subject (Prehistoric Geometry in Britain: The Discoveries of Tom Brooks) comes startling research from Matt Parker.

Parker, of my alma mater Queen Mary College, University of London, decided to apply the techniques used by Brooks.  As the title of this piece suggests he applied them to the ancient and mystical locations of Woolworths.

“We know so little about the ancient Woolworth stores, but we do still know their locations” explains Parker, “so I thought that if we analysed the sites we could learn more about what life was like in 2008 and how these people went about buying cheap kitchen accessories and discount CDs.”

And aligning to an accuaracy of 0.05% (between 30 and 40 feet off) Parker was able to discern several stores lining up to produce equilateral traingleswith other stores present on lines continued from the triangles.  For 173.8 miles.  Further work yielded more triangles and points of intersection.

Parker concluded that “these incredibly precise geometric patterns mean that the people who founded the Woolworths Empire must have used these store locations as a form of ‘landmark satnav’ to help hunters find their nearest source of cheap sweets that can be purchased in whatever mix they chose to pick".

Rosa Lotti's CEIIIK: a pictorial predecessor

Usually I refrain myself from posting preliminary and still unformed thoughts on various fortean subjects. Most of the times, I make a mental note and promise myself that one day, given enough time and resources, here's a fascinating research subject to try and dive to the bottom of. One of those cases that for years remained buried deep but that has never quite gone away, was Rosa Lotti's CEIIIK.

Emily Brontë: a fantasy-prone personality

Emily Bronte: a fantasy prone personalityMore than a quarter of a century has passed since a couple of psychologists named Theodore X. Barber and Sheryl Wilson first published their important study into the central role that a percipient's fantasy life plays in the nature, frequency and detail of the paranormal claims they make. According to this theory, 'fantasy-proneness' (the term Barber and Wilson coined to describe such imagination-driven experiences) directly correlates with – and to a large extent explains – a wide variety of unusual and psychical experiences, including the propensity to see ghosts, hear voices, and undergo close encounters with UFOs and entities of various exotic varieties.

The critical point, according to Barber and Wilson, is that the 'fantasy-prone personalities' they identified were liable to blur the divide between imagination and reality, allowing the former to intrude into the latter in ways that made their imaginary experiences seem quite real. The pair went on to list a total of 14 indicators of fantasy-proneness, and suggested that individuals who experience six or more of these could be labelled "fantasy-prone". These 14 indicators are:

The miniature coffins found on Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat Coffins

It may have been Charles Fort, in one of his more memorable passages, who described the strange discovery best:

London Times, July 20, 1836:

That, early in July, 1836, some boys were searching for rabbits' burrows in the rocky formation, near Edinburgh, known as Arthur's Seat. In the side of a cliff, they came upon some thin sheets of slate, which they pulled out.

Little cave.

Seventeen tiny coffins.

Three or four inches long.

In the coffins were miniature wooden figures. They were dressed differently in both style and material. There were two tiers of eight coffins each, and a third one begun, with one coffin. 

The extraordinary datum, which has especially made mystery here:

That the coffins had been deposited singly, in the little cave, and at intervals of many years. In the first tier, the coffins were quite decayed, and the wrappings had moldered away. In the second tier,  the effects of age had not advanced to far. And the top coffin was quite recent looking.

[Fort, Complete Books p.169]

If you saw me you would be petrified

 Lethbridge Herald, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, 18 December 1936.

One of the most unsettling tales in the dark corners of Fortean cryptozoology is that of Gef, the talking mongoose. Before such cryptozoological icons as Mothman and Bigfoot, the Dover Demon and the Lizardman, the Beast of Bray Road and even the venerable Monster Of Loch Ness, this little (we may assume that it was not that big) critter held sway and fascinated our ancestors. News about the mysterious creature also reached Canada as the image above demonstrates, and the United States, where several newspapers observed with a curiosity mixed with just that slight dose of jealousy that strange spell that the talking mongoose cast on the British Isles. After all, hadn’t they been publishing the most far fetched and weird tales in abundance for decades? We can, though, now reconstruct part of the spectrum of reporting in the American newspapers. So what did they write? The Indiana Evening Gazette, a newspaper published in Indiana, Pennsylvania, took its hat off in its 3 December 1936 edition and noted with a certain admiration for the outlandishness of the tale:

A Bow To Britain.

Frank Searle's lost second book

Frank Searle Nessie: Seven Years in Search of the MonsterI've only been firebombed the once, and to be honest it wasn't as dramatic as it sounds. Mostly because the firebomber was astoundingly incompetent, but also because I was three miles away at the time.

An intro of this sort requires some explanation. Here it is: for years during the 1980s, while I was at university, I spent several weeks each summer working as a watch leader with the Loch Ness and Morar Project. Although set up to search for the lake monsters said to dwell in Scotland's two deepest lochs, the LNMP gradually transformed itself into a biological survey, more interested in studying the limnology of Loch Ness than it was in actively hunting for its supposed monsters. The Project's leader, Adrian Shine – a self-taught naturalist and FRGS – often popped up in the media, where he talked a lot of sense. As such, he swiftly earned the enmity of the other major monster-hunter in the field at the time: Frank Searle, a former greengrocer and one-time soldier who had been at the loch since 1969 and was notorious, then as now, for producing large numbers of dubious photographs.

Paranormal Edinburgh

I've lived in Edinburgh for something like 15 years now and it truly is a beautiful and amazing city.  My most recent book, Paranormal Edinburgh, looks at the Fortean side of Edinburgh.  Here is one of my favourite stories from the book.

Baron Von Forstner and the U28 sea serpent of July 1915

U28 sea serpent reported by Baron Von Forstner. torpedoing of SS Iberian, 31 July 1915. Original image from Begegnungen Mit Seeungeheuren - Encounters With Sea Monsters - by Gould and Von Forstner. Leipzig: Grethlein & Co., 1935.

This much is beyond dispute: that on the afternoon of 31 July 1915, in the first year of the First World War, the British steamer Iberian was shelled, torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland by the German submarine U28. This much is disputed: that when the Iberian went down, there was a large underwater disturbance – caused, it is supposed, by her boilers imploding. Quantities of wreckage were hurled into the air, and there, amid the debris, six members of the U-boat's crew beheld "a gigantic sea-animal, writhing and struggling wildly", which "shot out of the water to a height of 60 to 100 feet." [Source: Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake of the Sea Serpents (London: Rupert Hart Davis, 1968) p.395]

This sea-monster yarn first saw light nearly 20 years later, in the autumn of 1933, at a time when the Loch Ness Monster was much in the news. It was told by the U-boat's skipper, Georg-Günther Freiherr (Baron) von Forstner (1882-1940), an old U-boat hand who had formerly commanded SMS U1, and who wrote an article about Loch Ness for a German paper that dragged in his own sighting. According to Von Forstner, the creature had also been seen by five other members of the submarine's crew, all standing in the conning tower. It "had a long, tapering head and a long body with two pairs of legs. Its length may have been some 20 metres [roughly 65 feet]. In shape, it was more like a crocodile than anything else." [Source: Deutschen Algemeine Zeitung, 19 October 1933]

the mystery of the cut-off human ears solved

I admit that, after my last post, my thoughts involuntarily drifted back to that strange account of the parcel containing freshly cut-off human ears. What frightening serial ear collector or worse was stalking the city of Lodz and its environs? What actually do I know about such an arcane subject as pre-world war II Polish urban terrors, night stalkers, mystery prowlers and serial killers? Not much. Searching for clues on the internet yielded nothing in terms of weird crime in that country and that time period remotely resembling the account published earlier. 

I briefly read up on some modern day Polish serial killers with terrible sounding names (as if they had stepped out of a Penny Dreadful) as 'the Vampire of Bytów', the 'Zaglebie Vampire' or the 'Gentleman Killer'. But on my mysterious ear collector, nothing.

Digging for other accounts of the event and possible follow-ups in an American digital newspaper archive, I located a brief follow-up published in several newspapers, that I reproduce here solve the mystery. I reproduce them all here, since there are some subtle differences in the accounts. Most astonishing of all is that the 26 human ears had become 52 human ears - possibly an error in translation.

Looking at the BVM can make you go blind...

An intersting report surfaces via the Irish Times.  Recent supposed appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) have been following the pattern made famous at Fatima - namely word gets around, lots of people turn up and then they claim to see the sun dancing around in the sky.  October the 31st saw 10 000 people attending and an earlier appearance on the 11th of October also saw large numbers.  At both gatherings people claimed to see the sun shimmering, changing colour and dancing in the sky.

Joe Coleman, described as a local visionary, has predicted that the BVM will put in another appearance this Saturday - the 5th of December.  Police have previously asked people to keep away and perhaps some of the locals feel the same way too - as a precaution the pubs are closed and Knock becomes dry.

So what is the problem?  Well people are quite naturally looking at the sun attempting to get their own view of a miracle.  Some are then presenting themselves to University Hospital Galloway with vision problems.  Dr Eamonn O'Donoghue, consultant opthalmologist reports that they have witnessed five recent cases of solar retinopathy (damage to the retina from prolonged exposure to the sun - i.e. from staring at it).  This might not seem like a tidal wave of vision problems but the hospital would normally be suprised if they were presented with one case per year. 

From the Irish Times

“These people came in because they have had a significant reduction
in their vision and they could very well be a smaller representative
sample,” Dr O’Donoghue said, adding that two of those who had presented
to the hospital had also reported that other members of their families
had suffered visual damage.

26 human ears - cut off


Scanning old newspapers, one comes across some very odd things. One of these is accounts of the discoveries of uncanny amounts of human parts. Suitcases overflowing with human hair. Collections of skulls found in trunks. But the gruesome one below I had not encountered before.  

The clipping stems from a German online archive and was originally published in the Illustrierter Sonntag, from the city of Augsburg, Germany, dated 7 June 1930. Searching for all kinds of Fortean weirdness in the German digitised newspapers and magazines is a very difficult task. Where in place, the search engine capabilities of these digitised archives are very rudimentary. So you need a lot of patience to find anything. 

But then there's this item that I found after many hours of ploughing away on my antiquated computer. "26 Cut-Off Human Ears", is the brief headline. My translation of this strange and horrible item follows:

"The police of Lodz stand before a mysterious event, previously unrecorded in the police chronicles. From a train travelling from Starzhsto to Warschau, in the vicinity of Tomaszow, a parcel was thrown, wrapped in newspapers. A railroad employee opened the parcel and to his dismay saw in it 13 pairs of human ears still bleeding. The blood was still remarkably fresh. Extensive investigations notwithstanding, it could not be established whether a horrible act of murder was involved or an alltogether equally weird act of theft from an anatomical institute. As of yet requests sent to various anatomical institutes have not been answered. Sofar the search for the perpetrator has also been without success."


Doubly Damned: Dorothy's Disappearance


During the course of the publications of his Book of the Damned, Lo!, Wild Talents and New Lands, Fort wrote and received many letters. These letters became scattered after his death in 1932. Fortean researcher Mr. X managed to locate several collections of Fort's letters, and today we can find a number of these transcribed on his website.

Fort made efforts to probe deeper into some reported odd events by writing letters to newspapers or principle witnesses. As the result of this, Fort concluded that often these witnesses did not exist: "I have had an extensive, though one-sided, correspondence, with people who may not be, about things that probably aren't."

Who did exist, but would vanish completely off the earth, was Dorothy Arnold. Fort wrote in his Lo!: "Upon Dec. 12th, 1910, a handsome, healthy girl disappeared somewhere in New York City. The only known man in her affairs lived in Italy. It looks as if she had no intention of disappearing: she was arranging for a party, a tea, whatever those things are, for about sixty of her former schoolmates, to be held upon the 17th of the month. When last seen, in Fifth Avenue, she said that she intended to walk through Central Park, on her way to her home, near the 79th Street entrance of the park. It may be that somewhere in the eastern part of the park, between 59th Street and the 79th Street entrances, she disappeared. No more is known of Dorothy Arnold."

Fat-stealing entities of Peru

Bottles of human fat recovered by Peruvian police in the Pistachos murder caseA deeply strange serial murder case from Peru – involving the apparent butchering of 60 or more people in the mountainous Huánuco region so that their bodies could be rendered for their fat – rang a distant bell when I turned to it this morning. According to the BBC, the gang of killers (four of whom were caught in possession of bottles of the stuff [right], and who were allegedly realising $15,000 per litre for it from a cabal of European cosmetics manufacturers) have been nicknamed 'The Pistachos' "after an ancient Peruvian legend of killers who attack people on lonely roads and murder them for their fat."

Adventures in time #1: a Scottish spinster at the Battle of Nechtansmere, 685 AD

Pictish stone commemorating the Battle of Nechtanesmere (Dunnichen/Dunnichen Moss)Being an historian, I readily admit to a special fondness for that rarest of Fortean phenomena, the "timeslip" case. These are incidents in which a witness appears to travel back through time, in some unexplained and unexpected way, and is able to witness at first hand an event in the past. The proper name for the phenomenon is retrocognition, and by far the best-known example of it is the celebrated Versailles incident of August 1901, which involved two female English academics on a visit to Paris who took a fork in the path in the grounds of the palace of Versailles and became convinced that they had somehow begun walking through the gardens as they existed in the late eighteenth century, at the time of Marie Antoinette. In the course of their 'adventure,' the ladies remembered passing several structures which did not exist in 1901, and encountering a number of people, clad in convincing period dress, whom they initially supposed to be actors rehearsing a play. Their story has been the subject of considerable investigation, and though far from all of the results favour the ladies' interpretation, the incident nonetheless still ranks among a surprisingly large number of researchers' "classic cases". There are, however, three or four other, much less celebrated, timeslip cases that follow a very similar pattern, and I want to have a look at one of those today.

CFI Joins the 21st Century

Just a quick update to let you know that the CFI now has it's own Facebook page

The blog page and the main website at areof course still the main areas to keep you aware of what is happening but the Facebook page is a more informal location and gives you a chance to comment as well.

This is just one of many changes and projects that we are working on at the moment, so watch any of these spaces!



A very early vision of the Virgin Mary

Visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary rank among the most interesting of Fortean phenomena. They are, to begin with, often very well evidenced; there are frequently multiple witnesses, and series of visions can run for days, weeks, months, or even years. Because of their theological implications, such experiences have also been the subject of intensive contemporary investigation, and though devout interrogators don't always ask the questions that we Forteans want answered, the fact is that we know vastly more about the background and early lives of percipients such as St Bernadette or Catherine Labouré than we do about most people who report strange things.

BVM experiences are also of special interest to those of us who take an interest in the psychological and cultural factors that underpin all such reports. They are very culturally specific, being reported - with one or two notable exceptions - exclusively by Roman Catholics and often include either prophetic or doctrinal elements. (One of the most interesting thing about the visions at Lourdes was the BVM's statement to Bernadette that "I am the Immaculate Conception," a comment that rather conveniently affirmed quite a new and controversial bit of Catholic dogma.) Cases often feature bizarre and surreal elements - one thinks particularly of the visions at Pontmain, in France, during the Franco-Prussian war, in which the Virgin hovered in the sky "surrounded by an oval frame, and her words, far from being spoken, inscribed themselves slowly on a twelve-foot-long strip of parchment that materialised beneath her feet. She then disappeared from the feet up into a 'kind of bag.'" [Dash, Borderlands p.55] Marian apparitions are also exceptionally fascinating from a purely evidential point of view, because in cases where there are multiple witnesses it is entirely normal for the various percipients to see and hear very different things.

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